“So where do you go next?” the shuttle driver asked as we bumped along between stops to see the mind-blowing views along Bryce Canyon of Rainbow Point, Yovimpa, Natural Bridge, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point. The bus was full and a lot of people had been eavesdropping on our conversation. I didn’t quite know how to answer the question without giving the wrong impression. “Las Vegas…”, I confessed. “... to worship… ironically '' I clarified. “Well that’s good”, the shuttle driver replied and the crowd chuckled.
It had been back in the early 2000s when Mark had been invited to speak for the Vegas Drive church of Christ in the Las Vegas Valley. They were meeting in a small, old building and appeared to be barely hanging on. How encouraging it was, then, to pull up recently to their fresh, new building and walk into worship with a full house of such a beautiful blend of ages and ethnic backgrounds. The Sunday we visited was the last day of a series of lessons that they had invited one of the straightest shooters in all the Pacific Northwest, Joe Price, to speak for them.
Purity is a rare commodity in Las Vegas, but the church there wanted Joe Price to come speak for them on that very topic. During his talk, Joe emphasized God’s plan for His church to be pure in three areas: doctrine, in our personal lives, and in the way we love one another (James 4:7-8). And just how does the church maintain its purity and holiness (Ephesians 5:27; Titus 2:14)? By each Christian individually taking on the obligation to morally cleanse himself (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2 Cor. 7:1) because it is the pure church that will, in the end, be presented to Christ and delivered up to God (2 Cor. 11:2; 1 Cor. 15:24). On a practical level, the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27) is to allow the truth to purify her (Psalm 19:8; Ephesians 5:26; John 15:1-3; 17:17) from the corruption of false teachings (2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Jude 3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 John 9).
Joe reminded us that as individuals each member must realize that purity begins in the heart (Matthew 5:8; 2 Timothy 2:22) and in our thoughts (Philippians 4:8) and is expressed in our speech (James 1:26) and in our conduct (2 Corinthians 7:1). By pursuing purity in these areas, we can remain unsoiled by such things as indifference (Hebrews 6:11-12), worldliness (1 John 2:15) and the evil influence of immoral friends (1 Corinthians 15:33). Needless to say, this standard of purity is quite challenging for all of us, including those living near “Sin City”. So what could possibly fuel one’s soul to endure those challenges successfully all the way to the end of life? There’s really only one element with that octane level, and that is this: a deep love of God (Matthew 22:37;1 John 5:3) and a fervent love (1 Peter 4:8) for each other (John 13:34-35) that is unselfish (Ephesians 5:2) free from hypocrisy (Romans 12:9-10) and is expressed in a willingness to sacrifice for one another (1 John 3:17-18) as needed.
According to ktnv.com, in 2019, Las Vegas’s 150,000 hotel rooms housed almost 50 million partiers who flocked there from all over the world to spend about 58 billion dollars. The forms of instant gratification that they engage in are too dark for God’s children to even think or speak of, and as the saying goes, many of the carousers are hoping “what just happened in Vegas will stay in Vegas”. Of course, that’s never the case. God sees all, and even if they win a jackpot, many take home nothing that is real, lasting, or satisfying, and some even take home “souvenirs” they hadn’t planned. For example, Clark County ranked first in the nation for syphilis rates per capita in 2017 --- the sexually transmitted disease that can cause irreversible brain damage. This disease, at present, is transmitted in Las Vegas at over 2.5 times the national average --- and that’s just one of what seems like an almost endless list of consequences when one plays fast and loose with what God considers holy (Hebrews 13:4), including physical intimacy. Truly, “... those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10.
During the course of our worship, Isaiah 53 was read, and I couldn’t help but feel a renewed awe of the cleansing power of the sacrifice of Christ, for as God’s repentant children (even the chiefest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) among us) --- every one of us were beyond desperate for what the sacrifice of Christ was able to accomplish. Listen to it again through the ears of those who have sought spiritual refuge in this congregation from the darkness that so thickly surrounds them.
The Lord is in His Holy Temple
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
Joe shared with the flock of God (Isa. 53:6) the Good Shepherd’s preventative answers to all moral darkness, including His divine plan for strong vibrant families in lifelong marriages (1 Cor. 7:1-3; Prov 5:15-20; Genesis 2:25) composed of older men who are vigilant about raising children modeling for them how to be men of honor, faith, love and patience (Eph. 4:16) and serving their families by leading them (Eph. 5:23), and older women who carry themselves with dignified reverence and self-control, who refrain from slander and teach the next generation of women to follow and help their sacrificial husbands (Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:14). The lesson was well-received, and we truly found this outstanding congregation a breath of fresh air, and have much optimism about their future.
The highway we had traveled to and from our RV park to the church building paralleled the Vegas Strip, and as we passed some of the most beautiful manmade structures I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t help but think silently to myself about the games of chance that had funded all of it, and all the risks people have taken in Las Vegas. Of course, we’ve all taken risks in life --- because no one cannot go through life without a leap of faith every now and then. In fact, the Apostle Peter took a risk when upon Jesus’s invitation, he got out of the boat and walked with the Son of God on water (Matthew 14:22-33). In like manner, those who love God have “counted the cost” (Luke 14:28-32) and consciously take calculated risks every day to gain for Him more glory. Sometimes the risk is unpopularity when the occasion demands, and in other times there’s even more at stake. It’s during those times when doing the right thing seems that it will cost us everything, that will reveal who we really are and just how much we actually believe what we say we believe.
John Piper writes about how risk reflects God’s value, not our valor, and the amazing things that can happen when we have “...faith in the all-providing, all-ruling, all-satisfying Son of God, Jesus Christ. The strength to risk losing face for the sake of Christ is the faith that God’s love will lift up your face in the end and vindicate your cause…” He goes on to note “...how much is wasted when we do not take risks for the cause of Christ …On the far side of every risk---even if it results in death---the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courageous self-reliance, or efforts to earn God's favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God's love---that on the other side of all our risks, for the sake of righteousness, God will still be holding us. We will be eternally satisfied in Him. Nothing will have been wasted…Every loss we risk in order to make much of Christ, God promises to restore a thousandfold with his all-satisfying fellowship.”
God certainly has a lot to say on the topic of risk, including the fact that He has given His children a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7), and that there is no “fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:17-20). I believe these connections God makes in scripture of the courage it takes to risk loving others and be loved in the ways Joe described in his talk, is exactly what motivated C.S. Lewis to make the following observation: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable; the alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
Wise people seek to optimize the risks they take, because they know the right risks are intended by God to be part of our development. The same can be said about the risks we allow our children to take. I more often see children who are under-protected, but the opposite extreme is also to be avoided. Jordan Peterson warns parents to avoid overprotecting their children lest when something dangerous, unexpected, and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will, they don’t have the confidence or experience to take on the challenge, but instead “lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless.”
So how does a parent navigate providing their children with risks that will build their confidence and capacities to reach their full potential, without exposing them to situations that could destroy them spiritually? Such parental judgments are of course on a case-by-case basis, but generally speaking, I believe God expects us to not shelter our children from such things as:
Knowing how much you treasure them
The acknowledgment of your own imperfections and mistakes
Necessary Confrontations/Standing Alone
Noticing the consequences of sin in other’s lives
False teachings (Show them how to compare what man says to what God says in scripture)
People from other ethnicities or cultures
People from other income levels
People who are grieving
People who are dying
On the other hand, what are children best sheltered from? I believe God expects us under every circumstance to shelter and protect the children we are raising from such things as:
Sin in media: websites, movies, books, music, magazines, and television shows.
Manipulative/seductive people (teachers with questionable agendas, flirtatious coaches…)
Wearing sexually provocative clothing
Having everything they want/materialism
Wasting too much of their time/misplaced priorities
I’m a risk taker by nature in many areas of life. I guess that’s pretty obvious as a woman who married a man at 17 that I’d only known for four months. On the other hand, after we married, we felt it too risky to continue motorcycling during the years we were raising children, then got back on once we were empty nesters, until someone ran out into a car ahead of us and we crashed. Even living nomadically just four months after Covid broke out was quite risky. I’m willing to take some risks, but you’ll never see me sitting at a “one arm bandit” because, for starters, there's good reason why gambling is called “stupidity tax”. And as much as I love artistic architecture, I knew I’d not be able to stomach even a walk down the Vegas Strip where huge signage invites even 18-year-old boys to see things that grieve my soul.
We must count the cost of all we do and even seek out the advice of the wise around us, but of course not every risk can be foreseen. Sometimes we are flying blind. In fact, sometimes you do the math and it all adds up to “go for it”, then unforeseen circumstances cause the chance you took to explode into a million pieces and all you can do is stand and watch the ashes descend on your head sometimes for years like confetti from the hadean realm. I’ve had that happen more than once. I’m hoping today’s not one of those days, because, after all this writing about risk, I actually have a helicopter waiting to take me on a flyover of Zion National Park today. Ironic timing often makes me smile.
Vegas Drive church of Christ
3824 Vegas Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada 89108