God blew me away recently (in several ways, but I will only bore you with one today). After our church's recent excellent Easter worship, I ran across a news article with some disturbing and yet not surprising statistics. Apparently, 9 out of 10 American homes have a Bible in them. However, only 16 percent of American churchgoers read the Bible daily and 25 percent of churchgoers don't read the Bible at all.
The mental picture of the dusty Bible on the shelves of most American homes is not surprising in the least to me. It is, however, a grave concern of mine. It is most especially disconcerting when I notice that elsewhere on planet Earth, believers are using their Bible to stand up for their right to worship. Hundreds of believers were arrested in China on Easter Sunday (this link is working as of 04/29/2011)during a government crackdown on an unregistered church. The pastor's response is straight from God's Word. Read this for yourself, and be amazed. While we in the Bible belt attend church most frequently when we feel the pressure to do so from society or our spouse or our kid, we more often than not feel like staying home. Perhaps now that a tornado has demolished my community's park, some families will feel the freedom to worship for a Sunday or two at the altar of the Lord instead of at the baseball diamond.
Please don't misunderstand me. God does not hate baseball, and neither do I. And the tornado that struck here on April 27 was a tragedy, not a good thing. But I have seen with my own eyes in Burkina Faso, Africa, believers who walk for miles every week to worship with their brothers and sisters. When I see American apathy about church attendance (which is not the equivalent of worship), I see two perspectives that are way too drastically different. One perspective desires to worship because it is needed and commanded. The other desires to attend church because it is enjoyable and/or convenient and/or socially required.
Even in the midst of this discrepancy, there is hope for the American church. On Good Friday, 50,000 people gathered via simulcast to hear Bible teaching for six hours straight. We believers are hungry for the Word, so why don't we feed ourselves? Possibly because it is easier to let someone else feed us.
May we, brothers and sisters, pray to "hunger and thirst for righteousness" and find ourselves feasting on everything that comes from the mouth of God through His Word. Pick up that Bible, dust it off, and read it. Turn off the TV and read it. But be careful, it may change you!
Read Matthew chapter 16, starting in verse 13 and going through the rest of the chapter. Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.
No really. Read it real quick. Take your time. I'll be here when you get done.
You back yet? You took a little while! But that's okay.
Jesus is trying to explain to his precious followers that he is going to have to march into Jerusalem and get murdered. Peter is not okay with this, and Jesus has some strong words to say to him. "There is a plan of God Himself at work here, and you had better not get in the way, Peter." And then he tells Peter, "You, too, will have to throw yourself away and pick up your electric chair and come on if you want to follow me."
Whoa. Those are such strong words. Christians quote this verse of denying self and picking up a cross frequently without thinking about what it means.
See, saying "deny yourself" is easy. But ignoring what you want is hard. Saying "pick up your cross" is easy. Suffering torture for Jesus is hard. Saying "follow Jesus" is easy. But doing everything in your life not for others nor for yourself but for Jesus is hard.
Going to church doesn't cost us much, although some complain about the sermon being too long or missing something on TV to be there or not enjoying it. That's not really suffering for Jesus, is it? Church attendance is not "picking up your cross."
During the Easter season, spend some time thinking about what Jesus sacrificed for us. And then consider sacrificing some of your things and money and vacation time and activities away from yourself. Give them instead to God and His big plan.
Deny yourself. Suffer torture. Follow Him. As crazy as that sounds, if you try it, I'm pretty certain you won't regret it! How could I know that? Because Jesus said "Whoever throws away their life for me finds a better one that I want to give them." If you don't believe me, re-read Matthew 16:25 for yourself. And think about doing it. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
The following is a tribute to one of the greatest women I have ever known - my mamaw, Geraldine Tucker.
She went home to be with the Lord on Sunday evening, April 3, 2011. She was 83 years old. But that is not why she was great.
The world will not do much more than blink with her passing. The world will stop spinning for some of us for a time, but planet earth will continue moving around us at lightning speeds, and eventually we will go back to our lives with only memories left. She gave us wonderful memories. But those are not why she was great.
She married Papaw in 1943, and a day or two later, he left with his Army unit for training, and for eventual deployment for Normandy. By the time he had returned, she had purchased for them a house and 50 acres. They built a life together, and raised a large family. They worked so very hard, but her hard work is not why she was great.
She fulfilled God's purpose for her here on Earth. He tasked her with creating and raising a family in the Lord, along with Papaw, who was a pastor, and she did just that. That is why she was great. How do I know this was her task? Because I see what God has done through her. I knew how proud she was of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And I know that one of the things that she was most proud of was how God has worked in the lives of so many of her family. There are three of us kids and grandkids who have been called by God to serve Him with our entire lives. There are at least six or more kids and grandkids who serve God with all that they are as deacons and faithful servants. And there are so many others - family and not - who love Jesus, almost directly because of Mamaw's influence. She was great because she left a legacy.
That inspires me. I also long to leave a legacy. How could I do that? What trick is there for that? Mamaw's life offers an example or two.
How else do we fall in love with our Maker? How else do we lean on His help? Who else controls all things? Prayer is more discussed than done. Lord, teach me to step off the bullet train of life and pray. To "be still, and know that [you are] God." Mamaw did this better than anyone I know. I, too, will learn from you, Mamaw, as I pray for those of us who will continue on down here without your prayers.
How important am I really? How much newspaper or internet space will be dedicated to a simple woman who lived a simple life in rural Mississippi? Does it matter if it is not as much space for Mamaw as I think it should be? Doesn't her influence on me and countless others mean that she made a huge difference, no matter whether anyone hears about it or not? Mamaw understood better than so many others that she was nothing special, but that Jesus was!
Mamaw and Papaw never had much money. But that didn't matter. They moved around a lot as Papaw would preach at various churches in central Mississippi. (I was honored to be able to open the Word from the same pulpit he had preached from years earlier, from notes that were written with his hand.) What mattered most in the times of change or times of need? Jesus. What did Mamaw need more than any other thing in her life? Jesus. What consumed her devotion more than even her precious family? Jesus. In good times and bad, who did she depend upon completely? Jesus. What message did she insist I pass on to the entire family last Christmas? To be right with Jesus. Are we seeing a pattern here?
So I leave you with a humble, prayerful woman of faith's simple message to you, no matter if you knew her or not. It is found in 2 Corinthians 5:20. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
She would want you to know that about her. That she was God's ambassador to you. So come back to God. The parable of the prodigal son teaches that Jesus is just waiting to welcome you back home with open arms. Come back. Leave your selfishness and come back home.
She is at home now. And her home was not the house that she has been physically unable to live in recently anyway. She belonged to the kingdom of God, as a child of the King. And she wants you to come to join her there one day. Come back to God. Come back home.
Thank you, Mamaw. I love you.