FAITH IN A TIME OF FEAR

(January 15, 2022) Dr Jim McClure, noted theologian, shares insights regarding 2022 confusions and questions…

We have entered into a New Year with many Old Year questions unanswered and many more being asked. There is a lot of distress, deceit and confusion in today’s world. 

This isn’t new.  About 2600 years ago Habakkuk was confused and disturbed by many of the things that were happening in his world which was evil and violent and full of fear. He was confronted by the political, social, moral and religious collapse that was taking place around him and he could not make sense of it.

Habakkuk was totally baffled and began to question if God really cared. Where was God while all this injustice and corruption and disaster was happening in the world? If God was truly loving and caring, why was the world falling apart and why wasn’t God doing anything about it?

So he addressed God directly. In Habakkuk 1:3 we read, ‘Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.Habakkuk was calling out, ‘Where are you, God?’

Have you ever felt like that? I have! As we read the newspapers and watch TV and witness the corruption, deceit and violence that is intensifying worldwide, we can identify with Habakkuk’s appeal to God.

1. Confronting the corruptions in the world
As Christians we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the evil in the world. In fact the Bible tells us that we need to be aware of the things that are taking place around us.  Peter warned the people in his day, in 1 Peter 5:8-9, ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.’ The Greek word for ‘alert’ means to be ‘awake’ – we need to know what Satan is up to in our world today. And today he is very busy indeed.

Corruption has always been in the world.  At times it has been very great and the darkness has been very deep. Today is one of those periods. Today one group of people, who are promoting corruption in the world, call themselves ‘progressives’ and they use pop culture, educational institutions and the media to belittle Christianity and promote a secular agenda that excludes God.

In 1844, the socialist revolutionary Karl Marx wrote, ‘The first requisite of the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.’ Today Marxism is again vigorously promoting that same demonic agenda that is sweeping the world and it is particularly corrupting Western countries.  It is committed to social disruption and it has attacked Christianity and fundamental Christian values, it has perverted a wide range of social values and it has influenced scientific research – all with the goal of creating social instability and hostility.

How effective the media has been in propagating this false gospel of social change –

  • Movies and television frequently push information and corrupt values that oppose good Godly principles.
  • News media reports have become vehicles for propaganda.
  • Advertisements for many products are now often used to promote political correctness.
  • Gender identity which recognises the reality of only two genders is now derided.
  • ‘Gay marriage’ is now legal in many countries today. In our crazy upside-down world men can now have husbands! Women can have wives. And on some birth certificates women who give birth to a child are listed as the father!
  • Abortion of healthy babies is now considered as a ‘woman’s right.’  And flourishing is the abominable trade of harvesting the body parts of aborted children to be used in operations.
  • Voluntary euthanasia is being promoted as a caring thing to offer.
  • ‘Global warming’ is the ‘clarion call’ of social activists worldwide and it carries other agendas that instil fear and destabilise society.

All those ‘causes’ are promoted to give the impression that they express caring principles that are soundly grounded on the very best sciences and are held by sane, intelligent, informed, compassionate and loving people. It is also argued that failure to embrace those new values reveals bigotry, ignorance, intolerance and hatred!

In 1949 George Orwell wrote the book Nineteen Eighty-Four which contains warnings about social and political manipulation. Orwell made this insightful comment, ‘The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.’

We are being told today that a wonderful future awaits us if only we will –

  • Throw aside the chains of past values – especially those that have a Judeo-Christian foundation.
  • Discard the Bible as a source of moral teaching!
  • Reject the concept that there is an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God.
  • Admit that ancient moral guidelines found in the Bible have no place in the modern world and are obstructive to our progress!

But this reversal of values is not new!  Over 2700 years ago the prophet Isaiah wrote some words that described his self-centred generation that reversed God’s values and they also describe the generation in which we now live…  ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter’ (Isaiah 5:20).

  • In the face of all the relentless pressure today to conform to corrupt agendas, the words of Romans 12:2 ring out this warning: ‘Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould’ (JB Phillips translation).
  • As Christians we must not ignore this march of evil or think that it is of no concern to us.  We are in a battle in which we really need to take seriously Paul’s advice – ‘Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand’ (Ephesians 6:11-13).

But through it all we must never lose sight of this – God is still in control! King Jehoshaphat of Judah prayed these words of assurance, ‘O Lord, …  Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you’ (2 Chronicles 20:6).

2. Coping as Christians in the world
The pressures and deceptions of the world can so easily ensnare us. But Jesus gave His disciples a principle to practice as we encounter the moral dangers and traps in the world.  In Matthew 10:16 He told them, ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ 

Jesus was giving His disciples the challenge to take His message into the world – but He also gave them a warning.  The world into which He was sending them was hostile and cruel. Jesus never concealed that fact from His followers. He never said, ‘Follow me and you will be happy all the way and will be singing all day.’  Such a gospel is a false gospel! 

When Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ what did He mean? 

First of all followers of Jesus must be ‘shrewd as snakes.’ That may seem to be strange advice because we normally think of the biblical image of a snake as representing evil but this is not how Jesus was using the imagery here.

The Greek word translated here as ‘shrewd’ refers to caution. Snakes are cautious animals, always alert to danger.  They take note of their surroundings so that they are not taken by surprise. This is what Jesus is telling us – don’t be gullible and ill-informed.  Instead, be cautious, alert and wise. Know what is happening around you. What good advice that is for today!

Jesus also said, ‘Be innocent as doves.’Doves are known for their gentleness. I believe that we need to embrace this characteristic more because an aggressive, angry Christian does little to commend the gospel! But Jesus was saying more than that, He said, ‘Be innocent as doves.’Note the word ‘innocent’.   Paul used the same Greek word in Philippians 2:14-15 where he told the Christians at Philippi, ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation.’

The Greek word for ‘pure’ means ‘unmixed.’ Both Jesus and Paul were referring to integrity of character. As Christians we are called to be people for whom truth really matters, people who do not compromise our moral values.  In this apparently simple little phrase, ‘innocent as doves’ Jesus presents us with the enormous challenge of living a committed Christian life in the midst of pressures to conform to the standards of a corrupt world.

God wants us to live with integrity. James asked, ‘Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?’ (James 3:11). The answer is, ‘Of course not.’  Jesus challenges us to have unmixed lives. He wants the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts and the actions of our hands to be acceptable in His sight! Because that is what the world is going to see and how the world will judge the integrity of our message of God’s saving love.

3. Committing ourselves to changing the world
Jesus committed to us His mission of taking the message of His love to the world. Paul emphasised that same charge in (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), ‘(God) … has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

If Christians fail in this, Christ’s mission fails!  As Christians we need to commit ourselves to the task of changing the world.  And our mission field is on our doorstep, in our midst, in our society!

The success – or failure – of that mission rests with you and me. To help His church succeed Jesus gave a basic command, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:34-35). That is stated three times in those two verses! Jesus was driving this home as the key point!

Love has a magnetic attraction – where people see it, they are drawn to it! And this is particularly true within the life of the local church. Local churches can provide the most wonderful and welcoming and embracing expressions of the love of Jesus Christ as the people within the fellowship love one another. They can provide a safe and accepting family for people of all types and ages and cultures as the love of God is made manifest in the fellowship of Christ’s people.

But there’s a problem. The church universal has often failed to live up to that command, especially the local church. I have seen so many examples of people who have been bruised and hurt by local churches. People who have been, in effect, driven away from the church. And the cause is usually the fact that some people want to get their own way, or push their own ideas or pursue their own agendas. I have seen churches divided and God’s mission plan of reconciliation being squashed because Christ’s command to love one another has been ignored.

A church is composed of people who have very different personalities and abilities and experiences and ideas and beliefs about how some parts of the Bible should be interpreted. And that is all good because it is a rich tapestry that enriches all our lives.  But sometimes our differences can so divide churches that the command to love one another is totally ignored.

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Satan loves to see division in churches because it weakens the fellowship and eventually brings to a grinding halt the church’s mission and its relevance in a broken world. A church without such love is like a lighthouse with a broken light – it does more harm than good!

King David had totally grasped this principle for he wrote in Psalm 133:1. ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!’ He was absolutely right!

In Mark 3:17 we read that Jesus gave John and his brother James an unusual nickname – the ‘Sons of thunder.’ Clearly there was something like impetuosity, anger even, underlying their personalities.  But with John, the thunder gave way to a graciousness and gentleness that then flowed through his writings. His passion was unabated but it was empowered by love, that is, Christ’s love for him which, in turn, was transformed into his love for others.  In 1 John the apostle uses the word ‘love’ and words related to it, over 40 times! 

I began this article with a confused and distraught Habakkuk crying out to God in confusion as he was confronted by the remorseless evil pressing in on him: ‘Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds’ (Habakkuk 1:3). 

But by the end he had come to this glorious conclusion: ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’ (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

That is the same focus we should never lose especially in the pressure and confusion of these days.

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Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.

His helpful book, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, is offered free, all of Dr Jim’s writings are highly recommended – such as Grace Revisited, Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James, and Faith Works – A Commentary on the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and. Link for orders and questions: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com

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2 comments

  1. Amen Jim, may we seek to keep the focus you encourage as we try to live out Kingdom values. Also appreciated the insight into ‘shrewd as snakes…’ in all my years I’ve never heard it spoken of . The Lord bless your ministry.

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