Last week I tackled the ominous question of whether or not America is being judged by God, right now. I gave you ten ways in which this might be happening here at the beginning of 2023.
I know. This is serious stuff. So serious that, I’m sorry to say, many churches just won’t “go there.”
We preach the gospel and make disciples, which is great, but many of us preach our sermons and conduct our worship services as if we’re still living in a Norman Rockwell world, not the George Orwell world we see outside our windows. In our fear of “getting political,” we simply ignore what’s going on around us.
If you read what I wrote last week – or, better yet, if you read what I wrote and looked up the passages cited – I’m guessing that you’ve concluded that God is judging America right now.
Here’s one sentence from last week: As God’s holy and chosen people (I Peter 2) we certainly need to understand this most serious of facts about the times in which we are living so that we can discern how to live wisely (Psalm 11:3) and how to serve God wisely (I Chronicles 12:32).
So here’s the question: How can we thrive as Christians and congregations in the midst of the madness? I’ll share three suggestions today and a few more next week:
- We can find our strength in God Himself.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” Ephesians 6:10
“You then my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…Endure hardship with us, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” II Timothy 2:1 and 3
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:20,21, contemplating his upcoming trial before the Emperor Nero.
- We can offer the hope of the gospel to everyone, constantly.
I can’t say it any better than the Apostle did in Philippians 2:14-16:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life…”
If Christians, living in a nation under judgment, are suffering in some respects, right along with their neighbors, how can their neighbors see that they are substantially, profoundly different from “normal people” (“mere men” in I Corinthians 3)?
It’s all here in this one compact passage:
- Joy instead of crankiness (Do you hear me podcast listeners?)
- Moral purity in the midst of perversion (this great old word, banned in 21st century America, means “twisted into its opposite”). We’ll return to this subject below…
- Flickering lights looking ever brighter because of the increasing darkness around us
- Offering the wondrous hope of the gospel, which we are displaying on a daily basis, to all those who will listen. Not shoving it down their throats, but holding it out and offering it, like you would with a stick of gum, a cough drop or a piece of candy. Peter adds that if we get this right (I Peter 3:15), some God-touched individuals will ask us to give the reason for the hope that they see in us.
- We can resist the temptation to respond with hedonism or self-righteous separatism.
We are tempted to respond with hedonism, and I’m afraid I don’t mean the wonderful Christian hedonism that John Piper loves to write about. Jesus said:
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Matthew 24:12
Yes, Jesus was speaking of the time period that many call “The Tribulation Period.” But certainly His words describe any time or place where wickedness increases. Freedom from religion (II Peter 2:19) doesn’t make people more loving, it makes them selfish and brutal. Everyone is calling everyone else a narcissist these days because Paul’s prediction in II Timothy 3:2 about people being “lovers of themselves” is being played out around us constantly. We have become a nation of narcissists.
In such times even God’s holy people are tempted to give up the fight against sin (Hebrews 12:4) and persecution (Hebrews 10:32-39), simply give in to the world and the flesh and plunge in to the excesses of the culture around them:
“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation [sin that damages us], and they heap abuse on you.” I Peter 4:4
The other temptation we have is to revert to a self-righteous legalism (“God, I thank you that I’m not like other men…” Luke 18:11), or separatism (“…keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!” F/Isaiah 65:5).
Of course it’s easier to avoid the God-dishonoring sins of our day if we stay a safe distance away from sinners. But that has never been our calling. Even the ancient Israelites were to steadfastly avoid the sins of the Middle East of their day so that, eventually, Gentiles living in darkness would beat a path to the Holy Land, seeking to know the wonderful, Holy God who was blessing His joyful, Holy people so dramatically.
Next week: A few more ways we can thrive in the midst of chaos.