It amazes me that anyone around here comes to Christ at all. And it is no surprise that less than 3% of my fellow citizens of Marin County attend church services on Easter Sunday.
Here are thumbnail sketches of items I read in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Two teenaged brothers in Redding, California, shot two homosexuals to death because they thought it was their ‘Christian duty’ to do so. An ex-Protestant minister was in town to promote his new book on Tibetan Buddhism.
A Catholic priest in Santa Rosa, arrested for molesting altar boys over the course of fifteen years, made a plea bargain with the district attorney’s office. A Baptist pastor in the South Bay, convicted of embezzling church funds, was sent to state prison. The daughter of a Protestant minister, after recovering lost childhood memories, sued her now-retired father for sexual abuse.
A professional football player, active in Christian ministry, received three years probation for drug use and sales. An archaeologist made fun of the Bible’s account of Noah’s Ark in a lecture at a local college. A school board in a southern state passed a resolution prohibiting fundamentalists from displaying the Ten Commandments in schoolrooms.
An Alabama judge’s decision that evolution can not be taught in the schools was overturned. The pastor of a Pentecostal church in Oakland disappeared with the money raised to get the congregation ready for Y2K. A local radio preacher announced that Jesus would not return on 1 January 2000 but on 1 January 2001.
You don’t want to hear about the previous week.
It amazes me that anyone is ever converted around here. But, once in a while, someone is. I know this is California; nevertheless, what is reported in the Chronicle reaches newspapers across the country.
And what I reported about the newspaper items is nothing compared with the wacko stuff on so-called ‘Christian’ television and radio. (I won’t discourage you by describing it.)
And then there are the surrounding churches themselves. When I talk about it to others in different parts of the country, they think I am making it up or at least exaggerating. Well, believe me or not, here is some of it.
First, let me tell you how I know. Some people around here (very few) are ‘church shoppers’, that is, they shop around for a church to belong to. Or they attend churches for short periods just to hear some special lecture-series or concerts. Or, perhaps, a disgruntled former member returns with tales to tell.
The combination of these gives me a good idea of what is out there. But more pertinent, I know most of the ministers around here and occasionally meet with them. Therefore, my information is not completely hearsay; some of it is actually personal and direct.
Several pastors of local churches do not consider themselves Christians and say it from the pulpit. One is a Hindu, another is a self-described agnostic, and a third is a ‘post-modern’ seeker after truth wherever it might be found. I am not ‘telling on them’, nor am I passing on negative information. These pastors are proud of their spiritual attainments. Their churches are the largest and wealthiest in southern Marin County.
Then there are the homeless. One wears a red hooded sweatshirt so that he will always be covered in the blood of Jesus. This morning I saw him in front of the 7-11 Store with the hood pulled closed across his face. Many people in town know he does this to keep the demons out (He has made this clear himself and does so as a kind of ‘witness’.). He imagines himself a glamour expert, and frequently approaches women with tips on how to beautify themselves for Jesus.
Another is forever running for various local political office and on the ballot lists his occupation as ‘minister’. On one television interview, panel discussion, or debate after another, he makes a mockery of Christianity and the Bible with his strange deranged comments. He is widely known for lugging around a huge copy of a Bible that was printed in the early 1500s.
As a Christian, I am not proud of this, nor am I trying to raise money to combat the evil around me. I do not consider myself to be a better minister than any other. It is simply that given it all, I am amazed that anyone is ever converted.
Blind and bound
Here is another reason I am amazed that anyone ever trusts in Jesus. Satan has blinded the minds of the unconverted. Paul describes this blinding in 2 Corinthians 4:4. Satan, the god of this age, blinds in ways we do not understand. Jesus said Satan uses pretended signs and wonders in order to deceive (Matthew 24:24).
Additionally, our sin keeps us from salvation. Because of our sin we hate the light of Christ and will not come to him out of fear that our sins will be exposed (John 3:19-21). The Bible says that sin produces spiritual death, so that by nature we can know nothing of Jesus and his truth (Ephesians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14).
It amazes me that anyone is ever converted. When I think of it too much I feel discouraged. And I do not see things getting any better (barring an awakening). But even without revivals and awakenings, some are being converted.
I see it right here at Miller Avenue. In fact, God is constantly calling to himself those he has ordained to eternal life. I take great courage, hope, and confidence from Acts 13:48, which tells us that ‘all who were appointed to eternal life believed’. Though Paul’s fellow Jews rejected the gospel, others (Gentiles in this case) did come to Jesus.
Jesus ‘came to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). He searches for us as the shepherd pursues the lost sheep and as the woman seeks a lost coin. When found, we are received as the father welcomes a lost son (Luke 15).
It is not my practice to wring my hands and lament the lack of success of the gospel. My task is to preach the gospel, knowing that God will save those whom he will. No one can come to Jesus unless they are drawn by the Father, but as we preach ‘Christ and him crucified’, the Father does just that. ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17).
What God did for me he will do for others. Despite my deadness, blindness, fear and error, he saved me. Yes, it still amazes me!