Monday, May 31, 2010

Tonight, on Earth, it's Total Confusion

"Tonight, on Earth, it's total confusion. You see, the collapse of the city of man should not be seen as curtailing the building of the city of God. As distracting and as distressing as the actions of the wicked may be, when we focus on the fact that God is on his throne, then we can view the tottering foundations and the crumbling occasions in a totally different fashion. And at a time when there are unique opportunities for the Gospel; at a time when people are asking deep-seated questions because they recognize the foundations are crumbling too; and at the time when they are just about prepared to drink a cup of coffee and seek a sensible answer...."

What? What are we doing with this opportunity? Alistair Begg continues:

"The bombastic, ugly Christian is manning the barriers of right-wing politics. Joining coalitions. Endorsing political agendas. Advancing legislative remedies. And in doing so with every further move losing the ability to say with Paul that we don't wage war the way the world wages war. The Church cannot say it, because it wouldn't be true."

Can we say it? Are we ugly and bombastic? In some cases, yes. Many of us however, are doing nothing. We're not waging war the way the church is supposed to either. We're not even opening our mouths. We're not engaging in the conversation. We're just sitting there, nodding our head, agreeing, throwing our hands up, and saying, "I don't know. It's crazy." Myself included. Is there even any hope keeping up with the news, let alone pulling God-centered gospel relevance from it? I follow The Economist, The Indianapolis Star, The USA Today, and several pastors and cultural commentators on Twitter, and I probably shouldn't. There are crazy, unexplainable, world changing things going on every second. Did I need to know that? We all need a break so we can just stop, have a meeting as Christians, and figure out what the heck is going on, and formulate a cohesive statement, before the world implodes on itself. Right? Before we are left standing on a street corner holding our newspapers in one hand and our Bible in the other, and saying, finally, "Wait! I get it! God is holy! We are sinful! The Bible is true! Jesus is Savior! Look!" Before it is too late.

In the form of Twitter-like updates (ok, not quite less than 140 characters) and various pictures, consider some of the events so far in 2010:


The year began with one of the biggest earthquakes in history reeking havoc and tragedy on the capital city of one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world. The suffering has not ceased. Have we moved on?


Early in February, surrounding massive government bailouts, looming health-care reform, and growing federal deficits, what began as an angry protest movement gathered formally in Nashville to establish itself as a legitimate force in electoral politics. This "colorful but quarrelsome hodgepodge of fundamentalist Christians, anti-tax activists, anti-immigration cranks, protectionists, and mainstream conservative Republicans" have united to take back the country from elitists in Washington, New York, Hollywood, and academia, opposing fiscal irresponsibility, bailouts, and even abortion, gay marriage, and removal of Christianity in the public square.


The volcano Eyjafjallajökull that erupted March 20, spraying ash for miles and grounding hundreds of flights throughout Europe to its south, is still said to be rumbling and risks further society-crippling activity.


Late in April, Arizona stopped waiting on the Federal Government and passed a law that allows local police to check papers and arrest undocumented residents with only "reasonable suspicion". Critics liken it to apartheid and legalized racial profiling. Supporters claim it is a long overdue measure to protect the border.


April 30, an underwater oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded, resulting in an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has become the most devastating environmental disaster in United States history and has threatened the livelihoods of thousands of people. Four failed attempts later by BP, loosely supervised by the Obama Administration, no comprehensive solution is in site.


A "well-rigged" car bomb was found on the evening of May 1 in a 1993 Nissan Pathfinder at a crucial intersection in New York City's Times Square, and stabilized before causing fatal damage for blocks in a place all-too familiar with Islamic terrorism. Faisal Shahzad was arrested and found to be loyal to Pakistani militant groups after living a relatively common American life through college, a job, and a suburban house.


Two days after a foiled attack in one of the world's most sensitive cities to terrorism, and weeks after an enormous oil spill that was still pouring massive amounts of oil into the ocean, unrelenting rainstorms pummeled Nashville leaving levees broken, trees washed away, businesses ruined, and 28 people dead.


The threat of escalation haunts the Korean Peninsula. On May 24th South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, issued a sterner-than-expected response to an international probe which found the North guilty of firing a fatal torpedo that sank one of South Korea’s warships and killed 46 of its sailors.


Investors are on edge. Fears are growing that the global recovery will falter as Europe’s debt crisis spreads, China’s property bubble bursts and America’s stimulus-fuelled rebound peters out. The danger is that these fears reinforce each other in a pernicious reversal of the dynamics of 2008-09.


Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor. I'm serious.


Just after lunch today (June 3), the following updates clogged my Twitter feed.

- Downtowners! Be on the lookout for a missing juvenile falcon. Bird last seen on moving car. -

- 'Golden Girls' actress Rue McClanahan dies. -

- Indianapolis Metropolitan Police have arrested a man who they say used a paintball gun to punish his stepson for not doing his chores. -

- A study released today shows that oil from the catastrophic spill in the Gulf of Mexico could foul thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast as early as this summer. -

- President Obama, who has attacked Arizona's immigration law as discriminatory, and Gov. Brewer, who says her state has to act because the federal government has failed to reform the immigration system, hold Arizona immigration summit. -


No slowdown in sight. So, what is going on? How do we respond? Begg continues:

"The tragedy is, that since the foundations are being destroyed, and since activism is a very large part of this culture, the Christian then determines that they will become an activist. And it isn't wrong to become an activist. But it is wrong to be a slanderer; it is wrong to become combative and ugly; it is wrong to forget that the only difference between me and the guy who tonight is boozin' it up in some saloon, is not that I am smarter than him, but it is the grace of God to me. So until the church learns how to cry, the church loses any right to shout. Until we learn to do what we have been asked to do, we dare not start to do what has been granted to us no mandate at all."

What have we been asked to do? Well, for one, to be at peace. And that is probably nothing close to what you think it is. Peace is not the absence of war. For the Christian, peace is the confidence that the war is already won, and in our fighting and suffering we become more like, and people see more clearly, the Person of Jesus Christ. Do not suppose that Jesus came to bring peace to the earth. He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and division. He does not give as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled and do not be afraid. Peace he leaves with us. His peace he gives us. We know the message that God sent to the people of Israel: good news of peace, through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

The wonder and beauty of the Bible is that all this can be true about peace at the same time. It is not a contradiction. He did not come to bring our peace, he came to bring His. Our peace is selfish. His peace is selfless. Our peace is comfortable. His peace is perfect. Our peace is about us. His peace is about Him. Considering that we are sinners and helpless and confused, and He is holy and loving and sovereign, this is very good news.

What does it mean to fight? We wage war, as individuals, internally with the strange inclinations and temptations we somehow have to lie, steal, kill (hate), lust, and covet. Maybe we don't wage war on these things and that is why we see politicians unapologetically cheating on their wives, terrorists killing innocent people, and ordinary Americans putting their hope in a mortgage and being disappointed and suicidal when it is taken from them. But if we do wage war, we likely become beaten down and burned out, wishing for peace. We look all around for it, and pray for it, but as we look in the wrong places our efforts become depleted and our well-meaning, moral foundations become skewed and we do the same things that the bad people do. Our lack of peace and resulting search for peace leads to confusion about peace. Begg concludes,

"When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Well, they can flee. They can fight. Another one is they can follow whatever is going on in the culture, marry the spirit of the age, do Broadway musicals, you know. Try to soften them up, butter them up; turn your church into a social club, turn it into a singles bar. Eat the cultural trends, play anything you want to play, play the game, get them in at any cost. Marry the spirit of the age, and become a widow in the subsequent generation.

"No. The great mystery tonight is not that the wicked would be condemned to an eternity that they have chosen for themselves by determining to deny God. The great mystery is that such a God would come, and seek out men and women to inhabit his heaven. See the tempter came to them and said, hey, you're not going to believe all that judgement stuff, that prohibition stuff, are you? You're not going to believe that you really die? Don't be afraid of the consequences. God is trying to frighten you. Do as I tell you. Believe me! You'll be perfectly happy, you'll have this amazing knowledge and understanding, you'll be like a god yourself! And man bought it. And he buys it again tonight: Oh, don't go and listen to that stuff, don't obey the Bible, don't believe that stuff about the judgement of God. Get out and live your life!

"The ultimate tragedy, loved ones, tonight is this: First, that man rejects the diagnosis in relationship to sin. And secondly, that despite the most dire of predicaments, he continues to avoid the only one who can really help. You can go in any coffee shop you like, and get agreement on the crumblings of the foundations. But once introduce the notion that man's predicament is not in relationship to his environment, is not in relationship to his parents, that his grandmother locked him in a closet, but is in relationship to the fact that he himself is perverse and goes his own way rather than God's way, and you'll find that people will get up and move to another table. And they'll cry themselves to sleep, for want of a Savior, but they will not come to the only one, who has the answers."

John MacArthur says peace for the Christian is a reality. Peace for the unsaved man is an impossible dream. It can't happen. And the Gospel is peace, because it makes this salvation and freedom and clarity a reality. Let us pray for that, and in the meantime observe, explain, and understand the "crumbling of the foundations" in our society and world as birth pangs for something better, and Gospel pleas for a lasting hope, instead of throwing our hands up and shaking our head saying, "I don't know sometimes. It's crazy."