In Fall of 1992, America found herself in the midst of an intense political debate as the presidential elections drew closer. I was in elementary school at the time, but the highly charged debates and conversations I heard, both in person and on TV, made an impression on me. In particular, I remember an elementary school playground debate in which our PE teachers allowed students to voice opinions for who they thought should be elected next President of the United States. I cheered loudly and made up little rhymes for my "team," naturally following the position of my parents. At the same time, though, I remember feeling slightly torn as my then best friend, Abraham, cheered for the other side. His dad was a Texas Senator for the opposing political party, and I couldn't help but wonder how they could be such great people but still think "the other side" was right when it was clearly not.
It was my first introduction to the idea that controversial areas of life are not always black or white, right or wrong.
Recently, we have all found ourselves once again in this place of intense debate and division in our country, only now the stakes are much higher and the issues are much more polarizing. I do not speak of one issue in particular, either, but of the many that continue to surface and divide our nation. And once again, I have found myself wondering, not only as an American but also as a follower of Christ, what is the proper position to take? We all know that opinions abound. Many of us have read or seen countless articles and blog posts flooding news pages and social networking sites. Conversations at coffee shops, work places, and dinner tables have ranged from civil to hostile as friends and family have worked through our changing social structure.
A week or so ago, I overheard a conversation at a local restaurant in which Christians were talking about the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage. The conversation was heavily one-sided, an "us verses them" mentality, in which all proponents of gay marriage were considered the enemy. They spoke as if "these people" were working to bring about the downfall of America. On the flip side, I have seen countless articles and Facebook posts from friends, acquaintances, and strangers in which Christians are painted as evil, intolerant, hypocritical people that need to be politically and socially silenced. Some of these people are even self-proclaimed Christians, attacking all other Christians. It has been an ugly battle to witness.
And I've asked myself, Surely none of these approaches are the right ones to take?
On top of it all, there is a call to arms amongst many Christian leaders and groups. No one can deny the clear departure from morality in America, and the negative effects of this amoral social structure are undeniable. Fear has begun to grip the hearts of believers across America as we all wonder if this is the end of our religious liberties. Has religious persecution finally arrived at our doorsteps? Some are optimistic, while others are more cynical. "We need revival!" many proclaim.
And while revival is certainly something that would be welcomed and incredible to experience in America, I ask myself, To what end do we want revival? So that we can become a political majority again and protect ourselves politically? So that we can "win" this political battle? Is that a God-honoring motivation for revival?
What is the proper position to take? As genuine Christ followers, what do we do now?
Originally, I will confess, I became caught up in the futile "blame game," trying to figure out what went wrong in America and who caused it. How have we found ourselves so far from being a moral nation? The blame game is one our culture likes to play, in which we focus on finding a scapegoat to accuse instead of trying to find the solution to heal. I found myself agreeing with some, saying "It was our parents and grandparents! They were too legalistic and intolerant! They shoved morality and judgment down the throats of non-believers."
While there may be some truth to that, I felt a gentle voice inside me whisper, There is more. Go deeper.
OK, I thought, I can do that. So I looked at the church as a whole, observing the trend towards nominal Christianity in many American churches. "People in the church divorce and commit adultery, just like non-believers. They spend money frivolously and pursue wealth, just like non-believers. There is no difference in lifestyle!" I said.
Again, while there may be some truth in that, the gentle voice nudged further, There is more. Go deeper.
At this point, I began to squirm, but I ignored the discomfort and searched on. "Look at our leadership," I said. "So many pastors have cheated on their wives, stolen money from churches, or committed other secret sins that have led to their downfall. Some ministers are addicted to porn, while others are addicted to over-eating. Our leadership, overall, has failed."
Once again, there may be some truth in this, but the gentle voice became more insistent. There is more. Go deeper.
Finally, I stopped looking at everyone else. I stopped pointing my finger, and I examined my own life. No longer did I make it about "them," but about me. Could I be a part of this greater problem? Ok, Holy Spirit. Search my heart.
It was not a comfortable process, I will tell you. I squirmed and wiggled under the force of my own sins, my own lazy ways as a follower of Christ. I am not speaking of a self-deprecating time in which I lamented over how horrible I am. I am speaking of a time in which I allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of my own life that have not or do not line up with Christ's way.
Like finances...how often is my giving and financial stewardship truly patterned after Christ? How tightly do I grip my financial and even material blessings, allowing God access only to that 10% I set aside from each paycheck? How often does money become my god?
Or time...how much of my time is truly utilized in God-honoring ways? Conversely, how much of my time is spent wasted on the internet, my phone, or other personal pursuits? On the contrary, how often do I live sacrificially with my time? Do I ever truly engage in kindness and service toward others, not just on that one rare occasion, but as a lifestyle?
Or purity...how much purity do I seek, really? Maybe I am not cheating on my husband, but what about the movies and television shows I watch? What about the books I read, or the jokes I have listened to or told? How can I criticize those who have driven the sexual revolution when my quiet participation, no matter the level, has contributed in its own way?
Or faith...what about my faith? How can I join in these sharp criticisms of non-believers living as they are, non-believers, when I have not even shared my faith with them? There have been times in my life that I have been very active in personal evangelism, but the times of silence, of not openly sharing my faith, far outnumber those times of openness and passion in sharing the gospel with others.
I could go on, but I don't think it is necessary at this point. As I have recognized and repented of my own sins, of my own quiet acquiescence to our culture's drift from honoring Christ, I have realized the position I need to take on all of this.
Yes, bent. Spiritually, physically, mentally bent. Repentant. Humbled.
It is a position, but it is also a posture. I've examined Scripture and observed a pattern that aligns with this. Time and time again, the Israelites drifted from their call to be set apart as God's holy people. Slowly, like boiling a frog in a pot of water, they began to look more and more like the foreign cultures around them as they accepted their practices and drifted from true worship of God. Eventually, their hearts were distant from God, so their religious acts were repulsive to Him because they were devoid of meaning and true devotion. God's call was clear and persistent as He beckoned them toward repentance and change. He did not desire their outward behavior only, for He first required their hearts' allegiance and affections.
Thankfully, there were times that the Israelites did repent. There were times that they realized they looked no different than the cultures around them. And when they did, they did not waste time pointing fingers at one another or accusing the cultures at large of bringing about their downfall. No, they went straight to the issue of their own personal transgressions, and they individually and collectively bent in humility and brokenness before the Almighty God.
Daniel, for instance, physically grieved the sins of his people as he also verbally confessed to God,
"O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame...because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice." (Daniel 9:4-11)
At a different time in history, the people of Israel, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, wept and grieved after hearing a reading of God's word. in truly hearing God's ways, they recognized their great transgressions before God (Neh. 8-9). Ezra also prayed as he faced God's call to cleanse His people:
“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt." (Ezra 9:6-7).
In both of these instances and more found in Scripture, the people humbled themselves and repented before God. They did so not to regain political power or to find God's abundant blessing again. They did so first and foremost because they wanted to be in right standing before the Holy God. No other motivation would have been right.
The call is the same for us today as Americans. And while we should not expect that God will add material, military, or political blessings if we do so (for America is not Israel), we can expect that He will spiritually bless us as we live in a hostile culture. We can expect that He will be our refuge and strength, even if and when things get worse (Psalm 91). We can also expect that He will continue to make His Gospel fruitful to those around us as we faithfully and genuinely share our faith with others, in the way we live and in the way we speak (1 Peter 2:12). He will guide us as we interact with those opposed to the Gospel, some who have even been hurt or turned off by a judgmental or critical spirit they've encountered in their church past. He will give us the words to say, and He will guide us as we seek to honor Him. This, we can count on.
Where will this position of being bent and humbled before God and others take us in the future? In this life, I do not know. The climate in America may become more and more hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but we should not be surprised by that. Christ Himself prepared us for times such as these (John 16:33), and we would be joining our fellow brothers and sisters throughout the world who are already living in an age of persecution.
But eternally, I have no doubt. We have victory in Christ. Love truly does win, but love already won on the cross. It is our job now to genuinely and passionately show our neighbors, our family members, our friends, and even our enemies, that this Gospel love is unlike any love they will ever know. His love is love that endures, that heals, that binds, that sets free. And as we bend toward God, His love will not leave us broken and humbled, for He raises us up in His glory and in His goodness for such a time as this (James 4:6).