For a while now, each week has brought further flux to our society. It’s almost impossible to keep up with everything. I’ve been reluctant to address much of it head-on. I don’t want to be the guy who cracks off shots at every stray rabbit crossing his path.
Still, people want commentary.
I got a call from a person the other day who was more than a little annoyed at the new “normal.” “What do we do?” he asked me.
I hadn’t really thought about it, because I’ve always assumed we were to do the same thing we were supposed to be doing last year. And last decade. And last century. Come to think of it, the same thing we were supposed to have been doing from the beginning.
I told him, “I’m going to seriously live the Christian life. Serve people the Word of God. Help other Christians do the same.”
The voice on the other end was silent. All my talk about spiritual stuff didn’t interest him. It was as if I’d said I was going to pour a cup of coffee on a forest fire. My response was almost silly in light of an entire country sliding into a moral tar pit.
I knew what my friend was getting at. He wanted Mayberry back. Traditional family values. Crew cuts and apple pie. Stability. How was my determination to share the Word of God going to throw a net over our culture and drag it wholesale from left to center?
For sure the Bible tells us God hates lawlessness (Heb. 1:9 NASB), including the particular moral missteps of our moment in history. But maybe we should ask if He ever liked Mayberry that much, either.
Did it approximate His divine kingdom? Was it really His golden time? Hardly. From our various social and economic vantage points, we fail to know the seedy underside of the world at an earlier, more conservative time. I’ll spare you specific anecdotes.
Sufficient to say, God saw the spiritual malaise, materialism, secret sins, social injustices, and cultural Christianity with its legions of “Christians” who were no more regenerate than tree stumps. Maybe we were completely unaware that the American dream had blunted the apostolic urgency of a returning Christ of glory. The final prayer of the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus,”(Rev. 22:20), had turned into “Come later Lord Jesus.” After all, there were houses to be bought and investments to grow and weddings to be had. We fell in love with those times. God didn’t.
Darkness of the same nature was at work in those days, whether your “days” were the nineties or eighties or seventies, etc. Even then, darkness strained against cultural boundaries, longing for release, wishing to express itself without judgment or censor of any kind. This is why sin delights in talk of non-judgment. That way it can run wild and unchallenged in society and even in the church.
The heart that celebrates evil today is the same heart that secretly practiced and celebrated it sixty years ago. Only God saw the full magnitude of it all.
In earlier times the Judeo-Christian ethic still exercised a certain imperfect influence as it echoed out from the Great Awakening, including over the non-Christian segment of society. Even that influence however, was like Swiss cheese, allowing some sins, but forbidding others.
But these days God has allowed our present culture to shift. Under the protection of political correctness and certain forms of legislation, sin and false faith have danced out into plain view, using as a cover a pastiche of badly applied Bible verses—“Judge not!”—and “Love!”
The only sin left, it seems, is that somehow someone out there might be offended.
Which brings us back to my friend’s question: What should we do?
I’m afraid our ideas are a lot different from God’s. Jesus told the disciples to pray for the coming of God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:10). The restoration of an ideal America doesn’t equal that hope.
On its best day in history, America still withers in comparison to the coming kingdom of righteousness and peace under the reign of Christ.
Nor are our tactics His tactics. I love watching kids play chess the first time. They capture a couple of pawns and get excited over it. This is the sum total of misguided Christian efforts—pawns captured. Pawns regained.
If there are enough victories scored in the courts we think, the kingdom will come. If we could defeat poverty—pour billions into third world money pits, we’d have the kingdom. If we could put people together by forcing them to get along—by shaming them into it if necessary, the kingdom would appear. If we could legislate Christian values and make people behave themselves, then all would sing, “Happy days are here again.” History has shown us sin is not so easily dealt with.
Good works are necessary and a certain amount of political involvement needed for participation in a democracy. But God’s chief instrument of choice lies deeper than we imagine and is more effective than we could ever dream. Take a look:
Heb. 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Consider the component parts of this verse. The word of God is living, which means it possesses life all its own. It has an energy beyond what human beings have. It can raise them up and make them do things they can’t. It is also active. Busy. It addresses dozens of things at any one time at different levels within the human heart. The Word is sharp. Unlike the dull, clumsy pressure of the courts, and mindless political coercion, it can separate the immaterial parts of man—soul and spirit—as easily as a literal sword can divide bone from marrow. It can even reveal the difference between thoughts and intentions.
Paul spoke of this dynamic as the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29), meaning the identification and conviction of fleshly motives—spiritual surgery—that needs to take place within people. After an operation of this sort we can know what is of God and what is of us. No more excuses. Hiding. Blame-shifting. Arguing.
Is it any wonder that the Bible gets attacked every day? You must judge it or it will judge you. That’s a game many of us know. If you can hurl accusations and insults at the Bible, if you can minimize it with one-sided rhetoric, maybe you can keep it from telling you the truth about yourself.
But never have human beings needed truth more than now.
We routinely confuse our psychological registrations—wants, desires, thoughts—with what is genuinely spiritual. We assume what makes us happy must be of God. It is, like we say, “My truth” or “My normal.” And the things we dislike, we assume are not of God.
As a result, humanity embraces things that are not divine. This leads to short-term, sugar-coated gains that will ultimately inflict the worst forms of injury. Conversely, we reject things that are genuinely of God, and set ourselves up for destruction.
How could we ever know the difference between soul and spirit? The Word of God, the sharpest sword of all, divides like a deli saw shaving slices off a ham. Peter ran into that sword. When Jesus told Him of His upcoming death and resurrection, Peter reacted, full of fire and passion. He “took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You’” (Matt. 16:22).
In the moment, it looked like Peter was more reasonable than Jesus, had more common sense, and was positive-thinking. Then Jesus looked at Him and the sword of the word of God came out of His mouth: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt. 16:23).
With one swift slice, Peter’s soul and spirit were separated. His concern for Jesus and correction for Him had sounded spiritual to onlookers. If the Lord’s Word had not found its way into the conversation, we would have been left imagining Peter’s words as courageous and inspiring. But God’s Word appeared, and Peter’s coaching session was exposed as Satanic, part of the devil’s strategy to dissuade Jesus from dying on the cross for us.
On another occasion, a Canaanite woman came begging after Jesus for mercy. Her daughter suffered terribly under demonic possession. She was gentile, and therefore didn’t fall within His assigned mission to the Jewish people. Jesus told her, “It is not good for Me to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). That statement humbled her deeply. The word landed in her heart, testing, probing for sinful pride or resistance.
Instead, the woman responded, saying, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once” (Matt. 15:27-28). His word came like a sword, revealing both her request and response as being true faith. Not trumped-up emotion. Not pride or offense. Not sentimentality. Not assertiveness.
Yet another time, a Roman centurion pleaded for Jesus to heal his beloved servant. When Jesus began to go to his house, the man said, “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof…just say the word and my servant will be healed” (Luke 7:6, 7). Was this presumption on the man’s part or misplaced confidence or a religious show? The Word made it clear: Jesus said, “not even in Israel have I found such great faith” (Luke 7:9). According to the judging power of the living Word, the Centurion’s statements were genuinely spiritual. They weren’t hot air.
I can’t return the Judeo-Christian faith to a place of cultural superiority in North America. That’s above my pay-grade. But I can do my part to bring in the kingdom of God. I can present this formidable word to every man or woman I come in contact with. I can bring something to the table that goes to work in the human heart. It performs a surgical procedure no human being can perform on another and certainly one that a person cannot perform upon himself.
And all without Barney Fife’s help.