Everyone who is old enough to remember a bygone era has noticed it. Respect has been so terribly eroded in our social relationships that some of our citizens no longer speak to strangers and many even fear for their lives when they go out in public. Young people curse you to your face when you drive through their neighborhoods, momentarily disrupting their street play. Adults no longer scowl or shake fists when you display a mental lapse while driving; they now pull guns and shoot you down as if you were their worst enemy. These and many more subtle, and not so subtle, examples of disrespect are sweeping our land and dividing our people.
At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, let me cut to the heart of the issue. Jesus, in response to a question about the greatest commandment, said that the heart of the law is to love God with every faculty you possess and the “the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All of life, he said, hangs on these two commandments. The order was significant. Without great respect for God we will be powerless to express it toward others. But we are a nation that has forgotten God. His Word and His ways are no longer studied. His thoughts and values are becoming foreign to us. So what can we as Christian citizens do as we watch the social disintegration of our nation?
Let’s first cut the problem into bite-sized chunks. I am not responsible to turn the whole world around. But I am responsible to turn around my own small world. Parents are the primary teachers of love and respect (the two virtues are inseparable). We must always be careful how we treat each other in the home. If you want your children to be respectful, then you had better be certain you are modeling it so they will know what it looks like. Parents, it works in the way you treat each other, the way you treat your children and the way you allow them to treat you. There will always be counterproductive examples surrounding your children wherever they go, but we must never underestimate the power of a consistent dedicated home life to overcome the worst examples from the outside world. Remember, we take back our nation for God one family at a time.
Let me share with you three real life incidents:
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 someone 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 the Warsaw ghetto is taken 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 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 society could ever have produced the mass prison camp murders. One need only read the front page of the daily newspapers to see the same spirit at work on a smaller scale. Nothing has changed. Once humans cut themselves loose from the tether of the Spirit they inevitably begin to wade in the most dismal of spiritual swamps. The only answer is not a social nor even a 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. Nor is it enough to amass a group of like-minded people and march on Washington. The Lord has shown us the antidote to this infectious problem: we must be actively living out a life of love, respect, concern and sacrifice for others. The Christian way will continually be mocked by our secular world as just another idealistic religion of wishful thinking until they actually witness it being lived out by those who profess it. Your fellow members and friends will be in attendance this Sunday to learn more about how we can live out this life of sacrificial love. Will you be among them.”
I remember reading a letter written to Ann Landers from a woman named Marge that went like this: “I’m 44, husband same age (swell guy). We get along OK...No drinking, no gambling, no skirt chasing. He has a good job and our home is paid for. Our children are healthy and normal. They do well in school, and the three older ones have never caused us any trouble. So why am I writing? Because my life is blah. Something is missing. It’s like stew without salt. I feel a certain emptiness. What is it?”
I suspect that the number of people who could identify with “Marge” are numerous. They have worked hard to obtain the good life only to find that it is flat and tasteless, and happiness continues to elude them. Let me give you an important message from the Apostle Paul: “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) “Treasure in jars of clay.” What a powerful image. Paul is not describing a fantasy or a special case, nor is he indulging in wishful thinking. He states emphatically that whoever accepts Jesus Christ and takes God seriously is the possessor of enormous treasure. But the context of that promise has to do with taking risks. It is only when we spend ourselves, take on difficult tasks and place ourselves in jeopardy for His sake that we begin to discover the ample resources He has already placed in our hands. I know many “Marges” who sit in church services every week listening to the promises of God but who never make any serious attempt to prove Him right or wrong. Their lives are flat and tasteless too.
The solution is simple. Those clay jars full of treasure were not meant to gather dust but to be invested. Put your life to work. Take on a task you’ve never done before. Do something risky for Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself demonstrated the way to the abundant life when He said, “I have not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give
my life as a ransom for many.” Follow that example and you will never experience emptiness again.
I was struck again the other day, as I read from a national publication, the way many in his 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. 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 and 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, as not worth our consideration.
We like took 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 1:8). 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.”
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship