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January 12, 2024


I was reading the other day about the men (and women) who have come to be known as the Desert Fathers. Cool name, huh? It seems that these monks (from Egypt, North Africa) in the fourth and fifth centuries saw to it to extract themselves from the whole of society and retreat to the desert.


I’ve often, in my ignorance, believed these people to be shirking their duty as followers of Jesus to be a “city on a hill” and a “light to the world” around them. By retreating to the wilderness in solitude, I wrongly assumed they were escaping the world Jesus called us to reach with the Gospel. I may have been wrong. There might be something to their response to the world around them that you and I can learn from especially when it comes to our response to the Good News of Jesus.


It was in the fourth century Roman Empire that Christianity was being established as the religion of the Empire. However, some Church leaders began to realize a sobering truth. Having come out of a couple of centuries of religious persecution, society didn’t seem to immediately transform to a utopic Christian culture. Neither a Christian emperor nor an increasingly “Christianized society” changed the fact that the culture around them continued to be corrupt, sinful, materialistic, selfish, and depraved. This society was described as:


“…as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life… These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster… They knew they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them.” - Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert


Do you ever feel like you’re floundering in the wreckage of your life? Of our culture? Of your decisions? Maybe you’re looking for a lifeline or you’re scrambling to withdraw, ignore, or combat. What if our Heavenly Father is calling you out of the wreckage only to form your heart and draw you deeper into his grace so that he can turn around again and throw you back into the mess? Only this time, you’re not there to fight, or to turn a blind eye, or to despair. This time you’re more fully aware of a beautiful Gospel truth:


The Gospel both saves you from the penalty of sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ AND the it continues to renew and form you. Romans 12:1-2 says,


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.


The Gospel is Good News that saves you and transforms you over time. The work of the Gospel isn’t done in you! God invites us to deeper places in trust, knowledge, and surrender. In order for us to step obediently into this work, we must reject certain false truth, habits, thought processes, and actions which pervade our lives and replace them with new God-formed ones. Merton says this about the Desert Fathers:


“What the Fathers sought most of all was their own true self, in Christ. And in order to do this, they had to reject completely the false, formal self, fabricated under social compulsion in “the world.”


All this so that we can be useful apprentices released into our places of work, school, sports teams, neighborhoods, friend circles, and serving strangers in need to share the Gospel with others. We’re all victims in this shipwreck of our own making. We are obligated to go back and rescue others. The urgency is real.


What would it look like for you this week to take one stroke to swim out of the wreckage toward solid ground? One thing (false, fabricated thing) to give up and put away. One thing to take up in its place in obedience and surrender to Christ. One person to go back and pull to shore.


Swimming for my life,


Nathan Hinkle

Lead Pastor

White Oak Christian Church


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