Merry Christmas from Behind Enemy Lines

At various times throughout church history, Christianity has enjoyed a “home field advantage”; a time when the broader culture was aligned with Christian principles.  Times such as the end of the pagan Roman Empire, Europe at the height of the Reformation, Latin America during the rise of Catholicism, and even the volatile Middle East where Christianity was much in the mainstream for the first 600 years after Christ.  Of course, a home field advantage can have the downside of a cultural form of Christianity rather than the real thing and abuses under all of these favorable systems are well documented.  But as a whole, a culture moving in the general direction of Christian principles and ethics is a good thing.

In the United States, we have enjoyed a more prolonged home field advantage than most nations.  From the first Pilgrims to the Great Awakenings to the rise in church attendance following World War II, Christian ethics and morality have been a priority and value in American public life.  As a child, I attended public grade school where teachers led prayer before class and there was a general cooperation between society and church and school regarding at least the symbols of Christianity if not always the exact lifestyle.

If you have been paying attention lately, you know that our home field advantage is long gone in this country.  Not only are we now the “visiting team”, so to speak, but we are actually more like a resistance movement in Enemy occupied territory.  And for believers in the United States, this is an uncomfortable new reality to come to grips with.  We are alternately angry, sad, and distraught at the new level of profanity overtaking this country.  (Profanity as the opposite of sacred, not as in swearing.)  American culture is becoming profane, in the biblical sense, to its core.  With in-your-face and over-the-top immorality, violence, sexual confusion, and general mayhem abounding in our movies, television shows, video games, advertisements, and entertainment, in general, and people still have the gall to say that a nativity scene is “offensive”?  Are you kidding me?

When we look at the world wide picture, we soon realize that this departure from Christian norms is nothing new.  It is as if Satan has annexed the U. S. to his already existing territory.  Europe is in a long cold winter of post-Christianity.  Africa, despite decades of education and aid, is mired in gender injustice and corruption and continues in the centuries-long tradition of fatalism regarding death, disease, children, and life as a whole.  Palestinian believers are squeezed by the Israeli occupation on one hand and the rise of militant Islam in their territories on the other.  Even in heavily Catholic Latin America, religious symbols are disappearing.  Just this week, I received a Christmas card from a friend in Uruguay in which he commented on this new reality in his country:  “Christmas Day” has become “Family Day” and “Holy Week” has become “Tourism Week”.  Small change, but multiplied many times over, I don’t think there can be any doubt that Satan has the current home field advantage throughout most of the world.

And to be honest, this has probably, more often than not, been the case throughout the history of the world.  (For my overseas friends who are rolling their eyes at this angst of Americans when their present countries have been like this for decades, I apologize.  This is new territory to us.)  So, should we take our ball and go home and huddle together waiting for the end to come?  What are our marching orders in Enemy occupied territory?  We will answer that question with a trip to our hymnal, a sci-fi children’s book, and Burkina-Faso, West Africa.

Our marching orders are to proclaim truth and practice love.  It is that simple.  Jesus said, “Satan was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him.  Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).  Deception as in “the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9) is Satan’s standard operating procedure.  Our defense against this deception that has taken the world captive is the truth.  Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

When the Jews responded with, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”, Jesus continued, “Truly I say to you everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.  So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8:33-36).  The message of hope for a “world in the grip of the evil one” (I Jn 5:19) is God’s truth; the truth that sets us free from sin’s power.  Truth is not just about knowledge.  God’s truth is to experience deep in our core His incredible promise of a life set free from sin’s power.

Martin Luther captured this theme in the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.

“And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”

The word that “fells the devil” is the word of truth, God’s truth.  In this world of spiritual and moral confusion, we must consistently present the truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about sin, and the truth about salvation, rescue, and deliverance.  One truth that I feel is particularly needed for our day is the promise of power that comes with the new birth.  The power of of a new creation, a new nature, a new identity, a new Spirit, and a new heart.  The Christian life is not about life improvement, it is about a life brand new; a life of the heart set free.

But our truth must be expressed in love.  Love is the antithesis to Satan and the world system he rules.  Love is the opposite of Satan’s character and action.  Love is the mark of a Christ follower.  When we practice love, we not only emulate our Father and His Christ, but we also offer the world something unique, something Satan can never acquire, something over which Satan has no control.  When we see our home field advantage disappearing, we are tempted to try to grab it back through political rhetoric, anger, hand-wringing, intimidation, and insult.  But these are empty weapons in our war with the devil.  Our only weapon of first and last resort is love.

In the children’s sci-fi classic, A Wrinkle in Time, Meg and Charles Wallace go to the planet of Camazotz to search for their missing scientist father.  Once there, the young Charles Wallace is captured and eventually captivated by the evil IT.  Meg, his tween-age sister, is fended off in her rescue attempt of her brother by Charles declaration that she has nothing, no power, that IT does not already possess.  In her back and forth confrontation with Charles and IT, Meg discovers that she does have something to offer.  Love.  Love is the answer to Charles’ rescue.

“Charles, I love you” Meg proclaims.  “My baby brother who always takes care of me.  Come back to me, Charles Wallace.  Come away from IT.  Come back, come home.  I love you, Charles.  Oh, Charles Wallace, I love you.”

Meg’s love set Charles free, and before long they are back in their front yard united with their family.  God’s love, shining through us, is our best weapon to help people break free of Satan’s power.  “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I Jn 3:18).

It’s easy to become discouraged when we see and experience Satan’s world-wide influence.  But take courage, the body of Christ is not dead.  His literal body sits at God’s right hand interceding for us, His children.  And His body on earth – his literal physical representation to the world – is us, His children.

In Burkina-Faso, our daughter and son-in-law clearly landed behind Enemy lines when they settled in the capital city of Ouaugadougou.  But rather than be overwhelmed by poverty, gender injustice, and corruption, they stepped back and listened to the voice of their Captain.  Annie wrote in a recent email about her desire to assist women in maternal care.

“God is helping me each day to overcome my fears in the reality of the graphic nature of maternal care in the third world.  It’s something you have to slowly get used to….not desensitized to, but just “able” to see it, and see through to how to help instead of becoming paralyzed by the overwhelming nature of it all.  He works on my heart a little each day as I think and pray more and more about it.  When the flood of how big this issue is wants to wash over my heart, I remember God is big, loves each woman on an individual level, and I think about this quote from Mother Teresa:

” ‘I never look at the masses as my responsibility; I look at the individual.  I can only love one person at a time – just one, one, one.  So you begin.  I began – I picked up one person.  Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up forty-two thousand….The same thing goes for you, the same thing in your family, the same thing in your church, your community.  Just begin – one, one, one.’  Mother Teresa.”

The power of love is a power unique to the church.  It is a power the world knows nothing of and is powerless to stop.  It is a power that is being exercised a million times over across the world by your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And it is a resistance movement that is literally “destroying the works of the devil” (I Jn 3:9).

May I encourage you?  Do not give up hope.  We are called not only to keep up our hope, but to be the hope as well.  We are the last great hope for this world, not we in ourselves, but “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  Jesus came on that first Christmas as the hope of the world.  He has left us – you and me – on this planet to be His physical presence in the world.  By virtue of Christ in us, we are the hope of glory for the world.

Merry Christmas from your friend in the resistance movement.  Keep the flame alive!