So, what do we do now?
What do we do in this world, in this day, in this time, in this era?
In this climate of increasing hostility toward Christians?
How do we glorify God and do people good in an environment where we’re colossally unpopular?
Bailing is not an option unless we really weren’t in it to start with. If an issue causes an exit, we were around Christ but not in Christ. (1 John 2:19) Hiding is ridiculously counterproductive since the reason we’re here is to be lights in the darkness.
So, what now?
My Scripture memory over the last month has had me in the fourth chapter of Ephesians so, for the process to work, I have to read the verses again and again, asking God to peel them from the page and stick them in my head and bind them to my heart. They speak to me in very personal ways but I can’t shake the thought of their relevance to us corporately in a culture growing, in these hot days of summer, icy cold to Christianity. Sometime soon I hope you’ll steal away a moment to read the whole chapter. It is seed for the soil of our time under the sun as surely as it was when God first gave it to Paul. With your patience, I’ll pick out a few segments that might land on some ground firm enough to stand on when we’re shaken. The chapter opens with this:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
This is the world you and I have been called to serve. This exact world. This exact era. It is not a mistake. It is a mission. Isaiah 41:4 says, “Who acts and carries out decrees? Who summons the successive generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, am present at the very beginning and at the very end – I am the one.” (NET) 1 Peter 2:9 calls us a “chosen generation.” Ephesians 2:10 says that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us beforehand. Acts 17:26 says that God “made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times.” (NET) God is sovereign in all things. Never unprepared. Never caught off guard. Nothing happening presently is inconsistent with what Jesus said prophetically in places like Matthew 24.
So, this stage is set for us. We’re on.
Bemoaning will not help us. Believing will. We here in the west have, generally speaking, gotten away with living out our Christianity selfishly, carnally, politically, lazily, and, forgive me and include me, sloppily. We’ve left it for the professionals to do for us while we’ve tried to stay buffered on neutral ground. That’s not going to work now. Christianity has grown too inconvenient. These are days for sanctification. These are days to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we each have been called. Let’s clear out the cultural camouflage from our closets and go ahead and be willing to look different from the world and love different than the world…
Or looking different is nothing but masquerading. There are people I dearly love on the other side of many of our issues. Wonderful people. My own flesh and blood. I want those relationships. To lose them from my life would break my heart. I’ve got no stones to throw. No condemnation to scream. I breathe by the grace of Jesus alone. My very colorful extended family doesn’t leave me the convenience of discussing cold concepts. These are warm-hearted fellow human beings welcome and wanted in my home. I need Jesus to teach me how to love them well in the midst of believing differently.
(V.2) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
What’s not going to serve us well in this era is arrogance. We have to be willing to stare ourselves in the mirror and ask an honest question: does anybody out there in the unbelieving world want what I have? If we have the love and hope of Jesus and the joy of those who know they are forgiven and the security of those who know they are loved unconditionally, and the certainty of those who know where they are headed when this life is over, the answer to that question will be yes. If we’re grossly self-righteous and condemning and lack humility and gentleness and grace and genuine love, we can’t blame their resistance on being put off by Jesus. They’ll be put off by us. We serve this world. That’s what we’re here to do. And we do it with humility and gentleness and patience and love.
(Vv.11-16) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This is a huge part of what provoked me to write this post:
It’s time for us to go forward to church. Not back. Forward. I mean to a local church. It has never been easier to be a believer in Christ and not be invested in a local body of believers. We can sit right in front of a screen every week and watch a church service. We can hear an endless stream of podcasts by our favorite preachers and teachers. We can do Bible studies at home – thank God – and have praise and worship in our cars on the way to work – I love that, too. And those things are fabulous and edifying but they cannot supplant the local church and us fulfill our missions and follow Christ’s way. I’m asking you to hear me out here. The days we have coming are days that will necessitate – if we’re to live them well and effectively and in the will of Christ Jesus – congregating regularly and being in an intentional community with Bible-learning believers.
I’m not talking about going “back” to church the way we used to do church when Christianity was culturally and politically correct. I’m talking about going forward to church.
My maternal grandmother lived with us until she passed away when I was in early high school. She was born in rural Arkansas in the mid 1880s and died in the sprawling city of Houston, Texas in 1973. During her earthly tenure, life in these United States moved from horseback to automobiles and from jets to spacecrafts. She sat in front of a television screen utterly transfixed as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and, with words thickly accentuated, made a statement anyone in that generation knew by heart until the day they died: “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.” Perhaps no word characterized the era my grandmother occupied like “leap.” Progress didn’t meander along. It long-jumped. It was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The west wore a big S on its chest and a red cape fluttering in the wind.
Never one to believe in keeping an opinion to herself, she scoffed openly every time she heard a person long for the good old days. “You can have them,” she’d say. Then she’d commence into a diatribe like this:
“Go right ahead and swelter in the heat. I’ll stay in the air conditioning.
Go right ahead and huddle in front of a small fireplace when it’s freezing outside and grab your pillows and sleep in there, all of you, because your rooms feel like they’re 20 degrees below zero. I’ll take a heater.
Go ahead and scrub your clothes then put them through the ringer one by one and hang them on a clothes line. I’ll put mine in the washer and dryer.
Go ahead and milk that cow early every morning. I’ll go to Piggly Wiggly. Just go right ahead. The good old days are yours for the taking. Cut your electricity off and have at it. As for me, I’ll keep the days we’re living in.”
The moment Pillsbury put out the first canned biscuits, my grandmother never rolled out another batch of homemade dough. She cracked open a can of biscuits on the counter in the gladdest defiance of the good old days.
I guess in some ways that’s how I feel about church and the general climate of Christianity in my upbringing. I loved church passionately. It was a lifeguard throwing out a buoy to me, flailing in waters way over my head. It meant more to me than I have breath and words to articulate. I walked through those doors three times a week minimum. But I do not wish for the good old days of church. I’ll take today. In my upbringing, practically everybody went to church whether or not they believed in God. It was America. And, in my part of the country, it’s what Americans did because American, by and large, meant Christian. But we didn’t speak much about Jesus outside those walls. Salvation was something you received around eight or nine years old instead of every day for the rest of your life from the moment you called Jesus Lord. My family growing up wouldn’t have known to get down on the floor together on all our knees and cry out with one unified heart for God to come and rescue us from our destruction, our bitterness, our despair, our unforgiveness, our addictions and our hypocrisies. We’d never been taught or shown such a thing. Issues like rampant prejudice and sexual abuse never came up. Church didn’t sort through the trash. Collectively, church was mostly about being proper. Respectable. And, where I came from, American. I don’t have anything against being proper, respectable, or American. I want to be all those things. But it’s a new America and one the cross of Christ foresaw. The tide of Christ’s blood reached these banks way back then. He hasn’t moved off shore. This is the new America we who live here are called to inhabit on purpose and serve well.
I was raised in a thick Christian atmosphere. I have not been out of church for a single month in my entire life. In all those years I never heard anyone pray like I hear people pray today. That doesn’t mean plenty of people weren’t praying the roof down somewhere. I just didn’t happen to be where they were. I heard sweet prayers and meaningful prayers and reverent prayers and, all of them, genuine prayers. And they were heard by God, bless His Name. I cannot fathom where I’d be without them. They mattered greatly. But I never heard anybody pray under such an unction of the Holy Spirit that I had to open my eyes to see if they were lit up like a torch. I didn’t hear prayers like that at church until the last few decades. I don’t mean screaming and yelling. That doesn’t move me. I’m just talking about an atmosphere filled by the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit where the Word of God is not just taught, it is walked and stalked and pounded out on the pavement of our workplaces and social environments and under the roofs of our very own homes. An atmosphere not of convenience but of desperation where the Word of God has the power to break addictions and mend factions. When I was growing up, the only people who studied their Bibles were clergy. Good Lord, we’ve come a long way.
My experiences may not be yours. Maybe for you, days of the past really were the good old days. But whether we’d have them back or not, they are gone. Yesterday’s gone. LONG gone. Jesus longs to work here and now and among us in this world.
A gift has come to us if we’ll receive it. Our old way of doing things won’t work anymore. We won’t get away with being lazy in our faith and in our spiritual disciplines, not if we’re going to join that great cloud of witnesses one day who did their jobs well in their generations and did not shrink back in the face of hostility. We won’t get away with sharing the good news in a bad mood. Nobody will buy it. We won’t get away with virtual church. We can’t be equipped that way. We can’t fulfill our callings autonomously and self-contained. We won’t get away with all our fracturing and infighting over secondary issues. We’ll need each other too badly. The padding on the Body of Christ in America has been stripped away with the last threads of nominal Christianity. We’re lean these days. Just listen to the statistics. But make no mistake. Lean can be strong. Lean can run fast and hard with the gospel around the globe.
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We won’t get away with all our carnality. It’s cheating us of the Spirit. And, boy, do we need the Spirit.
22 put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
We won’t get away with these things if we’re to walk worthy of our callings in a culture increasingly unwelcoming to Christians. Not if we’re going to love people who hate us. Bless people who curse us. Help people who hurt us.
And that is a gift.
Our lives will be over before we know it. And we will stand before Jesus and look at His glorious face and marvel over His worthiness of every ounce of our devotion. And we won’t be able to do this over. We’ll have only had this one chance to do this thing with all our hearts. Let’s not go back to church. Let’s go forward to it. Let’s not go back to the Bible. Let’s go forward to it. Let’s not go back to prayer. Let’s go forward to it. Let’s not go back to the way the Holy Spirit worked yesterday. The pipe is breaking. The Spirit pouring. He’s doing something wildly significant today. Let’s congregate, Church, under the nearest spout, so we can spread out and splash on a dry and thirsty land.
for we are members one of another. (V.25)
And the devil’s not playing out there.