This is the age of “Image is everything!” Businesses spend millions for that ”just right” look. And if you really watch the TV commercials you’ve got to believe that individuals do too. In our craze to “market the church” Christian leaders also have been deeply influenced to create and maintain an image. From the color of the paint on the walls to the tone and content of our preaching we are constantly directed to present a consistent image. Of course, that image is to be one of warmth, compassion and acceptance in a user-friendly environment. It is not my intention here to belittle this practice because we have all experienced the barrenness of churches that have been totally indifferent to the question “”How do others see us?”
But there is a built in shallowness to this image question. If this becomes a dominant concern with us, what makes us think we will become any less vain than the man or woman who can’t resist endless primping each time he or she passes a mirror. We should first be asking an entirely different question: how does God see us? To deal honestly with this most important question we must put aside the “church marketing” books and read THE Book, especially the part where Jesus answers that question of the church at Ephesus. In His brutally frank way He lets them know the truth. Amidst all the good things they had going for them (of real substance, by the way) He lets them know that they have a potentially fatal flaw: they have lost their “first love.” No amount of tinkering with externals is going to make up for it either. In fact, Jesus says that if they don’t do something to restore it quickly He is going to put them out of business.
That got me thinking about which of those two questions we have decided is the most important to us. I think this whole idea of trying to become a friendly, accepting, compassionate church is going about it backwards. Our goal should be to allow the Spirit of God to work within us to produce what He promised to produce if we cooperate with Him; that is, real faith, hope, love and all those other things that people genuinely long for. To concentrate on acting friendly, without experiencing a genuine work of the Spirit within us is only to offer an empty shell. The substance that fills that shell can only come as we truly desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him. That is my prayer for all of us.
We are approaching that time of year when the “snow birds” return to the north country and families prepare their vacation plans. Both of these movements directly affect church attendance. Sometimes that fact has a way of making our spirits sag. I hope this piece of information will lift your spirits the way it did mine.
The Conservative Jewish film critic and commentator Michael Medved likes to play a game at Hollywood parties. He asks the Hollywood types how many people they think go to church every week in America. “No one I know,” they often laugh. “No, seriously,” Medved insists. “Guess.” Usually they guess about 1%. The highest estimate he has ever heard is 10%. The correct answer on any given weekend is 43%. That is more Americans than watch the Super Bowl on television, TV’s biggest yearly audience.
It is typical of Satan to make Christians feel inferior and insignificant when we are actually a huge force in America. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we as Christians feel weak and timid we know where it is coming from—the Enemy. But even if our numbers were much smaller than they actually are that is no reason to feel intimidated by our Adversary. God has never depended upon a majority of anyone or anything to get the job done. On one occasion He even reduced an army of fighting men from 32,000 to 300 before leading them to engage an army of over 120,000. The reason? Here it is in His own words: “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into your hands….that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2). The recurring theme throughout Scripture is “Not by might, nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord.” The battle belongs to the Lord, not to us. What He demands form us is not numbers but commitment to His cause.
So the next time you have an opportunity to express your Christian point of view or share your faith with someone at work, don’t worry about being in the minority. That may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter. God always has this interesting habit of using the little to overcome the much and the weak to put to flight the strong.
Back in 1924 Dallas Theological Seminary faced bankruptcy. Every creditor threatened to foreclose by noon on a given day. That morning the founders of the Seminary met in the president’s office to pray that God would provide the needed funds. Harry Ironside was in the meeting and prayed in his usual pointed way: “Lord, we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are Thine. Please sell some of them and send us the money.” Meanwhile, a Texan entered the business office and handed the secretary a check. He said he just sold two carloads of cattle in Fort Worth and felt compelled by God to give the money to the Seminary. Knowing the purpose of the prayer meeting, the secretary interrupted and handed the president the check. He stared at it in amazement because the check was for the exact amount of the Seminary’s debt. Recognizing the signature on the check as a big cattle rancher he said, “Harry, God sold the cattle!”
Do we really believe God can work like that? Or have we been so lulled to sleep by all of the naturalistic philosophy that surrounds us that we no longer expect God to do anything unusual. I remember Jesus’ important words to someone who came to him for healing: “Be it unto you according to your faith.“ What would he do for you if His actions were dependent upon your faith? As a church family we are surrounded by challenges. We have a community to impact. We have people needs, equipment needs, leadership needs. If God is waiting upon our expectations before He acts, just what is it we really expect Him to do?
It is true that we don’t understand how God works. It is true that His ways are different than our ways. It is also true that we often don't even know what we should pray for. But let us never allow our meager understanding to diminish our faith. When Jesus visited his home town of Nazareth Matthew tells us “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58). At the very time that we recognize the obstacles before us and our inadequacy to overcome them alone, let us not fail Him by being so unexpectant. For Jesus also said “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 10:23)
When I was in graduate school I had a landlady who insisted that her “boys” (all were over 20) be in by 12:00 each night. The only thing that keeps people out later than that, she insisted, was gambling and card playing (one and the same to her). One night my roommate and I happened to come in about 12:30 am. She caught us before we could ascend the stairs to our room and said, “I have only one question to ask: were you boys playing cards?” Fortunately for us we hadn’t been. That incident is reminiscent of a bygone era when all forms of gambling (or anything even resembling it) was morally repugnant to decent people. For that reason an objection to any of the myriad ways in which our society immerses itself in gambling is dismissed as coming from an antiquated moral system. That is why it is interesting to note the many dissidents in our society who are raising their voices loudly in opposition to gambling from simply practical concerns. An Arizona Republic columnist mentioned three important objections: (1) Dollars spent on gambling aren’t spent on other products and services. (2) Higher crime rates accompany gambling enterprises, and (3) Addicts and problem gamblers are increasing (it has been a fast-growing teenage addiction, with the rate of pathological gambling among high school and college age youth about twice that of adults).
I want to add to the practical arguments a third consideration—a spiritual one. I think it is the most compelling one for Christians who seriously seek to lead lives that please their Master. I find that many Christians are also caught up in the gambling craze as if it were simply an innocent pastime. The Lord warns us that the “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10). Certainly every form of gambling from the “one-armed bandit” to the lottery is addictive at worst. The child of God can’t afford to just open his life to fleshly desires that crowd out the things of the Spirit. Let’s be honest enough to recognize that we are in a battle for our souls. What may be acceptable to a society unmoved by any spiritual considerations of the subject may be deadly to a child of God struggling to grow in grace. Greed is a serious obstacle to Christian growth. The Apostle Paul refers to it as “idolatry” (Ephesians 5:5) and places greed right next to adultery in the damage it can do (I Corinthians 6:9-10). God is moving his children to take the lead in calling our nation back to Him. This is not the time to be exposing our lives to Satan’s traps.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship