“They themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
As of this morning, there is no reported progress on freeing the missionaries being held hostage in Haiti. But behind the scenes, Christians are praying in thirty-minute blocks around the clock for their release. Their fervent and sacrificial passion even made the pages of the New York Times.
I wanted to begin with this story, even though last week’s accidental shooting involving actor Alec Baldwin is leading today’s news. Baldwin reportedly discharged a prop gun during rehearsal for his Western film Rust, killing forty-two-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Her sister is now speaking out for the first time, sharing the “great grief” she and her family are feeling. We are also seeing claims that the assistant director has a history of unsafe practices.
In other news, Axios reports that 2020 saw a historic rise in homicides in the US—the vast majority committed with a gun—and the upward trend is continuing this year. A Harvard study shows that “loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic.”
And according to a new national poll, 81 percent of Americans say life won’t return to normal anytime soon. Participants were asked to select the word or words that best described how they are feeling:
- 62 percent chose “disappointed.”
- 50 percent chose “hopeful.”
- 46 percent chose “exhausted.”
- 43 percent chose “worried.”
- 41 percent chose “angry.”
- 24 percent chose “indifferent.”
Clearly, the deep and rampant secularization of our culture is not improving our culture. But the good news is that Christians can respond to the bad news with the best news of all. We can do what Christians interceding for Haitian hostages can do. We can still be salt and light in ways that transform our world.
But there is an often-overlooked step we need to take first.
A term that explains our times
In his Sunday article, cultural commentator David French points us to “a new term, one I learned from John Strahan, a New Testament professor at my alma mater, Lipscomb University. That term is orthocardia. Essentially it means ‘having a right heart.'” French adds, “When I learned that term, it started to transform the way I understood our times.”
French cites Methodist pastor Jason Valendy, who explains that orthocardia is distinct from and essentially precedes orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). As French notes, “knowledge about God is distinct from faith in God. For example, one of the most famous passages in the Bible declares, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (his emphases).
French then reminds us of Paul’s statement that I can “speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” “have prophetic powers,” and “have all faith,” but if I “have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1–2).
French concludes: “I can know the right things and even do many great things, and yet there is something missing. The beliefs and practices must flow from a heart that is oriented toward God” (his emphases).
“The great essential of fitness”
I read French’s article after discovering a profoundly urgent insight in an unusual place. In my personal Bible study yesterday morning, I read the description in 1 Kings 6 of Solomon’s construction of the first temple. After he completed the structure itself, he then finished the “Most Holy Place” (v. 16) where only the high priest could enter, and that only on the Day of Atonement.
Even though only one person would see this room, Solomon “overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar. And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold” (vv. 20–21). He “made two cherubim of olivewood” for the inner sanctuary (v. 23) and overlaid them with gold (v. 28), then “carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms” (v. 29). He even “overlaid with gold” the “floor of the house” (v. 30).
The king spared no expense or detail in building a private room for worship and sacrifice that only God and the high priest would see. From this fact, I noted this life principle: we must give our Lord our best in private worship to experience his best in public service.
Oswald Chambers exhorted his ministerial students, “The private relationship of worshiping God is the great essential of fitness. . . . Worship aright in your private relationships, then when God sets you free you will be ready, because in the unseen life which no one saw but God you have become perfectly fit, and when the strain comes you can be relied upon by God.”
God’s vision for our world
When Christians are not influencing the culture in publicly transforming ways, we should ask if we are being transformed privately by God.
Salt must change what it touches. Light must defeat darkness. If you put salt on your food but taste no difference, you will assume that the salt has “lost its taste” (Matthew 5:13). If there is a lamp in a room but the room is still dark, you will assume that the light is “under a basket” (v. 15).
Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Like Solomon’s temple, you have outer courts the world can see and an inner court only you can enter. Is that inner court covered with the pure gold of biblical integrity in thoughts and attitudes? Or is it overlaid with sporadic Bible study, insincere worship, and partial obedience?
Here is God’s vision for our world: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Our Father deeply longs to change our culture with his word and longs to use us in powerful ways to this end. If he is not doing so, the blame is not with him or with our fallen culture. But if we dedicate our private lives to his worship and glory, he will use us publicly in ways that transform other lives forever.
The defining moment of Desmond Tutu’s life
Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate and Anglican minister who helped lead the quest to end apartheid in South Africa, was once asked by the BBC to identify the defining moment of his life. Tutu described a day he and his mother were walking down the street. He was nine years old at the time.
A tall white man dressed in a black suit came toward them. In the days of apartheid, when a black person and a white person met on a footpath, the black person was expected to step into the gutter to allow the white person to pass while nodding their head as a gesture of respect.
On this day, however, before the young Tutu and his mother could step off the sidewalk, the white man stepped aside. As they passed, he tipped his hat in a gesture of respect to her.
The white man was Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest who was bitterly opposed to apartheid. When Tutu’s mother told him that Huddleston had stepped off the sidewalk because he was a “man of God,” the young man found his calling: “When she told me that he was an Anglican priest, I decided then and there that I wanted to be an Anglican priest too. And what is more, I wanted to be a man of God.”
Will the people who meet you today want to be people of God because of you?
NOTE: The Ten Commandments are God’s rules for every day, but most people don’t know the rules, at least not very well. Do you? Are you living by them, and thus living well? Find out when you request the tenth volume of my Biblical Insight to Tough Questions, where I unpack each of the Ten Commandments — God’s “rules of the game” for a life well-lived. Please request your copy* today.
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