Volume 19 Issue 11

 

In 1934, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, an already famous polar explorer, led a second expedition to the South Pole. His team established a base called “Little America” from which the expedition stayed in radio contact with an intrigued world. In addition, Byrd chose to operate a meteorological station called “Advance Base” located 123 miles from the base camp. He was alone through a dark, lightless winter for five months in temperatures that during several long stretches exceeded 80 degrees below zero. The mission was filled with peril, including a near-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning due to an improperly ventilated stove. He hid his failing condition from his team at base camp in order to spare them the risk involved in any attempted rescue. When finally the Antarctic winter night broke, he was rescued from his under-ice cabin situated on the immense Ross Ice Barrier. He was weak and emaciated, but alive.

I discovered a very nice volume of Byrd’s own account of the events surrounding his adventure, entitled “Alone.” I read every word. I encourage the reader to choose a cold, snowy winter night to dip into the wonderful story of Byrd’s ordeal. But to the point: Byrd developed a fear while in his snow covered, ice impacted cabin that intrigued me. In his retelling of the events, Captain Byrd admitted to a fear of being trapped inside the cabin. His duties at the station required that he go in and out to man the scientific instruments, keep the air filters un-iced, and perform other such tasks. While conditions outside were treacherous, his great fear was getting trapped inside due to the weight of the snowdrift, ice formations, and the possibility of a cave in. However, what happened during one of his trips outside during a whiteout blizzard with the temperature at 78 below zero was something he had not fully contemplated. The fierce storm prevented Byrd from seeing his own hand in front of his face and he found himself trapped outside. He describes the experience this way:

“Panic took me then, I must confess, reason fled. I clawed at the three-foot square of timber like a madman. I beat on it with my fists, trying to shake the snow loose; and, when that did no good, I lay flat on my belly and pulled until my hands went weak from cold and weariness. Then I crooked my elbow, put my face down, and said over and over again, YOU FOOL, YOU FOOL. Here for weeks I had been defending myself against the danger of being penned inside the shack; instead, I was now locked out; and nothing could be worse, especially since I had only a wool parka and pants under my windproofs. Just two feet below was sanctuary-warmth, food, tools, all the means of survival. All these things were an arm’s length away, but I was powerless to reach them.”

When I read this passage, I was moved to tears. At once I made a comparison pertaining to what I have seen over and over as a pastor and spiritual leader. People fear getting trapped in the church. How many times have I heard the same arguments? “The church is so restrictive.” “It has so many rules.” “It is bound by old traditions.” “It is lost, wandering about on meaningless old paths, tied to old, moldy ideas.” “I feel trapped.” “I want out.” “I need to express myself.” “I don’t need all this clutter in my life.” Or worse, “All this doctrine is not about love, and I am looking for someone to just accept me the way I am.”

I don’t want to make a case here for bull-headed, unchangeable inflexibility when it comes to methods and means. It is foolish not to see the complexity of today’s culture and the raw vindictiveness of the collapsing moral structure of our world. It is an extreme oversight not to take into account the psychological damage that has occurred in our society because of parental abuse and the politically driven, morally corrupt educational systems. The church needs to wake up now and take on new and creative ways of reaching the lost. But, the church must not fall into some misguided notion that what is in the church (the anointing, the power of Holy Ghost revelation, the life, joy, peace, power and hope that come from righteous living) is out of date. Further, the church must not fall into the trap of believing that obedience to God’s word, which leads to a great life, is some “thing” that can be thrown out in disregard.

Here’s the deal. There are far too many among us who may be like Byrd, afraid of being trapped in while the great struggle may be just the opposite. In fear, plans are made for the wrong battles. What about getting trapped outside the church? The danger is not that the church would lock anyone out and let them die; but rather that one would lose his strength, his conviction, his first love, his belief in righteousness, his spiritual revelation of Jesus as God, or his certitude. What if one got trapped outside the church and could not find the moral and spiritual will to come back? Or, what if the journey back should appear to be too cluttered, too complex, so much that the very thought of repenting would trigger despair? There could come a point at which people could die outside the Truth just because the devil had blinded them to all possibilities available to them though God’s grace and mercy until they give up. One might hunger to feel God’s Spirit again, but the ice has become so thick around the door that he is cut off emotionally. Cut off because of entanglements, new allegiances. Cut off by blasphemies and lies. Caught outside of the embrace of sanctuary. And all the while the conflicted soul remembers, and yearns for the powerful, the real, the tearful outpouring of the Holy Ghost. But, because of this thing or that (perhaps pride, stubbornness, face-saving, new friends, money) the soul is trapped outside.

My concern is that the consuming fear of being trapped inside the church has allowed the enemy to capture many a good person outside in the cold. And this fear is misguided. It is the wrong fear for the wrong age. The church, this message, this Truth is more relevant, more needed, and more sought-after than ever before. These are surely the last days, and the time to fight back against the coldness of the enemy is running short.

How did Byrd get back in? He remembered! He remembered that he had driven a shovel into the snow. Somewhere! He scooted this way and that until at last, after more than an hour, his nearly frozen foot bumped into the shovel, and with it he was able to finally get the door open. Try to remember this: somewhere there is an answer, and God will make a way for those trapped outside. Every backslider has a memory, a very sacred memory, that can serve as the power to overcome ice-encrusted hinges. And may every pastor, mom, dad and friend reading this pray for and turn kind attention to those who once thought, “How awful to be trapped in this small cabin in the wilderness,” and who now know that there is something more terrible. Being trapped outside the church is worse, much worse.

 

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