The last long days of summer are upon us. This year might be the most eagerly-anticipated back-to-school time in history, after all the uncertainty and upheaval of last year. It is finally time to get ready to get back into a routine.
The bad news is that the last year or two has left us in a place where there is a big mess and much work to be done. It is plain to see that society is in trouble. The culture is becoming more secular all the time, and many people attribute that to western society having evolved past the Christianity that shaped it. The accusation is that Christianity must not be real or true since there is so much trouble and mess everywhere. But, as GK Chesterton so wisely said, “When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” Humanity really is sinful - we aren’t making that up.
So what is the good news?
Even though it seems like things keep going from bad to worse, we are not without hope! Much that has been shaken needed to be shaken, and many of us still believe that God can and will change broken people and institutions all around.
There is a certain book we all ought to take off the shelf and open eagerly…
There is an important and timely account in the Old Testament, recorded in both 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.
After Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt with the Lord's powerful and miraculous help, God gave them the Law and was very clear about how important it was for them to follow it. He reminded them again and again about the blessings and curses associated with choosing to be faithful to Himself and to His Word, and gave them clear instruction on how not to forget. Everything in the entire society was to revolve around keeping and remembering the Word of God - the calendar, the sacrifices and offerings, the fasts and feasts, all the way down to the flow of each week. Their very identity came from being chosen by God to represent to the world what it looks like to be in relationship with Him, and the Word He gave them showed them how to live rightly.
Fast forward roughly 800 years after Moses received the Law from God, to when a boy named Josiah became king of God’s people. This young man had a heart for God, and wanted to do what was right by Him. His predecessors had widely varying degrees of commitment to God, and a whole lot of strange worship and behavior had crept into the nation over the centuries. Josiah intuitively knew that things were not right, so he did all that he knew to do in an attempt to clean things up.
Part of what he did was try to repair the temple that was in serious disorder. While his workers were there one day, someone found the Book of the Law. They brought it to the king, who had it read out loud right away. When he heard what it actually said, it made him tear his clothes in anguish over their collective foolishness.
Stop right there! Let’s rewind and go through that again…
God loves all the people He created and grieves that they have chosen sin and selfishness. In His long plan of redemption, He chose for Himself a people who could show the rest of the world what it looks like to walk with God, and from that people came the Savior of the world, Jesus. God gave His people the very words of life (Deut. 32: 46-47) and told them clearly how to live in such a way that they and their children might never forget, and that the people around them could see the goodness of God.
Their society - which was to be altogether different and infinitely better for every man, woman and child than any other society - was built upon those words and revolved around them. The beautiful temple was built to honor those words and the God who spoke them. But by Josiah’s time, the temple was a shambles and the Book of Life was lost in a dusty cupboard somewhere. No one even realized it was missing because their society kept rolling along - but many of them knew everything was broken, just like we do.
The Book of Life that their whole society was built on got put on a shelf at some point. When did that happen? I wonder which generation was the one to think, "We've got this. We know what it says, for heaven's sake.
Just put it over there - we don't need it anymore."
This is making me feel uncomfortable, and I am the one writing it! For many reasons, we do this same thing all the time. We all have lots of Bibles - everywhere. We talk about the Bible, read books and articles about it, we even post little pictures of special verses on social media, but we don't read or believe or obey the actual Word of God nearly as often as we should. We get frustrated at how un-Biblical our society is becoming, while at the same time holding onto the notion that our kids and neighbors will somehow know the Bible spontaneously. Meanwhile, the Book of Life just sits on our shelves, unopened, while everyone assumes to know what it says without ever bothering to read it.
During Josiah's time, the people of God joyfully recommitted themselves to Him and the Book of Life, and were blessed. But sadly, the Book kept on getting lost time and again, until the glorious fullness of time when Jesus came to defeat sin and death. Then the New Testament was given to make the Word complete, the Church was born, and the cycle of forgetting and remembering began anew.
Let me give two more quick examples:
The Reformation - by the 15th century, Christendom as a whole had fallen prey to a breathtakingly corrupt system full of wicked and power-hungry people. The Bible was only available in a language just a handful on earth could read or understand, and even then not widely available. Vast amounts of corruption and superstition had entered Christianity.
A move of God stirred across the European continent, and the Bible was rediscovered. The miraculous timing of the advent of the printing press, an explosion in literacy, and the bravery of people who risked or gave their lives to translate the Bible into common languages all combined to put the Word of God into the hands of the people. Such a glorious revival occurred, both in the new Protestant Churches and also in the Catholic Church. The repercussions of Christians reading and believing the Bible radically changed society for the better in so many ways.
The Great Awakening - again, by the late 17th/early 18th centuries, the Bible was back on the dusty shelf. In England, "Christian" society became reckless and self-indulgent. People lived in decadence and outright perversion, with little care for the sanctity of life. Injustice, corruption, and oppression were the order of the day, and the Book of Life was all but forgotten. In the American colonies, Christianity became painfully crusty and self-righteous. The goodness and grace of Jesus was missing from society.
Once again a move of God stirred, this time on two continents. In North America, people like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield preached the true Word of God and the Holy Spirit breathed on it. Thousands upon thousands were impacted and gave their hearts to Jesus. At the same time, two brothers named John and Charles Welsey had their lives revolutionized by God in England and embarked on what would be 50 years of tirelessly preaching and teaching the Word on both sides of the Atlantic. It is no exaggeration to say that the combined efforts of this great and godly generation changed the world. Christians read and believed the Bible once again, and society truly changed. The wicked institution of slavery was toppled in the west, and the well-being of men, women, and children of every walk of life was vastly improved.
What's Next? - It remains to be seen what will become of our generation. It certainly feels as though we are quickly approaching some sort of tipping point, both in our own nation and across the world. But remember, there is good news! It is the same Good News that has been rediscovered again and again when it tragically got put away on the shelf. When the people of God rediscover the Book of Life, read it, believe it, and live it, the world can be impacted. All it took in these other accounts was for a few people to get hungry for sharing the Word of God again. The Holy Spirit took it from there.
As we enter a new season, let's dive into our Bibles. Let's refuse to allow ourselves and our families and neighbors be fooled by what the world has to say about God and His Word. Let's be active in reading and believing the Words of Life in a fresh way, trusting that He can heal our land. As we turn our hearts and eyes fully toward God, may we love Him with all of our hearts, souls and minds, and may we all truly love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)