Several months before we moved to our new church building in 1998, our ministry staff met at the new site for a special staff meeting. Most of the building still wasn’t carpeted, and some of the rooms still had no drywall. We handed out hard hats, magic markers and a few Bibles.
We instructed staff members to go to the classrooms and offices in the building where they would be working and write Scripture verses on the concrete floors. I said, “Someday soon the scriptures will be covered with carpet. But I hope you will always remember what you have written today. And what we do today will be a visible reminder that we are always to stand on God’s Word.”
The staff really got into it. Some of them used cans of spray paint they had brought so the words would show up better. (They acted as if they had some experience, which bothered me a little!) Those in the children’s ministry wrote things like, “Let the little children come to Me … for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
In the education wing, the adult education ministers wrote things like, “Study to show yourself approved unto God,” and “Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You.”
In the music practice rooms, the music ministers wrote, “Sing and make music unto the Lord,” and “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
In the offices of the preaching team, we wrote passages like, “Preach the Word in season and out of season,” and “Watch your life and doctrine closely … if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
One of our single ladies who worked in the children’s ministry wrote her favorite verse on the floor of her office: “It is not good for a man to be alone!”
The “scriptures-on-the-floor” idea caught on, and soon hundreds of church members followed suit. In a matter of weeks, there were scriptures all over the concrete floors — down hallways, on stairways, on the steps leading up to the pulpit. I saw moms and dads bring their children to the building just to write their favorite scriptures on the concrete floors. We actually considered asking people to stop because they started writing in places we hadn’t planned to cover with carpet! But we decided it wasn’t a good idea to make people quit writing scriptures!
I heard of class officers gathering in their future classrooms, praying together and writing scriptures on the floor. Small groups chose special places in the building to write their favorite scriptures. When you walked through the building, all the floors looked like they were covered with graffiti. But instead of curse words, they were covered with God’s Word. The building became a dramatic reminder to all of us that our church has been called to stand upon the Word of God.
One of our small groups had volunteered to help clean the building one afternoon. As they were preparing to leave, Marty Rice, prayer leader of the group, said, “Why don’t we write down a scripture reference in one of the rooms before we leave?”
They found a small room that didn’t have any scriptures yet. Rick Nally, one of the group members, said, “How about the passage where Jesus said, ‘Where two or three of you are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of you’?”
Marty asked, “What’s the reference?” “I think it’s Matthew 18:28,” Rick said. Marty stooped and wrote, “Matthew 18:28” and the group’s name on the floor in permanent marker.
Later that evening at a restaurant, Rick brought in his Bible from the car to double-check the reference. He said, “Oh no. It’s Matthew 18:20, not 18:28.”
Someone asked the obvious question: “What’s verse 28 say?”
Rick read, “When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”
I suppose if you are ever in our building and, while standing in a certain classroom, suddenly have the urge to choke someone, you’ll know why!
I believe the greatest reason God has chosen to bless Southeast Christian Church and thousands of other evangelical churches around the world is that we have been serious about upholding the absolute truth of God’s Word. In a very real sense, we’ve continued to stand on the Word of God.
Believe the Truth (The World Doesn’t)
I’m writing this just weeks after two teenagers in Littleton, Colorado, killed twelve of their classmates and one teacher at Columbine High School before turning the guns on themselves.
Following the shooting, Vice President Al Gore was asked by Larry King why America was so attracted to violence. Gore responded, “It’s because of our evolutionary heritage. It’s the nature of tooth and claw.” A liberal preacher on the same show was asked what he believed needed to be done. He said, “We just need to build up the kids’ self-esteem. It doesn’t really matter what religion you are; just tell kids they’re good and wonderful and beautiful.”
The truth is that man has a sin problem that can only be transformed by Jesus Christ. As Franklin Graham said, “When we empty the public schools of the moral teachings and the standards of our holy God, they are indeed very dangerous places.”1
It’s true that kids need to be loved. But they are not just “good and wonderful”; they are also sinners — as all of us are (Rom. 3:23). Youth need to be told the truth — that there is an all-powerful God in the universe to whom we will some day give an account; that there is a standard of right and wrong; that we have all violated that standard; and that unless we repent and trust in Christ, we face the wrath of God.
I’ve heard author Frank Peretti compare our culture’s hunger for biblical absolutes to the need for authority on a neighborhood playground in the summertime. Posted on the fence of the playground are some rules: “No hitting. No profanity. Only age ten and under on the monkey bars. Only age eight and older on the basketball court. Ten-minute limit on the tetherball court.” The rules work well because mingling through the crowd of children is Mrs. Kravitz. She has a keen eye, and if you misbehave, she will give you a pink slip. Two pink slips and you’re out of the playground for the summer.
But take Mrs. Kravitz out of the picture. How long do you think it will take before the rules begin to be violated? “Hey, he hit me!” “She spit on me!” “Hey, get those big kids off the monkey bars! Little kids are getting hurt!” “Hey, he cut the tetherball off!”
Who will soon rule the playground? The biggest, the strongest, the most antagonistic. That’s what is happening in our society, because there is no regard for the rules. The Ten Commandments are no longer obeyed, and the Bible is no longer respected as a source of authority in our culture, largely because it is not preached from our pulpits as the Word of God.
Preachers don’t have the ability to “hand out pink slips,” but we do have a duty to uphold the truth of God’s Word and sound a clear warning as to what judgment God will bring if His rules are disobeyed. Since preachers haven’t faithfully done that, our culture has taken the rules off the fence. The Ten Commandments have been completely removed from public life and even outlawed in public places. And there is no longer any fear of God’s authority.
Paul described those who have no fear of God: “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:15-18).
One of America’s founders said that people will either be governed by the Bible or the bayonet. A nation of people who refuse to govern themselves will need to have a strong police force to prevent anarchy. That’s why our president recently proposed adding one hundred thousand police officers to the streets of America’s cities.
Bob Vernon, former assistant police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, once suggested a theory of “parallel lines” in comparing the church with the culture. He indicated that the church is to be above the world and that we usually do stay above the world to a certain extent. But as the world’s values nosedive, we are tempted to accommodate our values so that we’re just a little above the world, instead of maintaining the high standard of truth that God prescribed in His Word.
The challenge is to retain high biblical standards regardless of how far the world “slouches toward Gomorrah,” as Judge Robert Bork put it. John said, “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what He promised us — even eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25).
Certain transcendent truths are absolute — the inspiration of Scripture, the historical creation of man, the deity of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the Ten Commandments. These have been given by God as unchanging truths, and they should not be compromised. The church must stand firm in the faith and “preach the Word … in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). When you do, you will be labeled fundamental, narrow-minded and bigoted. But Jesus said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:14).
Resist the Temptation to Compromise the Truth
It’s not just liberal preachers like the one I heard on Larry King Live who are tempted to compromise the truth. We all get into tight situations and are tempted to take the easy way out by saying what we know people want to hear.
A wealthy businessman in our community who had pledged a million dollars to our building fund came to me before it was collected and asked me to perform his wedding — us third wedding. Because of the circumstances surrounding his previous divorce, his situation didn’t fit into our marriage policy. It was really tempting to try to find a way to accommodate his request. But I decided to follow the policy. (Partly, I confess, because I was afraid the elders would fire me if I didn’t follow their guidelines!)
There are times in every church when the leaders are tempted to water down the truth. There will be influential people you want to accommodate. There will be brilliant, likable theological liberals you want to impress. There will be arrogant, angry conservatives you wish you could debate, because even though you may agree with their stance, you hate their demeanor. There will be seekers and believers you won’t want to alienate by taking an unpopular stand on a controversial issue.
Despite the real temptation to say just what itching ears want to hear or to say nothing at all, it is imperative that the church be a place where the truth is unashamedly proclaimed. As Paul said, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8).
At our annual staff retreat, I always have a kind of “State of the Church” address. In it I encourage the staff, talk about what has gone well in the past year and try to cast a vision for the coming year. Each year I remind the staff how important it is that they maintain their personal integrity in all they do, lest they themselves become a hindrance to the great work God is doing in our church.
This past year I also asked them to renew their commitment to biblical truth. “When you came on staff,” I said, “you signed a document indicating your belief that the Bible is the Word of God. But sometimes people change. Maybe you’ve taken some graduate classes at a liberal seminary that have led you to question the infallibility of the Bible, or perhaps something else has happened in your life to cause you to waver from your confidence in God’s Word. If so, I hope you’ll have enough integrity to step down from your position.”
Gerd Ludemann, a prominent German theologian, recently declared, “I no longer describe myself as a Christian.” Ludemann taught for several years at Vanderbilt University and is currently the professor of New Testament and director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at Gottingen University in Germany. After spending years undermining the Christian faith as a liberal Christian professor, Ludemann finally decided to do the honest thing. “A Christian is someone who prays to Christ and believes in what is promised by Christian doctrine,” Ludemann admitted. “So I asked myself: ‘Do I pray to Jesus? Do I pray to the God of the Bible?’ And I don’t do that. Quite the reverse.”2
Liberalism has destroyed too many churches. Many liberals will not be as honest as Gerd Ludemann was. Instead they continue to pretend they are believers in Christ when they are not. Charles Colson said the number one question in our society today is this: Is there any absolute truth? It’s imperative that every leader in your church be committed to the Bible as God’s Word, the source of absolute truth.
An exciting movement called the Alpha Project is sweeping some formerly liberal, mainline churches. It’s a call to fundamental Christianity that is revitalizing some old, formerly dying churches. It began in England and has now taken root in two thousand churches in America. Church leaders are recognizing that liberalism has been a dismal failure, so they are returning to the “alpha” (beginning) beliefs. “Churches that have embraced the program claim it can change lives, jump-start the faith of lukewarm Christians, and bring agnostics and atheists into the fold.” Many leaders at formerly liberal churches have begun offering the Alpha courses in efforts to “stem the tide of declining membership and attendance.”
Be Ready to Face Opposition
The Alpha Project has drawn criticism from liberal Christians who have taken issue with the course’s hard line on divorce, abortion and homosexuality; its stance that the Bible is literally true; its claim that Christianity is the exclusive path of salvation; and its “lopsided” emphasis on the Holy Spirit.3 This criticism shouldn’t surprise anyone. Jesus promised that those who followed Him and stood for truth would be opposed (see John 15:20).
The erosion of truth we saw in the 1990s will only worsen in the next millennium. According to the postmodern mind, there are no absolutes. You can believe what you want to believe, the popular thinking goes, but don’t impose your values on me. The most important virtue to the postmodernist is tolerance. To be dogmatic about anything — no matter how true it might be — is considered the height of arrogance and intolerance. That means you can expect increased hostility and opposition if you dare to speak the truth.
A preacher doesn’t often get the opportunity to speak openly about Christ in a public high-school classroom these days, but my son Rusty was asked recently to speak to a local high-school humanities class during a series on world religions. The school is a “magnet” school that attempts to attract the intellectual and artistic elite among our county’s teenagers. It’s full of National Merit Scholars and some of the sharpest young minds in the area.
After Rusty’s lecture, in which he explained the basic beliefs of Christianity and shared the gospel with thirty teenagers, he asked if there were any questions. The students bombarded him with some harsh questions about his claim that Jesus was the “only way” to heaven. He answered, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.’ Either He was telling the truth or He wasn’t. Yes, it’s exclusive, but that’s what He claimed. I’d invite you to search the Scriptures and the historical evidence to see if Jesus’ claims were valid. If He was speaking the truth, we’d better follow Him.” But no matter how logical and polite Rusty tried to be, most of the students still insisted that it was wrong of Him to contend that any way was the “true” way.
“I used to be a Christian, but I’m not anymore,” one student said. “I just can’t accept a religion that tries to claim it’s the only true one.” Others said similar things about growing up in Christian homes only to reject Christianity because of its exclusiveness. Whether it was true or not didn’t matter. To claim that you or anyone else — even Christ Himself — has the only handle on the truth is to be intolerant and therefore wrong, according to their system of values.
Several months ago Dave Stone (our preaching associate) and I preached a sermon series titled “Stepping Up and Speaking Out about Moral Issues.” The series dealt with topics like racism, abortion, homosexuality and divorce. Around the office we subtitled it “How to Empty the Church in Five Weeks.” But we were wrong.
People came and brought their friends. Several responded to the invitation. People would say, “We’re so thankful to be a part of a church that takes a stand for God’s truth.” We tried to speak the truth in love, but we were determined to speak the truth. And God blessed us.
But not everyone was happy with us. On Christmas Eve, 1998, when we held our first services in our new facility, over five thousand people came to the first of five services held that day I was team preaching with Dave Stone. Christmas Eve is normally a challenging time to deliver a message, so to add some creativity, we had decided to stand side by side and preach alternate points of the sermon. In the middle of one of my points about the humility of Jesus, a man stood up in the balcony and began shouting. “That’s absurd!” he yelled. “Jesus was humble and compassionate, and that’s exactly what you’re not!”
I had never met the man, so I wondered how he knew me so well! He continued to shout. I was finished with my point, so I just looked at Dave while the man shouted, and I said, “Your turn.”
Dave had a brilliant, and I think Spirit-led, response. “You can listen to this man,” he said calmly to the congregation, “but what you need to do is measure everything that is said — whether by us or someone else — by the truth of God’s Word.” The congregation stood and applauded, drowning out the heckler.
Our security team did an excellent job, and the heckler was escorted out within thirty seconds. Once outside, the man said, “I know my rights. I want to see a policeman.” He was told, “All seven of us are policemen. Which one would you like to talk to?” The man was arrested for disturbing the peace and had to spend a few hours in jail.
The service continued, and everything went smoothly, but afterward, the primary topic of conversation for most people was the incident with the heckler. He had successfully tarnished our first service in the new facility. The AP newswire carried a story, picked up by several major newspapers across the country, with a headline that read, “Heckler mars first service.”
Several weeks later that heckler was interviewed by a local gay-and- lesbian magazine. He said he had interrupted our services because he had to speak out against the intolerance of our church. Although he admitted he had never been to our church before, he was angered by our stance that homosexual behavior is a sin against God.
When you stand for truth, you will be opposed. But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
God has promised that He will bless the church that proclaims His truth. In this case, we were able to see that promise fulfilled almost overnight. In the year following that incident with the heckler, our attendance jumped by three thousand people at our weekend services, we’ve had over two thousand additions to the church, and the Holy Spirit has permeated our congregation.
God promised Isaiah that as the rain falls and produces a crop, “so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). We should say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).
Teach the Truth (Many Churches Don’t)
Have you ever been invited to someone’s home for an evening party thinking that dinner was going to be served and you were mistaken? You arrive hungry only to realize it’s an open house with only a few finger foods or desserts on the table. You try to fill up on the finger foods, but they don’t satisfy. You walk away hungry and say to yourself, I need to stop by a fast-food restaurant and get a hamburger or something!
The Importance of Preaching
Many people leave church feeling empty every week. They come hungry for the Word of God, but when they aren’t fed, they go empty, hungry and frustrated. Eventually, unless all they want out of church is the security of tradition or an entertainment fix, they will drift away in an effort to find a place that’s offering some substance.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among our churches and Christian colleges. We have discovered worship, and that is good, but some leaders are so enthusiastic about praise and worship that they want to omit the preaching altogether!
A Bible-college professor recently told me that almost all of their student-led chapels, about four out of five, had no preaching at all. An “all-singing” service is certainly appropriate occasionally, but to rarely be exposed to preaching — especially on a campus that is supposed to be training the preachers of the next generation — seems way out of balance.
Jesus was a preacher. In fact, in Luke 4:43, Jesus said, “I must preach the good news … because that is why I was sent” (author’s emphasis). John the Baptist was a preacher. Paul was a preacher. While Paul was in prison, he bemoaned the fact that some were preaching out of impure motives. Then he concluded, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).
Instill the Desire to Preach in Young People
When I was in elementary school, the preacher at my church was an eighty-year-old man named D. P. Shaffer. He had been at the church for decades. He was a great man and respected in the community. I remember that he was a very dignified man with a shock of white hair. His hands trembled and his voice quaked from palsy.
One children’s day at our church, when I was in the first grade, I quoted large portion of John 14 in front of the congregation. He met me in the hall, patted me on the head, and said, “You are going to make a good preacher someday.” That idea lay dormant in my mind until the end of my senior year in high school when I was suddenly struck with the idea that I should be a preacher.
Although I love preaching, I can relate to what Paul said: “When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Cor. 9:16-17).
Preaching is an essential ministry of the church and should be held in high regard. We need to develop in our young people not only a hunger for worship but a desire to be fed God’s Word through good preaching. And we need to creatively instill in their minds the idea that God could use them someday to spread the gospel.
Use a Lot of Scripture
I remember a second thing D. P. Shaffer said, but only because my mother would quote him. Once an arrogant young preacher delivered a sermon in our church that contained almost no Scripture. My mother, who rarely spoke a negative word to anyone, said to him afterward, “I remember what D. P. Shaffer used to say about preaching: ‘Whenever you preach, always use a lot of Scripture, because that’s one thing you know is true.'”
Paul commanded Timothy, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Ground People in the Truth of God’s Word
God has ordained the church to be a place of truth. Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). And that gospel doesn’t change, regardless of how far the values of our culture erode. Do your best to see that the members of your church, from age zero to one hundred, are grounded in God’s Word. Make sure they understand the Bible and have adopted a biblical view of the world.
– In your nursery, don’t just baby-sit the kids for an hour. Find a curriculum like Palma Smiley(c) where infants are taught Bible songs and each week learn to respectfully pat the Bible “because the Bible is true.”
– In your preschool, don’t just play games. Children are sponges, soaking up everything around them. Teach them to memorize Scripture, take the time to plan lessons and design creative activities that help them learn the Bible stories you want them to remember.
– In your elementary programs, use all the resources available — drama, videos, crafts — to teach your kids God’s Word.
– In your youth ministry, don’t just entertain your teenagers or rely on gimmicks to get them involved. Teach them God’s Word.
– In your counseling, don’t just listen. Tell them what God’s Word says.
– Provide adult Bible classes that deepen people’s understanding of God’s truth. Create in them a hunger for the Word of God. Train your teachers to know God’s Word and equip them to communicate it creatively and effectively.
Every ministry should find a way to deepen people’s understanding of God’s truths so that Christians will be equipped to face this changing world with a solid biblical foundation that does not change — “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15).
Balance Strong Stands with God’s Trace
Paul exhorted the church to always speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). One of the reasons we’ve been able to continue growing while taking a strong biblical stand on moral issues if that we’ve done our best to shower people with the grace of God. Someone who has been convicted of God’s truth is ready to receive God’s grace. Conversely, someone who has heard only about God’s grace cannot appreciate it. Grace can only be understood in the context of God’s truth.
About six months before our new building was finished, I walked out on the roof and went up to the base of the forty-foot-high cross that sits atop our worship center. I love that cross because it is actually a part of the structure. The base of the cross descends thirty-two feet below the roof to the superstructure and acts like a keystone. It supports the twelve trusses that come to the center and symbolizes that the cross of Christ must be the cornerstone of our church. The cross is directly over the pulpit, symbolizing that we preach under the authority of the cross.
But as I stood at the base of that cross and looked out over the roof, I saw something that put goose bumps on my arms. Unknown to me, the company that had provided the insulation for the roof was the Grace Ice an Watershield Company. The insulation comes in six-foot sheets, and the word “GRACE” is printed in bold letters on every sheet. As I looked out from the cross, I saw the words GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE, GRACE … hundreds of times. I thought, Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me something! (Even I could catch the symbolism in that!) The church is to be covered with God’s grace.
Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That’s the kind of God we need to be portraying from our pulpits — a God of grace and truth.
Years ago I was trying to communicate the fact that we’re all sinners saved by God’s grace. I said: “I am an expert with the TV remote control. I hate watching ads. I can watch three programs simultaneously and get the gist of all three. But I confess that sometimes late at night when I’m channel surfing, I’m tempted to stop when the girls are attractive or scantily clad. (That’s why I don’t have premium movie channels in my home. I know I’m too weak to resist the temptation if it’s right there all the time.)
When I yield to that temptation to lust, I feel cheapened, guilty and unworthy. I need God’s forgiveness. Steve Brown says, “Pray for the strong, because they are weak.” I’ve never had an affair. I’ve never been to an adult bookstore. I’m not addicted to pornography. But I am tempted. I can understand those who crash in those areas. But there’s good news: Jesus Christ can forgive the past and empower us to win the victory in the future.
A few weeks after I used that illustration, a physician who is a member of our church walked up to me. He said, “I bought that tape and shared it with a friend of mine, because we both struggle with that same temptation. It was so helpful to know that you struggle too. We realized that it’s a daily battle that we can win. And God can forgive us and use us even though the flesh has dragged us down on occasion and we’re imperfect.”
The apostle Paul said that Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that he, Paul, was the worst sinner of all (see 1 Tim. 1:15). When we preach as sinners saved by grace, instead of superior saints with a condescending spirit, people are encouraged to trust in Christ’s love.
Be careful that you don’t go too far in your efforts to convince people that you, too, are in need of God’s grace. We don’t need to exaggerate our sins — they’re bad enough as they are. You may have some past sins that you shouldn’t share. If God has buried our sins in the deepest sea, we don’t need to be dredging them up. Share your spiritual victories too. Keep a balance so that people see the real you but still respect you as their leader. People have a right to expect a higher level of spirituality among their leaders, but your preaching and teaching should always be full of grace.
When I was eight years old, I was riding home from church on Christmas Eve with the rest of my family. I was in the backseat by the door of our old 1948 Nash Rambler. I kept staring at the door handle, wondering what would happen if I just pulled up a little on the handle. (I was interested in aerodynamics, of course.) The back doors of the ’48 Rambler opened right into the wind, the opposite of car doors today. They came to be known later as “suicide doors.”
My curiosity finally got the best of me. I lifted up just a little and — whoosh! — the air ripped that car door open into the oncoming traffic. I grabbed the security rope on the back of the seat and dived onto the floor. My dad brought the car to a screeching halt, and my mother turned around and cried, “Oh, where’s Bobby? Where’s Bobby?!”
My sisters said, “Oh, Mother, he’s all right. He’s down here on the floor.”
My dad got out of the car, took a few deep breaths and just leaned up against the car for a minute or two. He drove the rest of the way home without saying a word. I knew I was in deep trouble. All the way home my older sisters kept saying, “What kind of an idiot would open up a car door while the car is going fifty miles an hour?”
When we got home, I jumped out of the car, ran into the house, and stood behind the Christmas tree for protection. My dad came in, walked straight over to me, picked me up, and gave me the biggest hug I can ever remember him giving me. He kept saying over and over again, “I’m sure glad you didn’t fall out of that car, son.”
I was glad too! And I was also glad for my dad’s grace-filled reaction. It’s not hard for me to imagine a God of grace because my earthly father was so full of grace. When I picture dying and standing before God, I don’t imagine Him as an angry judge with a clipboard listing all the idiotic and sinful things I have done in my lifetime. I picture God like the father of the prodigal son, opening his arms, saying, “Welcome home. All is forgiven. Let’s celebrate.”
From When God Builds a Church. Bob Russell with Rusty Russell, (c) 2000 by Bob Russell. Used by permission of Howard Publishing.
1Reported by Edward E. Plowman, “Faith at Gunpoint” in World Magazine, May 8, 1999 (Vol. 14, No. 18). (http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/05-08-99/cover_1.asp).
2R. Albert Mohler, “Fellow Nonbelievers: Liberal Theologian Now a Critic of Liberalism,” World Magazine, Aug. 8, 1998 (Vol. 13, No. 30). (http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/08-08-98/national_2.asp).
3All the quotes come from an article in St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, titled “A Popular Crash Course in Christianity; Alpha Leaders Claim 1 Million Students” on August 11, 1999, Main Section, 1A. You can find the article at www.newslibrary.com/deliverccdoc.asp?SMH _374516
Several months before we moved to our new church building in 1998, our ministry staff met at the new site for a special staff meeting. Most of the building still wasn’t carpeted, and some of the rooms still had no drywall. We handed out hard hats, magic markers and a few Bibles.