Jonathon Rosenblum, a Jewish news correspondent writing in the Jerusalem Post some time ago, was bemoaning the state of Jewish religious faith in America by stating that “In place of theology, American Jews have an attitude: no one, not even God, can tell me what to do.” He went on to say that
he found American Jews acted as if all Jewish law “was only a matter of personal choice, and the only relevant law was that which a particular individual happened to find spiritually uplifting at the moment.” The kind of religion they want, he says, is one “that makes no restrictive personal requirements and does not interfere with their social lives.” And yet, he says, none of them can defend their beliefs in terms of the Bible, because they lack even the most elementary knowledge of its contents.
I found myself thinking that all he had to do was change the word “Jews” to “Christians” and he was describing the state of things as they are in our American churches right now. In fact, he is describing a problem that cuts completely across the American religious scene. We do not want to relinquish control of our lives to someone called “God” for fear He may lead us in a direction we are not willing to go. So instead of the Bible being our guide we have substituted our own personal reasons, spiritual intuition, or fleshly desires. Whatever the substitution, the outcome is always the same: a form of self-worship. The end result is that we bring ourselves right back to that sorry situation that existed during the darkest period in Israel’s history when
“each man did what was best in his own eyes.” Cut off from God, cut off from His revelation and directions, we
wander about in darkness.
I write these words not to discourage you but to throw a challenge your way. It is our goal to help you become people who are firmly committed, not to the latest religious fads, but to the Faith of our Fathers. We want to see you become people of the Book, whose lives are being shaped according to a divine pattern and whose direction never deviates from the path that leads to Eternal Life. Such a life becomes a stark contrast to the wishy-washy person who believes nothing for sure and tolerates all ideas as leading to the same destination. It’s what Jesus meant when He said “Let your light so shine that they may see your good works and give glory unto your Father in heaven.” Let’s continue to work on such a life this Sunday. See you there.
George Barna, the Christian polling expert and best selling author of many books, including “Revolution, The Habits of Highly Effective Churches” and "The Second Coming of the Church,” has often been highly critical of evangelical, Bible-believing churches. He criticizes them not because he doesn't share their doctrinal position, but because he does share it. He recently wrote: “The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and set the bar higher. People only live up to the expectations set for them. When the dominant expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having the kinds of life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited, at best.” He went on to say, “There has never been a time when American society was in more dire need of the Christian Church to provide a pathway to a better future. Given the voluminous stream of moral challenges, and the rampant spiritual hunger that defines our culture today, this should be the heyday for biblical ministry. As things stand now, we have become content with placating sinners and filling auditoriums as the marks of spiritual health.”
The criticism is appropriate and well put. This is not the time for Christians to be sitting around congratulating one another because we have found a way to fill our church buildings. Our society is decaying from within and so many of our citizens, even the non-religious, are looking for a more meaningful life. We at CCF need to commit ourselves to provide the direction to a life of meaning and purpose—becoming everything God has called us to become. But we can only offer the direction and give opportunities. The congregation has to act and step out and embrace that disciplined, godly lifestyle the Lord has called all of us to live. If we don’t step out and step up to other levels in our Christian walk we will only be adding our names to that long list of churches that are “fiddling while Rome burns.” Do you want to make your life count for something that will outlast it? Do you want to hear God say “Well done, good and faithful servant” when your life is over? Then it is time to get ready to perform as we raise the bar. Take the time to get in a small group, step out to lead, build relationships, and minister to those around you who need you. Only that kind of response to our decaying society can justify our continuing existence as a church family.
My friend Tom loves to quote these oft-repeated words taken from
the late Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” He then goes on to recount how his own life went from contentment to chaos once he became a Christian. To be fair to Mr. Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, God does have a wonderful plan for your life (it certainly isn’t a “terrible plan.”) But we put those words out there to attract non-believers with its comforting promise, because who wouldn’t want a “wonderful” plan, as opposed to the terrible things they are presently experiencing. But Jesus never made such a promise to any of his followers.
In fact, Jesus said: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother...a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” He also went on to say: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:34-38) . That is hardly the “wonderful plan” we had in mind when we felt the tug of the Spirit upon our hearts. We despise the “bait and switch” approach that is practiced by so many con men in our society, so why do we Christians use this same deceptive approach to seekers who have not yet become disciples? When those living outside of the gospel come to Christ on the basis that “everything is going to get better” in their lives and then suddenly experience the alienation of their former friends, family and associates, they often begin to think “God has lied to me. He has reeled me in only to desert me!” They then add their names to the growing list of “former“ Christians.
When Jesus preached his most famous sermon at the beginning of his ministry he outlined the kind of character he demanded in his followers, pronounced them “blessed” when they live that way, and told them plainly of the rewards such character would bring. He concluded his appeal with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12). He wasn’t saying “this may happen on some occasions to a few of you.” He was telling them plainly that when you truly come to me as a disciple (life-long follower) you WILL experience these things. The Apostle Paul plainly told hisflock: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12). We do no one a favor by candy-coating the appeal for people to renounce their sins and turn to Christ for salvation. Difficulties of many kinds are a part of the package we sign on to when we confess our faith in Christ. It has always been this way. But something else has always been that way—the protective and loving guidance of the one who inspired these words: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” So true. And He always will be, in spite of the difficulties that will come.
Many Christians always seem to have trouble putting into practice
the Apostle Paul’s message to Timothy that …”requests, prayers intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority…” Now it isn’t so difficult to do that if the President happens to be a member of a conservative political party, but what if he happens to be a left-wing liberal who opposes
many of the things Christians hold dear? Why are we supposed to pray for that kind of President? Now if you will notice, Paul’s statement says that we are to pray “FOR” him and not against him. The reason for this demand by the Apostle Paul is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (I Timothy 2:2).
Last week I discovered another reason to pray for our President. It seems that the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in New York visiting the United Nations assembly. While he was here our President had a 15 minute phone conversation with him that included his concern about three American citizens who have been imprisoned within Iran—Robert Levinson, Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati—and expressed his wishes to see them reunited with their families in the United States. If you will recall, I have been asking you to pray for Saeed Abedini’s release from prison for months. And across this nation more than half a million people have signed a petition for his release. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry, issued a statement calling for Abedini’s release back in March, and the White House issued a statement early this last summer pressing for the pastor’s release. And now President Obama has personally intervened in his behalf.
If Pastor Abedini is finally released from prison you will have another reason to praise God and to be thankful for our President (if you find that last part hard to do, please reread the opening statement of my article again). In fact, Naghmeh Abedini (Saeed’s wife) said, “This is the most encouraging news I have heard since Saeed was imprisoned one year ago. I am very grateful to President Obama for standing up for Saeed and for the other Americans who are held captive in Iran.” Now if you still have difficulty praying for our President you may need to read the next verse in 2nd Timothy, chapter 2, which says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (v. 3). Let us not allow a conservative party spirit to dictate who and what we pray for. As Christians we are directed to a different path—one that includes everyone in our prayer lives.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship