You don’t have to have your eyes open very wide to realize there is something horribly wrong in the world. I recently picked up a book given to my oldest son Steven by his teacher – Mrs. Copley. It is titled simply “Night” and the book describes the horrors of a young Jewish boy by the name of Elie Wiesel trapped in Nazi concentration camps. The book describesJewish captives being forced to dig their own graves while Nazi soldiers shot their children and then the parents themselves. Elie had a mentor by the name of Francois Mauriac whom he asked to write the forward of his book describing his experience. Mauriac in attempting to understand what young Elie had to endure wrote,
“Let us try to imagine what goes on in his mind as his eyes watch rings of black smoke unfurl in the sky, smoke that emanates from the furnaces into which his little sister and his mother had been thrown after thousands of other victims.”
The thought is unfathomably awful. That was less than 70 years ago. Elie was with us until just a few months ago.
As we walk forward in our own country’s history, it isn’t pretty – Pearl Harbor, atom bombs, Cold war, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, 9-11-01, Iraq, Taliban, Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan… And now North Korea and Iran threaten our illusory security. Missile defenses are moved or put on order. Something is wrong.
And it is not just our military at war – our own culture is at war. According to Barna Christian evangelicals now represent a mere 7% of the population of the United States and the culture is increasingly hostile to the Christian presence that remains. We see it in the increasingly rapid plunge into acceptance and tolerance of behaviors and substances once rejected by the majority of the population. Something is wrong.
But at least in the church all is well right? Well not so much. Church attendance continues to slide according to The Great Evangelical Recession. Worse yet we are losing our young people at an alarming rate. It seems our attempts at relevancy are often simply gutting the church of substance. Something is wrong.
“But the family, at least my family is good,” we plead. Really? I don’t know about you but I’m fighting my own personal wars. Parenting, marriage, finances, personal holiness are challenging and I fail so much more than I care to admit. Something is wrong.
Something is so wrong that when we are honest – when we really take stock of everything—we realize a truth. A truth that we hate to acknowledge because we so desperately wish it was not true. But it is a fundamental truth – a truth I believe we are meant to understand and maybe only can understand in the darkness of our existence.
Truth begins with we are fallen. Not just Satan is fallen, or the world is fallen, or the United States is fallen or even the church is fallen, but you and me – we are fallen. We are sinful. We are broken. The pain of life is meant to show us this. Not just that we are fallen, but that we can’t fix ourselves. Sometimes I think we get in our minds if we could just read one more book, find that magic principle, finally turn over that new leaf we could fix what is wrong. But we can’t. Scripture tells us there is none righteous no not one – we are in desperate need for something we cannot provide for ourselves and to keep trying is futile. The “wrongness” is too much. We need something greater than ourselves. We need a Savior. (Cue Mandisa singing The Voice of a Savior – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2IB1InD0rY )
The glory of the cross shines brightly into the darkness of our world and shouts to us – There is hope! There is a Savior who willingly exchanges your fallenness for His perfection. There is a Savior who receives you, welcomes you, rescues you, saves you and loves you not because you are good but because He is. This truth is not just for the moment you believed as glorious as that is. Grace is not only Christianity 101 it is also Christianity 401. Paul prays in Eph 3:14, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
All of your “churchy” activities – your Bible Reading and church attendance, your giving and your witnessing all should have one aim. They are intended to help you and those around you to revel in the grace of Jesus Christ – to turn our eyes from our natural tendency to be self-reliant to the glory and majesty of our amazing Lord – and in so doing to find the God-given strength to rejoice in his forgiveness, to experience real God-given change and to serve sacrificially for the expansion of God’s work in the world.
Let me end this rather long article with this note. I began with sharing a little of the pain of Elie Wiesel in the concentration camps. For Elie this proved there could not be a God. But the author of his forward, Francois Mauriac, sees something different. He writes of his friend,
“What did I say to him? Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world? Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost?
We do not know the worth of one single drop of blood, one single tear. All is grace.”