Making Our Way Through the Cultural Fog

It was a trip that I will never forget. I was in the backseat of our Isuzu Trooper (an early forerunner of the SUV) as my father drove through the Andes Mountains on a very, very narrow road covered by very, very thick fog. We were on our way to Manglaralto, a quiet beach on the coast of Ecuador, for our missionary year-end-retreat. We had made the trip many times before, but due to the weather conditions this particular trip was scary.

FogAheadThe weather got so bad that my dad had to pull over at one of the little villages that populate the roadside. I remember him entering a small tienda (store) and a few minutes later coming out while conversing with a heavy-set Ecuadorian man. I watched the man get into a large truck parked a few yards from our car as my dad hurriedly entered our car. My dad then announced that this man was going to help us navigate the fog and get down the mountain. How was this to happen? Well, the man told us to stick to the rear of his truck and keep our eyes on his tail-lights and he would guide us down the narrow, winding roads.

My first thought was, “What if he goes off the side of the mountain?” But dad trusted him, and I had no say in the matter, so for the next few hours we slowly and carefully stayed glued to the rear-end of that truck. Dad kept his focus on the truck’s tail-lights and needless to say, we made it safely through the fog and down the mountain.

I am reminded of that incident when I consider the thick cultural fog that we have drifted into as a nation. You could feel the fog thickening as our culture celebrated the “gender-transition” of one our country’s most iconic Olympic athletes.That event was closely followed by the landmark decision by our Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. Those developments should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying any sort of attention to our nation’s consistent cultural drift toward the idolatry of absolute sexual autonomy, but they were troubling none-the-less.

crossroadI sat down last week intending to write some reflections after the Supreme Court decision, but I really found that I had nothing to add to the conversation. There were plenty of resources and websites already available to help people think through these issues (like those listed here). So, I deleted all that I had written and decided to think about my local church. How can I help Harbins Community Baptist Church navigate these murky days? Certainly I can point them to some of the resources that I linked to above, but what basic Biblical truths will serve as the tail-lights that will guides us through this fog? I zeroed in on five things we must do:

  1. We must rest in God’s sovereignty. I have often said that the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty its he sweetest doctrine that I hold to. I feel that even more intensely during days like these. The only way the true church will endure this moment in history, just as it has endured worse moments in the past, is to rest in the clear Biblical truth that our God rules with absolute and unquestioned sovereignty and that there is nothing happening in this dark world that is outside of His perfect and providential purposes. We must believe that! Our faith will not survive unless it is anchored to a rock-solid belief that our God rules absolutely. Now, the type of sovereignty I’m talking about is not the namby-pamby, weak-kneed “sovereignty” that most evangelicals embrace which treats God like a absent Landlord in need of a good PR firm to make up for the evils that seek past his notice. No, I’m talking the absolute sovereignty that the Apostle Paul embraced when he said that, “from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). I’m talking about a God who “does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3), who says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 43:10). I’m talking about reading and believing verses like Lamentations 3:37 which proclaim, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” I’m talking about pastors standing in the pulpit of God’s true church urging the people to believe in the God who says, “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). God is holy and just and good and loving and absolutely sovereign over good and evil, including the evil fog of our day.
  2. We must recognize man’s total depravity. The doctrine of the total depravity of man is key to both understanding and being compassionate toward those caught in up in the various expressions sexual brokenness that are celebrated in our culture. The view, commonly held by Christians of our day, that all men are in their heart-of-hearts essentially good may be well intentioned but it’s Biblically ignorant. The Bible clearly teaches “that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). The Biblical view of man’s spiritual condition is outlined in Romans 3 where we read that, “no one does good, not even one.” It’s only when we believe what the Bible teaches about depravity that we can understand how and why the world becomes futile in it’s thinking and why it embraces and even celebrates unnatural relationships. But the scriptural understanding of depravity also helps us see that every single one of us are lost and broken, and apart from the saving and transforming grace of God, we would remain in our spiritually-dead, totally-depraved state: 1Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” So depravity helps to understand the fog and have compassion for those still lost in it.
  3. We must return to the church’s mission. If people are indeed depraved and in need of radical transformation, then the church must stay on mission. I’m afraid that the church in general has experienced some significant mission creep over the past couple of decades. Somehow the mission of the church shifted from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to social justice. The church certainly should be engaged in social good and seeking justice, but the problem with affixing the church’s mission to social justice is that social justice is a moving mark. The moment same-sex marriage became a matter of social justice in the eyes of the world, was the moment many in the church found themselves confused and straying off-course. The result for many wasn’t a course correction, but a capitulation. But the Bible makes clear that the mission of the church isn’t social justice, the mission of the church is the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The gospel message will certainly fuel good deeds, but it will also anchor us to the unchanging truth of God’s Word. To show true love to the world is to speak the good news of grace, but a grace that doesn’t overlook sin but instead overcomes it: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The gospel message is the only means of lifting the fog of sin that settles on every human being.
  4. We must remember our citizenship. If we truly have experienced life-transforming grace, then we have also been given a new citizenship. A couple of days ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day, and as I watched fireworks and enjoyed a Fourth of July rodeo, I found myself experiencing a weird mixture of national pride and deep lament over where our nation is currently heading. For many the lament over our nation direction can sometimes border on despair and fear. But I was reminded that no matter how far this nation drifts from its Christian roots, no matter how pervasive secularism becomes, my ultimate citizenship is that of a different kingdom. I am a citizen of heaven first, and The United States of America second. I am thankful that I was saved out of the domain of darkness and brought into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). When Christ returns we know that the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord (Revelation 11:9) and that includes America, but until that day we must remember that we are strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). We lay hold of our true citizenship by looking to a lasting city, a city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14). And we stand strong by being grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). Only when we understand our higher citizenship will we endure the deep sorrow we feel about this nations’ trajectory.
  5. We must realize who our true enemy is. With the animus that is now aimed at those who oppose the secular doctrine of absolute sexual autonomy it is easy to forget who our real enemy is. Though the world may hate us and even harm us for our beliefs, the Scriptures are clear that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Keeping these truths in mind will allow us to maintain a winsome witness in the midst of pervasive persecution. These truths will allow us to walk in wisdom toward outsiders (Colossians 4:5), and they will drive us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We must not forget the Apostle Peter’s words given to a generation of Believers who were living in much more perilous times than we do: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12). We must allow God to be our defender while we loving fight the good fight of faith.

I know there is much more to say, and much more has already been said by men and women much smarter than me, but these are at least some of the foundational Biblical truths that I want to encourage our church to hold tightly to if are to make it through the fog. I pray that God will give us grace to be faithful during these challenging days.

My Great Family and My Greater Family

14459_629587730405205_1864804963_nWe are in Arkansas this week for what we affectionately call, “Camping Cousins.” Every year my wife’s family on her mother’s side gathers in Northwest Arkansas for a family reunion where we go camping. Well “camping” may be bit of a stretch since, for the past few years, we’ve had the reunion at a very nice, well air-conditioned lodge, but we call it “camping” none-the-less.

One thing is for sure, we thoroughly enjoy this time in Arkansas. It really is an annual highlight for my family. Almost from the moment Camping Cousins is finished, we eagerly count down the days until the next one. The time is so precious to my children that my girls sob uncontrollably until we are about half-way back to Georgia (and that’s no exaggeration).

The reason we enjoy this time so very much is due to the fact that my wife has such a great family. I enjoy spending time with her side of the family as much as I enjoy spending time with mine. They sincerely care about what’s happening in each other’s lives, they are genuinely nice, and they a blast to be around. But on top of that, they are all passionate followers of Jesus Christ. I can honestly say that I am so very close to Heather’s side of the family that they become some of my dearest friends. All that to say that this year, once again, Camping Cousins reminds me of what a great family we have been blessed with.

But as great as our family is, we have a greater family, and that too has been demonstrated to me recently. The greater family that I possess is the Family of God, the Church. Particularly I am thinking about the one-another-love of God’s people as expressed in the local church, and that love has certainly been seen and experienced by my family at Harbins Community Baptist Church over the past few weeks and months.

IMG_0745I have, in recent days, seen the greater family of HCBC do things for one another that have left me speechless. I have myself been moved to tears as people in our church have, on more than one occasion, cared for my family in sacrificial ways that exceed what I could have imagined. I have seen simple acts of love being carried out for those who are hurting in our church. I have witnessed people giving up material goods to care for one another’s needs. I have seen people weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. I have seen deep, impassioned prayers being lifted to the Almighty on one another’s behalf. I have seen non-essential differences set aside for the sake of unity. I have seen precious doctrines held tight for the sake of unity. I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ counseling one another with God’s all-sufficient Word. I have seen men and women and children and family units growing in the gospel. I have seen a one-ness, a true, organic unity on display. And thus, I have fallen in love with my greater family anew.

Blood family is important and good and sweet, but it will one day end. Family joined by the Blood of the Covenant is more important and better and sweeter, and it will never end. I preached not too long ago on this very truth. So as I write these words I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:49-50: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

iStock_000004976965XSmallThe local church should be a demonstration of Jesus’ words. The local church should have a greater bond than kin. Sixty times we are given “one-another” imperatives in the New Testament. That truth alone reflects the great love-bond that should exist in the local church. We are genuinely united to one another through Christ. Yet, how rare it is to find such deep familial expressions in the local churches of our day. Today, the expectations many have for the church is not much different than the expectations they have for their local grocery store. Today, many look for a church to join like they are shopping for a hairstylist. Today, the moment a church fails to meet one’s consumeristic standards he swaps it for another as casually as he would switch internet providers. This shouldn’t be so, and if we know our Bibles it should grieve us!

If we truly grasp the Bible’s teaching reading the bond of unity that we are to have Christ, then we will repent of the consumerism that is in our hearts, and we will see and believe that the church is a greater family that we are called to give ourselves too even if we don’t get anything in return. We must let covenant replace consumerism, and if we do, then we will possess and experience a deeper love than any earthly family can offer.

To fuel these truths I challenge you look up some of the “one-another” passages in the New Testament. Start by reading Romans 12 and Ephesians 4-5, and Colossians 3. Let the Word of God root out consumerism. Let the Word of God show us what true unity looks like. Let the Word of God show us a greater family than kin.

So, as I sit here typing these words in beautiful Northwest Arkansas, I am profoundly thankful for this great family that I am with, but I am already missing and longing for my greater family. See you soon Harbins!