Friday, November 20, 2015

The Ricochet

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."  - Matthew 12:36 (ESV)

A few years ago a man in an American Atlantic Coast State was walking down the road of his rural neighborhood over the Independence Day holiday when he was struck suddenly by a bullet.  The bullet made contact with deadly accuracy and the man lost his life.  The fatal shot had been fired from several hundred yards away by a target shooter who had failed to secure an adequate backstop.  The bullet went through the paper target, ricocheted off the top of the embankment and, maintaining a modified trajectory, entered the body of an innocent man.  

The incident resulted in a child losing her father, a wife losing her husband and a careless shooter losing his freedom.  The shooter was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in accordance with the statue of his state.  Involuntary manslaughter was not considered an accurate charge because the shooter failed to take several proper precautions which could be interpreted as a disregard for human life.  The moral of the story is simple: When you fire a weapon you are responsible for the projectile until the point at which it stops moving.  

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the 19th century American poet, wrote, "I shot an arrow in the air.  It fell to earth, I knew not where." Such a free-spirited thought can be romanticized but, in real life, is considered gross negligence.  Human beings are not exempted from the damages caused by their negligence.  In the case mentioned above, the negligence did not start when the bullet was fired.  It was a step by step disregard for the safety of others.  First, the paper target was placed without proper backing to stop or slow the bullet.  Second, the shooter placed the target in the direction of a public road.  Third, the backstop was not tall enough, angled correctly or made of the correct material to stop the bullet once it passed through the target.  Fourth, the weapon fired was of too great of a caliber for the quality of the backstop.  

All of these factors added together to create a situation where, once the trigger was pulled, a ricochet occurred resulting in a fatality.  A ricochet may be defined as, "
the motion of an object or a projectile in rebounding or deflecting one or more times from the surface over which it is passing or against which it hits a glancing blow."  And if it were only bullets, arrows and other projectiles that were subject to ricochet the world would be a much safer place.  Unfortunately, there are other things governed by the ricochet effect.

Words, for example.  A word can cut sharper than a sword, pierce more deeply than a bullet and prove more fatal than military grade weaponry.  The Apostle James said that the tongue was a very small flame that could kindle a great fire (see James 3:5 NASB).  And when we set those words in motion, we have little to no control over where they will land.  A word of gossip spoken in "confidence" may well end up striking the heart of an innocent bystander.  A harsh word of undeserved criticism or critique may be intended to wound the ego but may, in fact, mortally wound the soul.  Before launching the projectile of a word or phrase from our mouths, should we not take care to make sure we are not negligent in where it might land?  Furthermore, is it not incumbent upon us as Christians to always guard our words lest they ricochet and have unexpected consequences?  (see Colossians 4:6).  

Actions as well may ricochet.  A harsh action against a spouse witnessed by a child can leave wounds in the psyche that are often insurmountable.  Dishonesty.  Treachery.  Doublemindedness.  Unfaithfulness.  All of these things are not only damaging to the individuals but innocent bystanders may be negatively impacted by them as well.  This is especially so with the impressionable: children, young people, etc.  It is difficult to nearly impossible for a child to live faithfully, honestly and uprightly when the parental example is the complete opposite.  The ricochet of those actions are felt years later when the child grows into adulthood and, for lack of a solid foundation, becomes a nuisance and a worthless part of society.  

Yet the ricochet can also work positively.  Is the image of a ricochet not an appropriate word picture to describe the principle taught by Christ in Matthew 5:16?  The Apostle Peter echoed this sentiment in 1 Peter 2:12 (NIV) saying, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."  The words we say and the actions we take should be so well cared for that any ricochet would only result in the bystander glorifying God because of having been hit by such an uncharacteristically godly demonstration of Christ's love and mercy.  The words of kindness and encouragement we speak  to one may well ricochet to others standing nearby.  What is more, those we encourage may carry that bullet of encouragement about in their flesh and, because we put it there, send it forward again into the suffering body of another so that they may be healed with such great and life-giving balm.

Be careful little mouth what you say.  Be careful little hands what you do.  Be careful little feet where you go.  It's a song taught to our children in Sunday School.  Should we not also remember that lesson as adults?  You cannot control the direction the bullet will take once it ricochets.  You can, however, control whether or not the shot is taken.  What is better: to speak or to be silent; to act or to remain static?  The answer is simple.  We should speak only when the ricochet would benefit the one impacted thereby and act only when the ricochet would cause the unintended target to glorify God.  If our words and actions do not ultimately bring glory to God they are idle, worthless, wasted and we shall be judged thereby in the end.

Mark your targets well and consider the ricochet.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

If The Christian Graves Could Speak

Dear 21st Century Christian Brethren,

Much time has passed since we walked the earth and enjoyed, in life, those riches in Christ which we now enjoy to a fuller measure in death awaiting the time of our resurrection to eternal life.  Yet, our hearts are sorrowful because of that which has been found in too many of you which we cannot readily understand.  We do not presume to have the answers.  Our sincerest hope is that our words might give you reason to pause, introspect and find the answers for yourself.

In our time there were divisions.  Our Apostle Paul wrote to your Brethren in Corinth because of their divisive behavior.  But we were all encouraged to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There were differences among us.  Some of us ate meat while others were repulsed at the thought of it.  But we were warned by the Holy Spirit not to judge one another and divide based on those things.  If we were to divide it would be over issues of heresy and the perversion of absolute truth.  But we see in you an eagerness to divide.  It is as if the smallest of issues is sufficient to drive a wedge between you and your Brethren.  How can this be?

In our time there were leadership struggles.  Once our Apostles Peter and Paul had a conflict.  The reason for it was somewhat trivial but, at the same time, an incident with possibly far reaching repercussions.  Our leaders were demonstrating the same divisive behavior many of us had.  Paul rebuked Peter to his face.  Yet, they did not divide further.  They did not reject one another or speak of each other spitefully.  There was nothing between them but a continuation of brotherly love.  Our leaders understood that the end of disagreements was love, not discord.  But we see in you leaders who hold grudges.  Honest disagreement often brings bitter animosity.  How can this be?

In our time there were issues with backsliding.  In fact, many of our Brethren struggled with their new-found faith.  These struggles did not always end with time.  Our Galatian Brethren wrestled with relapses into Judaism.  Our Corinthian Brethren were spiritual plutocrats.  Our Ephesian Brethren lost their first love.  We all had problems, difficulties and struggles in our walk with God.  But we were strongly commanded to do everything possible to help and restore the erring.  Turning a Brother over to Satan and shunning him was a last resort.  We would rather make every effort to save one of our own than to see them become apostates.  But we see in you an eagerness to consume one another and a quickness in dismissing a Brother.  The struggling are castigated instead of restored.  How can this be?

In our time there were problems with unfaithfulness, prayerlessness and lack of zeal.  Read the letters our Apostles wrote to us and you'll see very clearly that we were far from perfect.  We had no illusions of grandeur in our own regard.  We were flawed.  We failed.  We struggled.  But we were Christians nonetheless.  We acknowledged our faults and were thankful to the Savior who loved us and cared for us as a loving Father does His children.  We had no time to condemn ourselves as we were too busy being condemned by the world around us.  And, perhaps, that's why we survived.  Perhaps what you need, dear Brethren, is some true persecution.

Perhaps if your children were being slaughtered as ours were you'd find unity far more easily.  Perhaps if you were driven from your home and your cities you'd find internal conflicts of less importance.  Perhaps if you were forced to worship in caves, caverns, tombs and sewers as we were you'd be more understanding of your Brethren who struggle with the walk with God.  Perhaps if you could be reminded of your own humanity as you suffered beating, scourging, stoning, torture, crucifixion, flaying and burning you'd acknowledge the frailty of human nature.  And, as the thought of denying your Savior and saving yourself from the pain would cross your mind, perhaps then you'd think less of your own supposed perfection and more of the grace of a loving and merciful God.

Again, beloved Brethren, we do not think ourselves superior nor do we presume to be able to fix those conditions which both abounded in us and in you.  All we would hope to accomplish is to remind you that you are not alone in your struggles.  Your Brethren across the ages have likewise fought.  Some have gained victory while others have made shipwreck.  How it shall end for you is completely up to you.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the precious fellowship of the Holy Spirit comfort and keep you now and forever.

Your Brethren,

The 1st Century Christians