People who attend our services may be perplexed by the way we end each sermon. I, or whoever is in the pulpit, invite those present to respond to the lesson if they need to become a Christian or if they need to share a need for prayers or even forgiveness for living sinfully. This is a perfectly acceptable, logical thing to do, since the message will often be persuasive and call for a change of heart and action. We never find an example of “offering the invitation” in scripture or a command to do it after the preaching, but it is an suitable, convenient, and advantageous thing to do. The power of God’s Word, when preached, has frequently touched and convicted hearts (Acts 2:37; 7:54). Many have come face to face with the reality of who God is and wanted to know what to do to be saved (cf. Acts 16:31). Our preaching answers that question, after most every sermon. One can respond to Christ’s invitation (cf. Rev. 22:17) any time of day or night, in a public assembly or privately. Many times, the sermon will simply build our desire to live more like Jesus . We may not come to the front row, but we have that resolve within ourselves.
But, let me make this confident pledge to you. If you feel like you need to publicly respond after the sermon, you will not be judged, criticized, looked down upon, or rejected by any godly, faithful Christian. The overwhelming majority of those present will simply hug your neck and a great many will add you to their daily prayers. You will feel the love and support of a loving and supportive church. You will understand that we are all dealing with the same struggles and temptations, all of us trying to make it to heaven! We often build up fear and anxiety about how traumatic “responding to the invitation” will be, but that is almost always a figment of our imagination. God gave us the blessing of the church so that we would have a spiritual family to aid us on our spiritual journey. Never fear taking that step “down the aisle,” if it is necessary. Your example may be the catalyst for someone else to consider their need to come forward, too!
My dad was once fired for converting a black woman (sister Perry). Dad studied with her and baptized her, but there was a contingency in the congregation that suggested she attend a predominantly black church. Dad rebuffed that suggestion, and for this he was fired. I know of another gospel preacher who at about the same time, in a neighboring state, was handed the same fate the weekend he baptized a black couple. Thankfully, as the decades have wore on, this mentality has changed and, in many places, disappeared. For several years, I preached in a congregation wherein of the five elders three were white and two were black. The most noteworthy thing about our racially diverse congregation is that race was an utter non-factor. We just didn’t think about it or talk about it. Such was my personal background, and such has been my experience as an adult.
To say that racial tension is mounting and emotion about race-related matters runs high is perhaps to understate the current state of things. The last 12 months has given rise to such slogans as “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter.” Racial oppression and racial prejudice are part of our nation’s (and at times the church’s) past, and sadly, like lying, stealing, and murder, prejudice is a sin that will never be fully eradicated—by whatever race toward whatever race.
Among certain extreme radicals, however, who seem to come to the forefront to foment and agitate racial strife through such provocative slogans as the aforementioned ones, there is an utter hypocrisy that we should not ignore. As Christians, we must understand that all lives of every race matter. While the activists focus narrowly on one specific situation in our society, they have chosen to ignore so many others.
- Do the lives of unborn black children matter? Have you read the history of Margaret Sanger, the mother of the “Planned Parenthood” organization? She and her colleagues advocated abortion particularly as a means of racial eugenics (deliberate efforts meant to control the population growth of specific ethnicities)(Sanger, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda,” Birth Control Review, Oct., 1921; “Birth Control and Racial Betterment,” ibid., Feb., 1919; et al). “An African-American woman is almost five times likelier to have an abortion than a white woman, and a Latina more than twice as likely” (Zoe Dutton, The Atlantic, 9/22/14, via http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5808a1.htm?s_cid=ss5808a1_e).
- Do the lives of kidnapped African girls matter? The media has largely been silent and organized protests in any of our racial communities conspicuously absent regarding the wanton kidnapping and abuse of female students from Chibok, Nigeria, in April, 2014. Boko Haram, Muslim terrorists, took these children from what were recognized as “Christian” schools and populations (Marie Arana, “Why Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls are worth more than gold,” The Washington Post, 5/15/14).
- Do the eternal lives of blacks (red, yellow, whites, etc.) matter? The greatest threat to a person, regardless of race, is eternal separation from God! Yet, every day without fail, there are those of every race who die unprepared to meet Him in the judgment. Where is the outcry and outrage? We should be less concerned with social justice than we are with spiritual grace!
Mistreatment of people because of the color of their skin is deplorable and unconscionable. But, we need to make sure that we approach the issue without a myopic view. We need the eyes of Christ and the mind of Christ in this and every other matter!
Did you hear what happened over the weekend at a college invitational race in the northwest? Oregon runner Tanguy Pepiot had a commanding lead down the final stretch of the 3,000 meter steeplechase. Obviously, he felt it was insurmountable so he began to wave in appreciative response to what he thought were the cheers of the home crowd. Instead, they were screaming out warnings to him. Then second place runner, Washington’s Meron Simon, figured out Pepiot did not know he was surging. Consequently, Simon overtook Pepiot in the last step of the race to win by a tenth of a second! There are so many life’s lessons to learn from this. It’s never over until it’s over. Don’t celebrate too early. Pride goes before a fall. To me, nothing is more significant than the importance of never quitting. Simon was counted out, at least by Pepiot, but he simply would not quit. As a result, he won the race!
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Paul exemplifies the principle, telling Timothy he finished the course (2 Tim. 4:7). This repeated imagery of Christian living as a race holds within it the same dramatic idea as that illustrated by the Washington runner. He ran to win while his opponent lost because he prematurely celebrated. The ultimate winner ran with endurance and he finished the course.
It is wonderful and helpful to get a strong start in the Christian race. Pushing hard and accomplishing good for Jesus helps the “runner” and those who may “watch” him run. But, among the saddest experiences of my life has been witnessing many who quit too soon. They were overtaken by improper relationships, discouragement, stumbling blocks, distractions, doubt, or any number of other factors. Overshadowing the cause is the tragedy of the result. Those who fail to finish the race suffer far worse than humiliation and an earthly prize. These sacrifice eternal life and a heavenly home.
Today, you may be wrestling with whether or not to stay in the race for whatever reason. May I plead with you to let the cheer of the “witnesses” (cf. Heb. 11) give you second wind. But, please don’t stop running!
The immigration issue I want to bring to your attention is not one you’ll read about in the news. I doubt they’d have any interest in covering it. It has been articulated in this way: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). He also speaks of this as “the time of your stay on earth” (1 Pet. 1:17). But the dilemma existed before the first century church was established. Old Testament heroes of faith “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13).
One of the hardest things for us to do is to live with conviction the idea that “this world is not our home, we’re just passing through.” As Jesus prayed for us and all His followers, He even touches on the inevitability that we must be here on this earth (John 17:15), but it is so easy for us to forget our status. Too often, we become naturalized citizens of this world by virtue of our conforming to its values, worldview, philosophy, and goals. When that happens, we may gain its wholehearted acceptance but we renounce our heavenly citizenship in the process.
The issue for us is how to be in the world but not of it. Paul familiarized himself with the culture, icons, and activities of his time, and he used that information to reach people in that culture with the saving message of Christ. It was a means to an end, not the end itself. For us, achieving that balance can be difficult. As we become informed and interested in sports, politics, entertainment, and various media, does it become so much a part of us that it distracts us and replaces our longing for the Father’s will (Luke 22:42) and the Father’s house (John 14:1-4)? In a materialistic culture like ours, we can become so enamored with earthly treasure that we fail or cease laying up treasure where we should be (Mat. 6:19-21).
Let’s encourage each other as fellow aliens and exiles to understand what Paul said, that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). We must set our mind on things above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). That is the issue for us.