As I write, we have just celebrated Canada Day and Independence Day. These holidays remind us of the incredible blessing it is to live in our respective homelands. In his goodness and grace, God has put us in places where we can serve and worship in freedom and joy.
Each week as we gather in our churches, we do so without fear or intimidation. We can speak freely and openly about our Lord and share with others the good news of Jesus Christ. Only our own inhibitions and fears prevent us from proclaiming the love of God and making disciples.
You would think that under such circumstances the message of salvation in Christ would spread like wildfire across North America. Yet that is not the case. Like the church of Laodicea, many North American churches have become lukewarm. The passion is gone, the intensity has diminished, and we have been lulled into a sense of well-being and comfort that has drained us of the urgency to drive forward.
This became clear to me when I attended the recent Uniting General Council meetings, where representatives from more than 100 Reformed churches around the world gathered to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches. Many delegates came from the global South, including Africa, South and Central America, and parts of Asia. These areas of the world are bubbling with Christianity; it is truly amazing to see what God is doing.
Being with Christians from around the world also reminded me that I live with my feet in two different worlds. I live with one foot firmly planted in North America and its culture of unprecedented wealth and freedom. As an American, I pledge allegiance to the United States. (If I lived just a few hundred kilometers to the east, I would pledge allegiance to Canada.) But I know very well that my true allegiance is to a kingdom that is not of this world. While I render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, I render to God what belongs to God and his kingdom.
When I think about the church in North America—and specifically the Christian Reformed Church in North America—
I cannot help but wonder if the church is shaping our culture or if the culture is shaping our churches. Jesus called us to be salt and light in a decaying and darkened world. Paul tells us that we must not get caught up in our own culture, which is all too often focused on earthly things; rather, we should remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:10ff).
As I encountered members of churches from around the world at the Uniting General Council and listened to their stories, I was struck by the challenges my brothers and sisters face each day. The freedoms I take for granted are only a dream for those who live with persecution and are ostracized for their faith and witness. For them, each day brings another battle between the powers of this world and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yet in the midst of this, the church is growing. People are coming to Christ and lives are being transformed by the power of the gospel. Against unbelievable odds, God is bringing about his kingdom.
As people who live every day in a culture dedicated to materialism and hedonism, what does God expect from us? Where would God have us serve? These are not easy questions, but Jesus has never asked easy questions of his followers. His loving invitation is an invitation to sacrifice and service. I suppose the only question remaining is this: How will the Christian Reformed Church respond to Jesus’ call?