It happened forty-eight years ago. Three men: Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders, left earth on the Apollo 8 mission for a breathtaking voyage around the moon and back. Within months other astronauts would actually set foot on the moon, but this was the pioneering effort. Something occurred on that flight, however, that will always make it memorable to many of us. On Christmas Eve, as the Apollo rocket closed in on the moon and TV cameras gave us the sharpest details of the moon’s surface ever seen up to that time, the three men took turns reading the first ten verses from the book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….”
It seems strange today to think that highly trained astronauts involved in a multi-billion dollar expedition would take the time to read publicly from the Bible. So secularized and divorced from God has every routine of life become that it is almost unthinkable that such an event could occur today. Protest groups of all kinds would demonstrate against NASA. Lawsuits would be filed by the ACLU. Space Administration personnel would be censored or fired. Astronauts would be relieved of command. But back then, it seemed so….normal. Why are we so ashamed of God? Why is public mention of Him in any context so off limits? Why are we trying to rewrite our nation’s textbooks so that every part He played is deleted? The Prophet Jeremiah complained: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?....But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” (Jeremiah 2:11). He might just as well have written that for 21st Century America.
But as disgraceful as this conduct is among Americans in general, I find it even more disgraceful when I see what is happening in the 21st Century Church. When was the last time you heard a fellow Christian say, in the context of everyday life, that he was grateful to God, or express an open and heartfelt appreciation of Him in any way? Certainly I understand the forces that are arrayed against Christians and the intimidation under which we live every day. But I also understand that we serve a God who is WORTHY to be praised and without Whom life would not be possible or desirable. If there are any injustices in life that need to be corrected, at the top of the list is definitely an under-appreciated Creator.
Those words forty-eight years ago were ten of the twenty-two most important words ever written. What are the other 12? “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….”
When St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City sought an individual to become president, a search committee was appointed to seek out the best possible choice. They finally narrowed the list of applicants to one name. The committee traveled to visit the church where the candidate pastored. The candidate’s credentials appeared to be outstanding, but the committee decided to take a rather novel approach: they visited with the church custodian. They reasoned that one of the greatest tests of a man’s spiritual integrity is how he treats those who are “beneath” him. And so, William MacElvaney became the President of St. Paul’s School of Theology on the strength of the strong recommendation of the church custodian.
Suppose that, before you were allowed to enter heaven, interviews were conducted with “incidental people” you had met in life who were beneath your station. How many recommendations do you think you would have from the homeless people who sought your help, the shoeshine man at the bus station, the baggage handlers at the airport, the maids in your hotel or the waiters in the restaurants where you ate? Would any of them have reason to give you a positive recommendation? Would any of those who daily expressed needs of some kind from among your acquaintances, your family or your friends have anything good to say about your conduct toward them?
This is not just a minor issue of life. Paul urges us: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position” (Romans 12:16). Probably the most challenging of all words on this subject come from Jesus himself. He pictures those gathered before the entrance to God’s Eternal Kingdom while the King says to one group of them: “Depart from me...for I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ’Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?’ He will reply ’I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-46).
As you can see, the Lord Himself does not take lightly our prideful disregard of those we seem to think are unimportant to our existence. I think the committee was correct: the real test of our spiritual integrity is how we relate to those who are “beneath” us.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship