These adorable little arctic creatures have a really goofy--and quite troubling--mythologized practice that has become part of accepted wisdom. According to lore, lemmings will follow other lemmings en masse, scurrying off cliffs into the ocean, plummeting to their deaths by drowning. That is, group suicide. This baffling behavior has come to describe when we humans blindly follow the crowd to destruction. While this is not an entirely accurate understanding of lemming behavior, it's too perfect an illustration to pass up for my purposes. Whatever the source or the science, I'm here to say, "Don't be a lemming!"
Lemmings inhabit arctic regions like northern Alaska and Norway. The little fur balls are championship breeders, and every three to four years, their population explodes, stretching their resources. In response, the lemmings disperse or migrate in large groups, often in a growing panic. The frenzied migration causes them to rush along, over, and through any obstacle, even to the point of diving off cliffs in droves, attempting to cross oceans, and exhausting themselves to death by drowning.
Sadly, an Oscar-winning 1958 Walt Disney documentary falsely portrayed this practice as mysterious mass suicide, and movie producers are said to have driven packs of lemmings off a cliff for dramatic effect. It's apparently not actual suicide, but scientists still don't fully understand the behavior.
On the other hand, destructive mob mentality among humans is well documented. Group psychology explains many otherwise inexplicable human behaviors, like rioting or even otherwise decent German citizens not merely overlooking, but actively cooperating with the Nazi annihilation of Jews or Americans endorsing and exploiting slavery. In fact, science shows that that when enough humans are doing wrong, and there's no apparent threat of consequences, even law-abiding people can quickly run amok to the extreme. Tim's Keller's message below presents this reality in a very relatable way.
We'd like to think that the average person is never going to encounter such a scenario. That we will never be swept up into destructive behavior, but I'd say many are already there! Maybe an entire country! We're like frogs in the pot on the stove, increasingly desensitized to amoral thinking and practice of every kind, and most destructive of all, a total disregard of God. Honestly, we seem so desensitized that bad even seems good! Caught up in a majority barreling to disaster, in a mindless lemming-like frenzy, we plummet off the proverbial cliff to our real or figurative deaths.
Here's just one of my little pet peeves: Women of all ages posing as porn stars on social media. I have a 15-year-old son and some of the girls on his Instagram feed--including classmates at his former Christian high school--are contenders for the Playboy mansion. I'm really no prude, but when did this become OK? What are the girls imagining they're attracting? What are these parents thinking?
"But mom, everyone's doing it!"
Everyone's lost it!
The narrow way.
While I want to point fingers, it's very, very tempting for any of us to be lulled into a false sense of security. We Americans may be more vulnerable to blindness than most because of our relative insulation from many refining hardships, including those of the ordinary people surrounding us. Prosperity is a dangerous blind, and most especially, extreme wealth, because as Tim Keller points out, great material success can give us both the illusion that we're authorities on everything else (including right and wrong), and can give us the notion that we're above the law. Read the headlines.
Unfortunately, this is true even within The Church, meaning the body of believers of every denomination. There's widespread indifference and a watering down or selective sharing of Truth that's contributing to the national mess we're wading in.
This is magnified by a variety of factors, like the idea that the church should model itself after the culture to be culturally relevant. So some churches turn a blind eye to challenging biblical truth or sugar-coat it, because they don't want to offend and lose members and money. Another approach is to focus on Christ's love and grace without any mention of judgment or standards. This is a very comforting message, and I love it, but it doesn't capture the fullness of the truth or the implications of chronically ignoring God. On the large scale, this becomes a lemming problem, where masses of people, including Christians, go rushing off a cliff.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus is the narrow gate (John 10:7), the only way, truth, and life. No one comes to the God except through Him (John 14:6).
There's not a single thing we can do to earn salvation and eternal life in heaven. Nada. Yet at the same time, our salvation should be evident in our lives. 1 John 3:6 says,
"4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.5 You know that he [Jesus] appeared in order to take away sins, and in him [Jesus]there is no sin.6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him."
Not that we can ever attain perfection here on planet earth, but that we're not wantonly sinning and indifferent to the sin in and around us. The reality of Christ's perfect sacrifice inspires grateful obedience, prompt repentance when we fail, and humble and grateful dependence on Christ in Whom "we live, and move, and have our being "(Acts 17:28).
That's what the Gospel says. Not, "Do what you want. I got you."
This knife edge of law and grace is sharp indeed. Indeed, it's a much more narrow path than meets the eye. It's not one that kicks back in a barca-lounger life of remorseless bad behavior counting on forgiving Jesus to turn a blind eye. Equally wrong, nor is it the person who counts themselves righteous because of all the good stuff they do, often overlooking the bad stuff, or using the good stuff as justification for the bad stuff.
I cannot begin to grasp it and still, all of the New Testament speaks it.
Like most people, I long for the gentle Jesus who is lovingly indifferent to my sin. He doesn't exist. He did not die a criminal's death so we could be criminal. He didn't live a sinless life so we could sin.
I am sobered by Jesus' own words as he continues in Matthew 7:
I Never Knew You
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Note the use of the word "lawless" which appeared in the passage above from 1 John. This word shows up again in 2 Thessalonians 2, in a strong warning about a "lawless one" aka the antichrist, and his widespread deceit of the indifferent sinner, to which many will fall prey. I don't want any kind of association with that guy for sure!
What's worse, is that God Himself will eventually "send a delusion" to allow those stubborn, self-blinded people to suffer the consequences of their unrighteousness in full measure. This sounds really harsh to me, but then, I'm not God. Does this seem too fire and brimstone for our common view of Jesus as a really nice guy who doesn't care about sin? This is what The Book says in a thousand different ways. Yet, there is good news!
The Good News
I know it's got to be easy to read my repetitive warnings as fear-mongering. That would surely be true if what I'm saying weren't true. Think of it as love-mongering by a parent who doesn't want us to crash and burn. Unlike the lemming tale, we humans are willingly rushing toward a cliff. Christ alone is our rescue. As Oxford theologian-author C.S. Lewis affirmed:
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
The salvation of right relationship with God through Christ is not limited to the promise of heaven. Though a joyful eternity is powerfully motivating for humans with an expiration date, the present day promise of life in Christ is increasingly compelling in light of today's foreboding headlines:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Friends, it's raining cats and dogs out there and the wind is roaring. This is the time to be sure your house is built on the only solid rock. Repent and return to God. He can fix all this. He really can!
Grace, peace, love, and joy in Christ,
Prayer: Jesus, please forgive me for following the crowd and trivializing sin because "everybody's doing it." I want to stand on Your solid rock. Please forgive me my sins and help me to sin no more. Thank you for loving me. I love you back.
Action: Take some time to reflect on how you've allowed yourself to be negatively influenced by "everybody's doing it." Note the results for you and others. How's it working out?
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