An Insidious Reality
By Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
Don’t you hate it when people use unfamiliar words? Hear me out on this one – it will make sense to you in a moment.
Dictionaries define “insidious” to mean something that has a gradual and cumulative effect (subtle), is harmful but enticing (seductive), and is awaiting a chance to entrap (treacherous).
This is how the Bible describes “insidious”:
Gradual, Cumulative, Subtle
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (Matthew 24:12)
Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14–15)
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Here is one more passage to consider before I move on to the points I want to make:
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17)
Scripture clearly describes the insidious dangers that surround us. This final passage reminds us that we are often the target of insidiousness and can likely be the unwitting casualties of it. To understand the calamity around us we must understand the calamity within us.
The Apostles Peter and Paul stand out as two of the most relatable characters of Scripture. How often haven’t we listened to a Lenten sermon and heard Peter’s bold proclamation:
“Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)
Then we see him crumble under accusations in the courtyard on the night of Jesus’ betrayal.
When Paul tells the Romans:
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)
Don’t we see ourselves and our faltering grand intentions to be the kind of Christian God wants us to be?
Peter and Paul were human to the bone. Like us, they wrestled with the tension between their faith and the inclination to act faithlessly.
Their tension is our tension. In the best of times, the safest of times, and the happiest of times, we can be the best Christians. When the pressure is on, the heat is up, and the opportunity is there, we often stumble and exhibit a less-than-exemplary faith.
Life is hard! The devil, the world, and our own inclinations challenge us moment by moment. If we cannot understand this about ourselves – if we cannot see the plank in our own eye – we focus instead on chasing the dust bunnies in the eyes of others (Luke 6:41).
Challenging issues abound in the world. At Christian Life Resources we focus on life and family issues, but we know there are others. These issues are among the most passionate of our time. A passionate interest in an issue is what is called an ideology.
I know – another one of those words – but “ideology” is important to understand. Years ago, when I sat in a human growth and development class at Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, MN) and learned about abortion I was horrified. I immediately became impassioned to bring about change. Abortion became my issue. Our first child died in a miscarriage, and we were expecting what would be our firstborn child. The unborn child was not a foggy concept for us – it was real. Regardless of my religious convictions, it just seemed wrong to permit killing unborn children. That is an ideology.
Early in the pro-life movement, one of the most valued opponents of abortion was Nat Hentoff (1925-2017). Hentoff, a writer for The Village Voice and The Wall Street Journal, was a card-carrying ACLU member, a life-long liberal on many issues, solidly pro-life, and a professed atheist. Ideologically, we agreed on the abortion issue. Spiritually, he was the mission field. He was someone who needed to know his Savior. Sadly, when he died in 2017, there was no indication he ever knew Jesus Christ as his Savior.
Ideologically, we loved Nat. Spiritually, he became the object of prayerful concern.
My own story about the abortion issue was one of ideology before it became a spiritual matter for me. Ideologically, I could not accept killing unborn children. Logically, it didn’t work either. As I grew in my faith, however, my position on abortion changed. It did not change ideologically. I remained rock-solid and consistent in my position on abortion. What changed was my motivation and my perspective on such things.
The Bigger Picture
If I had met Hentoff in my college days, I would have let him talk at length about his ardent pro-life views within his liberal context. I would have found it entertaining. The ideology we shared in our pro-life stance reigned supreme.
If I had met Hentoff today, however, I would have been absorbed with a concern for his soul. Again, I am rock-solid pro-life, but as I have learned more about God’s love for me in Christ, my concern for unborn children is reframed within the context of my premier concern for the soul.
I am to be engaged in a bigger mission of soul ministry, something that was not assigned to me upon my graduation from the seminary. Rather, it was assigned to me in my baptism. I began a lifelong journey of understanding my nature and God’s solution in Jesus Christ. Admittedly, during my rebellious high school years, I wanted to walk away from God’s calling for me as a Christian. I was not the kind of guy looking to live wildly and recklessly. I did, however, want to treat my faith more as a philosophy than the defining characteristic of who I am.
God, however, is patient and determined. Like King David, I relied on God overlooking my rebellious ways and holding me fast in his love (Psalm 25). And God did just that. He sent him who knew no sin (his Son, Jesus) to be sin for me (to pay the price for my sins) so that I might be seen as righteous and acceptable in his sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). I could not do this myself; it was entirely because of his unmerited love shown for me (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is when that truth of our salvation matures in the heart that we become God-pleasing activists for the things of God and the concerns of others (Matthew 22:36-40). We love not to earn things from God but in response to what God did for us in Christ (1 John 3:19).
Strong ideological issues like abortion become so much more. They become opportunities to show love to mothers and their unborn children – the kind of love God showed for me. They also become “bridges” to establish a rapport with those who do not share the same ideology that I have.
The way I act about the issues that Christian Life Resources focuses on should reflect the Biblical truth that even these very hard issues become opportunities to demonstrate uncommon love. In an insidious world where the devil and our own flesh want to convince us that other things are more important than the soul, the soul must reign supreme.
I am called by God to protect life. We all are. It is not a question of whether we do, but it’s more a question of how we do it. When I lived primarily with a pro-life ideology, I didn’t think much about bridge-building. I had a cause, and I wanted to win in protecting life – and perhaps punish all those who were wrong on this issue.
Today, whether it is a one-on-one conversation with a family member or a friend, serving on a panel discussion with others on differing ideologies, or talking politics, my faith guides me first. My concern for the soul remains supreme. I work hard so that those who do violate God’s Word find in me someone who is still approachable. Even if we differ on the issue, maybe that issue becomes the bridge for us to keep talking and for me to keep demonstrating sincerity in my conviction to love as I have been loved.
When I grow impatient with the political process, disagree with a judicial ruling, or find those I care about doing the wrong thing, I want to remain principled to see the error and loving enough to correct, rebuke, and to encourage with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2). Why? Because I always see the plank in my own eye, and I know a Carpenter who fixed the problem. I have no grounds to be self-righteous or haughty. In humility, I am more concerned for others (Philippians 2:3-5).
April 15, 2018
May 3, 2018