The year 2020 is over. That is probably a good thing but there are still dark clouds in our skies, COVID-19 looms large, the political turmoil is just starting as conflicting views take center stage. What about the rest of the world? Countries posturing to seek dominance and force their beliefs upon all. This, however, is not new. Our world has a deep history and much of it is repetitive. One place to look for advice and counsel is always within the body of Scripture. Our Bible makes it plain that when men turn from God, there is virtually no limit to the depravity and ignorance to which they descend.
Romans 1:21-231NIV New International Version Translations – “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”
The Apostle Paul is writing to the newly forming Christian Church in Rome. His letter is a condensed summary of our world and the issues it faces. Paul pours out his best advice on how to get through this world. Rome was pretty bad back then. We all know these verses, but the world is not better for its knowledge of them. The foundation of our very morality is still eroding. We even seem to tolerate a society that is in decay while we generally enjoy prosperity. Could it be that our relationship with God has been replaced with the relationship, the worship of “things?”
The Apostle Paul is talking about the replacement of God with inanimate items that are more favored than the advice from God. Crazy as it sounds, it is worth a discussion of what society holds in value today. An analysis from Georgetown University about five years ago, attempted to document the economic value of religion in U.S. society. They included the fair market value of goods and services provided by religious organizations and included contributions of businesses with religious roots. At that time, they found that the faith sector was worth approximately $1.2 trillion, about the same as the top 10 technology companies in the United States. In just those five years since the study was conducted, the combined revenue of the top three technology companies, Apple, Amazon, and Google has risen to four times that same amount, around $4 trillion. While people who claim religious affiliations has actually grown slightly, in dollars, the shift in value, seems to have shifted to technology and things. God has not changed, has mankind changed?
In 2019, the average person spent about 144 minutes on social media2https://www.broadbandsearch.net/blog/average-daily-time-on-social-media, twice the time of an average worship service. The value of the Apple Corporation today shows we spend more on our phones than we do to maintain our faith in America. Who then are the influencers? Why are pagan beliefs on the rise within our own culture, in the media, and on the Internet? Still not convinced there is an issue, too much doom and gloom for you? Ponder these statistics (discerned from the Internet as of this publication date):
- Total number of abortions in the U.S. from 1973-2018: is 61.8 million+;3https://www.all.org/learn/abortion/abortion-statistics/
- There are abortions per day: 2,362+ (over 82,000 annually)
- These statistics include only surgical and medical abortions. Since 1965, an average of 11 million women have used abortifacient methods of birth control in the United States at any given time.
- More than fifteen States have fully legalized marijuana. (In the US, there is a movement to make this national)
- One State decriminalized possession of all illegal drugs.
- More than 70,000 Americans died from drug-involved overdoses in 2019, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.
- Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%). US is the highest nation for that statistic.
- An estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually.
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 48,000 people.
- 600,000 to 800,000 women, children and men bought and sold across international borders every year and exploited for forced labor or commercial sex (U.S. Government). When internal trafficking victims are added to the estimates, the number of victims annually is in the range of 2 to 4 million, 50% of those victims are estimated to be children4https://arkofhopeforchildren.org/child-trafficking/child-trafficking-statistics
- Over 500,000 Americans are homeless, representing every region of the country, family status, gender category, and racial/ethnic group.
The above list is just a sample of society’s ills. When was the last time you heard a message telling you to make a difference in any of these statistics? The people who lead us, the people around us, yes, we the people of today need Jesus more than ever. Have you wondered why the Church isn’t making more of a difference? Is the effort, the work of the church , your fruitful work making a difference to those in need?
History shows us that it takes many generations for godliness to permeate a culture and to reap its benefits. This can also be lost in only one or two generations too. Worship of the work of men’s hands extends beyond basic idols of wood, stone, and precious metals. It includes everything that man produces which is not in the service of God. Items as diverse as weapons of war, computer technology, bioengineering, and genetic tampering with the basic elements of life. It is not the items themselves that are so much the issue, but the way in which they are employed. Technology can be used for good or for evil, but inevitably the evil use winds up dominating society. Meanwhile, mankind persists in their refusal to recognize any depraved behavior in our culture. We are called “judgmental” or “politically incorrect ” or the “cancel culture” is quick to intercede. All it takes is a select group of unknown overseers who deems it so. If any inconsistencies between God and mankind are pointed out, you are immediately censored! Is it not reasonable to judge? They are quick to point out God’s own words:
Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
The Grassy Hill
It is worth reflecting for a moment, that Jesus had no church, no buildings, He had no denomination. His best work was usually done on a simple grassy slope. The Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the Book of Matthew 5-7. Jesus delivered this message near the beginning of His ministry and it is the longest of Jesus’ sermons recorded in the New Testament. The last verse of chapter 5 (Matthew 5:48) is a focal point of the sermon that summarizes His teachings by advising the disciples, the people who were following Him, to seek perfection.
Matthew 5:48 – “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The Greek word telios used to refer to perfection also implies an end, or destination, advising the disciples to seek the path towards perfection and the Kingdom of God. It was meant to teach our children to act like God, not humanity. It is a journey and as the above statistics show, we are not even close to God’s destination yet. Our concerns should be whether we are moving farther away from God or closer to the gate? Luke’s comments, consistent throughout Scripture, are quite specific about judging others. However, Luke does not say to conform, he says to forgive. Jesus says “act differently,” act perfectly because you will be judged! – Just not by humanity, by God Himself. The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are often referred to as the Ethics of the Kingdom. Jesus placed a high level of emphasis on “purity of the heart” and laid out the basic standards of Christian righteousness. Here are a few words from Jesus on that grassy hill long ago.
Mat 7:13-17 – “Enter in through the narrow gate; because wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in through it. How narrow the gate, and confined the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it! But beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grape clusters from thorns, or figs from thistles? Thus every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces evil fruit.
Life is about choices that we make along our journey. The one point most God-believing people agree with is they all want to make it to that gate! Jesus says, it is hard to find the gate and hard to go through the gate. Will the leaders we choose know the way and guide us to that glorious gate? Jesus gets right to the point, you will be misled by the slick speech writers, the media, the politically correct messages of this world. How will we know if what we hear is good? Jesus simply says, “It will be all about the fruit.” What grade would you give us today? The narrow gate will not be found on social media, through a utopian society, or even in our churches. For sure, it will not come from our government. It will be found by those with repentant hearts that long for their God. It will be found in the statistics that our society leaves to history. You might want to read more about what was said on those grassy hills. It could just save your eternal life!
Revelations 9:20-21 – “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”
- Look at the list of statistics in this study. Which ones do you think God cares about?
- Ideas to Explore: How would God solve the issues noted in the statistics? Do you know how the leaders you support feel about each issue? Is it right or wrong to support people that don’t support God’s view of these problems?
- Where are your own priorities with regard to missions?
- Ideas to Explore: There are 4 areas God expects us to be generous in, our time, our talents, our treasure and our testimony. Do you think the messages you hear from society support God’s expectations? Are there areas that you can improve in? What can you do for those who seem hopeless?
- Drugs, alcohol are pervasive in society. While drugs help people and even the Bible doesn’t say alcohol is bad. What are the issues that we should be most sensitive to?
- Ideas to Explore: Do gateway drugs make it harder or easier to find the Gate? What are the issues driving families apart today? How can we help with the family issues in our world? How do you correct homelessness? What is the influence on children who see adults participate with drugs and alcohol? How does permissive behavior advance God’s Kingdom?
- What is your opinion of social media?
- Ideas to Explore: Censorship is wrong but why do people tolerate it in social media? Are younger generations able to deal with the issues better or worse than the older generations and why? What are the dangers of no privacy? What is the impact of our social media on our youth?
- What do you expect from the pulpit messages?
- Ideas to Explore: Is it OK to be political? What if society is doing something wrong, is it OK to hear warnings to change? Should we hear warnings to change? Who do we really get our advice from? What sources of information is reliable in today’s world? Can messages be too politically correct?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations