The world is fraught with bad news. It has been since the beginning and will be until the end. Ironically, after however many thousands or millions of years (depending on your theology, or lack thereof) humans are still surprised wars continue to happen, that people die, and senselessly bad things happen to really good people. We don’t expect this reality. Maybe because God didn’t create the world or its inhabitants to experience the decay that has been unstoppable since Adam and Eve fell in the garden. Our expectations match what was to be our original perfect reality and not what became our actual reality post fall.
Andy Crouch, prolific author, speaker, and Executive Editor of Christianity Today, says it like this,
“We live in a bad news to bad news reality in the church. We start in Genesis 3 (the fall) and end with Revelations 20 (the lake of fire).”
Andy’s point is that even the Church, the entity Pastor Bill Hybels calls the hope of the world, has succumbed to this grim, joyless, and visionless existence. As Believers we live like the rest of humanity, in shame and defeat, with a poor image of God the Father, Redeemer, Creator, Author, and Finisher. And, we become a poor reflection of Him.
I think it is this posture that most fuels our desire to fight. Look around, listen to the news, conduct your own interviews of people on the streets; Christians are not known for our love. Nor are we often characterized by what we are for. We are known for being against. We are known for shooting our wounded and fencing the communion table so no one dirty will get in. We speak with the tongues of angels, we do this and we do that in Jesus’ name, but we have not love. At least not real love for people who fail to meet our ungodly high standards—the very standards we fail to meet. The least of these are aplenty and we treat them as the least, the last and the lost. We hope they ‘get saved’ only if they don’t bring their mess with them. And we rely on para-church organizations to deal with that mess.
As a lifelong evangelical Christian who grew up entrenched in church culture and church life and who has spent nearly every single day of my adult life deeply involved in a professional career of Christian service, I don’t know how God accomplishes much through us, His people. I say much because there are amazing examples of Jesus to be found in the Church. But, as a whole Body, we are struggling and in need of reformation: A grace reformation—one that reveals the heart of the Father and no longer the anxiety of the emotionally and spiritually asthmatic Older Brother, which has become the picture of the Church in the 21st century. As believers in one body, what one of us is says or does reflects the whole. Most of us are known for what none of us want to be.
Here’s the problem: we don’t live as though we have peace. We are anxious, hopeless, angry, and shocked. Our anxiety-ridden minds think the solution to finding peace requires us fighting to recreate hope, which will make us happy and put an end to all the shocking things in our world. We think we can create peace. The truth is, according to John 16:33, we are promised peace when we have Jesus, the Prince of Peace, as our Lord and Savior. We aren’t promised a world of peace, just an inward, never-ending, reality of it. The Church, the spiritual Body of Christ, does not operate from a spiritual position of absolute peace. We exist in fear—fear of God’s wrath, first and foremost, and fear of what will happen if we don’t “work” for Him. It’s sad, really. Exhausting. A treadmill of works and rules. It’s not the life in the Promise Land of peace and rest or the goodness we are promised in Psalm 27:13-14 where it says:
13 [a]I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.
As an earthly father, the very last thing I want my children to feel or live in is fear of me. I don’t want them to operate in life out of a position of fear of anything. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a healthy respect for me and who I am for them, the dangers of life and their surroundings, or that they don’t need to be careful. Obviously, they do need to be careful and respect the boundaries our culture and environment have set up, whether in nature or elsewhere. But, they don’t need to fear me, Leslie or anything else. They don’t need to worry. I am speaking to myself as I type this, too. I am constantly learning not to live in fear of anything.
Fear motivates us to be self-focused, self-absorbed, and reactionary. Our solutions are not based on trusting God to be God, but rather on our human efforts and endeavors to save the world. But, as my friend Tyler Wigg-Stevenson recently wrote in his fabulous must-read book by the same name, The World is not Ours to Save. We must trust God to be God because we cannot be Him or do His job for Him no matter how hard we try or how much we want to.
To sum it up, we are cultural defeatists who live in constant religious turmoil overreacting to our surroundings fully expecting that through our human efforts we can save the world, please God, and experience man-made Utopia on planet earth; all by tomorrow. No wonder the world hates and/or pities us. We are delusional. Dictatorial. Lacking compassion.
So glad this doesn’t have to be the end of the story. There is another option. We need to, as 4Him so poignantly sang back in the 1990’s, get back to the basics of life. It’s actually a song full of appropriate words. The basics: love God and love people. Simple in all its complexity. It will mean shutting off FoxNews and the split screen debate mentality that permeates the evangelical church. It will mean refraining from the senseless Facebook tirades that so easily suck us in. It will mean shutting up for a change rather than pretending we know it all, including God’s every thought and opinion on, well, everything. It will mean listening to people whose sin you think you know and deep down love to hate (the sin, that is). It will mean learning to think, speak, and act from a posture and position of secure peace in Christ and His absolute love for all.
I realize this is a tall order. But, as I contemplate the end of the human story—however far or near it may be—the Bible says it culminates with a harvest of people. There is no qualification made on their political or social positions, economic background, race, age, or sexual orientation (there it is—wondering when I was going to mention that deal breaker were you?). Truly, anyone can know Jesus if they simply believe. A great harvest of believers in Christ and His finished work will come when we, current believers, are more compelling than we are today. When we represent Him better than we have before. When we speak like Him. When we love like Him.
If we have not love we are like a clanging cymbal! Ain’t nobody got time fo dat.