I was struck again the other day, 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 of the Faith. 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 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 by 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, and even, as in more recent days, bigoted and unloving.
We like to look to 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 are meant to be 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 thing.
It isn’t a “lovely” thing to become a Christian. By many it will always be considered an act of revulsion. The Apostle Paul said, “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). 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 is coming.”
Let me share with you three real life incidents described in American newspapers:
A man in a car waiting to approach a gas pump is edged out by another car. Offended by this, he follows the man home and shoots him to death in his driveway.
A woman is injured in an auto accident that demolishes her car. As she lies there in pain a man approaches her car. He steals the woman’s purse and strips her of her rings and other valuables before fleeing the scene.
A family of Jews from Warsaw, Poland is taken by the Nazis from their home at gunpoint and beaten in public. Then they are forcibly put on a crowded cattle car to be taken to a prison camp where they are murdered, and their bodied burned in large gas ovens.
What do these three incidents have in common? Answer: an outrageously low view of the value of human life. Perhaps you feel offended by the inclusion of the third incident as not being in the same class as the first two. Let’s be honest. The only difference is a matter of degree. And that is what worries us so. We used to ask how a civilized German society could ever have produced the mass prison camp murders. One need only read the front page of any daily newspaper to see the same spirit at work on a smaller scale. Twice in recent days we have witnessed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood leaders discussing how they kill late term babies through abortion practices in such a skilled way that they can harvest and sell their organs for financial gain.
Nothing has changed. Once humans cut themselves loose from the leash of the Spirit of God they inevitably begin to wade in the most dismal of demonic swamps. The only answer to this is not a social or moral renewal, but a spiritual renewal. It is the Creator who has informed us about the value of life. It is He who commanded us to “love one another.” It is He who demands of His children reconciliation amidst broken relationships. We who know the Lord can’t just wring our hands and hope for the best. We must not only take a verbal stand against such sin but be actively living out a life of genuine love, respect, concern and sacrifice for others, and then pray that someone will notice and get the point.
One of the most misused and misunderstood words in our society today is the word “Church.” even my abbreviated Webster’s Dictionary lists seven definitions ranging form a building to a denomination. But when Jesus used the term, He meant something by it that is simply not in the language or the definitions of today. As He first used it in the New Testament it comes to us in the Greek and literally means the “called out ones.” He meant to say by its use that there would be a people, wholly unlike any other, who would be bound together in an enterprise so dynamic that nothing would alter its purpose. That is why He told the Apostle Peter: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” He certainly did not have in mind a building or even a denomination when He said that.
In view of that, I am sure He must cringe when He hears us talk about “going to church,” as if it is something we can not only “go to” but ”come back from.” With such confusion we often miss what He had in mind. We who have committed ourselves to the One who died for us are “the Church.” We are not individuals who happen to be dues-paying members of a religious club. We are sons and daughters in the Lord’s family and integral parts of a “body” of which He is the Head. There is not only the hint of great privilege here but of great power and influence. “The Church” was never meant to be a part of our lives like the PTA or the YMCA. It was meant to be a force in our lives, empowered by God, which would forever change everything we touch. ln our stereotypical thinking we not only separate Church from State but Church from business, from education, from politics, from almost everything except what we happen to do with our Sunday mornings. But what Jesus did to establish His church would forever make it impossible to compartmentalize our lives in such a way. He who has called us out of darkness and into His light, who has transferred us from our lost condition into His Eternal Salvation, will not allow us to remain on such shallow ground. He calls us to recognize who we really are: victors, conquerors, overcomers in this life. We should be proud of our present situation and our promised inheritance and begin to view everything in life from such an exalted position. No wonder so many in the persecuted churches of Asia and Africa would rather be jailed or put to death than to give up what they have in Christ. They know who they really are. Would to God we all knew what they know.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship