Thursday, January 31, 2019


“Rushing wind blow through this temple,
Blowing out the dust within,
Come and breathe you breath upon me,
I've been born again.
  • Keith Green - “Rushing Wind” (1981)

Sometimes it takes a rushing wind to bring us to our senses, to sweep the dust and societal debris that has collected within our souls and blinded us to a higher reality. I know; there was so much worldly dust and debris in me I could hardly see. I was like the psalmist - “my feet had almost slipped, I had nearly lost my foothold.” (Psalm 73)

This world, the world we can see, feel, hear, and taste has a way of diverting our attention away from the things that are really important. We are, after all, earthbound creatures, and the tyranny of what our society, our politicians, and social media communicate to us has a powerful effect. It’s become a constant of modern life, somewhat like gravity. The message conveyed is clear, especially if one is a Christian - “Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, ‘How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?’” (Psalm 73)

It keeps us earthbound when we know we should be rising above the almost incessant chatter. It’s not easy to escape ts clutches.

Not too long ago, I started reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Between Two Millstones,” in which he looks back at his life from the time the Soviet authorities decided the only thing they could do with him was get rid of him.

His writing and his prophetic voice had become a powerful witnesses to truth, so Yuri Andropov and the Soviet apparatus decided to strip him of his Soviet citizenship and ship him off to the West. This is about where “Between Two Millstones” begins. Solzhenitsyn had come to the west. He was now a free man. There were no shackles on him. He was free to say whatever he wanted and he had a Western audience eager to hear what he had to say. It did not work that way, however.  He discovered early on that the oppression he experienced for so many years in the Soviet gulags was actually a crucible for creativity and truth. The gulag could not silence him, nor could the threats of the Politburo. But, his new-found freedom was actually more stifling than could have ever imagined. This is now he put it in the early part of his book: “Back in Moscow, as soon as Alya or I would meet up with Betta, there ensued fiery exchanges of clandestine ideas—but now that I was free to discuss whatever I liked, I simply could not gather my thoughts. After a great upheaval passes, you feel it even more.”

It’s really quite fascinating. We often fear opposition and oppression, but it’s often a great gift that allows us to see the world around us clearly. It’s painful, but it’s clarifying. Freedom, or what we most often think of as freedom, can, on the other hand, often have a stifling or shackling effect. I think this is what Solzhenitsyn was experiencing when he first came to the West.

It took him some time to regain his spiritual footing and when he did he reclaimed the prophetic mantle that had produced the great works which had played such a powerful role in bringing down the Soviet system. His new role began in earnest, I believe, when he addressed the faculty and students of Harvard University in 1978. As he came to the podium, thunderous applause erupted. By the time he was done a little over an hour later, the applause had become sporadic and muted. America’s greatest minds sat, stunned If they had been expecting or hoping for a pillow prophet, they were  disabused of the notion. Solzhenitsyn had turned his rhetorical guns on the West. He spoke to the West’s loss of courage and the West’s slow, inexorable descent into humanism.
He left Harvard and continued to hammer away. When he was asked what he believed western civilization’s greatest problem was he declared, in no uncertain terms, “Men have forgotten God.”

The response to his words and warnings was predictable. It was the sort of thing that happens to prophets when they dare to speak against the currents of the time. It almost always does. Isaiah was sawn in two. Jeremiah was thrown into a well. John the Baptist was beheaded. Dr. King was assassinated. Jesus was crucified!

While the punishment wasn’t as severe as it had been with his predecessors, it was meted out with great gusto. Solzhenitsyn was shunned. He had been the darling of the West when he  spoke out against the evils of our enemies, but he had become persona no grata when he turned the guns on us. The message behind the punishment was clear. “Leave us alone.” “Shut up!” “Go away.”

I’ve always admired Solzhenitsyn. Being shunned, criticized, ignored, or labelled a fanatic never seemed to bother him. He refused to heed the siren’s song that thoroughly dominated Western culture. He was tuned in to a much higher frequency.

The siren song of culture is still dominant in the West today, a decade after Solzhenitsyn’s death, and anyone who runs afoul of its  currents risks being shunned, ignored, or worse. This is especially true for those who not only profess, but also practice their Christian faith.

The question, then, becomes a matter of how professing and practicing Christians should respond to a culture that is now in conflict with their faith.

Who, within our culture, are we in conflict with? Is it our government? To some extent it is, but it isn’t the major culprit. We have First Amendment protections and they are still as strong as they’ve been since our founding. Our Constitution says they can’t be abridged. No, our problem isn’t legal. It’s cultural. In the 1980’s, Christians seemed to be on the inside as far as our culture was concerned. Today, however, the winds have shifted. We’re now on the outside looking in.

It’s not that Christian thinkers haven’t seen this shift coming. In the 1940’s. C.S. Lewis, had this to say in “God in the Dock”: “I had a postcard signed ‘M.D.’ saying that anyone who expressed and published his belief in the Virgin Birth should be stripped and flogged. That shows you how easily persecution of Christians by the non-Christians might come back. Of course, they wouldn’t call it Persecution: they’d call it ‘Compulsory re-education of the ideologically unfit’, or something like that.”

This is where we Christians are today in America.

Should we mourn or should we celebrate? It’s a fundamentally important question we Christians must answer.   

Jesus, who we claim as our Lord, said we should rejoice and be glad when the cultural tides run against us - “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 ESV)

Why, if this is the approach our Lord tells us to take, do we spend so much time mourning? Is our grip on on political and cultural levers so important that we can ignore the words of Jesus? Further, are we really being persecuted? Are we being thrown to the lions? Are our bodies being set ablaze to light our city streets at night? Are we being nailed to crosses outside the city limits? No...No...No! We’re being shunned, insulted, and ignored, that’s all. Does being a cultural insider mean so much to us that we’d be willing to abandon the principles of our faith to maintain good standing with culture that really doesn’t want our contribution? Should we be obliged to practice our faith the way culture demands we do? Should we cringe in terror when the Twitter and Facebook mobs insult us? Should we give in to the cultural elites? Should we surrender our faith meekly when we’re brought before the courts of public opinion?

If this is the price we must pay for cultural acceptance, I believe we must refuse to pay it.
There is a better way. In  the short term it may seem painful, but in the end it will prove true. We must escape the clutches of our culture. We must find a way to be “in, but not of, the world.” As singer/songwriter Keith Green put it so beautifully in the early eighties:
“Separate me from this world Lord.
Sanctify my life for you.
Daily change me to Your image,
Help me bear good fruit.”

Hasn’t that always been the case for those engaged in the pilgrimage of faith? Abraham had to leave the cultural riches of the Chaldeans. Moses had to abandon the wealth and power of Egypt. A few of Jesus’ disciples had to abandon their fishing nets. One even had to abandon a lucrative tax collecting business.

It’s a difficult lesson to learn and the results are often tragic when God’s people wrap themselves too tightly in the cultural blankets around them and becomes slaves. That’s the lesson Ezra and the people of Israel finally learned as the Babylonian captivity was ending (see Ezra 9)

Where to from here? There are answers. About a year ago, I read Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option,” which presents a model/template which Christians can use or modify to find a path through our culture to carve out a meaningful, Christ-centered life. I highly recommend it. While Dreher doesn’t offer a one size fits all solution to our current dilemma, it does offer a splendid starting point. Second, we need to see that  the opposition we face is not only cultural, it’s also spiritual. In fact, it’s a potent mixture of the two forces. Third, and most important, we must draw close to Jesus. In order to fight the battles that lie ahead, we need direction that can come only from Him. Can we win our culture over? I’m not so sure. Dreher seems to think it’s lost. I do know this, however. At his trial, Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus’ response was right to the point. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.” (John 18:36)”

When all is said and done, we may lose the cultural battles, but we need not worry. The kingdom Jesus established is firm. It’s unassailable. The Twitter mobs may rage and the cultural elites may threaten. They may even try to legislate us into oblivion. They cannot, nor will they succeed. What Jesus has given us cannot be taken away by any power on earth. Therefore, we must stand fast, fully confident that He who saved us will keep us until He returns!

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