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.