Tonight I want to share with you some things that are on my heart. I always struggle a little bit in my soul to determine what I might bring to you on the Thursday night when we have a conference, and the people who have been close to me have said, “You need to tell them the things that are on your heart, the things that concern you.” And there have been a lot of those things recently.
So, I think I will endeavor to just try to give you a little bit of a perspective rather than taking a passage which I would normally do. Let me just try to give you a perspective that I think will help us as we endeavor to be faith in the ministry God has given to us.
I don’t really know what to title this, but it would be something along the line of “Hurdles that we have to cross in this ministry race.” As we endeavor to do what God wants us to do in this day and time and culture, there are some things which we face that I think we need to be very much aware of. And I want to give you some perception of the times in which we live and maybe be a little bit culturally analytical if I might so that we might agree together on the things that are out there that we have to deal with.
Let me suggest to you what I think are the real challenges of ministry today. These are the things that I sense myself having to face and our church having to face before us. Now, what I’m going to say to you does not have so much to do with the world outside, but with the church. But it is the church which has been infiltrated by the world.
So, these are really things that have come from the world, found a place in the church that really make ministry challenging today. First of all, as I look at the church today, one of the things that strikes me very strongly is that there is an increasing love for the creature more than the Creator. I’m not talking about the world; I’m talking about the church. I see a church that is deeply committed to its own comfort. Creature comforts have really become the byword of our society. Man has become preoccupied with himself and, if anything, that is the single greatest proof of depravity.
If you read Romans 1, you are struck with the fact that man’s depravity is manifest in the fact that he ignores the true God and creates his own God to suit his own particular choice in his own mind. And we have a society today that obviously is focused on the creature, not the Creator.
In living in a humanistic, godless, atheistic kind of culture - at least a practical kind of atheism – I believe the church has fallen victim to a self-centeredness. And I think it shows up in many, many ways in the church. It shows up in an unwillingness to sacrifice. It shows up in a preoccupation with using one’s time recreationally. It shows up in an almost total inability to understand and occupy oneself in meaningful worship.
There is a preoccupation today with self-indulgence, recreation, variety of life, all of those kinds of things. There’s an occupation with creature comforts that is at the point of a serious defect and sin in the life of the church. We continually purchase things to make ourselves more comfortable. I am curious – and I’m sure you are – about some of the things that are behind the recent surveys about charitable giving that I’ve been reading.
I don’t know if you know this, but charitable giving, in the United States, is going down at the same time that the economy is going up. And there was recently a study of charitable giving done where they took categories of income, $0 to $10,000.00, $10,000.00 to $20,000.00, $20,000.00 to $30,000.00, on up to $100,000.00. They surveyed those categories, and the conclusion was that the highest percentage of giving, among all those financial categories, was among the people who made $0 to $10,000.00. They give three percent of their income to charity. The lowest was $80,000.00 to $100,000.00; they give less than one percent.
The more you have, the more you consume on yourself. That is impacting the church. There’s little question in my mind about that. Church giving has gone from an average of 3.5 percent per giver, over the last ten years, to 2.7 percent per giver in the same time that we’ve an increasing affluence.
So, we live in a society – and this is an interesting thing for you to realize, but we live in a society that is very much unlike the rest of the world. And all you have to do is travel around a little bit to see that. Spend a little time in Calcutta, where I was this summer, and you will see three to four million people who live on the street. They live in the street; they drink out of the gutter. It’s the same gutter that is the sewer and the bathtub and the source of water. They come along with human carts, men pulling carts, and that’s – that’s the local pickup truck, and a man is lucky if he can eke out an existence by doing that.
The city is filled with little beggars. You don’t want to give them any money, because they only get to keep a tenth of what they get. Somebody’s collecting nine-tenths because they own the stable of beggars. People are born and die on the same square ten feet of dirt and never know what it is to possess anything but what’s on their back or what isn’t on their back. It’s a very different society than what we are used to. You come back from that – I remember we came back from that, and we – my wife wanted to stop the next day at a store to get a wedding gift for someone. And I went into this shopping mall, and I said to her, “Honey, I can’t stay here; I’ve got to get out of here.” It was too much.
And people always say, “Was it culture shock to go to India?”
And my answer is, “Not nearly what it was to come from India back here.” Because you’re just slapped in the face with this incredible kind of mad effort for creature comfort. And what I see coming into the church is a massive preoccupation of the creature over the Creator, even in the church.
But people leave churches. People are discontent with ministry, and it has nothing to do with God; it has only to do with how they feel things are meeting their needs.
There’s a second thing – I don’t want to labor too long on these – a second thing that I see as a tremendous challenge to the church, goes along with the first, and it is this: the pursuit of things rather than relationships. The pursuit of things rather than relationships.
As I look at our culture today, I see the minimizing of relationships and the maximizing of possessions. People literally are sacrificing their marriage and sacrificing their family for the sake of a bigger house, cars, vacation money, trips, stereos, large-screen televisions – absolutely incredible. There’s a tremendous, tremendous pursuit of things.
You say, “What contributes to that?”
Well, there are a lot of things, but let me make a suggestion. Do you realize the twentieth century is the first century in the history of mankind where there has been advertising? Do you understand that? Do you understand that prior to this century, there was no advertising. You owned something for one reason. What? You needed it. You needed it. You had to have it. That’s why you bought it. If you didn’t need it, you didn’t buy it.
And now, just think about what you buy you don’t need. Almost everything. Almost everything. And unfortunately, in this massive consumption, things become the pursuit of everyone. And relationships are the stepchild. You buy a big, huge-screen television and a massive stereo, put it in your living room and alienate all your kids who can’t get your attention.
This tremendous pursuit of things means that objects become more important than people. And you try to tell your church to function like the body of Christ, and they’re almost disoriented when you talk like that because they are so “thing” related.
You see, advertising is all built not on need but on image. It’s all predicated on image. When is the last time you saw an ad on television that told you the intrinsic elements of a thing that made it necessary? Never. They sell you everything on the basis of image, prestige, or whatever. In the mad pursuit of things, all of a sudden relationships get lost. It’s happening in marriages.
Again, I take myself back to India where nobody has anything and relationships are everything. Absolutely everything. All there is in life is relationships, because there aren’t any things. And we could learn a lot from those sad, deprived people. That’s a challenge for the church.
Let me give you a third one. I think we’re facing the challenge of a society with a fixation for entertainment over content. To put it another way, feeling over truth. Do you realize that practically everything in our culture has been reduced to entertainment? Even the news is entertainment.
“We are amusing ourselves to death,” says Neil Postman. He makes an interesting thesis in his book, and it’s worth considering. He says, “The last society was a typographic society.” And his thesis – he’s a communications chair at Columbia University in New York – he says, “Whatever mode of communication dominates a society will dominate its thinking.”
In other words, the society thinks in accord with its mode of communication. And he says, “In our last society, the last culture, we had a typographic mode of communication.” What he means by that is that we communicated in words on a printed page. Now his point is that words freeze truth, or words freeze an idea, or words freeze a thought. And when a thought becomes frozen, and you can stare at it and look at it, it contributes to cognitive process because it leads to analysis, criticism, evaluation, thought, comparison, reason. That’s what happens when you read words.
In a typographic society, then, you have people who think rationally. You have people who discern, who criticize, who analyze. He says, “However, now what we have is a combination of a telegraphic and photographic society. We have a photograph sent along a telegraphic system.”
And he says, “Photographic/telegraphic means of communication does not freeze anything. It is a series of visual images that you never can look at long enough to analyze. So, it never appeals to thinking; it always appeals to feeling. It is all emotion.”
And you think about it, all the television set can do for you is make you emote. It grabs you and twists you and wrings you out and yanks you every which way, 30 seconds in a row. And it has a way of blurring all of this until finally people’s emotions become almost unresponsive. I mean how much can you take, and how can you sort it all out? And so, you generate a society of people who can’t think. They can’t think.
Let me give you an illustration. There was an organization did a survey. They got a couple of thousand people in an auditorium. They had a man come in and speak to them on a general subject with which they were familiar. But what he said was contrary to common belief. He gave a speech on a familiar theme, but he said things contrary to what most people believe. And then they gave the people response vehicles by which they could respond to what he said. Fifty percent of the people agreed with him. Thirty percent immediately disagreed. So, they concluded that 80 percent of the people don’t think, they just kneejerk react. Fifteen percent of the people said, “I need more time. So, they concluded that 80 percent of the people don’t think, 15 percent of the people think they think. Five percent of the people said, “I can’t decide; I don’t have enough information.” And they concluded that five percent of the people in that particular test function on a cognitive level, analyzing data and coming to conclusions through analysis. This is how it is. People don’t think; they just react.
Make another comparison, and Postman makes this interesting comparison. He says, “For example, compare the presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas with any contemporary political campaign. Lincoln-Douglas stood toe to toe for seven hours in the open air while a large group of people stood around and listened to seven hours of political socioeconomic debate on the theories of government and politics. Seven hours toe to toe they debated and the people listened.
Compare, for example, Jonathan Edwards with any television – with any television-age young person. At the age of five, Jonathan Edwards had begun to master Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Now, compare that with a typical five-year-old today who stares at the box.
Postman, in his book, says, “Compare the preaching of Jonathan Edwards with any modern-day television evangelist if you want to see the difference between a typographic culture and a telegraphic-photographic culture.”
Jonathan Edwards wrote what is surely one of the most profound pieces of American literature in history called A Treatise on Religious Affection. It is brilliant, erudite, profound, theological. Jonathan Edwards read his sermons verbatim off a manuscript, and he said that he purposely put no inflection into the reading for fear someone would respond to his technique rather than the truth. A great American awakening. A man is standing, without a microphone, reading a manuscript in a monotone, and people halfway through are crying for mercy and repenting before a holy God. Why? Because they could think, and they could listen and reason with what he was saying.
Now, that’s hard on those of us who are talking heads, you know, who’ll come up and say, “Please open your Bible to so-and-so,” and they’re going, “Oh, not another 45 minutes; I can’t handle it. Where’s the triple-screen video.” You know? It’s popular. It’s happening. “I mean if you want to reach people today,” we’re being told, “you’ve got to get out the media.”
Well, I understand what they’re saying, because our society can’t think. I hate to anticipate what the next generation’s going to be like, but it’s going to be very challenging for those of us who want to exposit the Word of God. I think this is a great challenge for us. I still believe the apostolic preaching of the cross is a God-ordained means to proclaim His truth, but I’m not under any illusions that they’re just rushing in here to hear me do it. And I’m under less illusion that everybody can really think and track with me. It’s a challenge.
Number four, I’m convinced that we are facing a great challenge in the church because we have a generation that don’t understand humble submission. We have a generation of people who think the entire world has been set in motion to make sure that they get their needs met. I mean it’s frightening. Most people in our society – developing in our society – believe that everything bends to them. That’s just their mindset. They don’t understand sacrifice. They don’t understand submission. They don’t understand self-giving. They don’t understand meeting other people’s needs. They’re not selfless.
I heard a sociologist on the radio – and you may have heard him, too – kind of give a scenario. And the idea of it stuck in my mind. The details didn’t, but it kind of goes a little bit like this – and I’ll feed a little of my own thinking into it. His basic point was that one of the greatest contributors to a selfish culture is small families. Small families. And we all know in America now that the average family has 1.7 children. As one little boy said to his sister, “I’m the 1, you’re the .7.” But the basic family has 1.7 children, and it’s going down.
Now, this is producing some very dramatic sociological effects, particularly when coupled with parenting out of sheer fear, which is how most people parent. In other words, they’re so afraid of alienating their kids that they want to give them everything they want so that they’ll be their friend, because they can’t cope with any kind of difficulty in the family. And since they’re rarely at home anyway, they don’t want to have to deal with it when they are. So, you capitulate, you cave in.
The combination of child-centered parenting, along with small families, is creating a monster. I’ll give you a typical scenario. Let’s say you’re in one of those one-child families or two children that are spread far apart. Typically, the morning begins like this. You’re awakened by your TV/CD-player – you know, tape recorder/record player – you know, big box in your room. And it wakes you up to whatever music you’ve chosen. You pop out of your little bed and feed your aquarium full of exotic, tropical, salt water fish. And you go to your little closet and put on your designer clothes. You pop out of your little room, and mother says, “Good morning. What would you like for breakfast?”
“Oh, I’d like to have pancakes and bacon.”
“Okay, I’ll be getting it for you.”
And so, you come into the kitchen, and mom’s got it all there, and she says, “What would you like for lunch?”
“Well, I’d like a ham and cheese sandwich, a candy bar, and some chips.”
“Fine.” And she gives it you in a little pink and purple designer bag as you go out the door. And as you’re leaving the door, she says to you, “Well, what time will you be home?”
“Well, I’m going to go to Jimmy’s, and we’re going to do something. I’ll be home at 5:30.”
“All right, I’ll have dinner at 5:30.”
You go off, and she goes to her work or whatever. You come home at 5:30, and she puts this thing in front of you. And it’s some special little exotic dinner or whatever those things are you pop in the microwave. The kid says, “I don’t like this.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Well, the cat’ll eat this; what would you like?”
“Well, I want a hamburger.”
Now, what are you programming that kid to? Here’s the way I was raised. This is a large family. This is how the morning starts.
“Everybody up! Breakfast in 15 minutes.”
And we’re all barreling in the kitchen. And we eat breakfast. Whatever’s there is there. We go out the door, Mom hands us a brown bag. We find out what’s in it halfway to school. And sometimes eat half of it before we get there.
As we leave, she says, “Dinner’s at 5:30 – you’re here, you eat.” And we’re there.
One kid says, “I don’t like this.”
The kid sitting next him says, “Good.” You know?
Big difference, right? Yeah. I grew up in a situation where I looked forward to adulthood. You know why? Because adulthood meant freedom. I could make my own choice. Most kids today are growing up in a childhood that fears adulthood because adulthood means conformity. They’ve had incredible freedom.
Do you know, I never remember, in my entire life growing up, my mother ever taking me to a store and telling me I could pick out something to wear. Never. “What kind of shirt would you like, Johnny?” Never. All I remember is mother coming home. Sometimes I’d come home from school. She’d have a bag; she’d say, “These are yours; these are yours; these are yours.”
I never – I didn’t really care what I wore. I mean I didn’t care at all. In fact, most of my jeans were patched up many, many times. That’s the way it was. And I used to – I used to think to myself, “Boy, would I like to be an adult; I could have my own money. I could buy what I want to eat. I could buy a Coke when I got thirsty. I could go someplace without having to ask permission.” And everywhere I went, I had to walk or ride my bicycle, and it was never beyond, you know, the parameters set by my parents. So, adulthood meant freedom.
Today, what happens is childhood is incredible freedom for these people, and they grow up thinking the whole world bends to them. And the greatest fear they have is that they’ll have to get a job.
So, you ask the typical high school senior, “What are you going to do when you get out of school?”
Standard answer, “I don’t know.”
Got a guy, a junior in college, “What are you going to do when you get out of college?”
“I don’t know.”
The average kid changes his majors three times. He’s trying to find something that he can do without working. All he’s ever known is freedom. He doesn’t want conformity. And if he finally does have to go to work, He’s got one thing in mind, “I’ll work to make money so I can buy more toys,” because he never grows up. He finances his indulgences.
So, you’ve got a culture of people growing up who understand nothing about selfless submission, humility, self-giving, meeting needs of other people. They think the system bends to them. That’s tough on the church, folks. That is tough on the church.
You know, if you have a church of 5,000 people who are all sitting around screaming that nobody’s meeting their needs, it’s going to be real tough. But if you have 5,000 people who are committed to meeting each other’s needs, it’s going to be easy. But that’s very difficult in this kind of culture, when they’re being programmed to believe everything bends to them.
Number five in my little list. Another one of the challenges that I feel we face in the church is – and I want you to understand this – I believe that there’s a lot of counterproductive family ministry going on. A lot of counterproductive family ministry going on. And I want to say what’s in my heart. You can agree or disagree, and I won’t mind. Let me give you a scenario. Okay? I remember my dad telling me, a number of years ago, that he read somewhere there was 1 in 500 divorces among Christian families. The latest statistics I’ve seen are one in five. I don’t know if those are accurate, but there’s been a tremendous escalation in divorces among Christian people.
Recently I saw a survey in which a local church – a well-known one – was surveyed along with its surrounding community, and the divorce rate was identical in the church as it was in the community. Now, what is interesting to me is that paralleling this escalating divorce and escalating breakup of the home, paralleling it is the increase of family ministry. Now, the only thing I can conclude is it’s not helping. I don’t think you have to be Phi Beta Kappa to figure that out. I believe it’s counterproductive.
This is a typical scenario. You go to a seminar, you read a book, and this is what they tell you. “You want to have a good marriage, men? This is what you do; listen to your wife. Be sensitive to your wife. Be romantic with your wife.” Now, these things aren’t bad in themselves. “Bring gifts to your wife. Call her during the daytime. Send her flowers. But this is how you – you have to be sensitive and listen. And don’t unload on her all your problems. And when she’s talking to you, listen and be interested. And show her you care about her, and show her you want to meet her needs. And show her you really want to see her fully developed, and you want her to come to the full bloom of her capacities.”
And do you know what you’re programming your wife to believe? “That marriage is the place where I get all my needs met all the time, because a husband is for this purpose. A husband is a guy who is supposed to meet all my needs all the time.” Now, you better hope one thing, men, that somebody else isn’t a better listener. Somebody else isn’t more sensitive. Somebody else doesn’t look better, smell better, send bigger flowers or she’s out of there, because she’s programmed to believe that’s what marriage is for.
And what do they tell a woman? “You want to keep your husband? You know, be in the black thing with a rose in your teeth once in a while. Get the table with the candles and, you know, listen to him and all this.” See, what you’re doing is programming into the marriage that the whole purpose of this marriage is to make sure we meet each other’s needs to the max all the time. That is utterly self-centered and contrary to what the Bible teaches. And it programs disaster because you can always find somebody that seems to do that better than the person you’re married to.
If I believe that marriage is where I have all my needs met all the time, then divorce is an option if that’s not happening. But, if I believe that I have come together with my wife for the glory of God; if I believe that we live for one purpose, and that’s the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ; if I believe that we are to show the world the power of a transforming gospel in the purity of a truly Christian love; if I believe that we are to show the watching world what a godly family is like, and we have an evangelistic mandate; and if I believe that we have a responsibility to the church as a haven of hospitality and a place of virtue where people can come and see godliness in action in a family, then divorce is no option.
And I’ll tell you something else, that kind of home will be filled with real love. I’m very burdened by this because this stuff is very popular. And I feel – it’s not that I’m just against this stuff; it’s that I feel it programs disaster. And the long-term effect of this is counterproductive. Not all of it is bad. Some of it’s very helpful, and some of those practical things are good. And I’m glad, in my own family, that we have love and all of that. And I just don’t see my marriage as the place where I’m supposed to have all my needs met all the time by this Wonder Woman. I see my marriage as a place where we can live out the principles of the Word of God to the glory of Christ. And in response to that, He’s filled our home with love.
Number six – I could go on and on; I’ve got to keep moving. Number six – and this one burdens me greatly – I think that we are facing today, in the church, one of the most serious threats that has ever come into the church in its history, since its inception. I’m talking about the 2,000 years since the church has existed. I think we are facing something that has never been a threat to the church before, and it is a massive threat to the church today, and I want to call it psychological sanctification.
Psychological sanctification. It is the new sanctification without the Holy Spirit. It is a new psychological sanctification. Let me give you a classic illustration. I turn on a Christian radio station where they have a counseling clinic that comes on. People call up from all around America, and they ask questions.
And so, a lady calls up – and I took notes so I know this was what was said – she said, “I would like to ask you about a problem that I have.” She said, “Well,” – she said – “I’m just compulsively, compulsively involved in sexual sin. I can’t restrain myself.”
He said, “Oh, I see. How does that manifest itself?”
She said, “Well, I just go to bed with anybody and everybody. I can’t help it.” And she said, “When I’m not doing that, I’m a compulsive eater.”
He said, “In other words, it really doesn’t matter who the person is?”
She said, “No.” And she said, “I’m a Christian, and this greatly bothers me.”
This is what he said, “Tell me about your father.”
She said, “Oh, um, passive. He was passive. I think he loved me, and I loved him, but he was passive. He never really gave me any direction in life.”
“Ah, I see,” he said. “In other words, you felt like your father failed to give you the guidance you needed.”
“Tell me about your mother.” All this is going on in about two minutes. “Tell me about your mother.”
“Love-hate, love-hate.” That’s the first two things she said. “We love each other, but we hate each other. She’s overbearing; she’s dominating. Kind of tried to control me.”
“Ah, I see. Well, it all makes sense. Don’t you see which you’re behaving like this? Don’t you see that you’ve been wounded very deeply? And this is how you’re punishing your father, who never gave you any direction. You’re saying, ‘See, you never gave me any direction. Now look at the way I’m living. You can bear the guilt for it.’
“And what you’re saying to your mother is, ‘You tried to control me all your life. You can’t control me anymore, so, I’m going to live any way I want. So, take that!’ Don’t you see that this kind of behavior is the outworking of these deep wounds that your parents have inflicted on you?”
She said, “Oh, I see.”
He said, “You need therapy.”
She said, “Oh, I’ve been in therapy for a year; it hasn’t helped.”
“Oh,” he said, “but it’s like taking meat out of a freezer; it takes a long time to thaw. And it’s going to take a long time of therapy to work out these wounds.” Then he said this, “You need to find a church where there will be accepting people. A church that’ll give you the time it’s going to take to work out of this situation.”
“Oh,” she said, “thank you so much for that helpful advice.”
I was, to put it mildly, upset. And I thought to myself, “If I had been on the other end of the phone, I would have said something like this: I’m sorry to hear this sad truth about your life. May I suggest to you, with all honesty, that it’s possible you’re not a Christian at all? Because it says in the Bible that fornicators do not inherit the kingdom of God. And that if you are living an unbridled lust and fornication, there’s every reason to assume that you do not have the transforming power of the Spirit of God in your life at all. And that what you need to do is fall down on your face before a Holy God and cry out in repentance over your sin and plead for the mercy and grace of forgiveness.”
And I would have said, “In the event that perhaps you are a Christian who has fallen into a pattern of sin, you need to do the same thing. Fall on your face and don’t get up until you have cried out to God and felt the cleansing power of His Holy Spirit lest He come against you with the chastening that could even cost you your life. And don’t you dare go into a church and expect them to tolerate that kind of behavior. And don’t you dare pollute a fellowship by running around soliciting people. Because if that’s the mind you’re in, that’s what’s going to happen. But cry out to God for the power of Christ through His Spirit to wash you.”
But we have a sanctification without the Holy Spirit. Nobody talked about the Holy Spirit. Nobody talked about God. Nobody talked about Christ. I wanted to get on the radio and say, “Whatever happened to, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Whatever happened to Colossians chapter 2, ‘In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And you are complete in Him. And do not be led astray by the deception of tradition, philosophy.’”
This new sanctification is tragic. What did Paul say? “That I may know Him.” I tell the kids at The Master’s College, “Your Christian life is a direct reflection of the level of intimacy in your relationship with the living Christ.
You tell me you’re jumping into bed with everybody, and I’ll tell you you’re either not a Christian or you have a very, very distressing relationship with your Lord, and you better go back and cultivate that relationship. Forget all that nonsense about your father and your mother. That’s irrelevant. Because even if you figure it out, the solution is still the same. So, why bother to figure it out?
We have a me-centered sanctification. Right? “You want to be a together Christian? You’ve got to figure yourself out.” Forget it. If you want to be a sanctified Christian, lose yourself in God, lose ourself in Christ. Well, I could go on.
Number seven, another thing we’re facing, and I think it’s frightening, is sexual preoccupation. You know, I hate to say this, men, but when you’re preaching to those people, they got a lot of stuff in their heads that they ought not to have there. We live in a pornographic society. A pornographic society.
I’ve been doing some study recently in The Puritans on the subject of imagination. They were big on imagination. We’re not too big on it. Even in the new translations – NIV and NAS – they turned the word “imagination” in the Old Testament into something else every time it was used, and they took it right out.
But the imagination is an interesting thing. When you read The Puritans, they have this interesting insight. They Believed that when James said lust conceives – James 1:15 – that where lust conceives is in the imagination. And this is their basic thesis – and I think it’s good – that sin is not a result of your mind or your thinking; it’s a result of your imagining.
Here’s the point. You’re a Christian, right? You’re tempted. Temptation comes into your mind. Temptations says something like this, “Do this and you’ll find pleasure. Do this and you’ll be satisfied.” But the other thought is there, too, because you’re a Christian, “Do this and it’ll dishonor God; it’s not right.”
So, you have the temptation saying, “Who cares if it’s not right; you’ll like it,” and the truth saying, “It’s wrong; don’t do it.” Right? So, you have both thoughts in your mind. The decision is not made in your mind. The decision will be made in whichever one of those thoughts is released into your imagination. Because it’s in your imagination that you conceive the reality and you fantasize the experience. When temptation comes into your mind, and you’re drawn toward a temptation, if you spin that temptation into the fantasy, the fantasy is where lust conceives.
If, on the other hand, you take the divine truth and you begin to think about that - How will God react; what will it do to my ministry; what will it do to my effectiveness; what will it do to my spiritual usefulness; what will it do to my joy; what will it do to my blessing? – then you’re beginning to think through and build the imagination of that from the positive side. Whichever escapes into your imagination, whichever your imagination literally pulls up and builds into a huge scenario is what’s going to compel your behavior.
I think they’re right. So, what do you need to protect? Your imagination. But look at the society in which we live. You almost don’t even have to imagine things. Right? Because you have visual images in your mind that you have literally seen with our own eyes. So, you have a pornographic culture. And you’re calling people to holiness, and people are sitting in your churches and then going and watching an R-rated movie. I mean imagine the average teenager who gets into an R-rated movie and sees 18-foot high people doing sexual things. Do you think he’s going to get that out of his head? That’s pretty vivid stuff.
You know – and I don’t know if you heard this, but Billy Graham said at the NRB convention a year ago that the hotel chain – one particular hotel chain reported to him, and he shared it with the NRB people that the highest usage of X-rated movies in the conventions held in the hotel was a pastor’s convention. Higher than lawyers and doctors or any other profession. Now, I don’t know whether pastors are into prurient stuff or whether they’re just curious because they’re sheltered, but that is frightening. And as I said the other day, I don’t think a man falls into adultery as an instantaneous diversion. I think it’s the end of a long process. And very often that junk is part of the process. We live in a time where sexual preoccupation is destroying the minds of people.
You say, “Well, how can we counter that? What do you want to program your imagination to do?”
Well, the only antidote that I know of is Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, you shall meditate on it” – what? – “day and night.” The only antidote I know.
The last one – this, too, I believe, is vital for us to realize, men, but our generation of church people have watched the collapse of Christian leaders as models. Tragic. Absolutely tragic. Who do they trust? I can remember a day when I never even heard of a pastor who defaulted. And look at it now. And what’s happening is the church is losing trust in spiritual leadership. I’m telling you, men, you don’t get it back easy. And we’re all under the scrutiny.
You know, every time something like that hits the papers, I know there are people who sit in Grace Community Church and say, “I wonder if MacArthur’s doing that on the side?” That just plants that stuff. And the demise of trust in spiritual leadership makes the task all that more difficult.
And what I think is even worse is now there’s this big movement to restore all these people back to ministry as fast as we can. And all that does is lower the standard. And what’s going to happen is – and I don’t want to say this is a prophecy, but I would – if I was a betting man, I’d bet on it – we’re going to get a restored clergy. And they’re going to become the most popular ones, because everybody who wants to have a leader who lives like they do will flock to that. And they’ll say, well, they understand, they’ve been there, “You hard-nosed legalists who haven’t been there, you know, you’re...”
And so, we’re going to be the tough guys, and this new restored clergy that are brought back into the ministry are going to be the compassionate ones in the view of people. It’s a tragic, tragic... Because Hosea said, “Like people” – like what? – “like priests.”
Well, we have some challenges, don’t we? I hope this has just crystallized in your mind some of the things we face.
You say, “Well, what do we do about all this?”
Well, it’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Live a holy life and preach the Word. It’s all in Acts 20, “Take heed to yourself and to your flock over which the Lord has made you overseer, to feed the flock of God.”
So, live the life and preach the message. Be faithful; God’ll honor it. It isn’t going to be easy. I don’t think we’re coming into a euphoric time for faithful men, but I believe God honors His faithful men. And he’ll honor your ministry. Let’s pray.
Father, thank You for our time tonight. What a good time it’s been. Thank You for this great day. Lord, in our minds, in our hearts, we hear the echo of the great hymns and songs that were sung tonight. Oh how we praise You. We even can remember the echo of some of Psalm 145. And, Lord, we want that to last in our hearts. We don’t want to be burdened down with all these negative things, but we must know the challenge we face.
Lord, make us faithful. May every man in this place be living a pure life. May every man in this place be cultivating a godly home. May every man in this place be faithful in the Word and in prayer, and may You be glorified in all of our lives. In the name of our dear Savior we pray, amen.
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