A strange, but refreshing phenomenon is taking place in our country. If you watch the news, read the newspaper, or pick up copies of your favorite magazine at the grocery store then you are being bombarded with stories about faith, God, and prayer. We’re not talking about writers and speakers like Rev. Billy Graham, Bishop T.D. Jakes, or Pastor Chuck Swindoll talking about God. People like Peter Jennings, Katie Couric on the NBC Morning Show, and columnists like Kathleen Parker are sharing their own thoughts as they reflect on the tragedy that has struck our land. They are interviewing men and women from across our country who are seeking God in these desperate times. They are reflecting on how this tragedy has caused them to think about what truly matters in life. Kathleen Parker wrote a piece for USA Today this week that sounds more like a Sunday sermon than it does a column from a national newspaper. She writes, in her article, God, Country Gain Fragile New Toehold,
One can’t help notice the silence of atheists these days. Suddenly ”God” is everywhere, as ubiquitous as American flags, spreading — as Dan Rather said in a spasm of simile-rapture to describe rumors following the Sept. 11 attacks — ”like mildew in a damp basement.” War has that effect. There are no atheists in foxholes, we’ve always known. There were none in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, we can guess. And now there are none anywhere to be found. America today is about God and country, but then it always has been. We just lost track. We lost track when we evicted God from our public institutions and when we stopped honoring our nation with the songs and rituals that defined American childhood until a few decades ago. We of a certain age remember beginning each school day by pledging allegiance to the flag, singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee and, finally, reciting The Lord’s Prayer…Since terrorists brought down the twin towers and part of the Pentagon, we’ve repeatedly witnessed America’s leaders praying, singing, pledging and asking the nation’s citizens to join them. (Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors.)
Ms. Parker is remembering something that she had forgotten. Something that far too many of us have forgotten as we, as Americans, have indulged ourselves in the sweet morsels of material prosperity, relaxed in the lap of luxury, and drank deeply from the well of wealth. It is the tragedy of September 11th that has jarred us from our coma of comfort and caused us to remember the things we learned as children. How we use to begin each day with prayer and an expression of gratitude for this land that God has shed His grace upon. Ms. Parker goes on in her column to point out that the foundation that we who are older were given, not only by our parents, but reinforced in our schools each morning, has never been a part of the lives of our kids. They do not recite the Lord’s Prayer each morning, they don’t “Pledge Allegiance” to the flag, and therefore they are having a hard time understanding what we are doing at the present time. Listen to her words as she continues her column by saying,
Since terrorists brought down the twin towers and part of the Pentagon, we’ve repeatedly witnessed America’s leaders praying, singing, pledging and asking the nation’s citizens to join them. Which is to say, our children must be awfully confused. Reared and educated in godless institutions that also scarcely acknowledge the importance of patriotism — watching adults sing songs they’ve never learned — they must wonder ”wassup.” It’s as though America’s adults belong to a secret society to which their children have never been exposed. We’ve been so overzealously protective of newcomers to and renegades from our traditional heritage — and fearful of offending anyone hungry for attention — that we’ve failed to pass on the very values that made us who and what we are. Faith in God and devotion to country are values, however, that do not evolve from nothing. Both require nourishment and a continuity of commitment passed from one generation to the next. Our parents, most of whom had tasted war and paid the dues of freedom, gave us these values to which we now so readily return. We have a duty to do the same for our own children. (Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors)
I believe Ms. Parker is right in saying that our kids must be awfully confused at this time. With so much talk about God, folks gathering to pray, and Bible’s being dusted off as they are pulled out of closets to be read at the dinner table and before bedtime – the kids must be wondering what has happened to their country?
Just a few weeks ago I taught a lesson to the men in Promise Keepers from Judges 2 about how we are seeing the Scriptures relived before our very eyes. Let me read to you the Scripture I shared with the men and see if you can see any parallel with God’s Word and the words of Kathleen Parker from USA Today.
8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. (Judges 2:8-13 NIV)
After Joshua and his generation went to their graves, the Bible tells us, “another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.” What we can gather from this verse is that Joshua and his generation took the knowledge of God with them to the grave. There was a famine in the land of the Word of God, of knowledge of the Lord’s mighty power, and of reverence for their Holy and Righteous God. Just this past week, Chuck Colson wrote about the famine in our own land in his Breakpoint commentary. Mr. Colson writes,
June 1940: Hitler’s armies are poised to destroy the cornered British Army, stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk. As the British people anxiously await word of their fate, a three-word message is transmitted from the besieged army: “And if not . . .” The British public instantly recognizes the message: It’s a reference to the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing before King Nebuchadnezzer’s fiery furnace. “Our God is able to save us . . . and if not, we will remain faithful to him anyway.” The message galvanized the British people, and thousands crossed the English Channel in small boats to rescue their army. Fast forward sixty-one years to January 22, 2001: President Bush delivers his Inaugural Address. Afterward, Dick Meyer of CBS News confesses “there were a few phrases in the speech I just didn’t get. One was, ‘When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.’” “I hope there’s not a quiz,” Meyer concludes. What a difference a generation makes. For centuries, biblical references were the common coinage of Western speech. As Dunkirk demonstrates, people were so steeped in the Scriptures they immediately recognized a cryptic biblical allusion. But today that memory has been erased. This kind of spiritual illiteracy represents a sobering predicament for the Church: How do we evangelize neighbors who no longer recognize, let alone think, in Christian terms? (Chuck Colson, Breakpoint Commentary, October 8, 2001 Vol. 158 No. 16)
This past week at Promise Keepers I shared Kathleen Parker’s column with the men who had beaten the sun out of bed on Tuesday morning. I told the men, “The reason our kids are confused about our sudden faith and patriotism is because we have taken the Bible out of their lives. References to the Bible are no longer present with them in their schools or in their homes.”
At the same time that our kids are confused there is another group of people who are terribly confused as well. The Body of Christ is weary from wrestling with what to make of these events. If you will listen to Christian radio, read preacher’s sermons, and listen to the musings of those who are trying to offer the right “Thus saith the Lord…” for the situation then you will quickly come to the conclusion that Body of Christ is sounding more like Sybil, the multi personality prophet, than reflecting the heart of God, who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.”
Some mouthpieces in clerical collars are saying that God had nothing to do with the events of September 11th. One preacher this past week said, “God was shocked to find 6,000 bodies present with Him in Heaven on the morning of September 11th.” Another religious leader that I introduced to you last week, Bishop John Shelby Spong, says that the God of the Heavens, who is both all-powerful and all loving, has died. Another preacher says that the events of September 11th were caused by certain groups of sinners in our land. What is it? Make up your mind! Is God really in a state of shock by what has happened? Have we finally found out that God is limited in His power or evil in His intent? If you think that preachers are confused then you ought to listen to the people on the streets as they try and make sense of what has taken place.
Why is the Body of Christ so fragmented at a time like this? Why is the mouthpiece of God, the Body of Christ, so muffled with such mixed messages during such desperate times when all of the land is looking to us? Those are great questions! I do have an answer for you. Just as our children are confused because we have taken the Bible out of their schools, so the Body of Christ is confused because we have taken the Bible out of the Church. We have substituted nonessentials for what is foundational for our gatherings on Sunday mornings and throughout the week – the study of God’s Word.
We have become infatuated with trying to appeal to the world and we have forgotten about pleasing God. We have become obsessed with sound systems and lighting and forgotten about sacrifice and love. We have taken classes in showmanship, but we can’t even spell sanctification. We have broken our necks to become pleasing to everyone and in doing so we have become antagonistic towards our God. We have erected glorious, glamorous cathedrals, but in the midst of our construction we have lost the Cross. We have designed our programs to attract the prominent, well heeled, and big shots of our communities, but we have left the poor, the weak, and the broken out in the cold. We have exchanged the teachings of God’s Word for lessons in financial success, marital bliss, and maximizing relationships, but we have left the one relationship that escapes us in our sanctuaries of success and self-righteousness. We have forgotten God, but He has not forgotten us.
For us to understand the events that are unfolding before our very eyes we don’t need to listen to Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, or the White House – we must listen to God as He speaks to us through His Word. We don’t need to tune in to CNN, the Fox News Network, ABC, NBC, or CBS – we need to tune in to God as He speaks to us from His Word. We don’t need to read Newsweek, Time, or The Daily Oklahoman – we need to read God’s Word.
There is so much confusion in our land today, regarding God’s role in this tragedy, because the Body of Christ has long neglected the Word of God. We have taught those in our society how to be successful, but we have not taught them about the Savior. We have taught them how to be happy, but we have not taught them how to be holy. We have taught them that God is a giant Santa Claus, but we have not taught them that He is the Sovereign of the Universe.
This past summer the Sunday school class I teach studied the Minor Prophets for three months. We took a look at Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Zephaniah, and others that most of those who attend church on Sunday could never name, much less have ever read. In our study God was preparing us for what was about to happen. In our studies we learned that God is consistent. In each of the Minor Prophets we saw how His people turned their back on Him, how God disciplined them to try and get their attention – not to destroy them, but to bring them back to Himself. I want to share from one of the prophets this morning to see if you can connect the events of Hosea’s day with our day. Read along with me in Hosea 4,
1 Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. 2 By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. 3 Therefore the land will mourn; and everyone who dwells there will waste away with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air; even the fish of the sea will be taken away. 4 “Now let no man contend, or rebuke another; for your people are like those who contend with the priest. 5 Therefore you shall stumble in the day; The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; and I will destroy your mother. 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 7 “The more they increased, The more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity. 9 And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds. 10 For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the LORD. 11 “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart.” 12 My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God. (Hosea 4:1-12 NIV)
Hosea is the first of the Minor Prophets, but his message rings out with a clarity and consistency that is found in each of the Minor Prophets. Hosea was given a message by God to deliver to the nation of Israel, the northern kingdom. He prophesied at the same time as Isaiah and Amos. The people were living large and enjoying their days when God sent messengers to visit them with the message, “Return to Me.” Ray Steadman says in his sermon, The Prophet and the Prostitute,
People were “living it up,” as we might say, and didn’t have much time for God. They wouldn’t have said that, of course; nobody ever says that when it is true. Instead they may have said something like we do — that it was just a case of not having quite enough time to meet the demands that God made upon them; they were so busy with so many other important things. The spirit was willing but the flesh was ready for the weekend.
Like those of us who have been enjoying the peace and comfort of our own lethargy of luxury, the Israelites were enjoying their good times as well. They had forgotten who had blessed them with peace. They had forgotten who had put three square meals on their table each day. They had forgotten who had provided them with the clothes they wore on their back. They were giving lip service to God with their mouths, but their hearts were far from Him. God speaks to them in their comfort, arrogance, and self-serving attitudes and says,
4 “But I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but me, no Savior except me. 5 I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. 6 When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. (Hosea 13:4-6 NIV)
The people were prospering and they had important things to do like attend business meetings, enjoy their weekends, get their kids to piano practice and ball practice, and socialize with their friends – going to prayer meetings, worship services, and caring for the poor, widows, and orphans was just not possible. They just couldn’t squeeze it in. They thought about being “still” in the presence of the Lord, but it seemed like they always had somewhere to go or something that had to get done. They thought about reading their Bible, but it seemed like there was always a good program on television or another book that they needed to finish first. They would make an occasional trip to the house of worship to do their “duties,” but they had to hurry because there were others things to do.
As time rocked along the message of God, His Word and His will, became more and more of a distant memory to them until finally God raised up a prophet in their midst who said,
1 Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel, for the LORD brings a charge against the inhabitants of the land: “There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land.” (Hosea 4:1 NIV)
The absence of truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God brought the presence of the Lord’s charges against His people. The prophet wasn’t finished speaking yet. He says,
6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 NIV)
God says that His people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. He wasn’t referring to a substandard school system or a lack of knowledge about business affairs, foreign affairs, or current affairs. God’s people weren’t being decimated, devastated, and destroyed because they didn’t know about interpersonal relationships, conflict management, engineering, the stock market, or nuclear physics. They were being destroyed because of their lack of knowledge about God.
The people were committing what Hosea calls, “harlotry.” By harlotry he means that they were giving themselves to others rather than giving themselves wholly to God. They were worshipping whatever made them happy, whatever promised them the moon, but could never deliver. Hosea says,
10 For they shall eat, but not have enough; they shall commit harlotry, but not increase; because they have ceased obeying the LORD. (Hosea 4:10 NIV)
Because they lacked knowledge about God they would get and grab and gather, but they would never have enough – they would never be filled. Because they had ceased obeying the Lord they would never be satisfied, never content. Does that not sound like our day?
12 My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God. (Hosea 4:12 NIV)
“Can you help me?” they cried out to anyone or anything that could offer them any logical answers. The called their psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, Miss Cleo, anyone who could help them. They sought prosperity from anyone who could show them a better way, a quicker fix, and a more cost effective solution. The spirit of harlotry led them away from God and it has led this nation away as well.
I have been hearing so much talk about how innocent we are during the past few weeks, but my friend you need to know the truth – we are not innocent – we are guilty as charged. We have strayed as a nation. We have forsaken God as we have sought prosperity, luxury, and comfort of life. We have raced at breakneck speed to make life better for ourselves with no regard for what God is saying to us, what He is asking of us – How He is calling us to live our lives.
1 “Hear this, you priests! Pay attention, you Israelites! Listen, O royal house! This judgment is against you: You have been a snare at Mizpah, a net spread out on Tabor. (Hosea 5:1 NIV)
As we leave Hosea 4 and turn to the next chapter, God calls everyone to attention, but notice who He calls first. “Hear this, you priests!” The priests were the spiritual leaders of the nation and if Israel was ever going to return to God then she should be led by her leaders. Today, in America, we are being confronted with the call of God to return home. To repent of our waywardness, return to our God in humility and sorrow for our waywardness, and to resolve within our hearts that we will serve the Lord with every moment He gives us. What will we do? Will we humble ourselves before the Lord and acknowledge that we don’t know all of the “whys” of what has happened, but that we hear God’s voice amidst the chaos and clamor calling us home? Will we raise our heads in pride and say that “our” God would never visit us in this way? Will we go back to work in rebuilding our buildings, businesses, 401(K) accounts, and life as we knew it before the buildings of power and prosperity fell? I would caution you to consider Hosea once more before you make your decision. In Hosea 5:4-5 we read,
4 “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the LORD. 5 Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. (Hosea 5:4-5 NIV)
I pray that we will not be like Israel and stumble in our pride. I pray that in humility of our hearts we will bow before God’s throne, admit our ignorance, confess our dependence, and cling to the One who calls us home. Back into His arms, back into His grace that is able to keep us seeking Him not for what He can do for us in our hour of calamity, but simply for who He is as Lord and King of all creation. Won’t you come home this morning? Won’t you remember the One you have forgotten and come home into the arms of the Savior who is waiting?