On April 13, 1888, a man named Alfred woke up early one morning in Paris. While eating breakfast, he began to read the newspaper and was astonished to discover his own obituary on page 3. Naturally, it was a mistake, for in fact it was Alfred’s brother Ludwig who had died.
As a result of this error, Alfred was afforded a rare opportunity—a chance to see how he would be remembered. And he didn’t like what he saw. As David Zacks writes: “Alfred was shocked to see himself portrayed as the Merchant of Death, the man responsible for escalating the arms race. Even though he had made high-powered explosives much easier to use and was proud of how this power had been unleashed to mine precious minerals and build roads, railways, and canals.” The obituary portrayed him as a “monster” whose discovery “had boosted the bloody art of war from bullets and bayonets to long-range explosives in less that 24 years.” Stunned, but propelled into action, Alfred hatched a shrewd plan. Determined to change his current image and future legacy, he used his time and profits from the explosives industry to create an annual prize for peace. Today, few of us connect the creator of that prize to “the art of killing.” And that, my friends, is what Alfred Nobel intended.
If you died today, what would your legacy be? How would you be described physically? Would anyone mention a specific habit or addiction in connection with your life? Whether today, next month, or years from now, your legacy will one day be set in stone. What will we say you did? Who will we say you were? What difference will we celebrate that you made?
Your legacy is what YOU make it. And the most important part of your life…..begins now.
—Adapted from an article by Andy Andrews
Some years ago one of my preacher friends, Ben Merold, was scheduled to be the featured speaker at a special Wednesday night service in a congregation that had a reputation for 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 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!
I recently talked with some people who had visited our Sunday Service. They said “Of all the churches we have visited (some were large and some small) we found your church to be the 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.
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 only 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. That is what we have committed ourselves to do at CCF, 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 each one 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 He raises 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.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship