As a Christian, I am grateful to have been born in the United States, mostly because of its freedom and history of Christian-influenced generosity. We have also enjoyed remarkable prosperity, which may well be ending along with much else; time will tell. Along with this heritage, rather unique in history, I think I am also pleased that this nation does not show up in Biblical prophecy. When “experts” address this almost stunning absence, many suggest it means the United States will be irrelevant at the end, perhaps defeated early in the final battle or something like that. I few nukes might certainly accomplish that, but I have another perspective to consider.
Being unmentioned in prophecy mean the United States’ story is not predetermined. Actually, I’m disinclined to believe any nation’s or individual’s story is unalterably laid out; I do not believe God made humans to be helpless or hopeless. While individually and collectively we have encumbered ourselves with sin, God is merciful and gracious, prior to and apart from individual salvation. While no one can lift himself to heaven without accepting the saving hand of Christ, history proves that this world can do more than wallow in deep despair and depravity. While I do believe that God’s general graciousness and the influence of God’s people are a critical part of the impact of God’s goodness upon the world, I am also convinced that we need to avoid two attitudes common among believers—the ostrich with it’s head in the ground and the chicken little whose sky is falling.
Permit me to mix metaphors, just a little. I like to illustrate the state of the world or of a culture with a leaky ship. The ostriches sail along oblivious to their danger and uninterested even when others attempt to warn them. We have many ostriches inside and outside the Western Church today; theirs is a step beyond mere complacency. They seem almost too self-interested to have any concern about the very ship that keeps them from drowning. How is that possible? I wonder if they are so immature that, like small children, they live in a seeming bubble of security that prevents them from looking beyond until genuine ugliness and danger breaks that bubble and thoughtless complacency gives way to the equally unthinking despair that ultimately replaces it.
The Chicken Littles live in perpetual fear. They live in a world of conspiracies or, if believers, prophetic disasters. On our world ship, they continually proclaim, “We’re sinking! We’re all gonna drown!” A part of them can’t wait for the evil, hidden captain and his crew slip between the waves, punished for their terrible sailing. For them the ship is beyond rescue, and they wait for final doom or, if believers, rescue from beyond. Both chicken littles and ostriches share a common characteristic—neither bails water nor seeks to keep the boat from sinking.
End time prophecies have existed for millennia, meaning that generations have not seen their cultures and nations sink, though some have died or been overtaken. Ignoring the destructive forces or the evil people who take power or justifying non-action with the expectation of direct divine intervention would have left the positive influences and efforts to others. Permit me to say, without apology, that I do not regard such attitudes as spiritual or sinless; they are wrong!
As far as the United States, the future is not written. While choices and actions have consequences, both unintended and fully anticipated, no one knows without question what will happen, though experts and futurists will certainly assure us that they do. Neither Bible history nor prophecy determine our immediate future, and Jesus himself acknowledged that He didn’t know the timing of the end of days. How then dare we make the assumption that the nearness of his final coming permits us to stop working (“occupy till I come”?), especially when no one, not even Jesus, knows for sure when the end will come?
I grieve that the barrier raised between evangelism and the so-called “social gospel” has justified, in the mind of many, the abandonment of helping those in need. No, I do not believe that charity alone replaces evangelism, although I do believe that loving generosity will easily open the door to the good news. And, yes, I do believe that the “social gospel” has become a tool of many who actually reject the gospel and prefer to replace good works of faith with government programs and agencies which ultimately turn those in need into permanent dependents. My point, however, is that we, the people of God, have a moral and spiritual obligation to fight for our nation and be a redemptive force in our communities. It is our task, not the governments, not dependent one way or another on what kind of government it happens to be.
Another name for the attitude of the ostrich is apathy. Apathy is, in its way, as evil as hatred; they are but flip sides of the same root sin, pride. Oh, but wait, what if we call pride self-centeredness or just plain selfishness. They are the polar opposite of love, which God has established as the premier virtue. Love is more than just being “nice” to people. Condemn a man like Mitt Romney for his Mormon faith if you like, but his personal character and generosity, his willingness to go the extra mile to help others, and his humility especially as a politician makes it hard for me to deny the Spirit’s presence in his life. So shame on you if we must use a Morman man as an example of what a Christian’s life should be!
Can God identify his children apart from those who are not? Unquestionably, he can. Can we tell the difference? What has he told us? While we look at the outward appearance—that’s not just looks, but our perception of the correctness of their often unspoken beliefs, God knows the heart, the reality of their faith. He plainly tells not to attempt to separate the “wheat from the weeds,” yet sometimes it seems that we do nothing else. Seminarians and theologians argue about the relationship of faith and works, but I wonder why, because I frankly see far too little in the way of genuine faith or good works among believers.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. I have known some amazing Christians who have blessed my life in their kindness and generosity, but too few of even the best of the congregations that I’ve known do much more than dabble in influencing the culture or helping those in need. Yet, as I’ve observed the attitudes both of voters and of observers, following the election, I cannot help but wonder that so many ostriches and chicken littles fill our communities and, I fear, even our churches. It is not destiny, nor divine judgment, nor even the implacable pattern of history we have to fear; it is our own refusal to be people who refuse to accept despair but choose to create a different future. I’m not expressing mindless optimism; I am not offering pious platitudes. I believe God’s people have the gifts, a divine mandate, and the spiritual power to drive back the darkness, to create a better future, and to create a culture of influence within the Constitutional boundaries of these United States…if we will!
Is our fight, first of all, with socialists and progressives? Is it necessary to create some sort of majority within a party or among conservatives or libertarians? Is this how the early church ultimately defeated the Roman Empire? Of course, free elections were not quite the battle ground, back then; and neither was it the power of armies. Indeed, their victory was not through earthly power, military or political. Their power was of another kind, spiritual power mediated through individual influence in their homes and communities. This world, under the leadership of the principalities and powers of darkness, uses the power of bigger armies, of more powerful weapons, of weapons of propaganda and misinformation, of adoring, brain-washed fans of false heroes and celebrities, and of those who accept the liars who often fail to fulfill their promises. True power is found in love. The power of love is to change lives by caring for others, not only in words but in actions. God is love, and his power cannot be stopped. Our fight, first of all, is within ourselves and within our homes and communities, not to despair, but to care and through love to make the future we and our God desire.
This world will never change from the top down, except possibly when Christ returns and perhaps not even then. This world will change only from the bottom up. I have believed and tried to communicate this for quite some time. Take abortion, for example. I don’t believe the answer is ultimately through elections, though I support those; the ultimate answer is to change the minds and hearts of people, lovingly! I refer to my earlier posts about civil discourse and political bullies when I say we cannot change minds by badgering, quoting Bible verses, or scorning those who support abortion. We need to make thoughtful, well-reasoned, factual arguments in a kind, understanding manner. If your own passionate love for the life God has created doesn’t at least inspire others, then I wonder if it’s really there. Furthermore, people have heard lies upon lies; leading them to accept the truth requires patience, wisdom, and creativity, guided by God’s spirit, fostered through prayer.
Some conservative pundits have begun to question the presence of social interests along with economic ones politically, despite the effective use of those very social issues on the other side. As far as I could see, free contraceptives, the spurious claim of wanting to control women’s bodies, gay marriage, and other social issues were raised by the one side that preferred to avoid discussing the economy, unemployment, the enormous debt, the huge increase in the price of gasoline, the dangers of current Middle East policy, and the fiasco on September 11 in Benghazi, Libya. Why was that a successful strategy? How did a party financed by wealthy Hollywood and Wall Street contributors manage successfully to malign the opposition candidate for being wealthy. How did one guy win votes for “being cool” while labeling his opponent as “uncool”? Add to those questions, others about the monolithic influence of a one-sided media and of a leftist dominated government school monopoly, and it’s no surprise people feel like chicken little or prefer to return to an ostrich-like stance.
Yet, while I believe all of those questions merit every ounce of effort we can exert to change to a more agreeable answer, I do not believe that is where the future, a positive future, will arise; I do believe we can create a future we desire. We must work together to create a better future, intentionally, thoughtfully, one person at a time. First the ostriches and the Chicken Littles must go! No, we probably cannot get rid of them, but we must not be led or greatly influenced by them. Instead we must become eagles and, well, rabbits (I couldn’t think of a comparable bird to maintain my analogy). Rabbits are known for their tendency to multiply, and that is the quality that must be restored and cultivated among us. The fiscal and social problems have a spiritual root, and the one-on-one model of outreach and discipleship applies whether it’s to evangelism or social discourse. In both realms where we are citizens, we must become people of influence. Influential people are credible, and others trust and believe them. We become credible by loving as Jesus loves (John 13:34-35).
Some of the ostrich types in church leadership as well as in the pews will say that Christians cannot be involved in “politics” because we have a greater responsibility to do evangelism. Frankly, they are wrong. They have accepted a division created by opponents of religion and Christianity. What I’ve described in the previous paragraph is not two paths to two separate destinations; it is a single path of loving, credible influence that will changes minds and hearts. Based, more or less, on the idea that all truth is God’s truth, the foundation of every important argument comes from the same source, the same ultimate truths, offered in the same loving way. Fiscal conservatism is Biblical stewardship; both rest on working hard, living within your means, keeping your promises, and paying your debts. I believe life is precious, a gift from God who made us in his image; I reject evolution that begins by rejecting God. Does a view based on evolution create a better world? No man who understands the Bible and especially the New Covenant will ever consider a woman less than his complete equal; even the idea of the husband as head of the family comes with a reminder to love one’s wife as one’s own body, hardly a basis for discrimination. Honesty, loyalty, integrity are all spiritual values of unquestionable worth as we choose leaders for the secular or for the spiritual realm. In other words, if we really learn how to share our convictions and defend them without rancor or arrogance, we will be doing what is needed among our neighbors. I believe this is the essence of what our founders and others did during the colonial years (Imagine, instead, what might have occurred if they had been blessed with a few more ostriches and Chicken Littles!)
Yes, but… (for all you “but…monkeys”… Yes, it came from Laura Ingraham, a Catholic!). I wonder if American Christians haven’t become the biggest bunch of rationalizers in the history of the Church. We spend so much time and energy defending our right to divide the body of Christ, and we are so, so willing to ignore the word of God in doing so! Where in hell (seems quite the appropriate question) did we get the idea that our differences of opinion gave us permission to disobey God? Hell, of course, is, the answer. The whispering encouragements of that seeming “angel of light” produce deception, and this is one of the worst! “Divide and conquer” is one of the great military strategies for the very reason that it works. It’s no surprised, then, that it has worked effectively in the American church especially to render it powerless over the years since it had been so influential in forming the United States (no, not a Christian nation but one so significantly influenced by Christian ideas as to seem so).
Divide and conquer also hinders the conservative/libertarian/constitutional/freedom loving factions in the United States. It is, in a sense, one of my greatest fears that people will spend so much effort arguing and debating among themselves that the remarkably unified progressive, church-hating left will continue to prevail. A while back, I went through a rough time; finally suspecting myself on the verge of a medical problem related to anxiety or depression, I visited a psychologist friend of mine. We visited for a bit, and I explained why I’d come to see him. In just a short time, he observed, “You seem to have a problem not being in control,” and I almost came unglued. I had not seen that in myself; I would have said otherwise in most other settings because I’ve worked hard not to be a control freak. Yet despite my intent, I still had not quite overcome the tendency, although by the time the next “tough time” came, I wasn’t quite so “freakish”.
Control issues fuel division. Long-time Republican leaders cling to their control, even at the expense of their party’s influence and power. Various interest groups within or along side the party have the same desire, to control for the benefit of their particular hobby horse. The same problem has divided the Church historically and congregations to this day. Sometimes it is little more than big egos needing to feel and feed their power. The bitter irony is that those who most oppose what we believers and we freedom-loving patriots cherish are the most capable of working together despite their differences. What an indictment of Christ’s Church!
The recent election has encouraged the ostriches to keep on ignoring the problems and the Chicken Littles to keep looking for the divine cavalry to come, both content to do nothing or very little to address the attitudes that face us. The ones refuse even to consider the spiritual, moral, and social problems that threaten to destroy this great nation, one that has shown the world what a free people can accomplish, this nation that has given them such a prosperous and comfortable life, especially when compared to so many other places. Do they believe they deserve their freedom and prosperity? The others may also perceive themselves to be deserving, in their case, to be rescued from among the unbelieving, undeserving rabble about them. Do they in their own private thoughts believe a “correct” understanding of prophecy guarantees their deliverance for the dark days ahead? Or is it enough to be able to say, “See, I told you so?” These condemn the moral, spiritual, and social conditions but do little to address them other than their doomsday declarations. I wonder if these Chicken Littles care anymore than the self-centered ostriches? Both seem pretty well focused on themselves and their own private worlds, whether they be filled with iPods and cell phones or prophecy charts and YouTube videos.
Some will say—and indeed some have said since the election and before—that America deserves God’s judgment. I could site perhaps hundreds of examples that would support such an opinion. For that matter, we all deserve God’s judgment except for the gracious intervention of that very God who sacrificed his own son to satisfy his justice. Yes, he has certainly judged other nations, not the least being Israel, for great sin and disobedience, and we have rampant sin, disobedience, and evil in and among us. Furthermore, when Israel went down this path during the days of the judges and after, he let them suffer the consequences of their choices, as he quite often does with us as individuals. My disagreement is with the increasingly frequent conclusion, “Too late!” With our gracious and merciful, ever-forgiving God, until actual judgment comes, it is never too late! As with “divide and conquer,” this is another strategy straight from hell. While the one renders us weak and ineffective, this one causes us to give up. To pick up my leaky boat illustration, we are going down, and nothing can stop us; that is their view.
I would respond to those in the boat, “Bail water, you fools!” Perhaps you won’t save the ship, but you will surely save more people from drowning, allow more time for deliverance, and maybe even make it possible to keep the ship above water. I was disappointed that my preferred candidate lost; I was even more disappointed to learn that the number of people voting dropped dramatically for both candidates. I have been sad to know that many, far far too many, Christians never vote. While they may not be accountable for the sinful choices of their neighbors, they are accountable for permitting those arrayed against us greater influence in places like public schools and government agencies. God indeed ordains human governments and gives them power, but only a deluded fool imagines that he will always give good leaders to those who have a chance to choose and do not.
My point here, however, ought to be one no responsible Christian would oppose, though lazy ones might rather do nothing. My point here is that we have gifts, spiritual power, and a divine mandate to influence with truth and love. I believe that can not only change a life; it can change a community, a culture, and a nation. With that kind of support, it is never too late! We need to stick a sock in the Chicken Littles, and we need to boot the ostriches from their sand holes. We need the courage of eagles and the reproductive energy of rabbits to set us on the path of the future we prefer. If we work in the influential, credible love of Christ, working one-on-one to change minds and hearts, if we throw in the memory of elephants so that we never forget that, “with God, all things are possible,” then we will create a better future. Nothing we have lost is impossible restore. No one who has a contrary view is incapable of learning to see differently. Nothing we can imagine of a future better than the past is beyond us, if only we keep striving to achieve it…together!