Sometimes, in order to complete a reality check, you need to ask your enemies what they think of you. One segment of Islam declared, some time back, that many of our pop star idols were “terrorists.” The Anti-America Party of Islam in Pakistan said: “Your (rock stars) are the torch bearers of American society. Their cultural and social values...are destroying humanity. They are ruining the lives of thousands of Muslims and leading them to destruction, away from their religion, ethics and morality...Terrorists are not just those who set off bombs; they are also those who hurt others’ feelings.” I find little to disagree with in that statement. In fact, if the word “Muslims” was changed to “Christians” I would be willing to sign my name to that declaration.
I feel we get so used to the corruption that fills our movies, TV and air waves that we fail to realize how deeply embedded in the garbage can our popular culture really is. As a kid on vacation, I remember visiting a town in northern Michigan that had a pulp mill. The smell that hung over that town was so foul that every visitor held his nose and complained about it. The locals always replied “What Smell?” I fear our situation is much like that. We have not only tolerated the odor but too many of us are also consuming the garbage and find ourselves shocked when terrorist countries point to us as a worse threat to the world than they are. Remember when the Russian Premier Nikita Kruschev visited our country in the 60’s and declared “We won’t need to invade your country. It will rot from within like spoiled fruit!” I think he is still right.
Unless a great spiritual revival occurs in this place, I am afraid the land of the free and the home of the brave will truly become the land of the violent and the home of the putrid. I pray for such a revival. I urge all of my Christian friends to spend time each day praying for this great land, that the winds of the Spirit of God will blow upon us, bringing in new commitments and sweeping away the vulgar and obnoxious.
Many are trying to convince America that Christians should have no voice in the market place of ideas. Our insistence upon morality and righteousness in every area of the public scene is stepping hard upon many toes. A former Surgeon General used the platform of the Gay Games in New York to praise homosexuality and to accuse religious conservatives of “selling out their children in the name of religion.” We who champion traditional morality and believe in godliness are being made to sound like our beliefs have come from outer space (which, by the way, isn’t far from the truth). The question is, whose teachings really are dangerous? Who really has beliefs that are “off the wall”?
For instance, what if George Washington were interviewed on Good Morning America and made his famous statement, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” He would have been labeled a crackpot. Or imagine the Supreme Court making a statement, as they did in 1891, that “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teaching of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” What do you suppose the media would do with that?
Without an objective standard we’re never aware how far away we’ve moved. By the time the Old Testament king Josiah began to reign in Judah, many years of departure from the direction of the Lord had already occurred. By accident a copy of the Law of God was discovered in the badly neglected temple and read before the king. He saw immediately how far his nation had strayed from the path of godliness. He replied, “Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”
That is our challenge concerning the next generation. To ignore divine direction is to ensure a slide leftward. Will our children sit in judgment upon us because we went along with the cultural drift for fear of appearing out of step? Or will they reply, in the words of the hymn, “Faith of our fathers, living faith, we will be true to thee till death?” That chapter has yet to be written, doesn’t it. — Adapted from an article in “Family Voice”
Norman Vincent Peal told of a woman who had a daughter of eighteen who went riding and was thrown from her horse and killed. The mother had seen her ride away with her cheeks radiant and her spirits high; now she saw her brought back with her eyes closed and her face stilled with death. She could not accept it. And she could not recover from the blow. Deciding to go away to try to forget, she went to a quiet place in the country. But the awful memory went with her. Then as she sat in her room one evening, she took out her Bible and began to read. She read the first Psalm, then one by one, read each of the Psalms down to the very last word. She finished and shut the book. She sat quietly, lost in reflection; then she said to herself, with complete conviction: “The men who wrote those Psalms knew about life! They went through suffering just as I am, and they found the answer. And so have I.” At that moment her old stability returned to her and she was able to pick up her life again. When her minister asked her exactly what the reading of the Psalms had done for her, she replied, “They gave me the answer I was looking for. And I believed it. The God of the Psalms can be trusted.”
What a message this has for us. The Bible is not a book of untested theories written by armchair generals. It is the testimony of men and women who have found, mostly the hard way, that “the God of the Psalms can be trusted.” We Christians are often ridiculed as being ”the people of the Book” and for putting our hope in an unchanging revelation. I see no need to deny or apologize for those charges. Our world is falling apart because it has nothing to grab hold of that won’t change or give way. When the Apostle Paul was trying to encourage Timothy, his young son in the Faith who was undergoing persecution and ridicule, he reminded him that “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” He counseled him to continue in them “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 2:15-16).
I believe that. Each Sunday morning we make study and application of the Bible a high priority in our Worship time. It may seem “quaint” that I ask people to bring their Bibles to church and follow along as I speak, but I am convinced that the text I am dealing with comes form God directly into our contemporary situation. What I do with that text and how I apply it is up to my prayerful study and preparation. Pray for me, and for all of us that the teaching and reception may be guided and blessed by Him!
Many years ago I heard Pastor Ben Merold speak on the subject of church growth. He was, at that time, the Pastor of Eastside Christian Church in Fullerton, California. He was scheduled to be the featured speaker at a special Wednesday night service in a congregation that had a reputation of being a “friendly church.” He decided to come early and slip in unannounced for the fellowship dinner that preceded the program. He sat down at a table and waited. No one spoke to him. No one gave him instructions. No one even sat by him. All were enjoying themselves, having a good time, eating, laughing and being “friendly.” Then came the program at which he was the guest speaker. He began by saying “let me tell you about your ‘friendly church’...” It went downhill from there, but he did point out a self-perception problem many churches have. That problem is this: it is easy and fun to be friendly. Most churches are, but only with their own friends. The real trick is to be friendly, helpful, outgoing and loving to strangers!
The other day I talked with some people who had recently visited our Sunday service. They said “Of all the churches we have visited (some were large and some were small) we found your church to be the only one that seemed glad we were there.” That is music to a pastor’s ears! It isn’t always easy to know, amidst all the “goings on” that precede and follow a service, if your people are really expressing a welcome to their guests. One church I know has a “five minute rule” that its leaders have agreed to keep. For the first five minutes following the service they greet no one they know until they have first greeted someone they do not know. I think that would be a good practice for all of us to follow.
But being “friendly” must be more than just an image we present to others. It must come from a real heart of compassion for the souls of men and women. Every person who walks through our doors on Sundays is a person for whom Christ died. It should be our goal to see people through the eyes of the Master and then communicate appropriately that we really care. I hope that is your goal too.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship