Jesus said two things that often troubled me. The first is one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled,” and the second is referred to as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength….” These sayings troubled me because of the intensity they demand. We live in a society where so much balance is required. We are a little of this and a little of that. We are taught not to be intemperate about anything, including religion. Wouldn’t such conduct as Jesus demands make us fanatical, unbalanced and perhaps, if taken too far, even mentally ill?
This is what Satan would have us believe. The prevailing wisdom, after all, is worldly wisdom. It proceeds from the flesh, not the Spirit. The Spirit continues to call us to total commitment, to a God who alone brings purpose and depth, meaning and joy to life. This you will never see on TV, or read in magazines or find suggested by a Hollywood movie. But you will hear about it frequently from the lips of the only One who has perfect understanding of what life is meant to be. Total commitment is not a burden to be borne but a fantastic opportunity to be embraced. Jesus tells us about a man who was walking across a field one day and stubbed his toe against the edge of a partially buried treasure chest full of fabulous wealth. As soon as he could calm himself he ran off and sold all that he had and bought that field. He has been hugging himself ever since that he had sense enough to do it. That, says Jesus, is what finding the Kingdom of God is all about.
My God forgive the passionless sermons and lessons I have delivered over the years. May God wake up His church that is half asleep atop the treasure chest of the Kingdom. Please don’t hesitate to kick me in the leg the next time I give the impression that the Christian life is anything less than an opportunity to tap into the unlimited wealth of God.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18
Have you ever met someone who laughed, sneered, or jeered when the subject of Jesus Christ came up? While most people are more polite and tolerant of someone else’s point of view there are also many who just find the whole subject of faith in Jesus Christ as….well….just a little bit ridiculous. This is, by the way, one of the chief reasons so many Christians refuse to talk about their faith with anyone, ever. It is one thing to express a point of view with which others disagree. It is quite another to have it laughed off the stage. We shouldn’t be too harsh with those who respond to this sacred subject with a laugh. They are only reflecting the real state of things as they now exist in our increasingly pagan society. It is not that there is something inherently funny about the subject of faith in Christ. To them it is more like trying to get a serious discussion started on the person of Santa Claus. The first shock to them is that you actually believe in Him and the second is that you are trying to get others to believe in Him. While the serious Christian may not understand how this mindset came about in a so-called “Christian nation,” it is certainly becoming firmly entrenched.
How is this possible in a country that overwhelmingly says it believes in God? With churches on every corner and mega churches sprouting up everywhere, how could so many people miss the message? While the temptation is to blame Satan for this newest twist or to bemoan the spiritually backsliding society we live in, I put most of the blame squarely on the backs of Christians themselves. While so many Christians talk about God, faith, church or even a “relationship with Jesus Christ,” their unwillingness to live out their faith openly before their peers is the one thing, more than any other, that continues to move the subject of Jesus Christ into the realm of fantasy. For instance, if you had a neighbor who professed to love the country of Italy more than any country in the world, yet he spoke no Italian, never read books on the subject, never listened to Italian music, never went to an Italian restaurant or ever visited the country of Italy, wouldn’t you begin to suspect that the country of Italy never really existed?
Jesus himself has the answer for us: “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16). You see, our speech will mean absolutely nothing unless it is supported by our actions. It’s as simple as that.
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 for 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 let them know that they had a potentially fatal flaw: they had lost their “first love.” No amount of tinkering with externals would make up for it either. In fact, Jesus said that if they didn’t do something to restore it quickly He was 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.
Robert Hussein has converted back to Islam. The Kuwaiti businessman who had announced his conversion to Christianity, has returned to the faith of his childhood. He publically read out the Islamic confession of faith, an event covered in all the Kuwaiti newspapers.
Robert Hussein’s case had caused quite a stir in Islam, the faith that prides itself in the hold it has upon its people. Islamic courts quickly convicted him of apostasy, which carried with it a death sentence. He fled to the U. S. where he was baptized. But when he became a Christian Robert lost most of his rights as a citizen. His wife refused to see him and he was forbidden to have anything to do with his children. And all of this just became too much for Robert. So he has gone back to Kuwait to announce his return to Islam and his renunciation of his faith in Christ.
As sad as that story is, I nevertheless understand it. What I do not understand are the numerous cases of apostasy by so many people in this country who have no death sentence hanging over their heads and whose families are apparently supportive regardless of their decisions. Why is life in Jesus Christ so vitally important to so many in nations whose one intent is to punish them for it, and yet in nations who are indifferent or even supportive, Christians are so willing to throw it all away? I am not really sure which factors best answer that question but it has caused many Christian observers to suggest that probably the best thing that could happen to America is a serious reversal of our freedoms which we take so much for granted. Perhaps, they reason, if it begins to cost something to practice our faith it will take on a greater importance to us. I hope it doesn’t have to come to that. Yet, as I look at what is really happening in this world, I see the gospel of Christ spreading all across atheistic China and Muslim-dominated Africa because Christians are willing to put their lives on the line for God. I wonder—I really do—just what God is willing to do here with us if we ever become willing to put our lives on the line for Him. Because God doesn’t just “hang out” in the Eastern part of the world!
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship