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Lonely, not alone

July 2, 2014 No Comment

by Robert Bugbee

bugbee-ilc-web“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). He was a committed follower of Jesus. He felt peace in belonging to Jesus. He knew that faith in Jesus, crucified for us and raised again, is the way to God. Still, it wounded the apostle to look around at the residents of that prominent city and to see how far away they were from the Lord Who loved them.

This wasn’t just some hang-up unique to Paul. Others in totally different times and places had felt just as alone in their surroundings as Paul did that day. Scripture describes Lot of old, “that righteous man, living among them day after day… tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8).

There has never been a shortage of critics who claimed that believers like Paul and Lot were simply being judgmental of the world around them. Others charged that people of faith think they are better than everybody else. There have surely been moments when Christ’s followers did seem to delight in other people’s failings, times when they did play “holier than thou.” It is dishonest to pretend that Christians always thought and spoke in a helpful way about neighbours who did not confess Jesus.

Those criticisms simply don’t fit in a case like Paul’s, however. He admitted freely that he was no better than anyone else. “Worst of sinners” he called himself (1 Timothy 1:15-16). His deep inner turmoil over the idolatry in Athens had nothing to do with feeling superior. He wasn’t holding these people in contempt. He was honestly grieved over how entire cities, lands and nations can be so utterly separated from the One Who made them and sent His Son to be their Rescuer. He was actively mulling over what he—quite personally—might do to help.  He cared about their well-being. His heart beat like God’s own heart, “who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

cl2903-cover-webCanada Day has just passed. It’s right to take time to thank the Lord for the incredible blessings He gives us: abundance, stable government, the opportunity to be educated and to prosper. It’s also a blessing that He has provided voices which see the problems and injustices, which use their freedom to express concerns and to try to make things better for all citizens. It’s a blessing whenever people with wealth and ability seek to use their advantages to benefit others who don’t.

At the same time, when Christians committed to Jesus and His Word take a sober look at Canadian society, they may well feel the same distress that troubled Paul when he walked down the streets of Athens long ago. There are influential people here eager to ridicule Jesus’ Good News and those who believe it, as though we’re a harmful force that deserves to be squelched. Meanwhile, much of establishment Christianity in our land has largely walked away from the Gospels’ message of repentance and faith in Christ, weakening the church far more than any outside critics ever could. But even where Jesus’ message is not silenced, a lukewarm spirit, neglect of Scripture and prayer, and much attention given in churches to petty things has helped to dismantle the knowledge of God in our land.

When Christians committed to Jesus and His Word take a sober look at Canadian society, they may well feel the same distress that troubled Paul when he walked down the streets of Athens long ago.

Followers of Jesus who cling to His Word with a childlike faith can feel lonely in Canada these days. If that’s how you feel, you’ve got good company. Paul and Lot, Mary and Joseph, Elijah and countless others felt this, too. So you are not alone. Beyond those saints who keep comforting you with words and examples they left behind, you have by your side the same Jesus Who brought comfort to them. “I will not leave you as orphans,” He told His disciples as He prepared to die, “I will come to you” (John 14:18).

It is actually an honour that God permits us to feel some of the “Athens distress” Paul felt. Our response must not be arrogance. We need Jesus’ pardon as much as anybody else. It mustn’t be contempt, since we’re not better than non-Christians, including those who may cause us trouble these days. It ought to be prayer for the spiritual well-being of people in our beloved land. It ought to be a clear witness to the truth of Jesus, spoken with as much respect and winsome spirit as we can muster.

Our response ought to be prayer for the spiritual well-being of people in our beloved land.

And it ought to be a new resolve on our part—yours and mine—to flee again to Christ and to a life lived by Word and prayer. God will then find His way to shape us into the kind of believers who can benefit our land in precisely this time He has given us as a gift. Finally, anxious as it makes us to be lonely right now, He can use even that uneasy feeling to keep our longing fixed on the place where we won’t be lonely anymore.


Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.

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