Many years ago “60 Minutes” did a special program on Sister Emmanuel. Well beyond retirement age she fell on her knees and asked God to send her to the most desperate spot on earth. He did. At age 79 this French nun began to serve God in the “City of Garbage.” That is the name of a suburb in Cairo, Egypt, where live the people who collect Cairo’s garbage. They not only collect the garbage, they live in the garbage, eat the garbage and salvage all their earthly belongings from the garbage. Because of Sister Emmanuel there are schools there now. And at her urging the government is providing better housing. Many lives have been immeasurably changed. Diane Sawyer, at the time a CBS correspondent, asked her if she thought about death. Sister Emmanuel showed her a painting on her wall of angels joined hand in hand dancing in the Celestial Kingdom. “One of these days,” she said, “they will offer me a hand and I will dance into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Who can doubt that He was with those wretched people in the person of this humble nun. It is the glory of the Christian Faith that God does His greatest works through humble, obedient, committed servants. I want my life to count for something more than the mere acquisition of material goodies, don’t you? I think God has put within all of us that desire to count, to make a difference, to bless others. It is our desire at Cactus Christian Fellowship to challenge people to truly commit their lives to the Kingdom—a Kingdom that expresses itself in many ways, but a Kingdom that truly makes a difference because of a great and loving King who eagerly awaits from each of us the statement: “Here am I. Use me!”
Those of us whose morals and ethics haven’t changed since at least the 1950’s, find ourselves being referred to as “extremists” from the “far right.” I feel rather strange with that label because I don’t define myself like that. But the problem is that if you still subscribe to an unchanging moral code founded upon the Bible, the “far right” is where you are presently standing from our culture’s point of view. In the 1950’s our entire culture shared a traditional view of morals and ethics, but since it was not founded upon a changeless authority (the Bible) it continued to drift leftward as new fads and trends came along. So today, even though I haven’t changed my moral views, others have, leaving me and other like-minded people occupying an “extreme” and minority position.
Here is an illustration of how this works. According to the Jerusalem Post, some time ago, the President of Israel was speaking to students at the Reali High School in Haifa. Asked by a student whether he favored allowing marriage between two persons of the same sex he replied, “If such a law were brought before me I’d vote against it….There is too much fuss about this. It is exaggerated. It has turned homosexuality into something beautiful.” He also pointed out that the Bible stands against homosexuality. It also bans Sodomy. “Neither phenomenon can be socially acceptable,” he said. His remarks set off a firestorm of protest from the secular press and many members of his own ruling body, the Knesset. One Knesset leader said he had spoken to the President and “made him understand the gravity and ugliness of his comments.” The interesting thing here is that Israel is a Jewish state. These are the people who passed along to us the Ten Commandments, the words of God, and all of those prohibitions about homosexuality. But any attempt to stand upon those principles today brings the charges of “nasty” and “ugly” and “homophobic,” to name a few.
That is why the Apostle Paul warned young Timothy that “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.“ (2 Timothy 3:12). The reason? God has not changed His mind about sin. And those of us who refuse to change ours had better prepare for some difficult times ahead.
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 had 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 usual. 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 one of my children was a tot and learning to play ball (the plastic bat and waffle-ball variety) I was doing the pitching. I can remember my frustration when every pitch was in the right place but he still missed time after time. I finally stopped and asked, “Why can’t you hit the ball?” His reply demonstrated that he had been feeling the same frustration. He shot back: “Because you’re not throwing the ball where the bat is!”
Why is it we have such difficulty taking responsibility for our own actions? Certainly it has something to do with heredity. Our first parents demonstrated that evasive technique when the Lord asked them if they had disobeyed Him and eaten the forbidden fruit. Adam replied, “The woman you put here...she gave it to me!” When He asked the same question of Eve, she likewise insisted, “The Serpent deceived me…!” By the time He got to the serpent there was no one left to blame. Maybe that is why the Bible calls the Serpent (or Satan) the “Accuser.” He has been trying to put the blame back on us ever since.
Whenever I ask the question in a group study “What are some indicators of maturity?”
someone invariably (and rightly) responds, “When we learn to accept responsibility for our own actions.” Our entire society is shot through with people who are avoiding responsibility and others who are willing to let them. “It’s not my fault, I was temporarily insane!” Or, “It’s not her fault, she comes from an abusive family!” But if any of us is to have any kind of a relationship with a holy God he must learn to say often “Forgive me, I have sinned!” Some people have difficulty understanding why God referred to King David as “a man after my own heart” when he was guilty of adultery and murder. I think one answer lies in this fact: when he was confronted with his sin he didn’t make excuses, but admitted “I have sinned against the Lord.” The Bible informs us that we have reached a turning point when we are willing to “repent” (a good word, but don’t count on public comprehension of it. It has been out of popular vocabulary for years). Repentance provides the road back, the road to peace and forgiveness and fulfillment—in short, the road to God. It’s a road you and I need to spend a great deal of time on.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship