How Big is Your Island?

Almost Persuaded (How Big is Your Island?)

  In the studying of wisdom literature, no matter the source, there is lots of talk about attitude.  Paul goes for the bottom line for Christians in Philippians 2:5, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (NIV).  Wow, what an idea, what a goal for the neophyte Christian.  When a youngster in Christ is just getting on formal name basis with Jesus of Nazareth, how can they have the mind of Christ?  The bottom line answer is that it takes a life- time. 

  In the study of wisdom you find statements such as “The larger the island of your knowledge, the longer the shoreline of your wonder.”  The point being that you cannot know anything about things that don’t touch the current knowledge that you have.  There is a multitude of knowledge out there in the world that you and I have no concern about, or knowledge about, because we have never been introduced to it via a branch of what we already know.  When you were a whiz in the first grade at 2 plus 2 equals 4, and you aced an addition math test, you had no idea about trig or calculus; you had just not come in contact with it via the math that you already knew. If you did, you would have passed it on by, perhaps not even realizing it was math.  Somewhere in High School or college your island of knowledge had expanded to the place you spent hours trying to solve the equations of calculus. You may have longed for the simpler days of two plus two, but there was no going back now. 

   The converse is also true. “The smaller the island of your knowledge, the shorter the shoreline of your wonder, and the more you think you know.”  This is why very ignorant people will often tell you that they know all there is to know about a subject. The wise man will tell you that there is not a person so “dumb” or ignorant on the earth that doesn’t know something that they don’t know.   The wise man then sets out to learn what that Amazon Jungle savage knows that he did not learn in doctoral studies at Harvard or University of New Mexico.  Some of the greatest herbal drug discoveries and “miracle” cures have been so found.  Not all knowledge and wisdom speaks Latin and Greek, or even American.

   Now back to Paul and having the mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ; how do we get there?  First it is important to remember that this quote is in a prison epistle, written near the end of Paul’s life.  Paul didn’t just get baptized in Damascus for the remission of his sins and come up out of the water spouting grace and love.  He was at first a hard-driving, unforgiving, Pharisee Christian that needed to get worked over by God before he could be persuaded to be what God had in mind for him.  Before he could sing and mean Amazing Grace. 

   He indeed came up out of the water of regeneration because of the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, a hard driving, hard preaching, legalist that God had to take to Arabia for three years to teach face to face.  He had to be mentored by Barnabas and even come face to face in disagreement with Barnabas over giving John Mark a second chance, going off scuffing in different directions from Barnabas.  It took being beaten, shipwrecked, serpent bit, jailed, rejected by Gentiles and Jews, stoned to death and resurrected, mobbed, and a thorn in the flesh before Paul was molded into what Christ wanted him to be, before Paul could in all honesty sit chained to armed guards in a jail waiting to have his head cut off, and write, “Have the attitude of Christ.”  In the process he came to love John Mark and claim him “useful for the gospel,” and to quote his Gospel more than any other New Testament writing during his ministry.  In fact, before Paul realized just how small that his island of Biblical knowledge really was, how short the shoreline of wonder, and just how “dumb” he was about God, God had to work him over.  Just as Paul had to be brought up short about his island of knowledge, also, about his island of moral behavior.  Just as we are all “dumb” about how dumb we are when it comes to knowledge, we are also ignorant about how immoral we really are.  As a young Christian, we feel we have handled moral behavior when we signed the pledge to not dance, drink, smoke, chew, or date girls or boys that do.  Paul understood that problem real well as his island of biblical and moral knowledge got larger and the shoreline longer.  Hear him describe his pain of discovery.  

   Near the end of his ministry Paul wrote his opus-maximus of theology, the epistle of Romans.  Paul put the cookies on the bottom shelf when he wrote Galatians; he spoke to the heart with Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. With the epistle to the Romans, Paul drove a theological Mack truck through the religious world of good works and cultural self-centeredness.  He spoke of things of God that are only hinted at in other books of the Bible. In so doing he confessed to his own sinfulness and worthlessness when he is seen in the light of God’s intense heat of truth.  His island of moral knowledge grew so large that the shoreline of spiritual awareness of his failure to measure up by his own good works became so apparent that he fell in tears at his own unworthiness to be standing in the presence of God.  He came to that place that Isaiah was at as recorded in Isaiah six when standing looking at God in all his holiness, he cried out, “Wow to me, I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” I have read supposed learned commentaries on Isaiah that accused him of being a fowl mouth, uncouth person.  All Isaiah is saying, “I have stood face to face with the LORD, and I am a total mess of sin, ruined, and undone in his presence;” as he said that, he was most likely the finest, man-of-God in all Judah at the time.  Paul came to that same position in Romans 7:14-25: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual….I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not what I want to do, no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! “

   Paul came to the same place as Isaiah came to; when standing honestly before the radiance of God Almighty, he was an undone man, and his sins made him unworthy without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ the Lord.

   Now, let me be clear, I do not think that the confessions of Paul at this point would have sold to the Enquirer.   I do not believe that Paul had broken any of the ten commandments, I do not believe that he was guilty of any of the sins that we would be concerned about.  I believe that his island of moral and spiritual consciousness had gotten so large and the shoreline of wonder had gotten so long, that he recognized sinful thoughts and behavior that no Pharisee would have ever acknowledged.  He became aware just how sinful, even the redeemed are in comparison with God almighty, that he fell to his face as did Isaiah, crying out, “no matter how hard I try, no matter how carefully I walk in the steps of Jesus, as a redeemed fallen human, I still fall so very short of perfection that I can only cry out for and fall on the perfection of Jesus Christ my Lord to have any hope of righteousness.”  Remember Jesus was crucified for the remission or forgiveness of our sins.  If the world stopped right there and we all got off, that would mean universal salvation. He died for the sins of the world.  But he was resurrected for our righteousness and sanctification.  To appropriate that grace, we must come by faith (Ephesians 2:1-10).  That faith includes being buried with Christ as a repentant sinner for the personal remission of our sins (Acts 2:38).  When buried with Christ, we are raised into a new life here on earth, and with a hope and assurance of eternal resurrection to be with the risen Lord in an eternally new life lasting to infinity (Romans 6). 

    When all of that happens, we are born babies in Christ, a new birth, with a life of service planned out for us by Jesus (Ephesians 2:10).  We are not saved by good works, but we are saved to do good works.  We have to grow up into those good works.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Here we go to that bottom line of a growth pattern, that we would have the mind and attitude of Christ. 

   For even those that follow the Bible to this point and are born again of the water and the spirit (John 3), perhaps a large percentage of them are born but never mature from this point till they go to heaven.  Basically, they say, Almost persuaded to be a dynamic Christian, and Paul is saying, I want you to go all the way.  Paul wants us to “grow up into him who is the Head; that is Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph.4:15,16). 

   I do not want to dwell on eternal security here, for I have determined to walk as close to Christ as I can, not how close to the edge I can walk without falling off.  I just want to address a very popular philosophy that was all the rage in the nineteenth century.  Amongst a great number of popular Christian leaders was the idea with our great advances in the industrial revolution, communications, industry raising the standard of living, world government advances, and education; we were going to create our own utopia and bring on a millennial reign of Christ.  My mentor, Dr. Crawford, was brought up on the second generation teachings of Alexander Campbell and many other prominent teachers and preachers that looked for an end to war, and a utopic world by now. It doesn’t take long in front of a TV set, or with a major newspaper, to realize just how mistaken they were.   No matter if your theology believes that we are born with sin nature in your bodies, or if as God spoke to Noah after the flood, “Even though every inclination of man’s heart is evil from Childhood” (This word is clearly not infancy; Gen. 8:21).  You have to agree with Paul, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned (Romans 5:12).”  Satan is the prince and ruler of this world, and we that are Christians are aliens, and a minority; our citizenship is in heaven.  Because of the sin nature, we are never going to create a utopia on our own, no matter how hard we try.  Thus the best we can do for the Lord is to get our life as right before God, and the lives of our family and those of our church family as right as possible before God, and to work for all of us to have the mind of Christ in us.

   I really believe that most all of the church members that claim a relationship with Jesus are almost persuaded to become a gung ho, fanatic (fan) of Christ’s, serving with all of their heart.  The problem: that is swimming up current in western culture.  The rest of this essay is not a diatribe against smoking, drinking, over eating, drugs, sexual misconduct, gossip, anger, selfishness, self centeredness, or anyone of the catalog of sins that is so often preached about.  It is a plan to increase your island of moral awareness, and by so doing to enlarge the shoreline upon which the tide can wash up all of those things, and with Paul you will cry out for deliverance by and in Jesus Christ.  Not because some moral teacher is trying to hold your feet to the fire, but because you have expanded you knowledge, wisdom, moral consciousness; and because the walk along the breakers of your shoreline is a long walk, littered with trash.

   The number one premise is that true Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I am going to avoid speaking in denominational terms here.  I have discovered, that as the personal temple of Christ ( and we are you know), that many dear Christian friends have walked on past being a Baptist, Roman Catholic, Latter Day Saint, Assembly, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Christian, and have begun to live like the personal temple of God.  They have read the scriptures, and followed John 14:23, and have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit living in them.  They have listened to Paul and believed him when he said, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?  For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’  But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit… Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…You are not your own, you have been bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:12-20).  When you are born again, you have the indwelling of the Holy Trinity, and “It is Christ that is living in you” (Gal.2:20).

   God has brought me several wonderful folks with which to minister; they are in some way or another mentally challenged.  This livens up some of our worship services, and almost all of my days.  One lady is certified Schizophrenic; she has spent time in the state mental hospital, and really needs full-time care giving.   Her family has given up on her, the state does not want the responsibility, nor do they have a place for her.  We are progressing toward her being able to live alone with close-by care available.  I am her federal government appointed payee; I handle her money and help her make financial decisions as well as other decisions.  I give her the prescription drugs at the prescribed time, and since she still smokes, I give her a ration of cigarettes each day. When she doesn’t want to take her meds, she doesn’t get the cigs, and I win every time.  This morning I took her meds to her, and left her daily ration of cancer capsules.  I also went to the office and paid her rent up, got talked to about her moving things onto the sidewalk and in the way of other renters.  While we were discussing this, she called on my phone and thanked me for cigarettes for “her and Jesus.”  She was in the process of cooking her and Jesus’ breakfast, having coffee and a smoke with Jesus.  Now this just might insult some of you, and you just might start asking, “What kind of a pagan is this Agape Pastor Herb?”  That just might be a good question, but hear me out.  First, you have no idea how far we have come together, and I would just love to introduce you to some of the sharpest people around that have walked a similar path, fought me, cussed me out, and even attacked me, and today are leading members of Las Cruces’ society. 

   But really, she is the best of my theologians; if she is smoking as a baptized believer, Jesus is really smoking with her, or Paul was crazy. One of the island stretchers is to realize that Jesus is involved in everything that you do while you are growing up in Christ.  He is in that pre/post-marital sex adventure, right there under the covers with you.  He is sitting there watching the X or R rated TV with you and your family.  He is watching while your kids are being encouraged to have a filthy mouth while listening to you talk, or watching what you are watching.  Just as it is stupid to laugh at a baby doing things that in three years you will try to spank out of them, don’t be surprised that your tween or teen will some day smoke, drink, and cuss just like you do.  Just maybe you will be called out at three AM to go identify their mangled, drug laden, alcoholic stained body that was pulled from a crash scene.  I have been there all too many times over 55 years, holding the hands of church attendees, as they identified their daughter’s or son’s mangled and nearly unrecognizable body.  As you stand there it is not the sermons that you remember, it is the scene of the children watching your example and imitating it that hits you like a ton of bricks.  At that point your island of moral awareness expands and the shoreline of wonder gets much longer and you make a decision to make a change in your life, not because the preacher said to, but because your island has been expanded. 

   When doctors prescribed wine for my recovery, I was too sick to go to the store and buy a bottle.  Melba, that won’t drink coffee, and I limit her diet Pepsis each day, went to Albertson’s market and was assigned to buy a bottle of wine for my “stomach and body’s sake.”  Melba is not a wine connoisseur.  She stood at the display for a long time trying to make up her mind.  Should she buy the cheapest, then she thought of the wedding master when Jesus created the wine for the wedding, “Most save the poorer wine till everyone is well drunk; you have saved the best for last.”  She didn’t want to get home with a poor wine. Suddenly, two guys were shopping for wine, and by their looks, they knew what they were doing. Melba got advice and was soon on her way home.  Of course she arrived without a cork screw, and I went to bed without my wine.  We threw most of the bottle away; I got better on broccoli, cauliflower and liver. 

   I have no doubt that I could take a little wine for my stomach’s sake, or a social drink now and then, without endangering my salvation.  But as my island of moral consciousness has expanded, I realized I am just as responsible for my example as I am for my thoughts.  I have been involved in enough counseling situations that were all about parents that were social drinkers, never driven drunk, or been abusive, whose son or daughter was a certifiable, in the gutter, covered with puke, alcoholic.  They learned to drink responsibly at home, and immediately went to irresponsible drinking.  When you have to visit your own children in drug and alcohol rehab centers and sit there and cry with them, your island of moral knowledge will explode in size. 

    One of the sweetest girls in our Tots class and Children’s church is being reared by her grandmother and grandfather.  Her mother is in a rehab center for meth addiction at 23 years of age, and will most likely never get out.  Her mind is beyond burned out.  From the time that her mother was 14 to 16 we chased her, loved her, coddled her, and provided for her in many ways.  Her mother was always in need of something; it was expensive to help her. (She was not married at the time.)   The elders and I made a stupid mistake; we decided we could not afford this family, and cut down at first, then cut out a lot of help. The girl went to the street and everyone lost.  This sweet little girl was born at the local hospital, her mother tested dirty on meth, and grandmother and the new grandfather took the baby home as mother went away for treatment. 

   They had fallen through the cracks; I had lost all contact.  One day the grandfather came by and wanted to enroll his granddaughter in our Sunday School; he was Catholic, but they knew she would be loved here.  The name was different, and it took me till I made the first home visit to realize with whom I was dealing.  Grandmother said, “You tried and tried to help my daughter and me; we were not paying attention. I do not want to make that mistake with my granddaughter.” Her island of moral consciousness just exploded, and is being enlarged now as we work together in this beautiful little girl’s life.  She has been adopted by all in the congregation, but grandma’s heart will be broken for ever for that daughter that fell through the cracks.  My island of moral understanding was expanded exponentially.  You see, we all need to be working on our islands all the time.   We all make stupid mistakes as we go along the shoreline of our island of moral knowledge. Throwing people away because of money, not a good idea.

   Forty plus years ago, I was traveling as an area rep for Speedwell Motor Company and Styre-Hauflinger.  I was still Sales Manager of the store in Beaumont, and minister at First Christian in Vidor.  I was on assignment near the border of Mexico at McAllen.  I was checked into a motel. I had studied up on my sermon and other material, and I decided to go to the movies.  I did not want to crank up the truck or disconnect the transport vehicle trailer so I walked.  The only movie I found was unrated; I went in anyway.  It was an education in an area in which I needed no education.  As I walked out I wished I had had a trench coat on so I could pull up the collar and remain unrecognizable.  I just knew someone from 900 miles away was going to see me and report back home to the brotherhood where I had spent the evening.  I made a commitment as I walked back to the motel, “never again.”  When you begin to worry about being seen, or found out, you begin to cause your island of moral knowledge to grow. And, you begin to allow your island of biblical knowledge to grow as well. 

   Paul had been over two years in house arrest and in jail because of the attack on him in the temple when he went to do the rites of purification for himself and others.  He had been held in hope of a bribe to turn him loose.  He had been threatened and finally had appealed to Caesar.  Then King Agrippa and wife Bernice came to see him.  Paul used his best lawyer ability as well as his strong preacher abilities to give King Agrippa and wife Bernice a wonderful defense and sermon.  Paul poured his soul out to Agrippa, Bernice and Festus; Festus cried out that “much learning had made you mad.”  Paul called for a decision and leaned on Festus, Agrippa and Bernice as well as everyone hearing.  He had nothing to lose; he could not be set free, and he had appealed to Caesar.  Paul cries out, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.  Then King Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:27, 28).  Paul responded, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except these chains” (29). 

    Are you almost persuaded to be more than a Sunday Christian, are you ready to expand your island of moral knowledge, and you are nearly ready to expand your island of biblical knowledge with regular Sunday School, Wed. Bible Study, prayer meeting attendance?   Are you ready to leave the half-hearted, Mickey Mouse effort at being a Christian and get on board the sold out gang express?  There is a good reason to do that.  Although I am not sure how much error God will tolerate in our Christian Life, and still say “well done, thou good and faithful servant,” but there is a line that may be crossed.  We call it the Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit. The only sin that will send you to hell is the sin of unbelief in Jesus Christ as your savior.  That is indeed the unforgivable sin.  However, blaspheme of the Holy Spirit is rejecting God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, returning to be a non-believer.  I am not sure that God is anymore condemning about sinners rejecting the Holy Trinity, than about any of their other sins; they are all unforgivable sins if you are not a Jesus believer.  It is the believer that is almost persuaded to go all the way that gets hung up with culture, begins to live like the world while professing Christ, which is in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, The ones that were almost Persuaded to go all the way, and got side tracked along the way.  Don’t be almost persuaded, but go all the way by increasing the size of your islands.