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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Worthy Publishing; 1st edition (January 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
With a strikingly bold, biblical and practical approach to ministry, Dr. Robert Jeffress is one of the country’s most respected evangelical leaders. Making more than 600 guest appearances on various radio and television programs, Dr. Jeffress regularly appears on major mainstream media outlets such as FOX News Channel’s Fox and Friends, The O’Reilly Factor, Cavuto on Business, ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN and MSNBC. He also hosts a daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, that is heard nationwide on over 720 stations in major markets such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and Houston. His weekly television program can be seen on 1,200 television stations and cable systems throughout the nation and in 28 countries around the world.
Dr. Jeffress is the senior pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, and is currently leading the congregation in a $130 million campaign to re-create its downtown campus. The project is the largest in modern church history and will produce a “spiritual oasis” in the heart of downtown Dallas.
Honored in 2006 by Vision America for his steadfast commitment and boldness in proclaiming the uncompromising Word of God, Dr. Jeffress is also the author of 18 books, including The Solomon Secrets (a 2002 Medallion Finalist), Hell? Yes! and When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense. His newest book, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, was released January 2, 2012 by Worthy Publishing.
Dr. Jeffress graduated with a D.Min. from Southwestern Theological Seminary, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and a B.S. from Baylor University. In May 2010, he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Dallas Baptist University. In June 2011, he received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Jeffress and his wife, Amy, have two daughters, Julia and Dorothy, and a son-in-law, Ryan Sadler.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Economic chaos, spiraling immorality, cultural decay, terrorism and global upheaval have convinced many that we are living in the twilight days of America. Widely respected pastor, author and frequent media commentator Dr. Robert Jeffress agrees, but is quick to add a note of hope and challenge in his latest release, Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Worthy Publishing, January 2012). Although we cannot prevent America’s eventual demise, he asserts, we can postpone it . . . and make a difference for eternity at the same time.
Including a foreword by former governor Mike Huckabee, Twilight’s Last Gleaming offers a bold roadmap to guide readers’ attitudes and actions in these volatile times. “But it is not all doom and gloom,” writes Jeffress. “We have an unprecedented opportunity within our current culture to delay our country’s ultimate dissolution so that we can continue to grow the kingdom. Even if America’s best days are behind her, for American Christians, this can and should be our shining moment.”
The remarkable society whose light once shone as a beacon to the world is dimming. This is the sobering assessment of Robert Jeffress in Twilight’s Last Gleaming, yet he brings with that diagnosis a remarkably redemptive and hope-filled prescription for American believers. With biblical insight and real-world clarity, Jeffress answers for everyone who wonders what can be done right now—within our culture, our churches, our voting booths and our neighborhoods—to hold off America’s ensuing demise. He points a way out of the malaise, calling believers to action—not to restore a fading empire’s glory, but to make an eternal impact on millions of souls.
In Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Jeffress also devotes an entire chapter to a pressing issue on many Americans’ minds: Who should I vote for in the coming presidential election? “If Christians place pragmatism above principle, we may or may not win the election, but we will lose our soul,” states Jeffress. However, Jeffress also suggests that a candidate’s faith is just one issue to consider when voting. Jeffress asserts, “There’s some value to having a non-Christian like Mitt Romney who embraces biblical principles, rather than a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces unbiblical principles.” He proposes four questions that every believer should ask himself before selecting a candidate:
· Is the candidate a Christian?
· How would a candidate’s faith impact his policies?
· Do his policies align with the Bible?
· How does he view the Constitution?
With a graceful balance between passivism and extreme activism, Jeffress challenges Christians to be “salt” and “light” in a decaying and darkening culture, standing up against the tide of evil that threatens to engulf America. “We cannot predict God’s ultimate judgment, but we can delay it just like Jonah’s obedience did at Nineveh,” says Jeffress. “But the reason that we’re trying to bide time for our country and prevent its premature decay is not so that we can turn America around, but so that we can preach the Good News.”
List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 239 pages
Publisher: Worthy Publishing; 1st edition (January 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
If you are looking for a sweet little “bookette” that is politically cor- rect and safe to read and share with staunch unbelievers so as not to offend them, then put this book down and keep looking.
Dr. Robert Jeffress must not have gotten the memo that says that the pastor of a prominent landmark church that is one of the most influential churches of Christendom is supposed to be noncontro- versial, nonconfrontational, and nonpolitical. Uh-oh! This book is bold! Even while maintaining a kind, gracious, and broken spirit, Dr. Jeffress pulls no punches in calling a lethargic church to its feet for the fight to delay a coming collapse of our nation.
Dr. Jeffress made national news when in the fall of 2010, he broke from the ranks of the “bridled” when he openly declared the threat of radical Islam to our country and culture. No politician has been as blunt in describing the enslavement of women, the violence toward dissidents, and the tyrannical rule of those seeking to impose sharia law. And Dr. Jeffress wasn’t trying to win votes. In fact, he wasn’t even trying to win friends! He was simply proclaiming truth and letting people hear it straight without candy-coating it with preacherisms.
I have admired Dr. Robert Jeffress as pastor of one of the world’s great churches and have enjoyed his company and insight as a friend, but in this book, I stand in awe of the clarity of his convictions and the clarion call for believers to come out of hiding and act like they serve a King!
Read this book prayerfully. Then give it to a friend and urge them to read it. Time is of the essence!
Thankfully, Mike Huckabee
CH A P T ER
The Beginning of the End
Several years ago conservative commentator and former Fox News luminary Glenn Beck tapped into the growing sense of angst that Americans—especially Christian Americans—were feeling about the condition of our country. In August 2010, Beck announced he would hold a nonpartisan rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. with the goal of “Restoring Honor” to America. Some reports estimated that as many as three hundred
- thousand people attended the event.
I happened to be in D.C. the day before the rally, so after fin- ishing my meetings I strolled down to the National Mall that warm
Friday evening and was surprised to see hundreds of people already setting up tents along the mall, preparing to spend the night in order to secure a prime spot for the rally. A father who had traveled hun- dreds of miles with his young family to attend was asked why he had come. “I really don’t know, but I realize something is not right in our country and I want to do something about it.”
That feeling that “something is not right in our country” is not limited to a group of conservatives crowding the National Mall in Washington. According to a recent Gallup Poll, 59 percent of Ameri- cans feel that our country is headed in the wrong direction.1 I have a feeling that because you picked up this book, you are probably in- cluded in that statistic—and for good reason. Perhaps you are deeply disturbed about . . .
- the wholesale effort to remove any and all restrictions on same-sex marriages, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research;
- the failure to protect our borders against illegal immigration, threatening the fiscal and physical well-being of our nation;
- the runaway fiscal deficit that will enslave our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars of debt;
- the hesitancy of government officials, shackled by political correctness, to recognize and verbalize that we are in a war against terror;
- the willingness to abrogate Americans’ First Amendment rights at home to prevent offending Islamic extremists abroad;
- the denial by secularists and even some professing Chris- tians that America was founded as a Christian nation.
You wonder what you should do—and can do—to put the brakes on a country that is seemingly about to go over the cliff. You have an abiding love for your country. You have an even greater allegiance to your Christian faith. You have genuine concerns about the kind of nation in which your children and grandchildren will live.
Whatever his motivation, I admire Glenn Beck for his willing- ness to do something to help turn around a country that has lost his way. As I left D.C. the Saturday morning of Beck’s rally and looked out the airplane window at the hundreds of thousands of patriots gathered below, I began wondering what I could do to make a differ- ence in my country.
- * America’s Coming Collapse *
Maybe you, too, are wondering what you can do to help reverse the course of a nation that has lost its way. Well, I have some bad news and some good news for you. The bad news? America’s demise is in- evitable. I realize that such a statement seems fatalistic, if not down- right unpatriotic. Since I first started discussing the concept of this book with friends, I realized just how unpopular such an assertion is. Whenever I described the theme of my book as “How Christians should respond to America’s coming collapse,” the look on people’s faces was akin to that of having been slapped silly: dismay quickly followed by disgust. “America’s coming collapse? How could you say such a thing?” I understand why people react that way. Those of us privileged to live in the greatest country in history have been con- ditioned to believe that the tenacity and resiliency of the American spirit will ultimately triumph over any adversity we encounter. Yet a simple reading of the Bible tells us that America’s days are numbered
- because this planet’s days are numbered:
And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heav- ens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
Notice that “American exceptionalism” (the idea that America is superior to any other nation that has ever existed) will not exempt our nation from the ultimate destruction that awaits the entire world.
Furthermore, the Bible reveals that America will cease to exist before the world comes to an end. According to Daniel 7 and Revela- tion 17, during the final seven years of earth’s history there will be a worldwide dictator (commonly referred to as Antichrist) who will preside over a ten-nation confederacy. All national distinctions will be eliminated, meaning that the United States Constitution will be abolished.
How can I make such an assertion? Our Constitution guarantees our right to elect our governing officials and to worship freely. Yet during the final seven years of history, this worldwide dictator will rise to power without a vote by the American people, and he will abrogate our most cherished freedoms, demanding that he alone be worshipped. Such a usurpation of power can only occur by the abo-
lition of our Constitution. And once the Constitution is gone, the
United States of America as we know it will cease to exist.
* Can We Postpone Our Nation’s Collapse? *
Enough of the bad news; here is the good news. Although we can’t prevent the ultimate collapse of our nation and destruction of the world, we can postpone it. We have both the ability and responsibili- ty to delay the decay of our nation, even if we can’t ultimately reverse it. Why should we work to postpone the inevitable? The same reason we exercise, take medicine, and watch our diets. While those efforts can’t prevent our ultimate demise, such actions can delay it!
The motivation for Christians working to delay the coming col- lapse of our nation is not to preserve our way of life, but to buy more time to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible before America is swept away by God’s judgment.
Most evangelical Christians understand (even if they don’t obey) the mandate to serve as lights in this dark world, pointing people to Christ’s offer of salvation to all who believe. But I have discovered that many Christians do not comprehend Jesus’ command to delay the decay of our culture by acting as “salt” in the world (Matthew
5:13). Many Christians equate efforts to stop the murder of the un- born, uphold the biblical principles of morality, and elect godly lead- ers with rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. “If we are going down anyway, why bother?” people wonder.
I understand that sentiment because I used to feel the same way. During the first eighteen years of my ministry I rarely said anything about social issues from the pulpit and felt no need to encourage my flock to get involved politically. I was not about to sully my pastoral
calling by entangling myself in secondary efforts that, according to my understanding of the end times, were futile anyway.
However, I have a different perspective today. While our respon- sibility to delay our culture’s decay is not our primary mission here on earth, it is a necessary prerequisite if we are to fulfill our ultimate calling of pointing people to Jesus Christ. At this critical time in our nation’s history, we cannot afford to sit back with folded hands as we wait for “the end.” God is calling you and me to stand up and push back against the tide of unrighteousness that threatens to engulf our country.
What specifically can you do to effect real change in our country? And how do you balance your primary calling to share the gospel with the calling to stand up against ungodliness in our nation? My trip to Washington D.C. that hot August weekend was the beginning of my own journey to discover the answer to those critical questions that would change my life and ministry forever.
* The Islamic Explosion *
It was during this same period of time that an Islamic imam in New York City proposed building a mosque near Ground Zero. I had par- ticipated in a debate a few weeks earlier on MSNBC with a Jewish rab- bi who surprisingly supported building the mosque. I countered that it was no more appropriate for American Muslims to build a mosque at Ground Zero than it would be for Japanese Americans to build a shrine to Emperor Hirohito at Pearl Harbor. Fortunately, television anchor Contessa Brewer unwittingly pitched me a question right over home plate when she asked, “Pastor Jeffress, why are you character- izing Islam with such a broad brush as a violent religion?”
I responded, “Well, Contessa, I have just been listening to your broadcast for the past ten minutes and heard you report about ten Christian relief workers murdered by Muslim gunmen in Afghan- istan, then you reported about a Saudi Arabian woman stoned to death for adultery while her lover was set free, and finally you just reported about a German mosque being shut down because it was a launching pad for attacks. The American people are waking up to the true nature of Islam.”
With that media confrontation still fresh in my mind, it seemed only natural to say something to my congregation about the debate raging in the country at that time about the mosque at Ground Zero in particular, but also the larger issue concerning Islam itself. After all, a Pew Research poll reveals that 57 percent of evangelical Chris- tians believe that there are multiple paths to God.2 If Islam is one of those alternate roads that leads to the same God, why should Chris- tians condemn the faith choice of 1.3 billion people on our planet?
Endless conservative commentators argued against building the mosque at Ground Zero, but in the next breath they affirmed, “Is- lam is a religion of peace.” That made no sense to me. If Islam were truly a peaceful religion, then why should anyone object to building a mosque at Ground Zero? If people wrongly associated the religion of Islam with the attacks of 9/11, should we give credence to peoples’ distorted view of Islam by refusing to build a place of worship for this so-called religion of peace?
I thought our church’s annual “Ask the Pastor” service, during which members ask me any question they desire, would be the per- fect forum for me to address the subject of Islam. Maybe this was the arena in which I could stand for truth and contribute in some way to reversing the downward spiral of our nation. No, it wasn’t
the National Mall, and I wasn’t Glenn Beck. But we all have to start
That evening a college student asked me to talk about true nature of Islam in light of recent events. I responded:
It makes no sense for people to say Islam is a peaceful religion and then object to building a mosque at Ground Zero. The truth is that Islam is a religion that incites violence around the world. It is a religion that promotes pedophilia. The founder of Islam, this so-called prophet Mohammed, raped a nine-year old girl Aisha and took her as his bride. Today, Muslim men around the world use his example as an excuse for taking brides—some as young as four years old. It is a religion that oppresses women. Just look at the example of women living under sharia law around the world. But for Christians, the worst thing about Islam is that it is a false religion that leads people away from the true God. As Christians and conservatives it is time for us to take the gloves off and tell the truth about this evil, evil religion.
The congregation immediately rose to their feet in an explosive and sustained ovation. I had taken a stand, said what I thought need- ed to be said, and was ready to move on to the next question.
Several days later, someone in our church who monitors blogs mentioned to me that a local online publication had picked up my comments on Islam and was posting particularly angry responses from readers. I thought nothing about it until a local television re- porter called and asked for a comment from me to run in a less- than-flattering story they were doing about my remarks.
Then a popular columnist (and fellow Baptist) from the Dallas Morning News called me for a friendly chat, giving me a chance to either retract or support the statements I had made about Islam.
I sent him some sources for my comments, including one from CBS News relating to the underage marriages in third-world countries that were motivated by Islamic beliefs. His e-mail to me the next day closed with, “Robert, I am afraid you are not going to like my column on Sunday.” I did not know how right he was.
- * Un-American and Un-Christian? *
On Sunday morning I, along with many in my congregation, opened the Dallas Morning News to find this headline: “Dallas pastor’s broad- brush criticism of Islam goes way too far,” followed by this opening paragraph:
It’s hard to know where to start in expressing dismay with the Rev. Robert Jeffress—for being uninformed, un-Christian or un- American. The pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist church managed to squeeze all three into recent rant against Islam. . . .3
What followed was a passionate attempt to show that there is ab- solutely no evidence to support the claim that Islam incites violence around the world, oppresses women, or in any way supports mar- riage to underage children. The columnist interviewed a theology professor and expert in Islam at a local university who did not deny Muhammad’s marriage to a nine-year-old girl but excused it on that basis that the girl “was chosen by God” and became a “trusted source of sayings from Muhammad.”4 Furthermore, the professor said that I was endangering our troops abroad by speaking out against Islam— a claim I found somewhat laughable. Will our enemies hate us less if we say nice things about their religion?
And apparently I was being un-Christian by calling Islam an evil religion. The professor opined that I had broken at least three biblical commandments in my comments, including “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The professor must think that Jesus was also “un-Christian” when He criticized the Pharisees, whom He referred to as a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33).
Knowing that many in my congregation were reading this indict- ment of their pastor before they came to church, I felt like I had to make a response to the columnist. Before I began my sermon that Sunday, I said that I had a few comments I wanted to make: “Many of you read the column in the Dallas Morning News accusing me of being uninformed, un-American, and un-Christian. Whether I am un-Christian and un-American is something readers will have to de- cide for themselves. But uninformed I am not. . . .”
I then delivered a ten-minute rebuttal to the columnist, citing evidence for the claims I had made, and concluded, “And so I stand by my statements from two weeks ago about Islam. It is a false reli- gion, based on a false book, written by a false prophet.”
Again, the congregation stood in unison and applauded wildly. Assuming this would end up on the evening news, I felt obliged to add, “For those of you watching on television, please do not equate this applause with a hatred for Muslims. We love Muslims and want to see them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But you can never point people to the right path to God unless you first of all convince them that they are on the wrong path to God.”
The statement not only made the evening news, but nearly three hundred thousand people downloaded the video clip from YouTube over the next few weeks, and the church was flooded with e-mails from around the world. The majority were very supportive. Some from Canada and Europe said that I did not present half of what I
could have shared about radical Islamists and their goal of world domination. Of course, there were a few who accused me of being demon-possessed or paid by Fox News to make my comments.
But what astounded me was the number of professing Christians who were convinced that speaking out against another religion was inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ. One wrote:
The [First Baptist Church pastor’s] comments about Islam serve only to foster bigotry and hatred, not understanding and toler- ance. Anyone who thinks Islam is an evil religion does not un- derstand what Islam is all about, and I am speaking as a lifelong Christian and a Baptist. As for his comments about Islam be- ing a “false religion built upon a false book written by a false prophet”—so what? . . . Being an American and living in the USA means that we tolerate all religions and respect freedom of choice in religious matters.5
* The Real Dilemma *
Even some of my closest friends who agreed with everything I said questioned the wisdom of being so vocal about a potentially volatile subject. Some law enforcement officials warned me of the necessity of increased security around my family and the church. After all, Islamic death warrants had been issued for people making much less inflammatory statements than I had made. Was it really worth en- dangering my own safety as well as the safety of our congregation by making such incendiary comments?
Our church was just beginning a $123 million building project for our new campus in the heart of downtown Dallas. One trusted
deacon warned me, “Your comments might jeopardize the church’s ability to obtain financing for this project. Do you really want to risk your life, your ability to preach the gospel, and everything you have dreamed of for our church by speaking out against Islam?”
It’s one thing to have bloggers criticize your message, methods, and motives. But to hear a friend voice such a concern would make anyone stop and think. It certainly did me. Why did I feel so com- pelled to speak out against Islam at this particular time? Was I simply capitalizing on the feelings of Islamophobia sweeping the country as America approached another anniversary of September 11? Was the issue really worth endangering my life and jeopardizing my minis- try? My brother, who serves as an elder in a Presbyterian church, bluntly asked me, “Would you rather be known as a culture warrior or a preacher of the gospel? If you are not careful, your legacy is go- ing to be the former rather than the latter.”
Ouch. During my thirty-five years of ministry I have taken well-publicized stands against homosexuality, abortion, and dis- crimination against Christians. I have been threatened with physi- cal violence and with the loss of our church’s tax-exempt status by the ACLU and other like-minded groups. As America continues to “slouch toward Gomorrah,” as Judge Robert Bork described,6 it is easy to see political and social activism as the quick fix to our cul- ture’s social and spiritual ills. Many people think that if we can just elect the right candidates, who in turn will enact the right laws, we can “save America.” Perhaps you, too, have been tempted to focus on political solutions to reverse the decay that is eroding the moral and spiritual foundation of our nation.
Yet consider the example of the apostle Paul. This warrior for the Christian faith lived under one of the most godless, oppressive regimes in human history. No government was more hostile toward
Christianity than the Roman Empire. In fact, it was Rome’s anti- Christian sentiment that was responsible for Paul’s imprisonment and eventual martyrdom.
But what was Paul’s attitude about his persecution? Did he pen a letter from prison with the underlying theme “when bad things hap- pen to good Christians like me”? Did he attempt to mobilize Chris- tians into a political movement that would overthrow the Roman emperor Nero? To the contrary, Paul was amazingly sanguine about his imprisonment. Nineteen times in his short letter to the Philip- pians Paul refers to “joy,” “rejoicing,” or “gladness.” Why was Paul so upbeat about his depressing situation? He explains in his opening words:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)
Had Paul’s goal in life been an existence filled with pleasure and void of pain, then his imprisonment would have been a tragedy. He would have written, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out to be a giant detour in my plan for my life.” But Paul had a greater purpose for living than peace and prosperity. He had dedicated his life to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible. And it was through the lens of that grand purpose that he viewed every circumstance in his life, including his suffering.
The result? Far from being a catastrophe, Paul’s imprisonment served as a catalyst in helping him fulfill his mission. Because Paul was in chains, other Christians were being emboldened to share their faith like the apostle. Paul’s focus was not on reversing the social injustices that had landed him in jail but on the great opportunity these injustices had provided him to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But the apostle doesn’t stop there.
* Against the Night *
Paul moves beyond his own situation, encouraging you and me to adopt the same purpose and therefore utilize the same “lens” through which to view the dark culture in which we live:
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse genera- tion, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (Philippians
I want you to carefully reread the phrase “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Is there any better description of the culture in which we are living, more than two thousand years later? Someone has said that there is no century more like the first century than the twenty-first century. Both are characterized by wholesale immorality and hostility toward Christianity.
Yet Paul did not admonish the Christians in Philippi to straighten
out their crooked culture. He did not call on them to instigate a re- bellion against the Roman government. Instead, he reminded them that against the darkness of their world they were to be “children of God . . . holding fast the word of life.”
Several weeks ago I gained a little more insight into the metaphor Paul is employing in this passage. My youngest daughter was getting ready to leave for her freshman year in college, so I invited her to go shopping with me, thinking we would spend an hour or so at the mall, perhaps purchasing a dress from her favorite store.
But as soon as we arrived at the shopping center, she made a bee- line into a jewelry store. She already had in mind what her parting gift would be, and it would cost more than I had anticipated spend- ing! She had her heart set on a ring she had seen a few weeks earlier and asked the salesman to see it again.
I knew immediately this jeweler was an experienced salesman. Instead of simply bringing us the ring to inspect, he first laid a piece of black felt on top of the display counter. He then placed the ring on top of that black cloth. The brilliance of the ring nearly blinded me—even to the price. It was spectacular! The salesman understood a truth about jewelry that the apostle Paul understood the gospel message: the darker the background, the brighter the light.
The jeweler had one purpose in his encounter with us: to make the sale. Instead of cursing the black felt background, the jeweler used the darkness to highlight the beauty of the stone, creating in us an even greater desire to purchase the ring.
The apostle Paul was also motivated by a singular purpose in life: “selling” the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. Assuming that the Philippians, as well as all of us who are Christ- followers, would be inspired by the same purpose, Paul encourages us to take advantage of the darkness of the culture in order to high-light the brilliance of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. We are to appear in this dark world as “as lights, holding out the Word of Life.” Instead of allowing the daily flow of negativity from the media or forwarded e-mails from friends to drive us to despair, we should see our present situation for what it is: an unprecedented chance to point people to the hope of Jesus Christ. Why? The darker the background,
the brighter the light!
- * What Is Your Focus in Life? *
I’m convinced that one reason Christians are so discouraged and frightened about the condition of our country is that, unlike the apostle Paul, their lives are focused on personal peace, prosperity, and the avoidance of pain. No wonder they are frightened by terror- ist threats, health-care reform, fiscal insolvency, and open hostility
to all things Christian. They realize that their private worlds are in danger of being turned upside down. After all, if the focus of your life is money, then the thought of higher taxes is very disturbing. If the focus of your life is convenience, then the prospect of government- run health care is a nightmare. If the focus of your life is avoiding death, then the prospect of a terrorist attack is alarming.
Recently in a sermon I encouraged our members to watch cable news less and read their Bibles more to gain God’s perspective on the world. I mentioned one specific commentator whose daily homilies would cause anyone to want to retreat into an underground bunker while awaiting the end. Boy, did I hit a nerve! One elderly couple in our church confronted me and said, “We can’t believe you told us to quit watching that commentator. We have to watch him every day because we’re old, and we’re afraid!” As my children used to say to
- me, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” No wonder this couple is fearful!
But the real answer to this couple’s fear is not just a change of channels but a change of focus. Fear is like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. When the Check Engine light appears, you probably don’t drive to the dealer and say, “I’ve got a problem with my car. This warning indicator won’t go off. Would you please dis- connect the light?” The illuminated light is an indicator of some- thing else wrong with your car.
In the same way, fear is not so much a problem itself as an indica- tor of something else wrong in your life. Almost without exception anxiety is an indicator that we have built our lives around the tem- poral rather than the eternal. When our sense of well-being in life depends on our net worth, our jobs, our health, or our family, then we become fearful when those things are threatened.
But when we share the same passion that permeated every fi- ber in Paul’s life—the spreading of the kingdom of God throughout the world—then we will we view a darkening and threatening world differently. Government instability, economic uncertainty, cultural decay, and international chaos provide the perfect backdrop for dis- playing the contrasting brilliance of Jesus Christ. Instead of cursing the darkness, we should welcome it!
When Paul encourages Christians to appear as lights in the world, he is simply echoing the words of Jesus Christ:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid- den. Nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)
Imagine walking into your home one night after having dinner out with your spouse. What is the first thing you do when you walk into a dark house? Do you start whining, “Why, oh why, is it so dark in here? I’m afraid of who might be lurking in the corner, ready to pounce on me”? Or would you say to your spouse, “I don’t care for this darkness. We need to sell this house and move to someplace where there is more light”? Instead of complaining about or fleeing from the darkness, you would simply displace the darkness by turn- ing on the light! The best remedy for darkness is light.
Jesus is reminding all of His followers that He has left us in this world for a reason. We are here not to fear the darkness or aban- don the darkness, but our assignment is to displace the darkness by holding up the light of the gospel. Jesus, the Light of the World, has returned to heaven. But while He is away preparing for His return to earth, He has installed an auxiliary lighting system in the world. It is called the church. In the book of the Revelation, the apostle John compares the church to seven golden lampstands, illuminating the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:12, 20).
- * Left Behind . . . for a Reason *
All of this talk about Christians being the “light of the world” is not just some warm, devotional thought to encourage you to be nicer to other people. You will never understand your purpose for living until you grasp this concept. If you ask the average Christian, “What do you think God’s purpose for your life is?” they will hem and haw, or give you a deer-caught-in- the-headlights stare.
- Ask a more mature Christian the same question about his pur-
pose in life and he might answer, “To enjoy fellowship with God.” That sounds like a good response, until you think about it. If God’s purpose for your life were to enjoy a relationship with Him, then it only makes sense that the moment He saved you, He would zap you off this planet and take you to heaven, where you could enjoy a perfect relationship with Him. Frankly, God could enjoy a much more fulfilling relation- ship with you in heaven than He is experiencing with you on earth.
After all, God is lucky to get a few minutes alone with most of us each day. He continually has to compete with distractions for our affection and attention. No wonder the famed evangelist of yester- year Billy Sunday used to say that the best thing a person could do would be to come to one of his revivals, get saved, walk out into the street, get hit by a truck, and go immediately to heaven! There, the new convert could enjoy a perfect relationship with God for eternity, untainted by sin.
But Jesus and Paul are saying God’s plan for our lives is different than Billy Sunday’s “get saved, get killed, go to heaven” plan. God has chosen to temporarily forgo a better relationship with you in heaven and leave you in this dark world for one purpose: to light up the place with the good news of Jesus Christ!
You are not here to build a bulging portfolio of financial assets, to make a name for yourself, or to wring as much pleasure as possible out of the seventy or eighty years of your life. Instead, God chose to
leave you on earth to point as many people as possible to the sav- ing power of Jesus Christ. The Lord was clear about His reason for coming to earth: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And Jesus was equally clear about His reason for leaving you and me on the earth. His final command to His disciples was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the na- tions” (Matthew 28:19).
Without trying to put you on a guilt trip, let me ask you a simple question. What is your strategy for fulfilling Jesus’ command? You probably have some kind of plan to earn a degree from school, to further your career, to help your children maximize their potential, and to provide for your family’s current and future financial needs. What is your plan for fulfilling the one purpose for which God has left you on earth?
If you don’t have such a plan, you are not alone. A few months ago when I started focusing on the unique calling of Christians to be lights in this crooked and perverse generation, I challenged our church members who were sincerely concerned about the direction of their nation to join me in the only strategy that will make a lasting difference in our country. Face it, both the Republican and Demo- cratic political parties are ideologically bankrupt when it comes to reversing the downward course of our country. The only way to change our nation is by changing the individuals who make up our nation by introducing them to Jesus Christ. With the rallying cry “The only way to save America is by saving Americans,” one thou- sand of our congregation’s members committed to becoming part of what we called “The Pastor’s Light Force”—a group of men and women who wanted to change our nation by introducing people to Jesus Christ.
Realizing that most Christians don’t have a strategy for being “lights” in the world, we shared with these thousand members a sim- ple strategy for introducing people to Jesus Christ—a strategy I will describe in chapter 5.
* Don’t Forget to Add Salt *
Am I insinuating that Christians are to make evangelism their sole focus in life and withdraw from any political involvement? Not at all. Jesus said that Christians have another role in this world besides serving as light.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. (Mat- thew 5:13)
In the days before refrigerators, salt was used to keep meat from spoiling. Salt prevented premature decay. However, eventually the meat would decay and have to be discarded. Salt couldn’t prevent decay; it could only give meat a longer shelf life.
When Jesus encourages believers to be “salt” in the world, He is reminding us that while we will never be able to reverse the decay in our culture caused by the curse of sin, we can slow down the process. By how we live and what we do, we can delay the collapse of our na- tion and our world. In describing the final world ruler, commonly referred to as the Antichrist, the apostle Paul writes:
And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:6–7)
Specifically, Paul refers to the church as the force that is restrain- ing the torrent of evil that will finally be poured out during the final
seven years of earth’s history. Perhaps this visual image will help you understand the truth Paul is teaching.
Picture fifty thousand Christians with their backs pressed against Hoover Dam as leaks begin springing out from the loosened bricks in that massive structure. This band of believers realize they will not be able to prevent the eventual collapse of the dam, but perhaps they can postpone it for a little while so that as many residents living in the path of the inevitable flood can be saved. Their goal is not to repair the dam but to stall the collapse of the dam in order to rescue people.
Similarly, there is nothing you and I can do to prevent the even- tual collapse of the world under the weight of sin—a collapse that will coincide with God’s final judgments during the Tribulation and the return of Jesus Christ. It is all part of God’s immutable plan. The role the United States of America will play during those final years of earth’s history is unclear. What is clear is that our nation will not be exempt from God’s final judgment against the earth, indicating that we will not be able to reverse the downward spiral of sin. But we can postpone it.
Delay God’s judgment? You may be wondering, Don’t you believe in the sovereignty of God? Don’t you realize that there is nothing we can do to postpone the day of judgment that God has already placed on His calendar? After two advanced seminary degrees and thirty-five years of preaching and teaching the Bible, I must confess that God’s sovereignty is a mystery I cannot begin to fathom. But what is clear to me from Scripture is that our action—as well as our inaction— does have real consequences.
Consider the prophet Jonah’s activities in the wicked city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Through the preaching of this re- luctant prophet, many of the city’s residents repented of their evil
wickedness. And how did God respond?
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (Jo- nah 3:10)
I have read and heard countless attempts to explain away this verse. “What this verse really means is that . . .” Here’s a good rule of thumb for interpreting the Bible: when the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense! The text plainly says that God had planned to rain down judgment upon the residents of Nineveh. However, be- cause they turned away from sin, God postponed His destruction of the city, which eventually did collapse in 612 BC. What was the catalyst for the Ninevites’ change of heart that led to God’s change of mind? The actions of one man named Jonah.
- * You Can Make a Difference *
Although this story raises as many questions as it provides answers, one principle flashes like a neon sign: believers can make a differ- ence in their world. From our admittedly limited perspective, we can postpone God’s judgment against our nation by acting as salt and preserving righteousness in our nation.
Why should we care about delaying the inevitable judgment of God? For one reason: to give unbelievers a little longer to turn to Je- sus Christ and escape eternal separation from God. People frequent- ly ask, “Why does God allow evil to run rampant in the world? Why
doesn’t He just go ahead and send Christ back to reclaim the world
- and end this whole mess?”
The apostle Peter answered that question in his final letter to a hurting church. Christians who were enduring tremendous persecu- tion were asking the apostle, “Why doesn’t Christ return and end our suffering?” Unbelievers were asking a variation of the same ques- tion: “If Christ really exists, why doesn’t He come back and fulfill His promise?” Peter says there is only one reason that God is allowing the world to continue as it is before He draws everything to a close:
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:9–10)
Here is a revealing glimpse into the heart of God. Yes, He is a God of judgment, but He is also a God of mercy. His desire is not to judge as many people as possible but to save as many people as possible. One mark of a true follower of Christ is that we mirror that same passion for rescuing those who are in danger of being swept away by the flood of God’s final judgments.
Joni Eareckson Tada has spent more than forty years in a wheel- chair as a quadriplegic. Recently, she was also diagnosed with breast cancer. An interviewer asked Joni the inevitable question: “Why does God allow suffering in the world instead of ending it all with His return?” Joni answered, not as an armchair theologian but as a wheelchair-bound disciple who reflects the redemptive heart of God:
The rule of thumb is that we experience much suffering because
we live in a fallen world and it is groaning under the weight of a heavy curse. If God being good means he has to get rid of sin, it means he would have to get rid of sinners. God is a God of great generosity and great mercy, so he is keeping the execution
of suffering. He’s not closing the curtain on suffering until there is more time to gather more people into the fold of Christ’s fel- lowship.7
Joni correctly reasons that an end to her suffering would also mean an end to unbelievers’ opportunity to trust in Christ. So she waits patiently for that future day while she works to be salt and light in the present day. If Joni is willing to stay in her wheelchair a little longer and postpone her eventual healing so that others might come to know Christ, shouldn’t we be willing to get up out of our chairs and do whatever we can to delay the inevitable “closing of the cur- tain” for the same purpose?
- * Standing Up and Shining Bright *
This book is about what you and I can do during these final years of earth’s history—or of our own history—to be the salt and light Christ commanded us to be. Notice that Jesus’ instruction to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13–15) is not an “either/or” command but a “both/and” mandate. As light, we are to illuminate the saving power of Jesus Christ. As salt, we are to stand up against the tide of unrigh- teousness that is sweeping our country, evidenced by the wholesale acceptance of sexual perversion, cruelty toward children, and idola- try. As we will see, these are three sins that are guaranteed to bring God’s judgment against any nation.
Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted an attitude of passivity toward those sins God has labeled as abominations: ho- mosexuality, the murder of unborn children, and elevation of false gods at the expense of worshipping the true God. We have cloaked our indifference with piety (“I’m going to focus on my relationship with God”), theology (“I can’t change God’s sovereign plan”), and even patriotism (“I shouldn’t impose my morality on others in a free country”).
Yet whenever God’s people refuse to be salt and stand up against unrighteousness, evil always triumphs. And God’s judgment always comes. We only have to travel back in history sixty-five years to see the end result of passivity that is covered in a veneer of piety, the- ology, and misplaced patriotism. Many German Christians used all three rationales for excusing their inaction against the evil of Adolph Hitler.
Erwin Lutzer recounts a testimony from a Christian living in
- Germany about the end result of indifference:
I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered my- self a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We be- came disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming and when
we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.8
It’s time for Christians to intervene. In the chapters that follow we will discuss some practical ways to stand up against the rising tide of evil that is destroying our nation. In our discussion we will tackle some difficult dilemmas such as . . .
- Should Christians join with Mormons and other non-Chris- tian groups to oppose abortion and same-sex marriages?
- Is it better to elect a qualified non-Christian or an unqualified Christian to office?
- Should Christians seek preferential treatment for their faith in a pluralistic society?
- What would Jesus really say about health-care reform, fiscal policy, and illegal immigration?
- When should Christians disobey the government?
* Don’t Forget the Mission *
We must never lose sight of our ultimate goal in standing up against unrighteousness. God has not called us to save our country. Instead, He has commanded us to save those who are living in our country from His coming judgment. Salt restores nothing; it only buys us a
little more time to shine the light of the gospel in this increasingly dark world.
Allow me to be blunt. Outlawing same-sex marriages, reducing the number of abortions performed each year, or displaying the Ten Commandments in every classroom in America will not increase the eventual population of heaven by one solitary person apart from the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, if we are not careful, we could actually decrease the number of people in heaven if we ever compro- mise our long-range mission to achieve short-term goals.
When a prominent Christian leader joins with a popular mem- ber of a non-Christian cult to fight immorality and justifies the alli- ance by saying, “We have to save America first and then worry about theology,” he is telegraphing the not-so-subtle message that tempo- ral concerns supersede eternal issues.
Most people have been conditioned to relegate “theology” to ir- relevant issues like the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin or speculative topics such as predestination and free will. How- ever, theology is “the study of God.” What could be more important than a person’s understanding of his Creator and what He requires of His creatures? As A. W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into a person’s mind when he thinks about God is the most important thing about that person.”9A person’s belief about God shapes his life on earth and determines his destiny for eternity. When Christian leaders imply that the differences between Christianity and a cult like Mormonism are minimal compared to their agreement on social concerns, we are in danger of jeopardizing our unique mission to be lights in this dark world.
I was recently invited to lead a pro-life march of several thousand people in Dallas to the Dallas city courthouse, where the landmark case Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion in America, began. The march
was to begin in front of another church that denies that faith in Christ alone is the only way to be saved. By joining hands with the leader of that church and marching together to protest abortion, what mes- sage would I be communicating? Is it possible that someone seeing
me alongside this religious leader might assume that the differences in our beliefs are inconsequential? Could my actions cause someone to become part of that congregation and embrace a belief system that will result in his eternal separation from God? Would I have not only surrendered but actually sabotaged my most important calling as a Christian in order to achieve a lesser goal? Honestly, I’m still wres- tling with those issues.
However, I’m certain that in heaven abortions will be nonexis- tent since there will be no death. In the eternal state there will be no same-sex marriages—or marriage of any kind for that matter. When Christ reigns over the earth, there will be no need to display the Ten Commandments anywhere, since God’s law will be written on the heart of every occupant of heaven. The culture war will eventually be won in the new heaven and the new earth. But the real war that is raging on earth right now is a spiritual war for the eternal souls of every human being. Paul describes our enemy’s goal in that war:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are per- ishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians
Satan, “the god of this world,” is working overtime to blind un- believers to the “light of the gospel” so that they will remain in dark- ness for all eternity. As those who have been charged with the re-
sponsibility to hold out the light of the gospel, we must not diminish or diffuse that light by sacrificing the eternal for the temporal. Cur- ing serious but short-term social ills should never take precedence over healing man’s spiritual sickness. After all, cultural maladies are simply symptoms of a much more dangerous disease. In the pages that follow we will seek to find the balance between standing up for righteousness in order to preserve our culture from premature de- struction and shining bright with the unique message of the gospel.
However, don’t confuse balance with passivity. Whatever we do, we cannot allow complacency to neutralize our resolve to fight evil or jeopardize our ultimate mission of pointing people to Christ. Remember, being salt and light does not have to be an “either/or” proposition. As Christians, we must be both.
While it is true that far too many Christians remained silent dur- ing the rise of Nazi Germany, there was a remnant of believers who stood tall against the tide of evil without compromising their ulti- mate message. Albert Einstein, a Jew who was exiled from Germany, made this startling confession about how a small but determined group of believers interested him in Christianity:
Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks.
I then addressed myself to the authors, to those who had passed themselves off as the intellectual guides of Germany, and
among whom was frequently discussed the question of freedom and its place in modern life. They are, in turn, very dumb.
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth. I never had any special in- terest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral free- dom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.10
Once again there is a tidal wave of evil that is threatening to overwhelm our country. If we sit on the sidelines, we not only ensure the destruction of our nation but consign countless souls to an eter- nity of separation from God. It is time for the church to stand up for righteousness and shine brightly with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must not allow evil to triumph during the twilight years of America.