(Adventures in Answered Prayers)

Have you noticed how delicious hot food can be in a cold wilderness? Surrounded by the wonders of nature, famished from the long hike, and tired from setting up camp, it hardly matters what kind of food you have. It’s all good!

The ancient Israelites, wandering through the Sinai desert for forty years, may have felt this way too… for a few days, weeks or months. But for the most part, praise for the food was seldom heard. Bitter complaining was the norm.


The journey to the Promised Land was no walk in the park. God had given the Israelites their freedom and marching orders (the Ten Commandments) but these gifts came with much adversity. Disgusted with the manna God provided in the wilderness, they longed for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they ate in Egypt. They whined: “If only we had meat to eat!” So their leader, Moses, carried their complaints, and his, to God in prayer. His mission had become too heavy to bear. His self-pity was running amuck. He wanted out! He brazenly prayed for his own death: “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:15).

God responded with so much meat that it was, as it were, coming “out of their nostrils” (11:20). To cut to the chase, God said, “no” to Moses and pointed him back to his mission as a leader.


Elijah had just seen God dramatically respond to his prayer to reveal Himself on Mt. Carmel. But there was no victory celebration or ministry appreciation awards for Elijah. Instead, he ran for his life to escape the wrath of his furious queen Jezebel. His life felt worse than worthless. Deep in depression, Elijah irrationally wanted for himself exactly what Jezebel wanted for him: death! Under a juniper tree, he prayed: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4).

Full of self-pity and feeling all alone, Elijah fell asleep and woke up to hear an angel say, “Arise and eat.” A wilderness meal of bread cake on hot stones was there (19:6). It must have been delicious! It also nourished Elijah for a 40-day journey ahead. So God said “no” to Elijah’s death plea and sent him on to further challenges.


Jonah fits this depressing pattern. After running away from his God-given mission, Jonah got with the program and successfully called Nineveh to repent. Instead of rejoicing, he pouted so much that he prayed, “O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:3). But instead of killing Jonah, God challenged his right to be angry. This preacher of repentance needed to repent.


Job’s prayers were filled with “whys.” Suffering huge losses for reasons unknown to him, he begged God to crush him and cut him off (Job 6:9). He loathed his life and longed for “Death rather than my pains.” (Job 7:15). But God essentially said “no” and retuned to Job twofold of what he had lost (42:10).


The prophet Jeremiah got sick and tired of being a “laughing-stock” (Jeremiah 20:7) and cursed the day of his birth (20:14). Yet, in all his despair, he did not shrink from His God-given mission to proclaim the judgments and mercies of the Lord.


Then there was Jesus. When he came to his great moment of desperation, he prayed in such agony that “his sweat became like drops of blood.” (Luke 22:44). But unlike Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah (a venerable hall of fame for men of prayer), Jesus knelt down alone on the Mount of Olives with death looming and prayed that He might actually live: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Once again, God answered, “no.” Like Moses, Elijah, Jonah, Job and Jeremiah, God had a mission for Jesus. They all lived to accomplish theirs but Jesus died to accomplish His, providing the only path possible to the forgiveness of our sins forever.

Let’s be like the greatest men of prayer ever and learn to take “no” for an answer.

Goody Two-Shoes

I wear two shoes everywhere I go, except to bed. Be thankful–my feet are ugly.

I also try to be good. With God’s help, sometimes I may actually come close. Does that make me a “goody two-shoes?”

In 1765, an anonymous children’s story about a little girl named Margery Meanwell was published in London. Margery’s nick-name was the title of this fictional bedtime story–“Goody Two-Shoes.” She was a poor orphan girl with just one shoe. After a kind gentleman of means gave her a complete pair, she went around telling everyone she has “two shoes,” something I take for granted.

Eventually, Margery became a good teacher and married a wealthy widower. The moral of the story was that goodness plus patience will pay off (a popular theme for 18th century children). So, the goodness of a rich gentleman inspired gratitude in a little girl, which became the soil from which more goodness grew.

21st century children could use more stories like this.

Over the years, it seems the cynics have outlived little Miss Meanwell. “Goody Two-Shoes” is now a pejorative. We use Margery’s nick-name to ridicule, not to compliment. Another popular cliché today warns that good intentions will lead us down a road we don’t want to follow. And if our good intentions do result in good action, we run the risk of being criticized as a “do-gooder.”

Forget the critics. The spiritual fruit of goodness is delicious to God. He also relishes good intentions but not without good behavior. Jesus’ brother James warned, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17). The apostle Paul taught that Christians are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). So, God is the real do-gooder.

Doing good and dealing with sin sums up the life and mission of God’s sinless Son, Jesus. Besides doing good, He talked a lot about being good. Just read His sermon on the mount. He also minced no words about being bad, often railing against his own generation as “wicked and adulterous.” More than just unpopular, this made Jesus a target for His jealous enemies—the faux goody two-shoed Pharisees and Sadducees of His day.

Conceit and self-righteous pride are not good. Those “two shoes” really stink! The great 19th century preacher Charles H. Spurgeon (1834 –1892) once said, “The Lord loves to use tools which are not rusted with self-conceit.” Better yet, Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11).

Margery Meanwell told everyone about her two shoes because she was overwhelmed with gratitude, not conceit. And gratitude is fertile soil for the genuine growth of goodness.

So, what on earth is good? Let’s go back 2,800 years for the best answer ever to that good question:

    He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8).

A Momentous Change
(Missional Teaching)

As a little boy, I knew what I would be asked when I was met by my parents after school, including Sunday School. Most of my friends were asked the same question. Here it is:

“Joel, what did you learn today?”

As a young adult, I became the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teacher. I also did some substitute teaching at a private school. I noticed a momentous change in the after-school question kids were asked. Somewhere along the line, parents had been reprogramed. Here was the new question:

“Honey, did you have fun today?”

As an older adult, I direct a summer Bible camp for teens. This involves intense teaching and teacher training. It also happens to involve a lot of fun. This enables me to interact with many of the best parents out there, by far. Yet, when camp concludes and the parents arrive to reclaim their kids, it’s usually the “fun” question I hear them ask. Okay, maybe the “learn” question comes during the drive home. One can hope. In an y case, I am generalizing (fairly, I think) to spark reflection.

It’s like millions of parents got the same memo and follow it to a tee. There are exceptions but most kids today anticipate the “fun” question. After a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ the process of forgetting what they just learned is s underway.

I had no trouble having fun as a kid, although it got me into trouble a few times. I am grateful for the freedom I had to have fun. But “fun” was never promoted to me as a mission in life. Learning was.

I lived in a world that needed to be explored. That was fun. Still is. I also lived in a world that needed to be understood. That became a mission. Sometimes it was fun but most times, it was hard work. Still is. But the mission remained.

Today, I am grateful to my parents and all those old fashioned adults who wondered what I had learned and then listened. Now I recognize their wonder as love. While picking up a few facts along the way, I learned the value of learning and the importance of finding meaning behind the facts. My teachers at school fed me valuable facts and helped me with their meaning, but it was mainly my parents who taught me my mission.

Memo to parents: No matter how many schools you send your kids to, you are their primary teachers (for good or ill). Take up that role in earnest and for good! Ask good questions and listen well. Give your kids a mission in life beyond having fun. Tell them:

“If you love to learn, you’ll learn to love.”

The Days of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus

    “These are the days of Elijah, Declaring the word of the Lord;
    And these are the days of Your servant Moses, Righteousness being restored

    Robin Mark, songwriter, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

In the days of Moses, the enslaved children of Israel suffered under an Egyptian Pharaoh who made their lives miserable. It took ten powerful plagues to make Pharaoh listen to reason and let the Israelites go free. Moses delivered this message and God delivered the results. Once free, it took 40 years for Moses to lead God’s people through a barren wilderness to the Promised Land. Many times, they wished they were back in Egypt and blamed Moses for their troubles. They were a rebellious and ungrateful lot who desperately needed guidance, especially moral guidance. So God revealed His will to them through the Law which Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai and labored to implement.

In the days of Elijah (9th century BC), Israel was reeling from endless civil wars leaving her dangerously divided between North and South. Elijah lived in the North under the rule King Ahab who sold himself to evil. Ahab married a devout and ruthless Baal-cult evangelist named Jezebel. Elijah began his ministry declaring that God would use a severe drought to turn the land of milk and honey into a desert. Elijah delivered the message and God delivered the results. This angered Ahab forcing Elijah to flee for his life. Jezebel began purging the prophets of Yahweh from the land. Elijah escaped her religious cleansing leaving him quite lonely assuming he was the only faithful one left. He lived much of his life in the wilderness far from courts of nobility and luxury.

In the days of Jesus, Moses was a 1,400 year old memory and Elijah came 900 years before Christ. So, when all three met on the Mount of Transfiguration “in glorious splendor” (Luke 9:30), they had a lot to talk about.

The transfiguration defies explanation, but it is described in each of the first three gospels. Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white. Yet, he was standing in the looming shadow of the cross. In fact, Jesus’ imminent death was the topic of conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus (Luke 9:31). Then, a cloud enveloped all three and a voice declared, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Why Moses and Elijah? Perhaps it is it was because these two humble and powerful agents of Yahweh had so much in common already:

  • Both confronted arrogant kings, boldly!
  • Both were sustained by God with bread and meat in a wilderness (1 Kings 17:6).
  • Both journeyed to Horeb (it took Elijah 40 days and nights, 1 Kings 19:8).
  • Both got aggravated over Israel’s faithlessness.
  • Both were reduced by self-pity to death wishes (Numbers 11:15 & 1 Kings 19:4).
  • Both practiced intercessory prayer and saw God answer them.
  • Both were mentors who commissioned their successors (Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha).
  • Both miraculously parted bodies of water (Exodus 14:21 & 2 Kings 2:8).
  • Neither had a marker to identify a burial place (important to Jews).

Moses was God’s agent of freedom and righteousness! He was called to deliver God’s people from slavery and establish God’s gracious law for His free people through the Sinai covenant. Elijah was the archetypal Hebrew prophet, a bold and blunt man of God who in evil times declared the word of the Lord to earthly powers at great cost to himself. And Jesus, well, He was God’s beloved Son, sent into a sinful world as an agent of divine forgiveness at great cost to himself.

Strangely enough, the bodies all three (Moses, Elijah and Jesus) were not to be found after they accomplished their respective missions on earth. There was apparently some sort of dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9). That baffles me. A chariot of fire swung low in a whirlwind to sweep Elijah up into heaven (2 Kings 2:11), leaving Elisha in awe. And we all know what happened to Jesus’ body.

THIS Marriage Will Last!

In the Bible Jesus loved (the Old Testament), the chosen people of God were often described as His beloved bride. Their relationship became quite rocky due to her serial unfaithfulness. This inspired many prophetic calls for repentance and a remnant remained. God’s steadfast love for her endured.

In the New Testament, the church becomes the bride of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote of Jesus and His church in synonymous terms with husband and wife (Ephesians 5:22-33). The book of Revelation rejoices over the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus) with His bride who is clothed in “the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8). Speaking of this bride, John relates that “they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.” (21:3). The Bible ends with an invitation from the Spirit and the bride saying to everyone who hears, “Come” (22:17). Indeed, offering God’s gracious invitation to the thirsty, the needy and the lost has always been the mission of Jesus’ church, His glorious bride.

Sadly, a rising crusade of professed Christians today are calling for a divorce. They seek this divorce in Jesus’ name, presuming that His followers can cut off His church and still have Jesus. Others want the divorce presuming that the church is theirs and they can play church without Jesus. Sorry, but Jesus stands with his faithful bride, now and forever.

Slipping and sliding toward a divorce between Jesus and His bride is facilitated in two unwise ways:

  1. When a so-called “church” releases her grip on Jesus to become merely a social club or entertainment center that ignores the call to repent and shuns the message of the cross, she is slipping and sliding on a steep slope leading to the ultimate divorce.
  2. When professed “Christians” claim to follow Jesus while cutting themselves off from Jesus’ bride, individually or as a group rebellion, they are already living as if the divorce has occurred. People who bash Jesus’ church with cheap stereotypes and self-righteous smears gain popularity quickly in America today—even among idealistic “Christians.” Many claim to do this to save Christians from the church. Don’t follow such people.

The faithful bride of Christ is called out in this world to love God and others just as Jesus did on His way to the cross. Abandoning this narrow path means divorcing yourself from Him. Jesus’ church has a table where the Lord’s Supper serves as a proclamation of His death until He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). She also has a pulpit where God’s word is faithfully proclaimed. Actually, the table, the pulpit or any other furniture we use (and the building itself) are not the point. Jesus is.

So, some want the church to leave Jesus because they prefer popularity and self-promotion to service and sacrifice. Others want Jesus to leave the church because they confuse church with utopia. They prefer their ideal of Jesus over against the real flesh and blood people who make up His imperfect church—the same church Jesus died for (Ephesians 5:25). Such notions are folly and will end in divorce.

Let’s stop clamoring for an end to a marriage made in heaven. If you get nothing else from the book of Revelation, get this: the marriage of the Lamb and His bride will be standing in the end. You can cut yourself off from Jesus or His church or both, but that marriage will last, with or without you. Let it be with you!

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, NASB)

Worship is about drawing near to God. There are no rigid formulas that can get you close to God if your heart clings to sin. If you humbly repent of your sins, however, no mere formula can keep God away.

James added, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). Of course, hand-cleaning is worthless without a contrite heart. Ask Pilate. In calling for purity of heart, James surely knew that Jesus blessed the pure in heart saying, “for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Encountering God makes it impossible to cherish your sins. It produces repentance. If there’s no repentance, it wasn’t God. No exceptions! Repentance is the painfully honest clarity of heart that forever prevents self-trust and turns our trust toward God for the next step forward… and the next… and so on.

God listens to our repentance but turns away from self-righteous pride. Psalm 66, a call to worship, offers seekers the best advice passible: “Cherish the sin in your heart and God will not listen.” (Psalm 66:18, NIV).


The good news is that you have a choice. The bad news is that seductive and selfish distractions can keep us too double-minded to choose well.

When we repent, God draws near. The closer He gets, the more we see His holiness. This keeps us humble, which keeps God coming. To quote a Texan pastor named Matt Chandler, “When you see God for who He is, sin loses its beauty.” In fact, encountering God transforms our entire notion of beauty.

So how do we choose well? God’s word draws repentant sinners straight to baptism—dying with Jesus in a water grave for the forgiveness of our sins and rising with Him to a new Spirit-filled life in His kingdom.

Let’s hear from three men who saw the risen Jesus:

  • When Peter met Jesus, he fell down at His feet and said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). He experienced deep repentance and full forgiveness. We can too! Peter affirmed that God is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
  • Paul believed that “the kindness of God leads you to repentance.” (Romans 2:4). He affirmed God’s desire for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). What truth? Paul continued, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all…” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). So, what does Jesus mediate?
  • Forgiveness! The apostle John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). John described Jesus’ mission simply: “He appeared in order to take away sins.” (1 John 3:5).

So, there’s your part: “Draw near to God…” and there’s God’s part: “He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). That’s an astounding promise from a responsive God. Every shed of hope in my sinful soul hangs on the conviction that God forgives repentant sinners.

Dear Church Critics, Here’s Why I Love Jesus’ Church

I recently read a blog post by John Pavlovitz titled, “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are REALLY Leaving You.” Instead of challenging all his negative stereotypes about Jesus’ church (His bride), I will offer seven undeniable truths about her:

    1. Jesus’ church is FLAWED!

    So are you. You’ll fit in fine.

    2. Jesus’ church is FREE!

    Compulsion in giving is forbidden (2 Corinthians 9:7), so if they charge admission, it’s not Jesus’ church. But while church is free, salvation is costly—but not to you and me! Jesus paid the cost in full for her freedom from sin and death. Listen to Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). Jesus’ church is simply the gift-bearer.

    3. Jesus church is FORGIVEN!

    As repentant sinners, Jesus’ church is forgiven through His blood. She practices repentance before preaching it. She preaches conviction of sin because she has suffered it. She offers forgiveness because Jesus offered it to her—and she accepted. But forgiveness is not about turning a blind eye to sin, the deadliest cancer of all. Jesus didn’t. Hidden or harbored sin obstructs any possibility for a relationship with God. Sin blocks prayer, our lifeline to God. The ancient Psalmist sang, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18). Unconfessed sin stifles self-understanding, making honesty impossible. Like Dracula, sin hates sunlight. King David wrote about one who “…flatters himself too much to detect his own sin,” and added, “…he has ceased to be wise and to do good.” (Psalm 36:2-3). Above all, love loses out to ongoing sin. Jesus said, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Covered up, sin has the power to keep us from God, wisdom, joy, and love, while shackling us as its slave. So, Jesus’ church does not ignore or tolerate sin. She repents of it, accepts Jesus’ forgiveness and goes out to forgive others.

    4. Jesus’ church is FAITHFUL!

    Since her beginning seven weeks after Jesus was executed, His church has never left the face of the earth. Even flawed people can turn to God and be faithful to Him and each other. People are free to leave but Jesus bride survives and thrives.

    5. Jesus’ church is FAMILY!

    Who has a flawless family? How about a family life without frustration? No takers? Yet, the family is God’s Plan for our personal well-being. It’s where we first learn to love and how. The church is God family plan for our spiritual well-being. Paul saw Jesus’ church as God’s “household” (Ephesians 2:19 and 1 Timothy 3:15).

    6. Jesus’ church is FOREVER!

    Jesus promised that “the gates of Hades will not overpower [His church].” (Matthew 16:18). The relationships you build at church are meant for eternity.

    7. Jesus’ church is FANTASTIC!

    Paul described “the church in all her glory” as a bride presented to Jesus “having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:27). The New International Version calls her “radiant.” I call that fantastic! Besides, an “r” word breaks up my alliteration.

Should Jesus’ church be immune from criticism? No. Does she need her faults pointed out to her? Yes, to her! But many church critics don’t do that. They broadcast their reproaches on line for all the world to see and sneer. There are ways to criticize constructively. Cite specific examples without trafficking in sweeping stereotypes. Focus the flack where it belongs. Do it privately. Find the log in your own eye first.

Some Christians leave some churches for healthy reasons. Some stay for healthy reasons. Some leave Jesus’ church for the same reason Dracula shuns sunlight. Stereotypes just don’t cut it. Jesus’ church is diverse. But she is also forgiven, free, and enduringly faithful. She is God’s family forever and that’s fantastic. I’m sticking with her.

Compounding Love
(The Pursuit of the Church)

Friendship and family are profound forces for good. They make life well worth living. Combine both of these loves and you have the greatest force for good this side of heaven—Jesus’ church!

And you thought I was going to say, a good marriage.

I could have. The apostle Paul saw the church and marriage on the same page at Ephesians 5:22-33, as vitally connected in character and principle. Sadly, both of these spiritually-rooted institutions are under vicious attack in our current culture.

These days, we are not accustomed to hearing the church spoken of in such noble terms (the greatest force on earth.) Of course, evil things have been done by scoundrels in the “name” of Jesus and His church. They want His good family name to hide behind. The problem is, it’s hard for some to see all the good in the church because their focus is on the flaws. It is often a blinding focus.

Jesus’ church has had an astoundingly good impact on human history since He rose from the dead. Medical science, educational progress, the decline of slavery, the rise in hospital care, improved race-relations, orphan care, family strength, economic health, work ethic, language development, respect for human life, parenting priorities, and many more vital movements for the good owe far more to Jesus’ church than most people can fathom. Plus, she has pointed countless souls to Jesus through whom they found forgiveness and, ultimately, eternal life.

But instead of defending the reputation of Jesus’ church, let me simply clarify her call to pursue a greater love for love God, each other, and the world (hey Ashley, I used the Oxford comma!) We can take on the critics later. Indeed, it is the church’s pursuit of love that makes her such a strong force for good in the world. She has not arrived but she is on the way. In fact, “the Way” is how Christianity was described in its earliest days in the bible (Acts 9:2). And here is the way that those who belong to the Way are supposed to love:

    “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 12:10).

The Greek verb Paul used in the passage above is the only place this compound verb appears in the entire New Testament. It has no perfect counterpart in English. The translation, “be devoted,” will do, but it does not carry Paul’s full meaning. The word is “philastorgos,” a combination of two Greek words for love.

C.S. Lewis wrote a book titled, “The Four Loves” in which he cited the following four Greek words for love:

  • ‘Eros’ – Romantic love.
  • ‘Storge’ – Family love and affection.
  • ‘Phileo’ – Friendship love and affection.
  • ‘Agape’ – Decision love; unselfish and intentional.

“Philastorgos” (Romans 10:12) combines both “stroge” and “phileo” (family and friendship love) all in one word. Paul used it to promote “philadelphia,” another Greek word compound word that means brotherly love. “Philastorgos” is a doubly powerful word for love, involving tender affection as well as loyal commitment, much like a parent for a child. So, “philastorgos” is more than a family devotion because it also conveys a strong friendship bond. Wow!

Paul’s crisp call to love in Romans 12:10 contains two Greek compound words that compound his call for the church to love one another. Like ‘philastorgos’, ‘philadelphia’ combines a friendship word with a family term. In fact, both compound words in Romans 10:12 combine friend and family related meanings. Wow again.

Jesus’ church is a family filled with precious friends who love each other with great devotion and affection–to the death. This love comes from God and it results in greater love for the world. Compounded multi-faceted love is why Jesus’ church is such a profound force for good. While not all her critics are wrong, too many church-bashers are selectively blind. But they are not the ones commanded by God to devote themselves (philastorgos) to brotherly love (philadelphia). Jesus’ church is. So, do it.

Which Way Does the Finger Point?

Preaching is as popular and unpopular today as ever.

I. Popular Preaching.

Preaching has always been a powerful and popular craft in America, whether it comes from politicians or preachers. Today, little “g” preachers (government) seem to go farther than big “G” preachers (God). Exceptions abound, but let me make my case.

On the merits of long sermons and little else, Barack Obama sailed through two national elections, preaching his way to the top. The vast majority of his communication came on a one-way-street–monologues on a stage, often with a sea of faces as his backdrop. Remember the Greek columns? Meaningful dialogue was avoided.

Some presume that sermons and lectures work for the 50-and-over set but not with young people. I’m not so sure. The “I don’t want to be lectured to” complaint comes from some of the same youthful listeners who swooned over our celebrity lecturer- in-chief. Again, exceptions abound. Still, a few sermons on hope and change propelled an inexperienced community organizer straight to the top of this world’s pecking order. Throngs of young people swooned over his presence and his preaching.

His “war on women” sermons during the 2012 campaign lacked substance but sounded good to enough political pew-sitters to get him re-elected. When four Americas (including an ambassador) were murdered in Benghazi, Libya, President Obama passionately preached against some film-maker in America as the villain. It was a false narrative but we immediately re-elected him. After all, he could preach!

President Obama preached about a “red line” that must not be crossed. It mattered little when it as crossed because the sermon sounded good. In a sermon to the American Medical Association in June 2009, he preached, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” Never mind the facts; preach the fantasy!

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have mastered the art of illustrating their culture sermons and making us laugh. They tap into the insatiable hunger Americans seem to have for hearing other people and their ideas skewered and ridiculed. Radio talk shows do the same thing to the raves of listeners, left and right. Sometimes, the ridicule is justified. Sometimes not. Either way, America loves it.

II. Unpopular Preaching

The apostle Peter preached to his Pentecost audience, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36). Ouch! I don’t know if they liked the sermon, but thousands repented! Later, he was not seeking high office when he preached, “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:14-15). He was not a warm and fuzzy preacher.

George Whitefield (1714 – 1770), the great open-air preacher during the Frist Great Awakening, put it this way; “It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.”

In his commencement speech to the graduating class at Harvard University in 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918 –2008) said, “We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.” He sounded like an Old Testament prophet, which did not make him popular with the elites. Still, America did not resent him as harshly as the Soviets who imprisoned him, stripped him of his citizenship and exiled him. In his Harvard speech, he said, “Truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”

Persecuting prophets and preachers is nothing new in polite society.

III. Two Kinds of Preaching

There are two general types of preaching today:

  1. Other-people-are-the-problem preaching.
  2. You-and-I-are-the–problem preaching.

The first type is enormously powerful and popular today. The second is, well, not so much. The first wins elections, attracts popularity and raises tons of cash. The second got Jesus killed and eventually, most of his followers, plus Paul. It was Paul who said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). That word, “gospel,” is the ticket. It means good news but only to those who understand who their main problem is, and who the only solution is. And they are not the same person.

Which Scrooge Are You?

“A Christmas Carol,” written in 1843 by Charles Dickens, is a riveting fictional tale about the transformation of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge into a renewed, joyful and generous man. After his conversion, Scrooge made a number of resolutions to help others and began to follow through on each one. Dickens wrote:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.

A second father? Is that awesome? I have known this story for years and never caught that detail. The renewed Scrooge became generous with far more than just his money.

In 1843, the problem of fatherlessness was real. Most of it was caused by tuberculosis, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid, cholera, whooping cough and wars. Today, fatherlessness flourishes more by choice.

My dad with my brother, Les.
Are you ready for a devastating statistic? Are you sure? In the mid-1960s, five to six percent of American babies were born out of wedlock. Today, it’s 41 percent. And over half of all births to women under age 30 are out of wedlock. Over half! A second father can be a huge blessing but more and more American kids need a first one.

What is going on? Let’s not mince words. Much of America holds marriage in disdain. Day after day, we watch pundits, politicians, judges and journalists work hard to devalue fatherhood and decompose marriage at its definitional core. The notion that children have a right to a married dad and mom in a loving home is all but lost on today’s America, a nation otherwise obsessed with “rights” for ourselves.

We are becoming a nation of unconverted Scrooges.

Restoring fatherhood and family is a mission with ancient roots. Listen to the last words in the Old Testament on the mission of a prophet yet to come:

He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Malachi 4:6)

Children need fathers more than money, government, orphanages, television and schools combined. Growing up with a dad generally yields better academic performance and lower rates of poverty, alcoholism, crime, promiscuity, homosexuality, depression, suicide, drug abuse and more. Fatherhood is central not only to what children need, but also to who God is in relation to His children. Jesus understood this.

We need more Scrooges, whether they have kids of their own or not, to honestly face their past, present and future ghosts (a picture of genuine repentance) and become a second dad to a needy child. This takes so much more than money.