Bible Speaks by Rev. L. Althouse
Nov. 23, 2014
Background Scripture: Ezekiel 47:13-23; Acts 2:37-47
The lesson for this week can be speedily summed up in the quotation from Acts 2:38 that the multidenominational Uniform Lesson Committee has tacked on to Ezekiel 47:13-23: “Peter replied, ‘Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
God provides the grace and power to rescue our lives from the sins we have committed, but we must be willing to participate in the changing of our hearts and lives.
A reporter was interviewing an old farmer approaching his 90th birthday. “Old- timer,” he said, “I suppose you have seen a lot of changes in your lifetime.”
“Yes,” retorted the farmer. “There sure have, and I’ve been agin’ every blasted one of ‘em.”
We probably all know people – perhaps ourselves – who have been against a lot, and for very little. The reason is mostly because many of us don’t like change. We may resist change simply because we like to control our lives.
Back in the early 1960s I saw the Broadway musical, “Stop The World, I Want To Get Off.”
Anthony Newley was the show’s star and director and he also helped write the script. He played the part of a man who doggedly resisted the growing number of changes life was forcing upon him. He didn’t like those changes and was determined to resist them – which he ultimately failed to do.
Ezekiel 47:13-23 promises the Jewish exiles that God will give them new life as a returned people, but it involves changes of many kinds. God is willing to give His people new life, another chance, but this requires of them a new attitude.
There was hardly a major biblical character who wasn’t challenged to change: Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David – all of them eventually said “Yes” instead of “No.” It took the Hebrew escapees from Egypt 40 years before they were ready to cross into the Promised Land.
The scientist Max Planck believed new scientific truth often does not triumph because its opponents have been won over, but because its opponents eventually die and a new generation familiar with it grows up. I think that applies to other kinds of truth as well.
Not like Christ!
E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) was a 20th century American Methodist missionary and theologian. He spent much of his life in India working to find the means of presenting Christianity in an Indian society.
Jones spent much time with Mahatma Ghandi, who challenged him to present the Gospel in an Indian context. While trying to reach a group of India’s young people, he said: “I wish you would stand up and tell me, if you will, why you are not Christians. Why will you not become Christians? What do you think of Christ? Why will you not follow him?“
A young man answered: “Your Christ is wonderful, but you Christians are not like him.” To the people of India Ghandi was recognized as authentic because his life and his motives were unique and set him apart.
Jones came to realize the Gospel did not appeal to Indians because Christians did not seem sufficiently different from the rest of society.
Isn’t that the problem of Christianity in North America and the Western world?
For the most part, Christians do not appear all that different from the general population, if at all. A neighbor may join a local church, but nothing about his or her demeanor changes. They look, think and act like everyone else.
As a Christian, what do you have or do that marks you as “different” from someone who does not claim to be a Christian?
I must constantly ask myself that question, and I do not like the answers that rise to it.
I can’t help wondering whether any pastor ever tells a person desiring to become a Christian that “this will be hard work and will seriously test your resolve.”
For one thing, that might cause even greater declines in church membership. For another, the “new Christian” would quickly learn no one outside the church is likely to know of this new “affiliation.”
I turned to my Random House Dictionary of the English Language to make sure I was using an acceptable term, and found the primary meaning of affiliate is “to bring into close association or connect,” and two examples of using this word are “affiliate with the church” or “affiliate to the church.”
Maybe that’s suggestive of our problem: Being “affiliated” with the church is substantially different from becoming part of the Church. There is a list of organizations and causes with which I am affiliated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am a part of them.
In a sermon I heard some time ago, the preacher told this story: There was an auto accident on a busy street that passed a prominent Christian church. Two men unknown to each other got to talking while they watched the emergency efforts.
One of them happened to mention he was a member of the official board of the church and the other man replied: “Oh really? So am I!”
The preacher’s objective was simple to discern: For two people being on the same board in the same church and not knowing each other says a great deal about the depth of their “affiliation.” (And ours?)
Being a Christian – following Jesus Christ and being transformed by his presence in our lives – ought to be discernible. A maid, after joining a local church, was asked how she knew she was a follower of Jesus Christ.
She replied, “Because now I don’t sweep the dirt under the rug.”
That’s a start. So, how do you know you are a disciple of Jesus?
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.