Being Strange

I have a little rule of thumb - if I receive the same message through three different sources, God is trying to say something to me. That happened recently.

I agreed to teach an adult SS Class. The class uses Cokesbury’s uniform adult Bible study series, and the lesson I was asked to teach was the first lesson of the summer quarter. The summer theme: Toward a New Creation; the first lesson: The Day of the Lord.

As I pulled out the teacher’s manual and read the lesson, I realized what a challenging project this was going to be. The Day of the Lord was God’s day of judgment against a dysfunctional society which had gotten far away from God and his plan. The prophet, Zephaniah, railed against ancient Judah for its many sins, including idolatry, cheating, not treating fellow human beings fairly, mixing worship of God with worship of other gods, or, just ignoring God altogether. God’s judgment day was coming, Zephaniah said, and it would not be pleasant. I decided to read the text from The Message Bible to help us grasp the meaning in present day terms. 

Through Zephaniah, God says,  “I’ll make things so bad, they won’t know what hit them. they’ll grope around like blind men; Their blood will be poured out like old dishwater, their guts shoveled into slop buckets. This is the Day of God’s Judgment” (Zeph. 1:17).

But even in ancient Judah, God had his people, and after the doom and gloom words to the society as a whole, he had a special message for them.  “Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people who live by God’s justice. Seek God’s right ways. Seek a quiet and disciplined life. Perhaps you’ll be hidden on the Day of God’s anger.” (Zeph. 2:3)

At the same time I was preparing this lesson, a CD I had ordered from Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist, came. The title: “If the Foundations are Being Destroyed, What Can the Righteous Do?”

Dr. Zacharias argues in the lecture that the foundations on which our nation were built and on which God intended society to be built are crumbling in four areas:

1. Eternity - he says many people in America no longer believe in life after death. I checked this out on the internet and found that a poll taken in 2012 of 1500 people in the US showed 55% believed in life after death, meaning 45% did not. If people no longer believe in life after death, then this life is all there is, and they will live accordingly. They will do what is pragmatic — what works.

2. Morality -  He pointed out that there is no sense of absolute right and wrong anymore. Everything is relative. As an illustration, he shares an interview between Larry King and Robert Shapiro, one of the lawyers in the OJ Simpson trial. The interview went something like this:

Larry: Bob, what really happened there. What is the truth?

Bob: Larry, we don’t deal with the truth.

Larry: OK, Bob, then what do you think happened?

Bob: I don’t make moral judgments, Larry, only professional judgments.

Dr. Zacharias says by only making professional judgments, Mr. Shapiro has, in fact, made a moral judgment.

3. Accountability - People are not held accountable.   There is a feeling it is not sin if you can get away with it.

4. Charity - Beneficence has been lost, he says.  People are no longer universally kind to each other. Dr. Zacharias speaks all over the world and he says he receives threatening letters and emails regularly. And this week we hear the news oftragedy in Orlando with an act of violence that is incomprehensible.

As Zephaniah did in days of old, Dr. Zacharias warns that our society is moving away from what God intends. A cultural shift is under way.

So what can the righteous do? 

Dr. Zacharias says, “Worship God. It’s what gives our lives purpose. Loose our lives in service to others to find true meaning.” Is not this a modern version of “Seek God, seek God’s right ways?

The third message came the night before I was to teach the SS lesson. I happened to be cleaning out some old magazines and found the 2016 Jan/Feb issue of Christianity Today, which announced its best book awards of 2015. The overall best book award for2015 wentto "Onward" by Russell Moore.  I only had time to read a few reviews before class the next morning, but I subsequently bought and read it. Moore says we Christians have lost the culture. We are no longer a Christian nation, with a culture based on biblical principles. On our best days, he says, we are a prophetic minority.

So, what are Christians to do? He commends us toward strangeness, toward living in joyful distinction from mainstream society. “Embrace the full gospel as pilgrims in a secularizing society,” he says. 

As we in our churches deal with collapsing morals in our society, and even acts of violence,  let us go forward doing what God told the remnant in ancient Judah through Zephaniah and what both Ravi Zachaias and Russell Moore, modern day prophets, tell us now. Seek God; seek his right ways; live as lights in a dark world; lose our lives in service to others; be strange — show the culture what God’s plan for society looks like.

As Moore writes, “ We recognize that from Golgotha to Armageddon, there will be tumult — in our cultures, in our communities and in our own psyches.…But we do not despair, as those who are the losers in history might. We are the future kings and queens of the universe.”