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. 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 produces a wonderful mixture of feelings rich in joy, hope and comfort. Christmas offers a time of intimacy and fellowship with family and neighbor that restores my soul in so many ways but sadly it is a time which 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.
Jeremiah warned the Israelites that the prophets and 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)
As we begin this new year it is time to put these days of celebration behind us and once again return to the pressing issues of our day. While we may be tempted to convince ourselves that "all is well," the fact is we are living in a world at war. There simply is no real peace, apart from Christ, in a world plagued by sin and suffering - a world where people live in wanton rebellion against the King of Kings.
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, we more often than not just want to 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 sin that "so easily entangles us." 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. 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 witness of Christ come into the world is impoverished and the world is edified 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 recent best sellers, 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 has unleashed a vitriolic assault upon religion in his recent book, The God Delusion in which he calls for the intolerance of all religion. A recent 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 factually wrong, 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 surrendered 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. We must throw off this domesticated, watered-down Christianity and return to a true knowledge of Christ as Redeemer and King and live in bold and faithful obedience.
So let us resolve to return from our time of holiday celebration and fellowship with a renewed vigor that seeks the glory of Christ be made manifest in and through His Church.
Copyright 2007 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.