The White House announced on Monday that the US will not send an official delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This action is in response to China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” according to Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
The next day, President Biden spoke on a video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in what the New York Times called a “high-stakes diplomatic effort . . . to de-escalate a crisis over Ukraine as tens of thousands of Russian troops amass along the Ukrainian border, raising fears of an invasion.”
After the conference, which lasted just over two hours, the White House reported that President Biden “voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.”
“More couples are ditching monogamy”
Escalating tensions with China and Russia are indeed “high-stakes” issues. However, several stories that have received less attention in recent days are deeply significant for Christ followers. To illustrate my assertion yesterday that “there is a battle going on for the soul of our nation,” consider these reports:
- Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra announced that his agency would force faith-based adoption agencies to violate their beliefs regarding human sexuality or risk not receiving federal funds.
- The city of Boston has approved 284 requests for outside groups to use one of its City Hall flagpoles to promote agendas such as gay pride, but it rejected a group that wanted to display a Christian flag for one hour. Even the ACLU agrees that the city violated the group’s free speech rights.
- A significant academic effort is underway to legitimize and normalize pedophilia, seeking to destigmatize what advocates call “intergenerational intimacy,” but the Bible calls this sin worthy of the severest judgment (Matthew 18:6).
- Yahoo! Lifestyle is carrying this headline: “More Couples Are Ditching Monogamy (and You Can, Too).” The article espouses what it calls “ethical nonmonogamy.” (What a contradiction in terms!) It defines and endorses various ways people participate in such unbiblical sexual practices (cf. Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:18; Matthew 5:28; 1 Corinthians 5:1).
The devil’s “anesthetic”
In my experience, dealing with momentary crises can be easier in some ways than facing ongoing, seemingly unending challenges. We can get through a broken arm and its consequences, but perennial back pain can be debilitating.
This is one of the reasons many of us were so grateful for the example set by Sen. Bob Dole. As I noted yesterday, his grievous wounds from his World War II service created enormous challenges for him every day for all the decades since. And yet he chose to serve his country with “dignity and integrity,” as congressional leaders stated after his death. I wish I could be in Washington tomorrow to join those who will honor him as his body lies in state at the US Capitol.
If American Christians were facing only short-term challenges, that would be one thing. The fact that our secularized culture seems so strongly and deeply opposed to biblical morality can tempt us to abandon our call to missional engagement (Matthew 5:13–16).
As Howard Hendricks noted, “Discouragement is the anesthetic the devil uses on a person just before he reaches in and carves out his heart.”
“The righteous are bold as a lion”
If we will not give up on God, the enemy will tempt us to take God’s place. Spiritual retreat and spiritual self-sufficiency both advance his demonic agenda in our lives and culture.
The right response is to say with David, “The Lᴏʀᴅ is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lᴏʀᴅ is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
When we remember all that God has done, we are encouraged to trust him for all he will do. If he would elevate Joseph from Potiphar’s prison to Pharaoh’s palace, he can use our lives and legacy for his eternal purposes. If he would elevate Daniel from exile to prime minister and Peter from fishing in Galilee to preaching at Pentecost and witnessing to the Sanhedrin, he will fully use anyone who is willing to be fully used.
Scripture states, “The righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1), but we must be righteous. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), but I must ask him to strengthen me. We can answer the ongoing challenges of these days with sacrificial courage, but we must first say with David, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Psalm 56:3).
Making God “the victim of our impatience”
To this end, I will close with a reflection by Henri Nouwen that I found unusually insightful and practically helpful. He noted:
“Prayer is in many ways the criterion of Christian life. Prayer requires that we stand in God’s presence with open hands, naked and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and to others that without God we can do nothing.
“This is difficult in a climate where the predominant counsel is ‘Do your best and God will do the rest.’ When life is divided into ‘our best’ and ‘God’s rest,’ we have turned prayer into a last resort to be used only when all our resources are depleted. Then even the Lord has become the victim of our impatience.
“Discipleship does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On the contrary, it means to recognize that we can do nothing at all, but that God can do everything through us. As disciples, we find not some but all of our strength, hope, courage, and confidence in God. Therefore, prayer must be our first concern.”
Is prayer your “first concern” today?