A pastor’s sermon in Kansas City went viral recently for all the wrong reasons: during his message, he lambasted his congregation for not buying him the luxury watch he had requested. But here’s the good news: the pastor later apologized for what he called his “inexcusable” remarks.
He stated: “Though there is context behind the content of the clip, no context will suffice to explain the hurt and anguish caused by my words. I’ve spoken to those I am accountable to and have received their correction and instruction. I have also privately apologized to our church, who has extended their love and support to me.”
Here we see religion as a transaction for personal profit, as well as religion as a relationship centered in accountability and grace.
Other religious stories in today’s news are far less redemptive.
The man who allegedly stabbed Salman Rushdie last week praised Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini this week. The Washington Post reports that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are on the rise in Africa; both groups are convinced they are serving Allah through their terrorist activities.
And a bombing at a mosque in Afghanistan has claimed at least twenty-one lives as of this morning. It came amid increased hostility between the Taliban and the Islamic State, both of which claim to be advancing the cause of Islam.
These stories remind us that religious fervor is redemptive only to the degree that its focus is on the one true Redeemer. This is a fact that applies to America’s Christians in ways that are vitally urgent today.
Ruth Graham’s warning
Judgment in the Bible comes in two phases. The first is passive as God allows us the consequences of our sinful choices. If we still refuse to repent, he responds proactively by bringing clear and sometimes cataclysmic judgment on sinful peoples and nations.
Christians have been asking across recent years whether God is judging America—not just in the passive sense but in the proactive sense. From a viral pandemic to extreme weather to natural disasters, these days seem apocalyptic in nature. With our society’s ever more passionate rejection of biblical morality and escalating condemnation of Christians as bigoted and dangerous, it’s easy to wonder how divine judgment can be far off.
Ruth Graham, commenting on her husband’s book on sinful conditions in America, said to him, “Billy, if God doesn’t come soon and bring judgment upon the United States, he’s going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!”
A Cuban pastor’s perspective on America
However, there is another way to see God’s relationship with America, one a Cuban pastor suggested to me years ago.
I had preached in his church many times, and now he was in Dallas at my invitation to speak to our congregation. My wife and I hosted him one evening; during dinner, he turned to me and said, “I have been studying your country. I believe God has blessed America from its beginnings to today. And I believe I know why.”
I was fascinated to hear his rather unique perspective on this subject. My Cuban friend continued: “God is blessing America so America’s Christians can bless the world.”
I understand the logic of his assertion—from financial resources to religious freedom and global influence, America’s Christians have been given remarkable opportunities to send missionaries, offer benevolence, and otherwise bless the nations. It makes sense that God would bless our nation as a means to this end.
Are we truly blessing America?
However, this logic depends on America’s Christians continuing to bless the world. As we have seen today, being religious is not enough.
Paul’s description of the job of an overseer is God’s call to his church and her leaders still today: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also able to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
Do America’s churches “hold firm to the trustworthy word” today? When clergy endorse abortion and bless abortion clinics, perform same-sex weddings, invite “guest presenters in drag” to a “special communion worship service,” and endorse transgender transitions for children of any age, are they truly blessing America?
Do America’s Christians who “hold firm to the trustworthy word” also “give instruction in sound doctrine”? Are we addressing the critical issues of our day from our pulpits and through our personal influence? Are we sharing the gospel with the lost people we know? If we are not, are we truly blessing America?
If we are willing to share biblical truth, are we also willing to “rebuke those who contradict it”? “Rebuke” in the Greek means to “expose, correct, and convince.” Are we courageous enough to take a sacrificial stand for biblical morality and to challenge those who do not while speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)? If we are not, are we truly blessing America?
“The real business of life”
By my Cuban friend’s logic, if Christians are not blessing the world, how can God bless our nation? If he cannot, how long can a holy God delay his judgment on America? I am not attempting to predict his timetable (Matthew 24:36), but we must not presume on his grace (2 Peter 3:9–10).
As you can see, today’s discussion is truly urgent. Let me close by asking you to renew your commitment to our threefold commission:
- “Hold firm” to God’s word.
- “Give instruction in sound doctrine” to others.
- “Rebuke those who contradict it” in love.
In this way, we will “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and extend his kingdom until he returns.
C. S. Lewis noted, “The glory of God, and, as our only means of glorifying him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.”
Is this your “business” today?
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