Thursday, August 14, 2014

Living in The World We Don't Want

Having returned last week from a great vacation (which includes strictly limiting news media, social media, and email), I find I've returned to a world that I don't want to live in. Consider:

Christian homes marked for attack in Mosul, Iraq. The
Arabic "n" marking stands for Nazarene, a pejorative name
for Christians.
Days are stretching into weeks where a radical Muslim group (ISIS) is killing Muslim "heretics," crucifying Christian converts in Syria, killing and persecuting Christians in Iraq, and performing ethnic and religious "cleansing" that is more public and visible than the early stages of the Holocaust. All those nations that swore "never again" are now simply saying, "again?"

Rockets launched at Israel from Gaza by Hamas
Meanwhile the national descendants of Holocaust survivors in Israel have faced renewed anti-Semitism in Europe and international condemnation for military action in Gaza, which has been launching missiles toward Israeli citizens for years, and still refuses to stop. With Gaza in ruins, Israel halted military incursions, and what happened? Gaza launched more missiles. The typical response in the news? ISRAEL LAUNCHES NEW STRIKES, and only later in the report, "in response to 70 missiles launched by Hamas in Gaza." Hamas is committed to war until Israel is destroyed, and yet we call on Israel to show restraint, just like we would if Cuba was continually shelling Florida.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine
Russian aggression against Ukraine is roundly condemned, as was its aggression against Georgia a few years ago, but when Russian weapons in the hands of Russian puppets in Ukraine shoot down a passenger jet with hundreds of lives lost, no one does anything...just like the good old days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union shot down a passenger plane with hundreds aboard and no one did anything. Russia is on the verge of annexing more of Ukraine and possibly invading. But suggesting that we are back in a new Cold War is considered foolish.

And don't even take time to think about domestic issues: border problems, shooting of unarmed civilians in Missouri and Ohio, and a government that passes laws, only to ignore them or delay implementation because they will create political cost and economic pain.

The breathtaking pace at which our culture has embraced and prized relational choices the Bible says  are sin (unfaithfulness to marriage vows, divorce, wholesale rejection of marriage by many couples in favor of cohabitation, and acceptance of same sex marriage) is yesterday's news. As mentioned in Romans 1, people now are not just doing wrong, but celebrating when they get others to join in.

Meanwhile, Christians who feed the poor and place orphans in homes are bad when they follow their consciences and the clear teaching of scripture, refusing to recognize same sex marriage or to offer insurance that pays for abortion of infants in the womb. Of course, these Christians, and all Christians through the history of the Church, are holding views and values that civilized societies have, until the last one hundred years held as well.

Dr. Kent Brantly, missionary doctor being treated for
Ebola, has been labeled "narcissistic" and guilty of
idiocy for going to Liberia instead of working in the US.
And for all who make the terrible mistake of linking political conservatism with biblical Christianity, the statements of Ann Coulter (and a few others who made similar comments) that a Christian doctor who contracted the Ebola virus while serving in Liberia was "narcissistic" and his current medical condition was "idiocy" show that even our supposed "friends" in this world don't really get what good is.

Perhaps these events may be the tipping point for those who have been so convinced that "American exceptionalism" was true and we were a nation in character unlike any other. True, our history has evidenced many blessings from God--but blessings are by definition undeserved. They are grace--either common or special, but grace nonetheless.

Perhaps circumstances will finally disabuse those naive Christians who think we will bring the kingdom of God's power, ethics, and circumstances to earth by our good works--reversing the curse by our kindness.

Perhaps, but I doubt it. But this is a moment for repentance, and for courage. We repent, because it seems that only extraordinary evil awakens us to the evil around us, when in fact evil has been our constant companion. We repent because we Christians in America have lived as if suffering and tribulation were exceptions for Christians, and not the rule, and we have allowed the vigor of our faith to diminish accordingly. We have forgotten that Jesus told us, "in the world you will have tribulation.," not that it will only come after you've gone.

But it is also a time for courage. How? Because in that same passage, Jesus said, "in the world you will have tribulation, but take heart (take courage, be encouraged), because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Note that we don't jump up and down for joy at tribulation, but we recognize it is not the final destination or experience for those who know Jesus. He sometimes protects from evil, sometimes delivers through it, but always promises that his victory is our confidence. Evil did not stop him from redeeming his own, and evil will not stop his people from inheriting eternal life. And so we are to have courage--be brave and bold, though we don't have any strength or power of our own. It is courage anchored in Jesus' death and resurrection, and it will be needed for many in the days ahead, because tribulation is our current "promise." But Peter says it is "for a time" that we are tried. Paul says it is "momentary" and "light" in terms of comparing it to the weight of the glory and good that is coming. But it is real.

Don't freak out at how bad things are. Some of our brothers and sisters are wondering how we've missed how bad it has been for a long time for them. Don't wring your hands, although you can and should be moved with compassion. Pray for the needs and suffering you see. Pray that God will strengthen those going through the fire right now. Do what you can--give if there is a need you can meet and a way to meet it. But as the fire and destruction and collapse of  "Christian culture" continues, pray for yourself, that your faith will not fail. Pray the same for others. Dig into the Word. Find other believers with whom you can pray and study and prepare. Hold on to truth, and tell it even if it is unpopular. Speak it clearly, humbly, and in love. The Church is always to have a place in public life, even if it is to be ridiculed for views and beliefs that are unpopular.

This world is not a place we would, or should, want right now. But the day is coming when, after judgment falls, Jesus will make all things new. Keep your eyes and heart fixed on that hope, and the present distress will not overwhelm you.