I remember when I was young and was first learning about global Christianity. It was interesting to find out that there are basically three different groups of Christians:
God bless you, Pastor Andrew McHenry
This past year has been marked by striking a number of natural disasters: significant storms in different parts of the country, hurricanes and tornadoes, fires ravaging our state and other western states. The commentary has ranged from discussions of global warming to end times phenomena.
As a general rule I try to avoid making theological assumptions about other people’s suffering. Eventually such talk ends up looking either arrogant, stupid, or cruel. This is one of the major lessons of the book of Job in the Bible: Even when you’re armed with the best theology, it’s easy to make unsafe assumptions when you don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain.
But there are places for discernment, and we see this in the book of Jonah. The author was confident that God hurled the wind that created the storm (1:4). Jonah said flatly that he knew his presence on the ship was what caused the mayhem (1:12b). When people understand their life events through the lens of their faith and experience of God, I’m less apt to question their conclusions.
For our part, it’s probably best to spend our discerning-energies in trying to understand which efforts are wasted and which ones are well-spent. This is seen with the sailors on the ship (in 1:5-16). Searching for answers in an intense storm, they resorted to casting lots (1:7). They were just trying to understand the situation, and their first efforts didn’t work out so well. Faced with a no-win situation they engaged in a failed effort to row to shore (1:13). And all throughout the storm conditions worsened (1:11,13).
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you were spinning your wheels to no good end? What should you do? The narrative gives some clues on how to respond…
Jonah was a prophet in the 8th century B.C. with messages for both his nation (II Kings 14:25-27) and for a foreign nation (Jonah 1:1-2). Many years later God sent His son, our savior Jesus Christ, to be the redeemer for the people of all nations. Jesus declared that God’s house should be a house of prayer for all people (Mark 11:17). And Jesus calmed the storm when His disciples were out at sea (Mark 4:35-41). Putting your faith in Jesus is no guarantee that you won’t have to face storms; Jesus, after all, had to endure persecution and crucifixion. But knowing Jesus and having a healthy prayer-life can give a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). And it’s all a part of our faith that serves as a foundation for making good decisions in the stormy seasons of life.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor
A few months back we heard a sound one night coming from our backyard. It was dark, and something was rummaging around back there. We couldn’t see what it was. My wife was a bit concerned. I couldn’t hear anything and was oblivious to the problem. I wondered if it was just her imagination.
Eventually some movement triggered the motion detector, and a light came on. It was a skunk. I saw it by looking through our living room window. Hillary was in the bedroom, looking at it through the back window. Both windows had been opened to let the cool air in, but that increased the risk of skunk-odor coming inside too. So I got nervous when I saw the skunk raise its tail as it moved in the direction of Hillary’s window. Fortunately Hillary used good verbal de-escalation. She said, “Hello there Mr. Skunk,” and her pleasant voice must have calmed him down. He moseyed on his way and moved on.
We’re hesitant to let our cats outside because they don’t know all the dangers they could get into – dangers from wildlife, from predators, and even skunks. I heard a story from my mother recently about a dog who never learned the lesson about skunks. Each time he saw one he would run up with eager doggy curiosity, and each time he would get sprayed head-on. What a mess!
Sometimes animals aren’t aware of dangers, and the same thing can happen with people on the spiritual plane. So when Paul gave the Corinthian Christians permission to eat meat that had been offered to idols in I Corinthians 8:4-6, 8 he became concerned in the sense of that old expression that says “Give them an inch, and they’ll take it a mile.” He was concerned that some of them would start attending the idol feasts that took place in the temples of the gods/goddesses of the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon. That would be bad news. Just as the Lord’s Supper is a communion for Christians (that is, a participation in body and blood of Jesus Christ), and just as the Old Testament priests participated in the sacrifices they offered to God in the Jerusalem temple, so participation in these temple feasts was a dangerous dabbling with the demonic (10:16-20). This led Paul to give a pointed warning in 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
All of us have to make decisions at some point about where we draw the line. I’ve known people who did this with casinos, pornography, alcohol, illegal drugs, tobacco, extramarital affairs, violence on TV, racism, bad business dealings, unethical investments, and a host of things. It all depends on each person’s unique susceptibility to the sinful nature. There are things that we won’t do, things we won’t consume, events we won’t be a part of, and perhaps even people we won’t see anymore.
That being said, there once was a time when I was too preachy for my own good. I saw the ministerial role as one of telling people what to do and what not to do. These days I’m more convinced that the role of the church is not to air-condition the outdoors. We shouldn’t be surprised at things that go on in the world; nor should we think that we can straighten everybody else out. So I don’t approach this like I’m some kind of a moral policeman.
But I do think it’s important for each Christian to think it over and draw the line as they feel God wants them to. And this has larger implications than any one of us. Rome didn’t fall in a day. Germany didn’t just slip into Nazism overnight. And slavery didn’t just begin one day. Great developments of evil seldom happen quickly. There’s a gradual evolution of spiritual darkness that eventually comes to dangerous proportions.
But remember: Jesus said the same is true with the kingdom of God. It’s “like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” And then He said it’s “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Luke 13:19, 21).
None of the churches I've served are big in numbers. But never underestimate the potential of a small group of people having a big impact on the world. People notice when a godly minority does something different. And in that way we stand to be light and salt in the world.
God bless you, Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.