Looking In All The Wrong Places

In 1980 a country singer named Johnny Lee recorded a song entitled, “Looking For Love (In All The Wrong Places).  The theme of the song centers on the woeful lament of a man who vainly looks for lasting love in honky-tonks and bars.  His hope is that one day he will finally find his true love, even though he seems to understand that the places where he is looking are not the right places to find such love.

Most of us would agree that looking for true love in a honky-tonk or bar is an exercise in futility.  The reasons ought to be obvious because of the nature of the environment in such places.  While some may argue that these are simply places where adults can go for entertainment, the truth is that these are places where the opportunity for ungodly activity of various kinds is facilitated, if not encouraged.  It doesn’t make sense to look for sincere love in a such a place.

In a similar manner, it seems that many today are looking for God in the religious equivalent of honky-tonks and bars.  We hear much today of what it takes to attract the world to the church.  Church growth gurus have done studies and surveys to discover the kinds of things that appeal to the so-called “unchurched.”  Their suggestions to church leaders cover the spectrum of possibilities.  The result is what might be called a “theme park” approach to Christianity.

The people in the pews become consumers, and church leaders are marketers trying to win their patronage.  The surveys say the unchurched are intimidated by the formality of Christian worship.  So preachers wear blue jeans and T-shirts to preach.  Sermons become chat sessions or talk shows, complete with guests, Q&As, and applause.  Worship becomes a media-driven pep rally, replete with thumping rock music, albeit with Christian themes and words.

Lost somewhere in the mad rush to look for and to attract the unchurched is the simple message of Jesus Christ, who said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (Jn. 12:32).  In 1 Cor. 2:1, 2 Paul said, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”  The implication of these statements is that Jesus Christ and His death on the cross is the one and only attraction to bring people to faith in Him.

Many may try to justify their attempts to attract the unchurched by noting that Paul became all things to all people so he might win some (1 Cor. 9:22).  The fallacy of this argument is that Paul did not attempt to “Christianize” worldly activities in order to draw the world into the church.  Rather, he simply adapted his message and approach to preaching the gospel so that he would not personally be an impediment to faith in Christ.

The power to draw people to Christ and to change their lives is vested by God in His word.  James said it is the implanted word that saves us (Jas. 1:21).  Paul said that from childhood Timothy had been taught the sacred writings “which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).  We an only find God in His book, the Bible.  We can only find salvation in His book, the Bible.  Let’s stop looking for church growth in all the wrong places, and return to God’s word.

Earth Day

Every year on April 22nd environmentalist groups observe what they call “Earth Day.”  The purpose for this observance is to raise awareness on environmental issues such as, climate change, pollution of our air, water, and oceans, and the effects of mankind on the plants and animals of the earth.  Originally the brainchild of a U.S. Senator in reaction to a massive oil spill near Santa Barbara, CA in 1969, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.  It has grown through the years to such an extent that it is now observed in nearly 200 nations worldwide.

One may justifiably argue in opposition to many of the positions taken by Earth Day proponents, whose premise seems to be that the world would be better off if there were no humans on it.  One must certainly question a movement that in its earliest stages warned of the coming ice age, but which now claims that the earth is getting dangerously warmer.  This is especially the case when we understand that both dangers are said to be the result of the activities of humans.  In the late 70s and 80s, we were told that unless we changed our ways the world would freeze over.  In the 90s and now in the 21st century, the story is we must change our ways so the world will not overheat.  Both positions cannot be true, especially if attributed to the same causes.

More important than these issues, however, is the misplaced emphasis of the Earth Day crowd.  All their efforts are pointed toward one goal: saving the earth.  Whether it is a cessation of oil exploration and oil-based industrial output, or giving up incandescent light bulbs, or driving electric cars, the end purpose is the same.  The earth must be preserved, as though it is our only hope.

Notably absent in most Earth Day rhetoric is any mention of God and His eternal purpose.  Herein lies the major problem with environmentalism.  It excludes God from any consideration.  The most radical environmentalists speak of “Mother Earth” in terms that deify the planet, apparently unaware that in so doing they profess themselves to be wise, but become fools (Rom. 1:22).  Whenever we replace God with something of our own devising, even the earth He created for us, we are guilty of an idolatry that God’s word calls foolish.

At the same time, thinking of the earth as our final destination is equally foolish.  The scriptures are unquestionably clear that this world is not destined to last forever, no matter how mankind treats it.  In 2 Pet. 3:10-13 Peter said that the entire physical realm will be destroyed by fire.  This will not be the result of a man-made nuclear holocaust, or an environmental doomsday, but will happen in accordance with God’s divine will.  All of the physical realm will cease to exist when God sends His Son, with the angels of heaven, in flaming fire, to deal out retribution to those who do not know God, and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Th. 1:7, 8).  At that time, the saved will be ushered into a new and spiritual heaven and earth, the glorious heavenly city where God manifests His presence, and where His Son has prepared a place for the saved (Jn. 14:1-3).

These things being true, should we not care what happens to our land, air, and water?  No, not at all.  No one wants to live in a dirty environment.  We should be good stewards of the earth and all its resources, because these are the gift of our God for our benefit while we live on the earth.  God has made the earth with sufficient resources to sustain life on it until time ends (Gen. 8:22).  We should use all that He has given us in a responsible manner and not wastefully, but we should use it.  At the same time, we must not worship the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever.  Amen.”  (Rom. 1:25).

He Lives!

“I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever men may say; I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer, and just the time I need Him, He’s always near.  He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know He lives; He lives within my heart.”

These are the words and refrain from the first stanza of one of our popular hymns.  It was written by Alfred H. Ackley in 1933, and it proclaims what sets our faith in Jesus apart from all other religious systems.  Whatever one may feel about the poetic license employed by Mr. Ackley, the fact that Christians serve a living Lord is entirely unprecedented among world religions.

Millions of Muslims make the annual pilgrimage to the birthplace of Mohammed, where his remains are enshrined.  There is no question that he is dead, and has been for nearly 1500 years.  His tomb is occupied, and everyone expects it to be so.

Millions of Mormons owe their faith to their “prophet” Joseph Smith.  He, also, is dead, and has been for over 150 years.  His grave is occupied with his earthly remains, as everyone would expect it to be.  So it is, as well, with all other religious leaders, whether western or eastern.

It is decidedly different for Christians, however.  the Lord predicted not only His death, but also the fact that after three days, He would rise again (Mt. 16:21).  That His disciples did not initially believe Him is immaterial to the issue.  When, after He had been crucified and buried, His tomb was found empty on the third day, their disbelief began to weaken.  When the Lord appeared to them on several occasions thereafter, their disbelief was gone forever.

It is here that the fact that the Lord was alive had its greatest impact.  For when the apostles stood up to preach on the first Pentecost after His resurrection, they proclaimed that He was alive.  In Acts 2:32 Peter said, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”  They had seen Him, touched Him, spoken with Him, and even eaten with Him for some forty days after His resurrection.  These men knew that Jesus was alive.

Beginning on that day, as recorded in the book of Acts, the message of the apostles, and all others who preached the gospel thereafter, was that Jesus was indeed alive.  As He had promised, He had risen from the dead, and had ascended back into heaven where He was exalted by God the Father to His right hand.  Paul said it best in Rom. 6:8, 9, where he said, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.”

Not only did Jesus rise from the dead after His crucifixion, but He continues to live forever more.  Because He lives, we who are Christians have hope for eternity, if we remain faithful to Him.  We do not serve a dead master.  There are no remains in His tomb.  There is no marker showing where His body lies, because it is not there.  We indeed serve a risen Master, and in the words of the song, we may rejoice because, “He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!”

Ask, Seek, Knock

Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord made a statement that has far-reaching application to us.  He said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks, finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Mt. 7:7, 8)  In the context, the Lord was talking about the faithfulness of His Father in heaven, who unfailingly gives good gifts to His people in response to their prayers.  This statement reinforced  the Lord’s teaching about prayer in Mt. 6:5-15, included in which was His observation in v. 8, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Obviously this truth has great import with regard to our prayers to God.  Even though He knows our needs better than we do, He wants us to express those things to Him.  Then He will faithfully grant those things that are best for us, and which are consistent with His will.  We can take great comfort from this truth, and should avail ourselves of it every day.

There is another aspect to this principle, however, that is also important to us.  It is the idea that God rewards those who seek Him.  The writer of Hebrews said that we must believe this truth in order to be pleasing to God.  In Heb. 11:6 he said, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

It only makes sense, of course, that God would reward those who seek Him.  After all, it is His eternal purpose that we should live with Him forever in the place that is prepared for us in heaven.  This is why He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:2), but by the blood of Jesus Christ we are reconciled to Him through obedience to the gospel (Eph. 2:14-16).  If we seek God in accordance with His inspired word, He will reward us with salvation and eternal life.

The principle of seeking God was attested by Paul when he spoke to the Athenians on the Areopagus.  In Acts 17:23-28 he revealed to them the “unknown God” whom they were worshiping in ignorance.  Among the things he told them was that God made every nation of mankind to live on the earth so they would seek Him, although He is not far from each of one of us (v. 27).  In other words, God does not come looking for us to drag us, screaming and kicking in protest, into His kingdom.  He expects us to seek for Him, and He has left evidence of Himself all around us so that we will know He is there and will want to seek Him.

Creation tells us that God is there, but it is His word, the Bible, that tells us what He expects of us.  If we are serious about seeking God, this is where we must look, for no other source will guide us to Him.  James, the Lord’s half-brother, urged his readers to “in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21).  Therefore, if we wish to find God, we must look into His book and make it a living part of our lives.

Our Father in heaven wants to give us everything of eternal value so we will live well here on earth, and will live with Him in heaven in eternity.  But like any good parent, He requires us to put forth the effort to please Him in order to receive these blessings.  This is what seeking God is all about.  It is putting Him and His kingdom first in our lives (Mt. 6:33), and submitting ourselves in obedience to His will until He calls us home.  There is a wonderful reward awaiting each of one of us, if we will only ask, seek, and knock.

Total Commitment

The story is told about a chicken and a pig walking down the street together.  As they walked along, they decided that they would have breakfast.  The pig asked, “What shall we have for breakfast?”  The chicken replied, “How about ham and eggs?”  The pig responded, “That won’t do, because for you ham and eggs requires nothing more than a contribution, but for me, it’s total commitment!”

This little story illustrates how some people view being a disciple of Christ.  They like the Lord and they like the idea of a reward in heaven.  They may even like the church, but when it comes down to the hard work of living for the Lord, they are happy to make a contribution, but they are not willing to make a total commitment.

The Lord spoke about this attitude in Lk. 14:26, 27.  In this place He said, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.”

It is clear in this statement that the Lord’s perspective on discipleship is very different than some people teach.  We so often hear preachers speak about accepting Jesus as one’s personal savior, as though the Lord is meekly standing alongside the road, hoping that we’ll take Him in.  Such an idea is rebutted from the Lord’s own mouth.  It is we who must be accepted by Him in order to be His disciples, and He made no bones about the fact that He expects a lot of those who follow Him.

When the Lord spoke of hating one’s family members in order to be His disciple, He was using an idiom of that time to show what must have priority.  That which was of most importance was spoken of as being loved.  Everything else was spoken of as being hated.  Thus, the Lord intended that He, and the requirements that He established for being a disciple, must be the number one priority in our lives, even above our families.  If we are unwilling to make this commitment, then we cannot be His disciples.

This is what total commitment is all about.  It means that our Lord and Savior occupies first place in every aspect of our lives.  We work at our jobs with Jesus Christ as our first priority.  We go to school with Jesus Christ as our first priority.  We live with and interact with our neighbors and our community with Jesus Christ as our first priority.  In everything we do and say it is clear that being a faithful disciple of the Lord must be the most important part of our lives.

In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord spoke of His disciples as being salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:13, 14).  In order to have the influence that salt and light are intended to have we must be different from the world.  We cannot simply make a contribution toward being salt and light.  We either are salt and light, or we are not.  If we are totally committed to the Lord, we will be salt and light, and we will do the good works that will cause others to glorify our Father in heaven.

The Lord’s call for us to be totally committed to Him is not unreasonable, for He was totally committed to God’s eternal plan to save our souls.  Our Lord had to make a total commitment to go to the cross, to bear our sins, and to give His life as a ransom for our sins.  He made that total commitment for us while we were yet sinners.  Thus, it seems only reasonable that we should offer the same total commitment to Him as disciples.