Two quotations caught my attention this morning. The first is from Carl Sagan.
“For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner ... on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies. ... That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that.” (Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer 1934-1996)
There is a sense in which Sagan is right. As King David said years before Sagan’s brief sojourn on planet earth: “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4) Of course, there is another sense in which he is profoundly wrong. Although we have no significance in ourselves, we are significant because we are made in the image of God; made to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
The second quotation comes from a ABC news report on a Barbara Walter’s Special that will air tomorrow evening on network television called, “Heaven – Where Is It? And How Do We Get There?” Apparently, she will report that almost everybody believes in heaven. In fact, “believers” number as high as ninety-five percent of the American population according to the polls. And interestingly enough, eighty-five percent of those surveyed believe they are going to get there.
This is hardly a surprise to those of us who preach the gospel week in and week out. But ironically it is probably one of the biggest reasons why so few are interested in hearing the word of God proclaimed. Behind non-existent or poorly attended evening church services and the casual take-it-or-leave-it attitude that prevails among many who like to think they are Christians, including many so-called pastors or would-be pastors, is the mistaken notion that everything is alright with their souls. But those of us who have to work with such people know better. We know first-hand that for all the religious talk the modern evangelical church, no matter what the denominational label, is shot through with spiritual hypocrisy that if not checked by the life-changing grace of God is going to led to a spiritual apostasy that will cripple the church in this part of the world for years to come.
It is time for us who take the gospel and the glory of God seriously to sound the alarm. Something is wrong! Surely God does a better job of saving sinners than this! Where is the zeal? Where is the willingness to spend and be spent in the cause of Christ? As Keith Green said years ago in a song: “Jesus rose from the dead, but you, you can’t even get out of bed!” Christians may not be able to get out of bed but they can sure find the energy to shop till they drop. They can fork out money on needless vacations and material possessions that are completely unnecessary given the desperate need at home and abroad. They can talk about God and Christian education and debate endlessly such non-issues (in the light of eternity) as traditional versus contemporary worship, and versions of the Bible, and the pharisaical minutiae of the so-called “regulative principle” as though their lives depended upon these things. But try to get them to do anything practical and contribute anything worthwhile to the building up of the church beyond gracing us all with their sleepy bodily presence whenever it is convenient for them and does not make life too difficult for them on Monday morning, and you find out that they are just not interested.
Maybe we who are pastors are boring and people feel they have better things to do with their time. No doubt that is at least partially true. The Lord knows I have sat through my fair share of half-baked sermons! But perhaps there is more to it than that. Such a copout is too simple, too convenient, too smug and self-justifying. Generally speaking the pastors that I know work hard at what they do. They take seriously the biblical injunction to do their best to present themselves to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. No, for all the abuse that pastors must endure, it is too easy to say the problem is with them and therefore we can do what seems right in our own eyes. People have no idea what it feels like to work hard to prepare the word of God for those who fancy themselves the Lord’s people only to discover that they have no appetite for it. It is discouraging beyond words. It is one reason why there are so many ministerial causalities, and why good men decide to go where they feel more useful and where their work is appreciated. If the preacher is boring more often than not it is because that is exactly what the congregation deserves. They have not come prepared to meet with God, because in too many cases they do not know God. They are religious but that is no substitute for the Spirit of God living within.
So I return to where I started and the two quotations that I mentioned at the beginning. On the one hand, we have Carl Sagan expressing his skepticism and unbelief as he not-so-subtly dismisses the notion of God and therefore the completely unacceptable entailment of responsibility to a divine being before whom we must give an account. On the other hand, we have polling data that reveals that although many people want to live as though they are not responsible to glorify God and enjoy him forever they somehow think that when their time on earth is done, heaven will be their final destination. Why they would want to glorify God and enjoy him forever in heaven when they have no interest in doing so on earth, is beyond me! Do they think that they will become completely different creatures in heaven than they are now here on earth? If they do, they are sadly mistaken and self-deceived because the Scriptures warn us over and over again that this is not the case. There is an unbreakable link between who we are and what we seek in this life and what will we experience in the life to come. Better than the opinions an astronomer, or a report of a television host; and better by far than the groundless hopes of the majority, whether churched or unchurched, is the word of God.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)