I agree about the greatness of God; I’m not sure about the beer (I think it’s an acquired taste), but he’s right about people. People really are crazy, and that includes you, me, and everybody else. That is part of what Paul meant in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
I’ve been doing preliminary work on a seminar I’m teaching at The Cove this summer, “Surviving A World Gone Crazy.” Everybody knows the world has gone crazy. Between now and then, I plan to figure out how to survive the craziness. When I find out, I’ll get back to you.
I think it was my friend, Os Guinness, who wrote that when people no longer believe in the real God, they don’t then believe in nothing; they believe in anything. How true and accurate about the modern world. I’m an old guy, and I’ve watched the changes—theological, social, and political. Everything I assumed to be true is, they say, no longer true. A whole lot of people do believe anything, no matter how crazy it is.
The nuclear family was always our culture’s anchor, but it’s now seen as a curse that robs its members of personal freedom. The partnership between parents and schools (PTA) was good, but now that relationship is adversarial. Biblical and social norms are critiqued as a creation of white privilege. The church is seen as the oppressor, and traditional marriage is the stuff of jokes. Gender roles are now fluid. In many cases, academic institutions have become bastions of propaganda and politics (from both the left and the right) and have degenerated into a third world war. It sometimes feels, as Margret Thatcher, the late British Prime Minister said of her administration, that we have “pitched our tent on the side of a mountain in a landslide.”
This week I’ve been rereading George Orwell’s 1984, written in 1949. When I first read it in college, I thought it was an interesting story, but now things like doublethink, thought police, and newspeak have become a part of the vocabulary and reality of our culture. The novel describes a totalitarian cancel culture that smells kind of like the cancel culture in which we now live. Winston Smith, the leading character, works for the Ministry of Truth, which is disinformation on steroids. The novel describes a crazy world not altogether different than our crazy world.
I’m not making a political statement here. (I could, but even though I’m a political conservative to the right of Genghis Kahn and what I would write would be profound, Jesus won’t let me.) In fact, the changes and craziness come from almost all political, social, and religious locales—right and left, orthodox and heretical, conservative and liberal. For instance, Christians have to be careful throwing rocks at the cancel culture given that that has been our MO for centuries, long before “cancel culture” was coined. Political talking heads on the left and right have made their living by unfairly characterizing “enemies” for as long as I can remember. Sexual immorality, dishonesty, greed, war, murder, etc., have always been a part of a fallen world.
Socrates was highly critical of the Greek culture where he lived: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” When he said that, Socrates was just an old guy yearning for the “good old days.”
What I’m writing here could also be that, but I don’t think so. I fear that “the fat lady” has already sung her song (“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings”). Things are so dark, destructive, and scary that our problems are beyond us and unfixable. Well, unfixable to everybody but God. That’s one of the reasons I pray every morning for an awakening in America. It’s about all the hope I can muster. Maybe you feel that way, too.
Have you seen the movie Jesus Revolution? If you haven’t, see it. Anna and I recently saw it, and it’s a great movie describing the incredible American awakening that took place 50 years ago. By the way, I was there then, and those folks got the facts right and the love, message, and feelings right, too. (The movie got to me emotionally. I was glad we were in a dark theater where nobody could see my tears.) When the movie ended, Anna said she felt like standing up and shouting, “Lord, do it again! Do it again!”
Alcoholics Anonymous teaches that drunks don’t get sober until they hit bottom and come to the end of themselves. That’s not only true of drunks but also of everybody and God. That’s why (in a weird sense) sin is a good thing because it is so destructive that it brings people to the end of themselves. Christians know that. We recently interviewed Bruce Hindmarsh about his book, Amazing Grace, a biography of John Newton, focusing on the song he wrote, “Amazing Grace.” John Newton said, “Once I was a wild thing on the coast of Africa, and Jesus caught me and tamed me. Now people come to see me the way they come to watch the animals in the zoo.” As a slave trader and then even a slave, John Newton was brought to the end of himself. His sin, hopelessness, and failure brought Newton to a place where there was no other alternative but Jesus.
That’s true of all of us and a part of the reason we sin, suffer, and fail. When we are, as it were, on the floor and cry out, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up,” we don’t need a medical alarm. We need Jesus. At that point, we either turn to him or run away from him. (But that’s another subject for another day. I need to stay focused.)
Our world isn’t just crazy. It’s a world that has fallen and can’t get up. Anybody who doesn’t see that is either living in denial or lying to us. And the politicians, academics, journalists, and preachers don’t know what to do. They’re just talking (and paid to do it) until something comes to mind.
Meanwhile, what are Christians to do? As I said, I’m working on that, but I know we should keep doing what we’re doing. Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He talks about Christ’s righteousness given to him because he doesn’t have any of his own. Then in a burst of humility (not always Paul’s strong suit), Paul writes, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8, 13-14). Paul was determined to “keep on keeping on” in his faith.
When St. Francis was working in his garden, someone asked him what he would do if he knew the world would end that day. He replied, “I would continue to work in my garden.” In other words, he would keep on doing what he was doing. That’s not a bad thing to remember when we live in a crazy and fallen world.
That means in a fallen world, we don’t leave the church. I recently heard a political commentator (I don’t remember who it was) who was asked what the average person should do when it was clear that things were falling apart. To my surprise, he said, “Find a church, join it, and support it.” He was right. The more the crazy world yells at, critiques, and dismisses the church, the more important it is to be a part of it. Even if you don’t like the music or the preacher, we must make it clear where we stand and whose side we’re on. That means loving what Jesus loves. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
It also means that we should never duck. My late mentor, Fred Smith, taught me that we didn’t have to change the world; we just had to remember not to duck when the occasion arose. At the church where I worship, we had the formal open house for our new church buildings last Sunday. We had already worshiped there for a couple of weeks, but our pastor said we waited for the open house so we could get things together and make sure they worked. Then he laughed and said, “It didn’t happen. So, if you see something, don’t say something. We’ll get around to it eventually.”
If you see something, hear something, encounter something, or stumble across something, for God’s sake, say something. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul said we should “speak the truth in love” and “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” One of the things about our crazy world is that there is an effort (intentional or not) to silence truth in general and Christian truth in particular. My friend Norm Evans (a former NFL player) once told me how a football player complained to his coach that the opposing lineman kept pulling his helmet over his eyes. The player asked the coach what he should do. “Son,” the coach said, “don’t let him.” Paul said that we should not be conformed to the world (Romans 12:2). So, don’t let them shut you up. Whenever and however you can, speak truth. Silence may be golden sometimes, but not in speaking truth to power . . . and everyone else.
One other thing comes to mind. In a crazy world, be crazier than everybody else . . . crazy like a fox. Paul says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing . . . Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 20).
The genuine can and should be tested. That’s what is happening in our crazy world today. What we have been told is genuine isn’t. It’s false, shallow, and destructive. It’s like the children’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Everybody bought into the scam that the emperor was dressed in new clothes until one little boy yelled, “That sucker is buck naked!”
Christians are called to be that little boy!
He asked me to remind you.