This Is the Air I Breathe

The view from my window these last few days has been ugly. I live directly in the smoke plume of one of the wildfires ravaging Southern California. Ash falls from the sky day and night; the rising sun is a dim red ball I can stare straight at without blinking; my eyes water and my nose burns as the air conspires to choke me, and the mid-day light has a sickly yellow cast that makes me feel like I’m on another planet, maybe Mars. But as much as I wish this wasn’t my home, it is.

Yesterday I went searching for a gas mask. Seriously. And as I searched, I kept thinking about that popular song by Michael W. Smith. Maybe you know it. The first lines go like this:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

I realized the ugly air I had been breathing for the last few days was much like the social and spiritual atmosphere we inhale all the time. Drugs. Adultery. Poverty. Greed. Waste. War. Pornography. Divorce. Sexual confusion. Aborted babies. Pedophiles. Rapists. Racism. Misogyny. Materialism. Hedonism. Cancer. AIDS. Apathy. Terror. Pollution. Lies in the press. Lies in the street. Lies from the pulpit. Lies everywhere. This is the air we have been breathing for so long we hardly even notice anymore, even as it chokes us.

Searching for a gas mask, I thought about the last few posts here on this blog, and the concern expressed by a few people who contacted me to say, “Athol, we need to work on this a different way. We need to clean the air one heart at a time. The solution isn’t laws or politics; it’s Jesus and Jesus alone.”

I understand why they say this. For many, it’s a reaction to the mistakes of the last two decades, when Christians pursued political solutions with all the fervor of an old time revival preacher who has forgotten the point of his sermon in his zealousness to convince the crowd. Since Christians turned to politics in the late 1970’s the air quality has gotten only worse. We set out to be a light on a hill, and ended up looking like just another wildfire. But there is terrible irony in this reaction to that mistake. More than a quarter century ago, after helping to inspire Jerry Falwell and others to found the Moral Majority, Francis Schaeffer wrote these words in A Christian Manifesto:

“The old revivals are spoken about so warmly by the evangelical leadership. Yet they seem to have forgotten what those revivals were. Yes, the old revivals…in this country did call, without any question and with tremendous clarity, for personal salvation. But they also called for a resulting social action.”

Did you catch the irony? Some of us today, reacting to the ugly air in spite of decades of Christian political action, want to forget politics and focus only on revival. But the largely ineffective Christian political action they’re reacting against was itself inspired by revivals that also failed to clear the air. It seems our mistakes are self-perpetuated.

Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to see things as “this,” or “that,” but seldom both. We are pendulums doomed to swing back and forth between partial solutions, never stopping at a balanced middle place. The apostle James wrote, “Faith without works is dead,” and Jesus was talking about mutually supportive principles when he said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” Faith…and works. Love…and obey. In these areas, the proper Christian life is not an either/or proposition. God’s holy Presence dwells in the balanced middle place that includes them both. There, and there alone, the air is clear.

Our nation desperately needs a new political direction. Our neighbors desperately need faith in Jesus Christ. It is not one or the other; it is one, because of the other. “Faith without works is dead,” might just as truthfully been written “Works without faith is dead.” To argue one over the other makes no more sense than fighting wildfires without gas masks.

So this time, let us rise up at the primaries to ensure a godly choice for president in 2008, and let us also rise up in our pulpits, streets, schools, homes and offices to boldly preach the undiluted Gospel. Seriously. Pray for the right president, and pray for the right preachers. After swinging back and forth too often, this time let it be the balanced middle place. Let it be revolution and revival, by the grace and power of the mighty God we serve.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:29 PM  


gb said... October 26, 2007 at 9:38 PM  

Amen... and amen.

Doni Brinkman said... October 27, 2007 at 9:41 AM  

Thank you for writing this post. We can't lose our voice. Keeping this link for further reference.

Yehudi01 said... October 27, 2007 at 10:01 AM  

Great post, though I disagree with you doctrinally. The same sin that grieves your heart grieves my heart, and grieves the heart of
G-d. I love your blog here and I would like to visit often to here your latest! L'Shalom, Yehudi

Athol Dickson said... October 27, 2007 at 10:22 AM  

I appreciate your comment, especially in response to this particular post. It is an excellent example of what it looks like to live in a "balanced middle place," if at all possible. If only more of my Christian brothers and sisters could be the same!
God bless you.

Anonymous said... November 1, 2007 at 3:13 PM  


Craig here! I think what you want is an industrial grade respirator, not a gas mask. thanks for the blog entry. It is right on a lunch topic I had today with others. I miss you and Sue.

Keep on,


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