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The Danger of Drift

A few months back, my family got to go back to Rio de Janeiro, a city we called home for ten years.

While we were visiting, we made it a priority to visit our favorite beach - Barra da Tijuca. So, we spent an afternoon there relaxing on the white sands. It was a chilly winter afternoon. By chilly, I mean Rio chilly, like in the low 80s. We paid a few bucks to rent a couple of beach chairs so Ila and I could read and relax while the kids messed around in near the water.

There they were. Right in front of us. They built a sandcastle for a while. . .then they started getting in the water. . .then to my surprise, eventually, they got all the way in and started swimming. That water was cold.

At some point, I couldn’t see them anymore. They had vanished from sight. Now, we’ve been to the Barra plenty of times before so I wasn’t afraid that something bad had happened. I know what happens along that beach. Not only do you have the waves coming in toward the beach, you also have a current that pushes out from the beach. And on the Barra, you have a third current pushing up along the beach. Sure enough, they had been pushed up along the beach and had ended up a quarter of a mile from us.

It took an hour or so, but the current did what it always does - it slowly pulled them along. If I had just stared at the kids the whole time, I wouldn’t have noticed the movement. Only when I took my eyes off them for an extended time was I startled by the visible drift that I saw occurring..

There at the Barra, and at most ocean front beaches, there are currents at work. Visible currents and invisible currents. The waves are easy to see. They rhythmically push in up and onto the beach. The other currents are more subtle. Undertow pulls back out to the open sea. You’ve got to be careful with the undertow. And, at that beach, there's the invisible current that pulling up the coastline.

In the culture that surrounds us, there are currents at work. Visible currents. Invisible currents. If we’re not aware of them, they can pull us off course. Without us ever realizing what’s happening, these currents can influence us and pull us places we never intended to go.

This “drift” can affect individual people. . .or businesses. . .universities. . .even churches.

In the business world, it’s called “mission drift.” It’s when corporations get off course. Like when McDonald’s started serving salads. Salads at MCDONALD'S?! What's up with that?

How about this one? A well-known university produced this mission statement. "To be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of your life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ." This university exclusively employed Christian professors, it emphasized character formation in its students above all else, and had as an institutional goal to train ministers to share the good news.

Every diploma had a Latin phrase on it that translated means "Truth for Christ and the Church."

You've probably heard of this school. Harvard University. It was founded in 1636.

Eighty years after Harvard was founded, a group of pastors in New England sensed that the school had drifted off mission, so they decided to establish a new university that would remain true to Christian ideals. Yale University was founded by these religious leaders.

Look, I don’t need to tell you that Harvard and Yale remain places of academic excellence. Any scholar would be delighted to hold a degree from these universities. But it’s also safe to say there was mission drift. A former president of Johns Hopkins University, Steven Muller, said at the 350th anniversary, “The bad news is the university has become godless.”

So, these two universities had clear goals in the beginning – Academic excellence and Christian devotion. Today, they are only recognized for the first part of that.

There are currents at work, there always have been, currents that pull us away from God, that pull us away from the Creator’s purpose for us. It is important for disciples to recognize that there are forces at work influencing and shaping us - our thinking, our parenting, our decision about money, our love for the Lord, etc. Knowing that the currents, visible and invisible, are at work is important. Clear counsel on drift comes from the apostle Paul. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer 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 (Romans 12.1-2 NIV)."

May the Spirit help you stay on course as you navigate the currents of your world.