Thursday, August 20, 2020
Looking for courage. . .
Statistics have long shown that the rich are less generous overall than those who have little. This is true of charitable giving in general and true of offerings. I don't know how you would ascertain the data but I suspect that those who are strong in faith find it easier to weather the storms of this life than those whose faith struggles to hold on to the promises of God. It has certainly been true of the last six months that our faith has been tested in a host of ways few of us could have predicted. We have been shaken by the threat of a virus we cannot see or predict, confused by science which has not presented us with a single, unified direction, economic uncertainty that has taken away jobs and savings, and the fear of being around strangers and friends. Though some of us would insist that our response to all of this has been to act more prudently and cautiously, it is not something shaped by our confidence that God is at work among us than it is a desire to protect ourselves from a peril that may threaten our lives. It is also clear that statistics seem to fuel those fears more than calm them. The headlines have done a good job of making us suspect of any good news.
This is not simply a health crisis or an economic problem or even a problem of fear. It is a crisis of faith. What do we believe and how strongly do we believe it? It is easy to confess the creed and say our Amens to the prayers on Sunday morning when the sky is blue, the sun shines bright, and all is well. It is quite another thing to do this when fear grips our hearts and our lives are tossed around on a sea of uncertainty and fear. This is not great wisdom on my part. It is the truth of God's Word. Unless your faith is strong you shall not be strong! Isaiah 7:9
As a nation and culture we have marginalized the Church and the faith, reducing it to a private opinion that should remain private. Fewer of us have been attending the worship services of God's house -- due both to governmental warning and mandate but also to a collective fear about the gatherings of God's people around His Word and Altar. The rise of the nones and a spiritualism without root in God's Word or face to the force we might call God has left us divided and without an anchor in the storm. The challenge to history and the inclusion of the icons of faith in the symbols to be banished from the public square have moved Christianity into a defensive position. The overreach of government and politicians to place limits on our constitutional right and freedom of religion and the way churches have willingly surrendered these rights have made the Church look weak and powerless. The rise of secularism that moves God to the sidelines and labels the very words of God hate speech has turned us into stuttering cowards afraid of what we might say or how it might be taken.
Look around us. What has been the result of this not so subtle attack on Christianity? We have no moral consensus, our families are broken, marriage is chosen by fewer young people, sexual desire defines our identity, patriotism is labeled racism, mobs and protestors gather but not churches, and we are more isolated than ever -- having food delivered to our door, shopping on the internet for all we need, and preferring social media to even socially distant personal interaction. While this is surely a serious issue for our nation and the communities that make up our country, it is an omen of struggle for the future of the Christian faith. It is not because God has abandoned us or put caveats on His promises but because we have chosen fear over faith and have chosen to use faith as a hiding place more than a fortress. We pray as if God were unwilling to grant us what He has promised or unable to help us in any real way. We have accepted online worship as the equivalent of being in God's House together. We have more trust and familiarity with the memes of Facebook than we do the chapters of Scripture. Where is our faith?
Unless your faith is strong you shall not be strong! Isaiah 7:9 In our pursuit of courage in the face of so many threats, fears, and uncertainties, we might try the assembly of God's people around His Word and Altar. There is where faith is nourished and nurtured. And when we pray, maybe we ought to pray the promises of God before and after we lift up the litany of our complaints and troubles.
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And early in every prayer should be repentance. That is a gift from the same God who gives us the faith to believe. Repentance requires a type of courage, in which I admit my inadequacy, failure, and sinfulness. Now that is not something the culture would praise.
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