2020 is certainly turning out to be a year for the history books, isn't it? Every day it seems that something new and more wild than yesterday happens. Pandemic, fires, storms, riots...the list keep going and growing.
We have a new intern class this fall semester, and in spite of everything happening, we are having a lot of fun. This 2020-21 class consists of nineteen young men and women - all have had a tremendous experience with God during their university years, and are exploring the potential of a lifetime in ministry.
Each year I have the joy and privilege of introducing a new class full of recently-awakened young Christians to the wonders of two thousand years of Church history. Very few 22 year-olds have much knowledge of history at all - let alone Church history. Oftentimes history is viewed as boring, put-you-to-sleep kind of stuff, but I disagree. It is fascinating, and we can learn so much about ourselves by studying it carefully. There are quite a few patterns - good and bad - that emerge with a long look back.
One recurring theme throughout the last 2000 years is a particularly tragic spiral. It begins with one generation that has a real, amazing, fresh and life-changing encounter with the God of the Universe, and surrenders whole-heartedly to the ways and plan of Jesus. We can read about this happening time and again, in nations and people groups all over the world. These are the people that would throw themselves in front of one other as they were being killed for sport in pagan arenas, or who would risk life and limb to protect others from a wicked ruling class. They had an undeniable encounter with Jesus, and no amount of persecution could change their minds about Him.
In such a generation, their faith in God is highly contagious. Their lives impact many others; the very hearts of men and women are renewed, and families are made whole. Commerce is often impacted as the vices of society are abandoned and holiness is joyfully pursued. When a group of people truly turns to God, governments have even been seen to shape up - ceasing to be about the pursuit of power for a moment, turning temporarily for the good of the many. The foundation for true peace and fruitfulness is laid and strengthened, and the people flourish.
But the danger of this cycle is that in a time of peace and blessing, things get easy. And prosperous. And taken for granted. The children and grandchildren of the ones who had a real encounter with God enjoy the blessings and steadiness of a peaceful and prosperous society very much. They are safe, and they might have plenty of time and money to spend however they see fit. As always, even since our original grandparents walked in the glorious Garden of Eden, the grass begins to look so much greener on the other side of the morality fence.
Seemingly new voices emerge from the growing shadows and whisper, “Why shouldn’t you eat taste that/say that/do that?” Very few can remember a time when things were not safe and sound, and people begin to question why all of these rules are in place to begin with. They suddenly seem so restrictive and really cramp our style. It becomes high time to stop worrying so much all the time about our kids and their futures - it is time for some “me” time.
“Obviously it is not going to hurt anything if we tear down this big fence right here - it is just in the way and has always kept us from running as fast as we want to run,” the people say, as they tear down the fence with a flourish and promptly fall off the cliff. They did not realize that their great-grandparents built that very fence to keep people from falling to their deaths.
This accelerates the downward spiral. Reaping the bitter fruit of a selfish life makes people even more angry at God, so they do even more selfish things to try to fill the void in their souls. They especially resent responsibility, and do not want to have to spend their own time ensuring the health and well-being of anyone else. So they outsource the tough jobs like teaching their kids and governing their cities to anyone who will do it, refusing to admit or believe that anyone might take advantage of this.
Generally speaking, what happens next is that an enemy army of some kind marches in and violently rolls over everything. Then, at last, people begin to cry out to God. Only when things become the darkest can men and women once again fully understand their great need for the Savior. God, in His infinite patience and with His tremendous heart to see people really know Him, allows the cycle to begin anew.
When you take some time to read a book covering the scope of Christian history, you could almost stand up and shout by the time you get to the modern era, “Oh, no! Please look ahead and see what is about to happen!"
In generations like that, there comes a real tipping point when it is suddenly too late to change things. Don’t believe this? Ask some of the Christian nations of the past...ask Rome of the 400’s AD. Ask the Byzantines all over the Mediterranean Basin and Middle East in the 700’s-1000 AD. Ask 1400’s Constantinople. Ask 1780’s France. Ask 1910’s Russia. Ask 1920’s Weimar Germany. Ask 2020….whoa, wait!
THERE IS GOOD NEWS AND HOPE!
I have been referencing Christian peoples, but of course history began long before Jesus left Heaven and came to earth as a man. There is so much that happened before the birth of the Church. Millennia before, God chose a man named Abraham in order to show the world what it looked like for a people to be in covenant relationship with Him. The history of Israel that we can read in the Old Testament is frequently so similar to that of the Christians. They love God and serve Him, then get prosperous and lazy, let in false thinking and practices, and eventually get steam-rolled by an enemy. Repeat. And again...
But God never leaves them or forsakes them. He made a covenant with them, and He is not a covenant-breaker. Of course, He will allow them (and us!) to walk away of our own accord and face the consequences of such a foolish action, so that we can remember our great need for help and salvation. God gave us all free will, and He will not force us to do anything. But when any of us come to our senses and call out to Him, He is always there, waiting with open arms.
When Abraham's descendant Solomon built and dedicated the beautiful temple in Jerusalem, God Himself came and reminded Solomon of His wonderful promises to His people. The whole passage in 2 Chronicles chapter 7 is both sobering and encouraging, and I encourage you to read the entire thing as a timely message to all of us in 2020. Verse 14 of that chapter reminds us of God's promise to help in dark times...
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
There is very little most of us can do right now to physically bring change to the chaos around us. Many of us are pretty normal folks, not in positions of great power or opportunity. But, even so, we are not helpless!
There is One who can help and save, and that is God. He reminds us that He is right there to bring help and healing to His people IF AND WHEN...
-IF we will humble ourselves. He is God and we are not - we must lay down our pride, listen and obey.
-IF we will pray. Not worry, or grumble, or fuss, or put out frustrated messages on Facebook and Twitter, but pray. He hears and helps when we do.
-IF we will seek His face. It is election time, and we all have so many opinions about what ought to happen. But we must remember that while government is necessary, it does not actually hold the answers to the problems of the world. Neither does education or money or power. The hearts of mankind need a change that only God can bring.
-IF we will turn from our wicked ways. Statistically speaking, many Christians do not act like Christ. We must stop doing wicked, selfish things and start obeying God.
-THEN He will come and forgive our sins and heal our land! Both things that we desperately need.
I have mentioned several generations that let their guard down too far and faced the tragic repercussions. In my next post, I would like to revisit several generations that rose to the occasion and saw tremendous, miraculous change sweep across their land. Oh, that we would be such a generation!
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!)