The holidays have ended and it is time to once again leave behind the fun and fellowship so unique to this wonderful time of year. I confess that for me this is hard, especially this year when our oldest is away from home serving in the Marine Corps. I love the Christmas season and everything about it; the weather, the carols, the gatherings with family and friends; it is simply my favorite time of year. There is something wonderfully nostalgic about Christmas (at least for me) that yields a wonderful mixture of feelings rich in joy, hope and comfort. Christmas offers a unique time of fellowship with family and friends that restores my soul in so many ways but sadly it passes quickly and so I find myself once again in the pull of everyday life with all of its pressures and challenges.
For those who have been called by His grace; it is indeed a time of rest and respite from a world that "groans" under the weight of sin and suffering. However, as much as I may want to remain within this psychological and spiritual refuge I cannot nor can any of us. While the temptation may be to remain in permanent retreat or seclude ourselves from the world, we simply cannot if we love Christ. It is into this fallen world with its warring forces that we must return as soldiers in the Lord's army.
The Prophet Jeremiah warned the Israelites long ago that the priests were falsely proclaiming that "all is well" saying, "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. 'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14). In other words, they were denying the reality of their own condition. They were complacent and unfaithful and contented themselves with being so. We too are tempted to convince ourselves that "all is well." We tend to resist the radical life of following Christ (seeking to bring forth the kingdom) opting instead for what is comfortable. Rather than wading into this world drenched in sorrow, suffering, and conflict, and assuming our place in redeeming it, we tend to retreat into a world of our own making-a place of comfort and safety. As much as we may want to give in to this temptation, we cannot if we desire to be obedient in seeking first the kingdom.
It is this reality that we must now return to because the "wound" apparent in the American Church is indeed serious and our natures are such that we tend to minimize the spiritual complacency present in our own lives and among God's people. We say to ourselves, "peace, peace" as if all is well with the world because the reality makes us too uncomfortable; such a view of reality inevitably demands more of us than we are often prepared to give. If we are honest, our inclination is to just get along with our lives rather than throw ourselves unreservedly into the cause of Christ. We assume that such selfless devotion will erase all comfort in our lives never realizing that this is where joy unspeakable and real freedom is ultimately to be found.
I confess that this too is a temptation for me as well because the alternative is at times too overwhelming and who wants to live under such a burden? But, I am reminded that our Savior bore the ultimate burden and because He did we have been set free from the slavery of sin. We no longer live in subjection to the fallen world but instead are called to live in submission to the loving King who has overcome the world and is in the process of redeeming it! We are His and He is ours and through Him we are more than conquerors called by Him to press His truth into every aspect of life and culture so that He may be glorified and repentant men and women raised to new life in Christ! This is the task to which we must return as we begin a new year.
Jeremiah's challenge to the Israelites then is appropriate to our day. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."
The degree of biblical ignorance, theological confusion, and spiritual apathy plaguing the American Church is appalling and the result is nothing less than the marginalization of the Gospel and lack of redemptive influence. The testimony of the church is lackluster and the unrighteous are emboldened in their rejection of the risen Lord. In the wake of such weakness on the part of the Church, anti-Christian sentiment is on the rise and in some cases outright hostility. Writing in the Telegraph, British columnist, Jeff Randall - who describes himself as "somewhere between an agnostic and a mild believer" - writes, "In an increasingly godless age, there is a rising tide of hatred against those who adhere to biblical values."
Randall continues, "A 'tyrannical minority' of intolerant secularists is openly contemptuous of traditional moral norms. The teachings and guidance of old-fashioned Christianity offend them, so they seek to remove all traces of it from public life."
Examples abound: In two popular books, Sam Harris heaps scorn on religious believers, whose faith he derides as "a few products of ancient ignorance and derangement." Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist of Oxford University unleashed a vitriolic assault upon religion in his best seller, The God Delusion in which he calls for the intolerance of all religion. A cover story in Wired magazine entitled The New Atheism chronicles what it calls "the crusade against religion." A study in the Journal of Religion and Society, albeit it pure conjecture, claims that belief in God correlates with higher rates of homicide, sexual promiscuity, and other social ills, and that when compared with relatively secular democracies, the churchgoing United States "is almost always the most dysfunctional."
Interestingly Harris, Dawkins and the growing number of those who propose that religion is the source of all evil in the world seem to overlook the more obvious examples where it was not religion but in fact the oppression of religion that led to the worst atrocities in all of human history such as Chinese and Soviet communism and of course, Nazi fascism.
Secular fundamentalists demand that public schools and government venues be purged of any hint of religious expression – be it a cross on the Los Angeles County seal, a courthouse display of the Ten Commandments, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
This ground has not been taken by secularism but rather given as a result of the cultural vacuum created by an impotent and apathetic Church. Thus we stand at the crossroads and we too must ask for the "ancient paths" and by God's grace recover historic orthodox Christianity and what it truly means to be a follower of Christ.
So let us resolve to return from our time of holiday celebration and fellowship with a renewed vigor that seeks the glory of Christ and His kingdom be made manifest in and through His Church.