One year ago churches all over America were calling special times of prayer. Talk about God and His promises of peace and protection were echoing throughout the land. People who normally would not have given God a thought, were suddenly struck with an urgent desire to pray, read God’s Word, and attend church. What brought about this surge in interest in the things of God? We had just watched the Twin Towers fall by a terrorist attack and many were wondering if more attacks were on the way. There was mass uncertainty and confusion racing throughout the land. We had thought that we were secure. We had thought that America’s borders were impenetrable. We had thought that America was the land of the free and the home of the brave. Then we heard about Anthrax coming to us through the mail, terrorist cells in our own country, and more.
Those events that took place on our own soil shook us like we had never been shaken before. With fear holding many in its clutches we heard a multitude of voices crying out to God for protection and peace. Many preachers believed that we were standing on the verge of a great revival as church attendance skyrocketed and many were coming to know Christ.
As we look back on the past year and the anniversary of 9/11 has just taken place, we have to ask, “Have we forgotten?” Have we forgotten the urgency that we possessed just one year ago? Have we forgotten the conversations we had about God, what the Bible had to say about the events that took place, and our hunger to know the peace that only comes from walking with the Lord each and every day? Have we forgotten?
George Barna, the founder of the Barna Research Group has recently conducted some polls that answer these questions for us. Barna writes,
Many religious leaders suggested that the terrorist attacks of 9-11 were a spiritual wake up call for America. While a new survey on the spiritual implications and response to the attacks suggests that people’s religious beliefs and practices have not changed in the past year, nearly half of the population claims that their faith was a critical resource in helping them to personally respond to the attacks.
It is interesting to me that Barna discovered that although people’s beliefs and practices have not changed during the past year, faith did help them through the tragedy. That would lead me to believe that faith, for many Americans, is more like a prescription than a part of their everyday life. Some of George Barna’s specific findings gathered through his survey are as follows:
? During the past twelve months, there has been no lasting change in people’s religious practices. Immediately after the attacks, church attendance spiked for several weeks, rising to about half of the adult public attending religious services during a typical week. That attendance boon proved to be short-lived, though, as levels were back to normal by November.
? In its national tracking of religious behavior during the past year, Barna Research data shows virtually no change in levels of Bible reading (currently 41% in a typical week compared to 39% in a survey completed three weeks prior to the attack), church attendance (43% now, 42% before the attack), prayer (83% now versus 84% in August 2001), adult Sunday school attendance (presently 22%, similar to the 19% last year), and small group involvement (19% now, 16% then).
? Barna has tracked a dozen religious and moral beliefs during the past 12 months. There has not been a single, statistically significant change in any of the twelve items during that time. Among the core beliefs followed have been:
? “God is the all-powerful, all-knowing perfect creator of the universe who rules our world today.” (69% concur)
? “The Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings.” (61% agree)
? “Satan is not a living being but is just a symbol of evil.” (59% agree)
? Eternal spiritual salvation can be earned by doing enough good deeds. (51% agree)
? “When He lived on earth, Jesus Christ committed sins.” (40% agree)
? One of the perspectives researched relates to views on moral truth. The percentage of adults who base their moral and ethical choices on principles drawn from the Bible has remained fixed at one out of seven (14%).
I do not believe that it takes a preacher to study these findings and come to the conclusion that we who one year ago cried out to God in our schools, churches, and even in the halls of government have now forgotten the God who has preserved our country during these last 365 days. George Barna writes about how stunned he was when he viewed the final results of his poll.
Despite having watched the figures closely during the past twelve months, research George Barna professed his amazement at the outcomes. “I was among those who fully expected to see an intense spiritual reaction to the terrorist attacks. The fact that we saw no lasting impact from the most significant act of war against our country on our own soil says something about the spiritual complacency of the American public.”
Our forgetfulness should sadden us beyond description. That God would be so gracious to us during these past months as we slowly, but determinedly, turned away from Him is overwhelming evidence of how gracious and merciful God is towards sinners like you and me.
Throughout history God has warned His people not to forget. Throughout history God’s people have forgotten and their forgetfulness has resulted in grave consequences. If you will go back to the book of Deuteronomy you can find the end of the Hebrews journey through the wilderness and their standing of the border of the Promised Land. Before they go in and begin to take possession of the land God promised them, they had to receive some instructions. In Deuteronomy 8, this warning is given:
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 8:10-14 NIV)
Over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy we read the words, “Be careful that you do not forget.” Do you know what the Hebrews did? They forgot. Time and time again they forgot. Oh, they didn’t mean to, but they forgot. They didn’t forget God in the sense that they lost all recollection of the One who had led them out of slavery, who had provided for them all of their lives, but they forgot God in that they had other, more important, matters to take care of. They were not wholly devoted to God. They didn’t live their lives for God.
T. M. Moore is the Pastor of Cedar Springs Church in Knoxville, TN. He has written an article for the Wilberforce Forum on “Forgetting God” that speaks with such power to our situation today. Pastor Moore is writing from his studies on the prophet Hosea. Listen to his words,
The people of Israel allowed themselves to become distracted by other things. God redeemed and blessed them, shepherded and established them, and enriched their lives abundantly. They became satisfied in their prosperity and comfortable in their circumstances, and left off seeking the Lord diligently (cf. Hos. 4:1-6; 6:6; 7:13, 14). Their affections and interest began to lodge in things-material prosperity and personal comfort-which they devoted themselves to achieving as their chief end in life. So they fretted over these things and left off seeking the Lord, living more like their fallen neighbors than those who had been redeemed by grace. How easy it is for us to “forget” God as well, and invest our hopes in things, relationships, and circumstances, living more like idolaters than like the followers of Christ. We don’t make a conscious decision to do this; it just seems to creep up on us.
Pastor Moore hits the nail right on the head — Not just about Israel’s forgetfulness, but also about our own. There is not a soul seated in this sanctuary that has no memory of God, but far too many of us have pursued other things, we have made comfort or people or satisfaction our primary priority. This is a problem that has plagued God’s people all over the world. Wherever there are people who have been the recipients of God’s grace there are people who are vulnerable to forgetting God. Whenever people forget God there are consequences that will result.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Russian writer and speaker who was one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the 20th century. Josef Stalin persecuted Solzhenitsyn for speaking out against Communist Russia’s leaders. He would not back down and throughout his life he was always on the verge of facing prison or death because of how outspoken he was about the problems of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn wrote about his own country.
Over half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this is happening.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some sixty million people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat; ‘Men have forgotten God; That’s why all this happened.’
We have spent the last few minutes taking a look at the evidence of nations and the consequences they suffered because of their forgetfulness. With all of this evidence it would be easy to be led to believe that nations forget God and there is just nothing that we can do about it. Let me assure you – Nations do not forget God – people forget God! Nations are nothing more than a collection of people and it is people, individual men, women, boys, and girls who forget all of God’s wondrous benefits and blessings as they pursue their own plan, passions, and pleasures in life.
People forget God. I forget God. I know how the Lord has blessed me. I know that before I ever acknowledged His goodness and mercy He was blessing my life, providing for me at every turn, and taking care of me when I was on a path of destruction. When my eyes were opened to His grace, and my need for Jesus as my Savior, I knew then that it was God who had been there all along. I wanted to serve Him with all of my heart. I wanted to share His mercy and grace with others who needed to know the hope that only He can bring. I was committed. I was determined. I was on fire for the faith He had stirred in my heart.
Over the course of time the fire burned dimly, I got excited about something or someone else, and I forgot. I continue to forget and He continues to remind me of my forgetfulness – and there are always consequences to my forgetfulness. There is a story in Luke’s Gospel that is such a great illustration of what I am talking about. Turn with me to Luke and let’s read together beginning in verse 11.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19 NIV)
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, but He took the long way as our Scripture finds Him on the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was outside the village, Jesus ran into ten men who had leprosy. The lepers of Jesus’ day were outcasts. The reason Jesus met them outside the village is because that is where they had to live.
You can read all about leprosy and the laws that governed how Jewish society dealt with lepers in Leviticus 13. The men had to tear their clothes, live outside the city, and whenever anyone would begin to come near them they had to yell, “Unclean! Unclean!” These men were untouchable.
As Jesus approaches them they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Jesus doesn’t say, “You are healed.” He says, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”
In Leviticus 13, the Hebrews were instructed to visit the priest who alone could pronounce them clean or unclean. These lepers turned away and headed towards the Temple where they would present themselves to the priests. Scripture tells us that as they went, they were cleansed.
Stop and imagine what that scene must have looked like. Ten lepers who were not allowed to be with their own families in the village down the road turned when they heard Jesus’ words. They turned with sores on their skin. They turned with tattered clothes and a despondent spirit. They turned and began to walk. With every step they took they watched their skin clear, and hope and joy flooded their soul. Their slow ambling turned into leaping and dancing on the road to the Temple where they knew the priests would pronounce them “Clean!” Not “Unclean!” as they had heard before, but “Clean!” “Spotless!” “Free at last!”
In Luke 17:15, Luke points out a strange occurrence that took place as the lepers noticed that they had been healed. Luke writes,
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture! The ten lepers who turned away and watched as their leprosy was healed hustled off to see the priests so that they could return to their normal life as soon as possible – except for one. There was the one leper who saw that he had been healed and was overcome with gratitude. I’m sure they were all grateful, but for nine of the lepers their desire to get back to their normal life took precedent over their gratitude towards Jesus. I’m thankful for the one who returned.
For the one who returned there was undoubtedly a great desire to return to his family, to get back to work, and to resume his normal daily routine, but there was a greater need within his heart and soul. He needed to go back – he had to go back. When he got back the Scriptures tell us that “he came back, praising God in a loud voice, and he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.”
On the dusty, sandy roads outside of the village there was hardly ever a sound other than the wind moving through the scrub brush. The silence was pierced on this day with the loud praises of a man who could not contain his gratitude towards the One who had healed him. You can’t go wrong when you take the time to praise the Lord. When we stop praising God for all that He has done and for who He is then we begin veering into trouble. Ron Hutchcraft has written,
When we stop praising God, we start forgetting God. And when we forget the kind of God we have, we start wandering and start getting hurt – and we are much more likely to take matters into our own hands, to panic, to get impatient, to get discouraged or depressed. But the more you train yourself to be a praiser, the less mistakes you’re going to make — the less regrets you’re going to have. You lose so much when you forget. (Ron Hutchcraft)
The more we train ourselves to “praise God” the less trouble we will find. I really believe that to be true. Praising God changes us. It makes us aware of His infinite goodness, it bathes us in His calming mercy, and it secures us like an anchor in the sea to His wondrous sovereignty over all our situations in life.
This leper returned to Jesus to praise Him and thank Him – not with a handshake and a smile, but by throwing himself at Jesus’ feet and communicating his gratitude in a loud voice.
Oh, by the way, he was a Samaritan. What does that mean? Why would Luke throw that in there? Does it really matter what race, what nationality he was? Luke includes this for us because the Jews hated the Samaritans. People from Samaria were half Jewish and half Assyrian as a result of the capture of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians. Eventually some of the Jews who had been transported to Assyria made their way back to their homeland and with the rest of their belongings they carried a deep hatred for the Jews who had sold out. The Jews who intermarried withdrew from their worship in Jerusalem and set up their own worship place in Gerizim, in Samaria. As a result of all of this, Jews and Samarians avoided one another like the plague.
It is interesting that in suffering the nine Jews didn’t mind the Samarian’s company. It is also interesting that none of the Jews returned to thank Jesus. Where are you today? Are with like the Jewish lepers who have received much from the Lord, but you have made your way as fast as you can back to whatever it is that excites you about life? You know God from the standpoint that you know God exists, you know He has blessed you throughout your life, but you are hurrying through life pursuing what you want and forgetting all about His blessings, His protection, and His provision for your life? I want to encourage you this morning to remember and return. Come back to the One who calls you to Himself.
What we see in George Barna’s poll is the hard reality that most of us Americans claim to believe in God, but we are practical atheists. We may go to church now and then, put a dollar in the plate on Christmas Eve, and open the Bible whenever tragedy strikes, but day-in and day-out we live like God does not exists. This mindset goes right along with what C.S. Lewis wrote about in his book, “The Screwtape Letters.” In his book, C.S. Lewis has one of his main characters, a demon named Screwtape advising one of his underlings, Wormwood, that it is all right that the people go to church. Screwtape goes on to explain that it is good that the patient thinks he is a Christian when indeed he is far from God, for this demise is the most subtle of all.
William Willimon, Professor of Preaching at Duke University, said that more often than not Christians are “practicing atheists.” Saying there is a God and living like there is a God are two different things. God is more than an “higher power.” He is more than “the Man upstairs.” He is more than the one who is “watching us, from a distance.”
This morning I want to urge you to allow the Lord to search your heart and show you whether you have forgotten Him or not, whether you are truly serving Him above all others or not, and whether you need to turn around and fall at the feet of Jesus this morning, or go on down the road you were traveling when you walked through the doors of this church this morning. Won’t you turn around and cry out to the Lord this morning?
6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly. 7 When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. 8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. 9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. 10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. 11 The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. 12 Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. 13 But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. (Psalm 106:6-13 NIV)