Every so often I need to repeat this story to our members (for obvious reasons). It comes from an article titled "How Does Your Church Rate?"
A man visited 18 different churches on successive Sundays. He was trying to find what the churches were really like. He said, "I sat in the front during the service and after it was over I went to the rear and then back to the front using another aisle. I smiled and was neatly dressed. I asked one person to direct me to a specific place—a fellowship hall, minister’s study, etc. I remained for coffee if served. I used a scale to rate the reception I received. Points were awarded on the following basis:
10 for a smile from a worshipper
10 for a greeting from someone sitting nearby
100 for an exchange of names
200 for an invitation to have coffee
200 for an invitation to return
1000 for an introduction to another worshipper
2000 for an invitation to meet the pastor
On this scale, 11 of the 18 churches earned fewer than 100 points. Five actually received less than 20 points. The conclusion: The doctrine may be biblical, the singing may be inspirational, the sermon may be uplifting, but when a visitor finds no one who cares whether he’s there or not, he is not likely to come back.”
I wonder how we would rate at CCF. What experience are our visitors having? Does everyone at CCF realize how crucial being friendly is? Have people seeking Christ ever felt ignored and rejected in our midst and given up on Christ? Remember, our church is only as warm and friendly as you are. How many points did you rack up with our visitors last Sunday? More importantly, how many will you earn next Sunday?
The Evangelist/Missionary/Writer E. Stanley Jones counted himself to be one of the happiest people alive. He once wrote: “I gasp in surprise and wonder. Life is working, and working with rhythm and joy. How did it all happen? I asked myself: ‘Stanley Jones, you’re a very happy man, aren’t you?’ I replied, ‘Yes, I am.’ And then the vital question: ‘How did you get to be this way?’ And my reply: ‘I don’t know. It is all a surprise to me—a growing surprise. I walked across a field one day, and I stubbed my toe against the edge of a treasure chest, jutting out of the earth. ‘It’s treasure!’ I cried. I ran off and sold all I had, including myself, and bought that field; and I have been hugging myself ever since, that I had sense enough to do it.’”
That treasure was, of course, E. Stanley Jones’ commitment to Jesus Christ. Find a humble person with a pure heart, a purpose for living, a love for people and a commitment to God and you will find a happy man or woman. Though that person may have suffered terribly in life, he or she will have a peace and a confidence that nothing in this world can defeat.
Why should we be so surprised at this? We find this message all through the Bible. David said, in the first Psalm, “Blessed is the man….whose delight is in the Law of the Lord.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” While we disagree with the theology that says “God always wants His people to be healthy, wealthy and happy,” we feel instead that God wants His people to be blessed. That may not always mean you will be on top of it all but it does mean that your life is going somewhere and counting for something.
Cactus Christian Fellowship exists to help people find and build upon a relationship with Jesus Christ. Such a relationship draws us into a life of meaning and purpose. It makes big demands upon us, but opens up enormous possibilities. Never be content that you have found a bit of religion. Be content only when you have found life.
One of the great values of reading the Old Testament is in what it demonstrates to us about living out a vital faith in all kinds of circumstances. A large portion of the Old Testament is narrative material telling the stories of the everyday lives of God’s chosen people. Some of them are exciting, some inspiring, and others very depressing.
Take the book of Judges. It is a book depicting the early years of God’s people following their entrance into the Promised Land. Every few years there is a crisis of faith. People slip away from the faith of their fathers into the latest hip religion of their pagan neighbors. So God disciplines them through natural (and sometimes unnatural) disasters. They cry out for help and He raises up a leader (judge) who delivers them from their troubles. This is followed by another cycle of apostasy, judgment, repentance, deliverance...and another….and another. When I read the Old Testament I can’t help but find myself sorting out the times in which I would like to have lived. And those times never include the period of Judges. I always pick out the times when Israel is at the top, politically, financially, socially and, of course, spiritually. I could have had a great influence during those times, I think. With others at my side who shared my faith I could have made an impact and performed some very vital ministry. But I also notice something else: those good times were few and far between. Most of the time God’s chosen people were drifting around in a spiritual fog, unsure of who they were or where they were supposed to be going. But God’s remnant, as they were referred to, were always there faithfully doing what had to be done to keep the ship from capsizing completely.
The Apostle Paul, referring to those days, said, “These things were written for our example upon whom the ends of the ages has come.” (I Corinthians 10:11). I may find myself longing to have lived in better days, but it is not at all a profitable fantasy for me to engage in. As some wise person once said, “These may not be the best of times, but they are the only times we are given.” The grace and power of God can never be expressed through an “If only.” All of us must rise from our fantasies about life as we would wish it and grapple with life as it is. God has equipped all of His people and promised His presence. It is up to us to be the remnant of our day, steering the ship of Faith through the turbulent waters of this new century. Who knows what our faithfulness will mean to the next generation
I was struck again, as I read from a national publication, the way many in this world still view the Christian Faith. A respected American thinker was spewing out his hatred of religion by calling Christians “Stupid...simple...cowardly.” I was reminded of the fact, which we would rather forget, that it was a “shameful” thing to declare oneself a Christian in those early days. Even the writer of Hebrews speaks about Jesus “enduring the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The Apostle Paul says that God “chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…” (I Corinthians 1:28).
We like to think of our faith as respected and admired. We like to think of God’s plan of salvation as being hailed with applause and people filled with awe. But it was never that way. Satan sees to it that God’s ways are not just seen as different than ours but as scandalous, as shameful, as not worth our consideration.
We like to look at Easter as the greatest day of celebration for the Church. But we can’t get to Easter Sunday without going through Crucifixion Friday. And, lest we try to bypass its importance, the Lord gave His Church two ordinances that are rooted in the cross: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both of which are memorials of that shameful and despised tool of torture. Our Lord has confronted the world head on with these things and demands that His Church do the same.
The ancient Roman town of Herculaneum was buried in AD 79, along with Pompeii and other towns on the Bay of Naples, by the ash and lava of Mt. Vesuvius. When it was dug up in the 20th century they discovered a room in which a cross had been affixed to the wall with a little altar beneath it. That meant that almost as soon as Christianity began to spread across the empire that the cross had already been transformed from a symbol of disgrace to a symbol of victory, at least in the hearts and minds of its followers.
It isn’t a “lovely” thing to become a Christian. By many it will always be considered an act of revulsion. And we dare not make that decision thoughtlessly. But remember, for us, He has forever changed the stigma of the
cross from defeat to victory. Or, as one preacher put it, “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”
He’s not a friend of conservative Christians, but sometimes it just takes the right person to answer the right question. The question has to do with teaching the Bible as mere literature. Stanley Fish is one of the nation’s most notorious liberal intellectuals. He once headed the English department at Duke University and made it notorious for its left-wing views and today teaches Law in New York City. In an article “Religion Without Truth,” published by the New York Times, he made an important argument. He is responding to those who were pushing for classes in the Bible as literature in the public schools. In his view, dismissing the truth claims of Scripture and yet teaching it as literature doesn’t make sense. He put it like this: “The truth claims of a religion--at least of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam—are not incidental to its identity; they are its identity. The metaphor that theologians use to make the point is the shell and the kernel: ceremonies, parables, traditions, holidays, pilgrimages—these are merely the outward signs of something that is believed to be informing them and giving them significance. That something is the religion’s truth claims. Take that away and all you have is an empty shell….”
That is all very true. But why stop there? We have churches full of people whose reasons for being present on any given Sunday morning have nothing to do with truth claims. A beautiful building, friendly people, enjoyable music….you could continue to add to this list all of the reasons why people draw close to the Christian Faith. But the Christian Faith has very little to do with any of these things. Either God visited this planet in the person of His son Jesus or He did not. Either Jesus rose from the dead to open the doors to eternal life for all who believe and accept Him or He did not. If He did not, then the Christian Faith is mere window dressing—it has no power to experience, no salvation to enjoy and no eternal life to celebrate. If Jesus were never buried in that tomb, or, if buried, He never came out, then we are the most deluded people in the world. The Apostle Paul put it like this: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins….If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” I Cor. 15:17-19.
Make no mistake about it, everything we claim as Christians, every promise we enjoy, every hope we entertain amounts only to thin air if the event we celebrate in a couple of weeks never took place. But we have it on the highest of authorities that it did take place. And that being so, we will again be present to celebrate the greatest event in the history of the human (or Divine) calendar. Hope to see you and your three friends on Resurrection Sunday, April 20.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship