While 2017 is now history, America seems fundamentally different nowadays. There's a lot of angst in our nation – and a great deal of apathy. If you're not careful, the apathy and anger could rub off on you – and ruin your calling to look up, live for Christ and do all you can to make 2018 a year of being salt and light in an increasingly dark and distasteful world. What can you do to be on guard, push back against America's new norm, and live an engaged, peace-filled life while so many seem to be burning up and looking the other way?
First, stop thinking that if we ignore our problems they will go away. If you think our current national woes are significant, they are nothing compared to what they will become if American Christians don't get more serious about Jesus Christ than ever before. God has not called you to disengage from culture, but to work diligently to try and transform it for his agenda and glory. Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV):
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people."
Salt and light are not noticeable unless they are introduced to needy situations. Think about this next time you struggle with your boss or co-worker. Maybe God has not simply allowed you to be where you are, but literally placed you in your situation so he reveal himself to the people who need him most. As the Bible commands, don't associate with Christians who are fakes, phonies and frauds. But stop missing the whole point of why God left you here until he returns: to positively impact the lives of people who are far from him. God calls you to engage culture and change it.
The second thing you can do is stop using the rapture or return of Christ as escape clauses God never intended them to be. As a pastor, it nearly drives me bonkers when I'm talking with someone about current events and they say something like, "Yeah, the Bible says things will get worse. There's not much we can do about it. Jesus return must be soon." Are you kidding me? That kind of statement reveals significant (though often well-intentioned) ignorance – not only about the Bible, but also about history.
The Apostle Paul most likely thought he would witness Christ's return (1 Cor. 7:29). He did not. What if the Allies, who fought valiantly in WWII, had the attitude of today's average American Christian about world events and the futility of fighting back? You'd probably be reading this in German, Italian or Japanese because we'd have been conquered by our enemies.
The timing and circumstances of Jesus' return are up to God. Whether or not you heed God's words in Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) is entirely up to you: "Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." Stop using the certainty of Jesus' return as an excuse for doing your part to change your family, workplace, church, neighborhood and nation for God's glory.
Finally, this can be the year when you begin to really pray and apply the Bible like never before. Keep in mind that there were 6,000 Pharisees during Jesus' day – yet he chose not a single one to be among the twelve apostles. A Pharisee had the equivalent of a PhD in Old Testament, but most of them forgot the purpose of the Scriptures in the first place: to lead us to the feet of the Messiah. If your Bible reading and study, and your prayer life, aren't making you more concerned about the lost, more engaged in society and more passionate about Jesus, they're literally useless.
Keep a Bible near your bedside. Read it first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Read it again at night, just before you turn out the light. But do this with a resolved commitment to putting it into action throughout the day. It will keep you from becoming pharisaic, and help you live as the kind of influencer every real disciple should be.
Now it's time to hear from you. Let's keep it positive. Is there something in what you just read that you can put into action and help make 2018 a great year for you?
Michael Anthony is the author of the book A Call For Courage: Living With Power, Truth, and Love In An Age of Intolerance and Fear, a speaker and blogger (CourageMatters.com), and lead pastor of Grace Fellowship in York, Pa. His opinions expressed in this piece are his own.