Indiana Wesleyan University
March 15, 2022
At The Crossroads
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)
In his recent book Brave By Faith, Alistair Begg wrote this arresting line.
“What the world most needs from the church is our gospel, not our approval.”
I believe our society and our world stand today at one of those crossroads to which the events of history sometimes bring us. It is clear that our future will not simply be a continuation of our past. But it is unclear what values, what non-negotiable truths, will define our way forward as a society and as a nation.
A crossroads is not a campground. It is a place of choosing. It is a place of discernment – to mark out a pathway into the future.
I’ve been asking myself what role Christ-centered universities such as Indiana Wesleyan University will play in this defining moment?
This morning I ask a broader question of you, the leaders charged with the oversight of our church, what role will the Wesleyan Church play at the crossroads our nation and our world face today?
Today, our church and its institutions live at the intersection of the most powerful cultural, political, and spiritual currents at work in our country and our world. We cannot hide from them or avoid them. Some of these pose serious threats to our existence, not just through legal constrains, but because of the battle being waged for the hearts and minds of this generation. In recent times these cross-currents have brought cultural and spiritual battles to our congregations and our campuses like never before.
More importantly, by almost any measure we live in a time of troubled and weary souls. We live in a world full of people who are asking, is there any good news in the world? Is there any hope on the horizon?
In this day of profound cultural change, and social ferment, of weariness, and loneliness, and anxiety, and estrangement, and suspicion, it can feel as though a church committed to the life of holiness is a cultural oddity, an anachronous curiosity left over from a previous era when America still thought of itself as a Christian nation.
But I believe this would be a profound mistake, borne of a misunderstanding of the timeliness and power of the true message and experience of holiness. For to be truly holy in this world is to be nothing more nor less than an ambassador of the magnificent goodness of our Creator.
It can be tempting in the world we now inhabit to view our church and our institutions as combatants in a culture war, or as activists in a set of social, political, or economic agendas.
While it would be naïve to act as though we have no place of influence in the important spiritual, cultural, and legal battles of our day, I believe that the redemptive work God wants to do in the world through us will not be accomplished through the posture of culture warriors.
You see, wars are ultimately about power and control. And we are not fighting a battle for power and control. The Lord we serve already controls history. The Kingdom we represent already has a power that this world does not know.
It is the power that laid itself down on a cross the bear the burdens of a lost world.
I have been asking myself, “What would happen if we stopped thinking about how to hold onto cultural power and control?”
Instead what if we began to humbly beg God to make us a people in whom the Holy Spirit had unmistakably taken up residence, in whom the fruit of the Spirit were clearly and winsomely present and defined the way we lived in the world both among our friends and our enemies?
What if, when people thought of the people called Wesleyan they instantly thought of the qualities that begin to grow in us when we experience the grace of sanctification – kindness, goodness, truth, self-control, holiness of character, commitment to peace and justice, love for the least and the lost?
What if our churches and our campuses were preparing truly countercultural Kingdom people for a subversive adventure of transformational presence in the world?
They say that every generation has a gateway question, a question that expresses the deepest longing of that generation’s heart, and is the way into their heart.
- For Baby Boomers the gateway question was: What is true?
- For Gen X it was: What is real?
- For Millenials the gateway question is: What is good?
- For Gen Z the question closest to their heart is: What is beautiful?
Here is my concern. What if we as a church are answering a question our generation isn’t asking?
Don’t misunderstand me. These are all important questions. If we lose our hold on the truth of God’s Word we will have lost our way.
But here’s my point. We may win the battle for what is true by somehow silencing our opposition, and still lose the hearts and minds of a generation who find themselves unmoved by the truth which we hold dear.
I am often reminded that while it is many things, the Bible is primarily a story about a world and a people who were created by God, but who lost their way through their own willfulness, who turned against the one who loves them most, and who are constantly being wooed back to this One who loves them.
Bishop Robert Barron suggests that perhaps our greatest contribution in the threadbare and darkening social landscape we now inhabit might be to “evangelize the imagination” of the world.
In this world where everyone has both an opinion and a megaphone, we will not argue people into the Kingdom of God.
Instead we must tell a more beautiful, more mysterious, and frankly more compelling story.
The heartbreak of the world today is that we seem unable to imagine a better self, a better country, a better world. We have eyes but cannot see the light, ears but cannot hear the music, hearts that cannot feel the love of God, minds that cannot grasp the truth.
We need imaginations awakened to the grandeur, hope, and beauty of a new life that begins in the fear of God.
Thomas Aquinas and Hans Urs von Balthasar speak of a concept called “aesthetic arrest” – when our minds and hearts are arrested by something of compelling beauty. When we experience aesthetic arrest, that which arrests us, stops us, claims us, and then sends us into the world as changed people.
That, my friends, is the transformational impact that Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Savior of the world, has always had on the people who come into his presence.
Modernity has taught us to value individualism—the preoccupation with our own freedom and ever more isolating gradations of identity.
But Jesus shows us that real freedom comes from surrender to the compelling beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
When disciples meet Jesus, Bishop Barron says, “they find their mission and they find their [true] identity.”
Our mission as a Christ-centered holiness church compels us to pursue our calling in the world from an unshakable, undivided commitment to the genius of the Christian faith that is defined by Jesus Christ, revealed to us in Scripture, and practiced by our faith community.
In doing this we subvert the narratives of this world. This is a subversion whose weapons are not born of hatred and violence or the need to dominate but of the Gospel of a Savior who wades into our confusion, and dread, and brokenness with love and deliverance.
This is the message God has entrusted to us.
You see, we are the keepers of the stunningly audacious claim that there is a creator God, who engineered a world in which we might live in the midst of beauty and prosperity, against whom we have turned each to our own ways, and together to our collective suicide in hubris and violence, who nevertheless took on flesh and lived among us, who died to pay the penalty of our sin and to reconcile the world to himself, who rose again, and who now lives and reigns and is working all things for the good of those who are called according to his purposes.
This is either sheer madness, or the most beautiful, most profound, most compelling message in all of human history – the message through which every other kind of knowledge must be read, before which every other purpose must bow in surrender, and before which every other kind of beauty and goodness and wellbeing must worship.
The most radical thing about us is not our stance on any particular social issue — it is the belief that the creator God took on flesh and moved among us, died and rose again to be the propitiation for the world’s sin, and is the one way for the world to be saved.
Jesus is the most compelling figure in history. Faith in Jesus Christ has furnished the world with the foundation for scientific knowledge, the emotional and spiritual energy behind much of the world’s artistic beauty, and anchors a basis for shared morality. This is not merely subjective opinion. It is the truth that forms the basis of the narrative that we exist to offer the world.
Let me return to the words of the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel and commend those words to you this morning.
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
Ask for the ancient paths,
Ask where the good way is, and walk it.”
Jeremiah ministered in what was undoubtedly the most tumultuous time in Israel’s history. Israel was caught up in a brutal geopolitical and cultural struggle between the great powers of their day. Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon were struggling for military, economic, and cultural ascendancy.
They met, as the great struggles of history have so often done, in that fateful stretch of land that is now known as Israel. Israel, the land promised to the people of God, was exactly the physical battleground on which the great powers of the day met in battle to decide who would win the struggle of their time.
You see, Israel physically occupied the land that became the geographic, cultural, and political crossroads of their day. This was not an accident. God, who is the Lord of history, knew exactly how history would play out, and placed his people at the nexus of the great human struggle of their day.
And the prophet said, “Stand at this crossroads and look around. Understand where God has placed you. You are here for a reason.”
Then God sent his people into exile, into the kingdom of this world, to be ambassadors of a greater Kingdom.
The prophet said, “When you stand at the crossroads, look for the ancient paths. Look for the good way and walk in it.”
It is important for us to understand that God was not saying, “Pick out some historical moment in the past when everything was right with the world and seek to emulate that moment now.”
The word “ancient” in this passage is the Hebrew word “OLAM” which means “perpetual, eternal, timeless.”
In other words, God was telling his people, when you come to the crossroads of history, look for the eternal, timeless, unchanging way of godliness, the way of goodness that never changes even when everything else is changing.
When you have found the way of timeless goodness and holiness, walk in it.
There is something marvelously healing and empowering in this simple truth. When you find the good way, just walk in it. Walk in it.
The good way is for walking.
Nothing commends the way of holiness in the world like a woman or a man who simply walks in the way of holiness before the watching world.
Nothing convinces others to imitate the way of goodness like the walk of a truly good person.
Walking in this way of holiness is what brings rest to the soul. It is the beauty for which a generation is longing.
[Story about our alumnus; “I needed to know God’s YES for me before I could trust God’s NO to me.”]
When all the tyrants, and the cynics, the naysayers and the accusers have disappeared into the dim recesses of the past, the Lord Jesus Christ will stand over all of human history.
It is the cross of Jesus that stands as the hope and the salvation for all of humanity, and which both calls us to and makes possible a life of holiness.
Therefore, this is my prayer for us as a people.
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the Bright and Morning Star
Sheds His beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o’er me.
Near the cross! I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever;
Till I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.
In the cross, in the cross
By my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.