Tonya and I and the family are glad to be home. I was nice to get away, and but it’s amazing how attractive and desirable the relative simplicity of BEING HERE compares to the stress and uncertainly of living OUT THERE.
There has been a lot of debate by historians and religious folks over the years concerning the issue of exactly how Christian our “Christian” America is, used to be, or ever was.
We do like to romanticize the past, and overlook our flaws and look back to a simpler, innocent time when everyone went to church and worshiped God together in harmony. A time when those in our government always consulted the bible before making important decisions. When there was no lying and cheating and stealing. When there were no back room deals, or corruption. We love to think back on the “good old days” when “IN GOD WE TRUST” was etched upon every heart.
We like to look back to that time but that time never existed. It never happened. And if you believe that it did, a voyage in a time machine would prove very disappointing for you.
Because the perfect Christian nation has never existed in history.
So the debate today should not be whether America, or any nation for that matter, “used to be” a truly Christian nation because there never has been one.
But rather we can discuss whether it was a “more Christian nation”.
And yes, I believe, America was a more Christian nation.
But today, we could argue that it is not longer a Christian nation at all, in any substantial way. And a recent survey affirmed this assumption. It found that in over half the world….for example not surprisingly in most of Asia, the Christian faith has virtually no influence on society. But is much more surprising is that this reality extended to all of Europe, Australia and much of the Pacific, and much of North America…including the United States.
Christian values and influence in the US are now in the minority.
Of course, that was not always so. In the past, although certainly not everyone followed Christ, members of secular society at least supported the Judeo-Christian moral vision. If we were not a country filled with believers, we at least all agreed to certain standards of behavior.
If you were a good person, you would be seen as a good Christian person. Good was to be Christian…to be worldly was to be less.
Every good upstanding person would present themselves as a church-going conservative man or woman with strong Christian values. You were that, or you pretended to be that. If you didn’t, you were in the heathen minority.
But those days are over. Today, being a heathen, worldly, openly non-Christian person is presented and accepted as being just as good, if not better than anything else in the world.
All attempts to conform our society to Kingdom standards is gone. And it’s pretty much a brand new thing. It has happened in living color during everyone’s lifetime listening today. A little step and a big step at a time.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon wrote this in their book Resident Aliens:
“Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended
— and a new world began.
When and how did we change?
Although it may sound trivial, one of us is tempted to date the shift sometime on a Sunday evening in 1963. Then, in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on [a] Sunday.
Seven of us'”regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church'”made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.
That evening has come to represent a watershed in the history of Christendom, South Caroline style. On that night, Greenville, South Carolina'”the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world'”served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church. There would be no more free passes for the church, no more free rides.
The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the young. That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.”
This was brand new.
In times past, in America, our parents never really worried about whether we would grow up Christian. The church was the only show in town. And the Church, our home lives, businesses, schools and government worked together to instill “Christian values.” It was good for the country, good for business, and good for the people. It was “win win”
If you were an American, a Christian was just who you were.
People grew up Christian simply by being lucky enough to be born here. It was that simple.
But suddenly the mass media made it possible to present a different world.
Talking about movies, and there influence, it’s real. We all enjoy movies and there are great ones.
I love the movie, Pleasantville, for example, and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.
I won’t tell you too much here, I promise this time, but it’s a biting commentary on this phenomenon.
For much of the movie, the lives of the people and the society, are presented in black and white. Things are peaceful and happy. There is an order to things, and people live contented lives.
At some point however, elements from outside Pleasantville are slowly introduced.
The people never knew there was anything different, outside Pleasantville, and they are enticed by the excitement of the new things, but they bring with them a lot of pain and fear.
You can read the movie a lot of different ways. It could be seen as a dig against conservative Christian society, or in support of it. It could be seen as a fall from grace story as mankind eats of the wrong tree in the garden.
But either way, it shows culture in our country as it was, in some very significant ways. Things were as they were, and that was fine.
It shows that as a country, we conspired together for, instead of against, Christian values.
We just don’t do that anymore, and that makes living as a follower of Christ much more difficult.
Today we read of the early believers in Crete, who were in a society much like our society in America is becoming or has become.
The Apostle Paul wrote to these Christians under the occupation and rule of a patently un-Christian society.
The Romans had taken over this island, and although we don’t know all the facts. We do know that the Christians were in the minority and swimming against the tide.
It was a hard road for the Christians. It would have been a temptation for Cretans to be angry about having to love under these difficult circumstances.
How does one live in a non-Christ honoring country, and still honor Christ yourself, and spread the World of the gospel even when speaking it aloud is poorly and rarely received?
The answer? Paul saying to the Christians in Crete, and to the Christians today in America that they are to respect those who rule over them in government, and that they are to relate to their non-believing neighbors with kindness, with charity, with genuine care and compassion.
When you are strangers in a strange land, and even your own country can become a strange land….the bible tells us it is not our task to tear down the society and destroy it, but rather we are to be instruments of Christ’s hope and love and we tools for God to transform it.
In other words, Paul is concerned, primarily, with the witness of believers lives to the truth of the gospel within the existing world.
If Christ had wanted to destroy the corrupt and godless Romans with swords, he would have and could have done that.
Instead Jesus said…”Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.
Jesus knew and Paul knew and we are to know today…that there will never be a “Christian nation” run by men and women until Christ returns. Until then, every nation will be, to lesser and greater degrees an abomination to God Almighty.
And to whatever degree our nation has embraced worldliness and disgrace. We, the followers of Christ, are to be shining examples within it….embracing the ways of the Kingdom…living IN the world, but not of it.
That’s what the bible means when it says ‘˜I want you to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.’
Jesus wants our lives, as believers, to bear witness to the world, however corrupt it may be, to the reality of God’s true kingdom.
Titus Chapter 3 [From the NLT ‘” New Living Translation]
1 Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2 They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
4 But'””When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.
9 Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time. 10 If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. 11 For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.
12 I am planning to send either Artemas or Tychicus to you. As soon as one of them arrives, do your best to meet me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to stay there for the winter. 13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos with their trip. See that they are given everything they need. 14 Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others; then they will not be unproductive.
15 Everybody here sends greetings. Please give my greetings to the believers'”all who love us.
May God’s grace be with you all.
Like the Cretens that Paul addresses here in Titus, we have at this time in history found ourselves behind enemy lines.
Without much choice in the matter, we live as strangers and pilgrims in this nation and in this world. Whether you like this reality or not, the influence of the enemy of Christ is pushing hard right now, and there is a false sense of victory in the air for the kingdom of darkness.
But like it or not, you were born, now and here. That is a fact, a reality. In the years ahead, the tide may turn the other direction, but I doubt that. I pray for that every day, but I doubt that. For now, like in the time of the Romans, the Christ-follower is not in power. The influence of the world of God is buried behind infomercials, corporate greed, and political and social nightmare scenarios and game playing.
It’s an ugly world out there in some very real ways…and we are, by God’s will, called to live out there in it.
Like the soldier deep in the trenches or wandering in the jungle cries out to God….”Why I am here?” People can ask themselves this from morning til night, but peace only comes when they accept it. I am here because God has placed me here. I am here for the glory of God.
We are here, in America, in the 21st century because God has placed us here. The place and time we live may not be where we wish we were, but we are here none the less for the glory of God.
So when you’ve come to accept that you are living as strangers in your own country. That you are a follower of light in an increasingly dark place.
We must ask then “How should we live?” and “What manner of people should we be?”
Paul reminds us we are citizens of heaven living in the world. We are not OF the world.
We are to live in the world as counter culture revolutionaries.
Now I always thought counter culture people were folks with weird ideas, acting strange, disrupting the norm, and going against the grain of things.
But my friends…today, in our world, if you are Christian….you are the folks with weird ideas, acting strange, disrupting the norm, and going against the grain of things.
Because the norm is selfish, sinful, angry, violent, and outwardly anti-Jesus.
I visited some people recently, I won’t say who they are….but they knew I was a minister of Christ. When I visited, I brought a gift for their young children….a small stack of bible story book. The kids seemed mildly interested, but there parents just snicked and laughed finally saying, out loud, “Those will make great fire starters”.
That’s not the world we used to live it…but it is the world of today.
Bringing those bible stories would have been accepted and expected in the past from a visiting minister, but today it made me a counter-culturalist. Someone with weird ideas, acting strange, disrupting the norm, and going against the grain of things.
There are places still in our country where IN GOD WE TRUST hangs on school walls, and auto repair guys offer to pray for you and will you when your car explodes. I know, because I was just there. But these places are rare.
Today, the world of the godless Roman has largely returned and we must live it it.
While we wait for Christ return, the bible tells us submit to and obey the secular rulers (respect the authority placed by God, even if you don’t agree with it), and be kind, peaceful, humble and courteous others.
We are to be subject to rulers,, to be obedient, to do honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show respect and courtesy toward all.
It’s a high standard, but as believers in an unbelieving world we are told by God to be good citizens. In fact, we ought to be the best of citizens.
We should be patriotic, pay our taxes, vote, obey the law and honor those in authority over us.
Paul says in Romans chapter 13 that all secular government exercise their authority by the will of God. So we must obey the law'”even laws we personally dislike. We must respect the authority of our leaders, even the ones we didn’t vote for and seem to be working against God. When we do so we are honoring God.
But that brings us to part about living in the world (which we are to do), but not being OF the world. Please hear this clearly – respecting authority, and being good citizens, doesn’t mean we disregard our faith, and compromise that which is of God.
So if the government was to outlaw the Christian faith, are we to deny Christ and embrace a false God? Of course not. When that happens, and it may….we are directed to be even more counter culture that we already are.
When Peter and John were commanded to cease preaching for Christ in Acts chapter 4, they suffered beatings but declared that they must obey God rather than man, because Jesus had commanded them to go into all the world and preach the gospel.
In Daniel chapter 3 the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and commanded everyone in his kingdom to bow down before it. But three Jewish exiles, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused.
In these types of cases…we refuse, and take man’s consequence and it can be severe. But most of the time, for most of us, it’s more subtle. And the follower of Christ should be plain and obvious in a world that denies him.
One of the greatest ways of Standing UP for Christ is Standing OUT for Christ…..
For example, There is no worse testimony than a proud, self-righteous and judging Christian trying to covert a room full of non-believers.
Nothing worse than a known Christian who brags about cheating on his taxes, or how he lied in order to get disability checks while standing in line at the grocery store.
There is nothing worse than a believer with Jesus bumper stickers on their car, weaving in and out of traffic, blowing their horn and making rude hand gestures at other drivers.
But I’ve heard people say…who cares…I’m saved…my works don’t matter.
They do, my friends…the world of unbelievers is watching. Our very lives may be the only Bible our neighbors ever read.
If you are saved in Christ, and I truly hope and pray that you are…you are facing a cruel and unsupportive world out there every day. I’m sorry that you were born into these circumstances, but you were.
God tells that is just these very times that we must live a live above reproach.
Until He returns, it is us, you and I, that take the last great counter culture stand for Jesus Christ. We must live like the world is watching, because they are. We must live like he returns today, because the time of the harvest is at hand. That is how we live OUT THERE.
©2011 Timothy Henry