Certainly the two most talked about op-eds of this weekend are the ones by Peggy Noonan, essentially advocating for guns as a means of comfort in these times, and by Bret Stephens, advocating repeal of the Second Amendment. Despite their policy differences, they share the common viewpoint of a nation and culture that is in deep crisis. Not surprising in a nation that in the wake of a horror like Las Vegas resorts to bigotry.
And so we discuss gun control and regulation of social media. But I cannot shake the feeling that guns and social media are symptoms, not the disease. I am of the school Noonan describes this way, “The right honestly doesn’t understand why the left keeps insisting on reforms that won’t help,” – at least not enough. I understand about the regulations being discussed because as Noonan says, “It probably won’t help much. But if it helps just a little, for God’s sake, do it.” But I also know that little help will not be sufficient help and the cycle of deterioration will only continue. But we will pour so much energy, so much discussion, into the little help that we will neglect altogether what really needs to happen.
Our nation does not need government right now, it needs church.
The kind of church we need is not “let’s all come together and feel good about ourselves” church. Nope. We need “it’s not pretty out there and you start to make it better by making yourself better” church.
I had some good friends visit Mt. Vernon this past Friday. The pictures they shared made me think of my wife and I’s wonderful visit there a few years ago. But more it made be think about why this nation was founded. We talk about words like “freedom” and “self-determination,” but to what end did we seek those things? Why did we pick a fight when we had a pretty good life even under British rule? Why did someone like George Washington sacrifice so much to start another country?
The answer, I think, is because people on this continent came here to make something better of themselves than was possible in the Old World. They did not want to replicate what already was, they wanted to be better. That was our grand project, not to build a nation but to make something better of ourselves. We ended up having to build a nation to get there, but nation building was not our intended project. Religious freedom was about making themselves better. The freedoms in our Constitution were about making the nation better than any other – and to date it has proven to be such. We wanted to see the fulfillment of the promise of what life in Christ truly is:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
But we have grown as stagnant as the Old World we left behind. We no longer seek to be better, we seek only to be “liked” on Facebook. And worst of all, so do our churches. I have been to one too many a meeting where the topic was about how to get internet traffic, ostensibly to draw people in order to receive the gospel, but in the mad rush of “like” seeking, it becomes an end to itself.
This is not a time for timid faith, following the well worn paths that have failed to this point. This is a time for bold faith – faith that is not afraid to tell people they are not “OK” but at the same moment faith that offers them a fix for that problem. But mostly bold faith that starts on ourselves – faith that begins with the question, “What are we doing wrong?”
Let me offer one possible answer. The gospel took over the western world because of relationships. Before the printing press, let alone something as pervasive as social media, the gospel conquered the world. When we harness the gospel to such things, we limit it, for it clearly has the power to move about and win souls without them. How did it do so? It did so through the power of relationships. The truth of the gospel became apparent to the world because one-by-one the world filled up with people whose whole life was testimony to its truth – people who wanted to be better, not fit in.
Is your life such a testimony? Are you so boldly and brashly different that your life screams with the new life available in Christ?
If not, I hope you will join me this Sunday morning in a prayer that begins, “Lord I am a mess, help me be less of one.”
ADDENDUM: This is hardly the first time I have expressed these ideas and I have often been accused of asking too much. I do not deny, it is a high bar I present here. But I think it is the bar we are to aim for. Consider my devotional of yesterday examining one of the times Christ admonished the Pharisees:
There are two foundational biblical words that capture positively what Jesus implies in today’s text for good leaders. Jesus expects leaders to provide hope and help. Hope is fundamentally about the transformation of work that enslaves to work that sets people free. Help reminds followers that leaders are there not just to pile on responsibilities, but to serve alongside their followers in their work.
None of us do this perfectly. At best, in our fallen and yet redeemed state, we exhibit glimpses of what Jesus has in mind. Perhaps that’s a reminder that our leadership is ultimately but a signpost to God’s rule. As the Psalmist writes, “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:5) That should both encourage us as leaders and inspire us to live more faithfully in response.
Our own failures to reach the high bar does not mean we give up on the high bar – it means we live in confession along with those we are calling to confession. We don’t change the bar – we change our attitude.