Episode 2 of a video series being made by Square One Media and yours truly.
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Psalm 85:6 ESV
I once heard someone remark that history does not move in straight lines. We imagine that there is either general progress or general decline, and that pleases or discourages us depending whether we think one or the other is happening.
For instance, we imagine that our culture is becoming steadily less Christian. This can cause trepidation or panic in believers (“look how few people go to Church!”, “Here are some sure-fire marketing techniques to attract and retain!”, “what about our young people?”). Or it can cause gloating arrogance in the decidedly non-believing (“look how few people go to church!”, “it’s the triumph of science!”, “down with silly, bronze-age myths!”).
The truth is that history indeed knows no straight lines. I once heard an offhand remark about American church involvement. I have no way of confirming but it did intrigue me. Around the time of the American Revolution (1776ish), only 17% of the population were involved in church life. That’s way lower even than today. But by the time of the American Civil War, about 90 years later, church-goers were almost 60%. No straight line of decline.
So what happened in between? A revival happened. A revival of Christian faith that changed the face of the culture. It can happen again. This ought to keep the gloating of the secularist in check. It should also encourage the believer who longs to see the world come to know God.
A little knowledge of Church history helps us to not be discouraged. Times for Christian faith have been worse off before. Read up on the 9th Century – it was arguably the most corrupt time in Christianity (for example) And low church attendance (a good indicator of Christianity’s health in a culture) has sometimes dipped. Apparently, on Easter Sunday, 17th of April, 1740 only 6 people were present for communion at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, England. (source – mention made at approx. the 17-19 minute mark). Times have been lean before. History knows no straight lines of decline or increase.
No one knows the future but God alone. But we do know that we must be – and, by God’s grace, can be – faithful witnesses in the times which we’re given to live in. And we can pray for God to “revive us again…”
“What would the world look like if Jesus had not come?”
At Christmastime, it is worth asking what a world without Jesus would look like. This is a pilot episode of a project I’m honoured to be a part of.
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7
Familiar words to many, they may even conjure sentimental images in our minds of baby Jesus laying no cozy hay, no crying he makes. Notwithstanding the traditional carol, the baby almost certainly did cry. And that is a great point to be made about the birth of Jesus – which is, the coming of God into the world. The eternal, ineffable, untouchable, transcendent, unsearchable God entered as a human baby. And a very human baby he was.
It the story gets to familiar for us we’ll forget just how amazing this is. And just how scandalous it was for ancient Greeks and how it still is for our Muslim friends. How can God – who is so far above and beyond us – wear diapers and lay in the hay?
But that is exactly what is at the heart of Advent, Christmas, and the Gospel hope. That God has come and put his clean feet on the dirty ground, so to speak. He of course does it to rescue his people. Becoming as human as we are, gives him the avenue to become saviour to human beings. It is also God’s great approval of this world, a great acting out of his first assessment of the world he made.
The world is ‘very good’ indeed. And God has loved it so much that he has entered it, diapers and all.
Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Earthly princes deprive themselves of all authority when they rise up against God, yea, they are unworthy to be counted among the company of men. We ought rather to spit in their faces than to obey them when they… spoil God of his right.
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Daniel
That may seem like a weird question, especially if you’re used to only thinking of Jesus/God saying lovely, uplifting things to us.
One of the worst things Jesus ever said, to his brothers by the way, was when he said: “the world can not hate you…” (John 7:7) This is a devastating critique to his listeners. And it may be just the very worst thing Jesus can ever say to someone.
Jesus was hated by the world because he critiqued it. In fact, he did more than critique. He told the world (his culture) that its works were evil. (John 7:7). The challenge was then thrust back upon his audience: Are you living in enough opposition to the prevailing values that it would be possible for the world to hate you? They weren’t. The world can not hate them.
That same challenge is thrust upon us as well. Are we, as Christians and followers of Jesus, living in such a way as to ruffle the feathers of the surrounding culture? Is there anything that we could be hated for?
Notice carefully that being hated for its own sake has no inherent virtue. Also note that being hated is not automatically a badge of honour – a Christian could be a jerk and be hated for that. Being hated is contingent upon living contrary, and voicing objection to, what prevails around us. It is the world that is to hate us as well, not our co-religionists. Some Christians engage in feisty debate with other Christians and generate lots of heat. They then claim that they’re doing it right. They’re not. It is the world around that we’re to find friction with, not the church we grew up in.
Greed, materialism, moral relativism, statism are all around us – do our lives as disciples ever challenge these? Absolute freedom in sex is demanded by our culture; just try and challenge that sacred cow – do we ever get in the line of fire of that? Do we live in such a way as to not consume as much as we can? And do we ever challenge the consumerism around us? Do we ever speak up for the most vulnerable among us – the unborn, the disabled, the refugee, the poor?
It is when we witness to a different story, with both ours lives and voices, that we find resistance. A story where wealth and status are not worth what they’re thought to, when sexuality and gender are not ours to rearrange but sacred gifts to be received, where not human life is disposable or value-less. It’s here where we find ourselves even hated for what we believe and testify to.
Is there enough resistance to the world in our lives to be hated for it? Would Jesus be able to say “the world cannot hate you”, to us?