Thursday, December 3, 2015

God's Not Fixin', He's Transformin'

In the 1960’s, rapid societal transformations, assassinations, race riots, and other factors caused many people to ask, “Is God Dead?”  Some answered, “Yes.”  Others reacted defensively in ways that showed little Christian gentleness toward their neighbor and little reverence for God.  Still others did nothing to defend their faith, nor did they encourage those who were seeking meaning and purpose in life.  Meanwhile, on April 15, 1965, the song by Jackie DeShannon, "What the World Needs Now Is Love," was released with music composed by Burt Bacharach.  The lyrics by Hal David resembled the message of many in the 1960’s who perhaps could not voice their need as well:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It's the only thing that there's just too little of…

As time passed, what some called the "moral majority" was replaced by a "secular majority."  Today, America appears to be moving toward an "immoral" or "agnostic/atheistic majority." More and more Americans support the removal of prayer and all vestiges of God and Jesus Christ from our schools, colleges, and communities.  After all, why pray to a God Who either doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist?  Or why turn to a God that would allow so many to experience personal and environmental tragedies?

This morning, following the tragic attack on the social services center in San Bernardino, CA, the NY Daily News used its front cover to mock presidential candidates who encouraged Americans to pray for loved ones of those killed or injured by the attackers.  The headline, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” allows that God may still be alive, but implies He should be blamed for “not fixing the problem.”  I suggest that another headline might be more appropriate—“Americans Are Not Listening to God.”

Many Christians have been quick to point fingers at those we deem responsible for the moral decline in America.   Our standard lines have been much like the ones I used above-- lines like: “Well what do you expect? They’ve taken God and prayer out of our schools.”  Christians also point to the courts of our land which have disregarded the sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage as defined in the Bible.  Throw in our access to social media, and some, including this writer at times, can be anything but “gentle and reverent” when we enter into “discussions” about political and social issues.  Pointing our fingers or trying to win arguments may give our conscience a sense of relief, but it does little to solve the problems.  Nor does it encourage those who wonder if God exists, and if so, what their responsibility is toward Him.

Lately, I have been thinking much about my own spiritual life, my values and priorities, and my responsibilities toward my wife, family, neighbor, church, and community.   Some of this thinking has been reflected in Oikonimia and is included in the following blog articles:

Individual Accountability and Spiritual Awakening
Local Churches and Spiritual Awakening
Christianity Shines in Dark Places
Do You Reckon God Is Real?
Learning How to Respect and Exercise Authority
How Do You P-R-A-Y This Thanksgiving?

Besides thinking and writing, I have been “listening” to what God is saying in His Word.  Rather than be surprised to read a headline like “God Isn’t Fixing This” or condemning those who think it is true, I’ve been learning more about how God has already done His part to “fix it.”  The Apostle John tells us how much God has done, sending His only Son to do more than “fix it.”  Jesus came so that anyone, by faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, could have the gift of new Life—to be “born again” as  a“new creature” so that the old passes away, and all things are new in us (John 3; 2 Corinthians 5: 17). 

As God’s children, we have the privilege of daily communion with our Heavenly Father, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit to walk along side us as our Helper (John 14: 26).  If we are reborn spiritually and walking in communion with God, His Spirit speaks to our souls,“Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4: 6).  And in response to the Spirit within us, we join Him in exclaiming with warm, endearing affection and worship, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8: 15).  In this loving resonance between the Father God and His child, love, faith, and eternal hope are affirmed.

Having God’s nearness to us; yes, even His presence within our hearts ought to encourage us to praise and thank Him for not only “fixing us,” but transforming us.  We are, or can, by faith (see Romans 10: 8-11), be new creatures in Christ.  We can have a new internal disposition toward our neighbor and the world around us.   Living such transformed lives anytime, especially during this season of Advent and Christmas ought to be such that Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:14-15 describe what God can do through us:

But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness,
you are blessed.
And do not fear their intimidation,
and do not be troubled,
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give an account
for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence…

God is not dead.  Nor is He hard of hearing.  He has done His part to “fix it” and then some!  Now it’s our turn as God’s children by faith, and as members of God’s Church, the “body of Christ,” to live so that Peter’s command applies to us--being ready to suffer fearlessly when God’s righteousness is offensive; and yet, being ready to answer others who ask why we are hopeful when so many people are hopeless, yet with “gentleness and reverence.”

But how can we give an answer for the hope that is within us in a culture that is increasingly dark, defensive, and even dangerous as many fellow Christians can testify if they haven’t been martyred already?  I like the example provided in Acts 17 by the Apostle Paul when he addressed the Greek philosophers and teachers of his day.  When Paul observed stone statues in Athens erected in honor of many different Greek gods but not to the God of Christianity, He chose not to insult them.  Instead, he acknowledged that they were very religious because they worshipped many gods in hopes of appeasing all the gods that exist.  But Paul then said to them while pointing to the statue erected “'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD:'

The Apostle Paul introduces Greeks to the "Unknown God"
Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.  The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;  nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.” Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.  Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17: 23-31).

In response to this oration from Paul, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this (Acts 17: 32)." Later, Paul’s epistles to the churches referenced many among the Greeks who had put their faith in God and had become leaders in the movement that would soon  sweep across the Roman Empire and northern Europe, and lay the foundation for the positive influence of Christianity in the Western Hemisphere.  

If God could “turn the world upside down” through the lives of the few followers of Christ in the first century, can he not bring revival to our whole troubled world?  Maybe it is already beginning.  Jesus has already given the call (Luke 9: 23):  If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

The world may ask, “Is God, ‘fixing this,’ or isn’t He?”  We who know Christ should ask, “Am I a faithful steward where God has placed me, or not?”

Comment if you please:  What do you find most difficult to bear in today’s world?  How have you found help through your faith?   What particular helps or suggestions can you offer to those of us who want to grow in faith and stewardship of time, material resources, and abilities?


Mike Naylor said...

Thank you, John, for posing some reflective questions. We take in so much information these days, but how much time do we actually spend reflecting on that information?

Recognizing that I’m a stranger and exile on this earth [Heb. 11:13], I find that the things of this world are the things that trouble me most. As you mentioned, Paul in Athens was “greatly distressed” at the city full of idols. For family night this past Friday, the boys wanted wings for dinner. We picked up BW3’s after work and I was amazed, then “greatly distressed”, at what had to be 50+ TVs covering the walls. It was as though we had entered a temple of entertainment and the focus was on the TV idols.

The idolatry of this world should not surprise us. As John Calvin wrote in his Institutes, “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” [Calvin’s Institutes 1.11.8]. The OT records many instances of idolatry and Paul tells us that man has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” [Rom. 1:25]. Though we don’t see the golden calves or Asherah poles today, humanity is as idolatrous as ever. But for the grace of God, we would all be there.

What comfort do we have? As exiles, Christians should remember that this world is not our home. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come [Heb. 13:14]. According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells [2 Peter 3:13]. These are some of the scriptures that keep me focused as I aim to live in the world but not of the world [John 17:14-15]. We are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness [Matt. 6:33]

As we engage the culture, we need to be conscious of our true citizenship. Our Sovereign would not have us proclaiming His kingdom in a sinful way. We need to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” [2 Cor. 10:5]. In doing so, we are able to “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” [2 Cor 10:5]. However, we must honor God as we do this.

The passage you cited in 1 Peter is often used in defense of defending our faith.
always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you [1 Peter 3:15]

The way in which we should go about it, however, is often missed.
sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame [1 Peter 3:15-16]

Though we are not yet suffering persecution in this country, our brothers and sisters around the globe suffer daily. As we remember them in our prayers, let us follow their example, which is the example of Christ. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” [1 Peter 3:18].

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. [1 Peter 5:6-11]

John Silvius said...

Thank you, Mike, for your response with abundant Scripture to ground your thoughtful reflections on the world in which we are called to live as "aliens and strangers." I agree with the emphasis you placed within the 1 Peter 3: 15-16 passage linking personal sanctification with effectiveness of our witness. As James teaches, we are not asked to "do battle with satanic forces" as our primary focus, but to "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4: 7-8)." Just tonight Abby and I briefly viewed a CNN program hosted by a Lisa Ling who was interviewing people from the temple of Satan. These were people who were clearly hurting from having made bad decisions and experienced (what they considered at least)rejection. Her very leading question in the two interviews, each with people who had "come out" in regard to their sexual preference and had experienced (they claimed) ridicule and rejection: "Do you blame Christianity (or "the church")? We are definitely in a real spiritual battle which seems to be heightening on multiple fronts. Thankfully, God has provided us with every weapon we need as well as the institutions of marriage, family, church, and morally responsible leaders for whom we should thank Him and pray. I am so thankful for our church where we aliens can gather to encourage one another and worship our loving, gracious God. Thanks again.