In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 21 minutes 39 seconds and the Sermon begins at 23 minutes 40 seconds.
Scripture: I Kings 19:11-18
Sermon: “Sabbatical Learnings: The Mother Church Still Teaches”
Do you ever feel like Elijah? I do. I alone am left. Here stands Elijah exhausted after singlehandedly attempting to turn Israel back from the fertility god Baal to the Lord. Elijah’s on retreat at Mount Horeb seeking direction from God. He stands in the sheer silence of the mountain cave feeling so alone. The people are cavorting with temple prostitutes in worship of Baal. They are bowing before 7-breasted idols. The Lord’s temple is in disrepair, the commandments are forgotten, and his prophets are spat upon.
Have you ever felt alone in your faith?
Everyone is drinking a lot at the party, but you’ve committed to stay sober for God;
Why don’t you guys just live together? your third friend asks in a week. How do you tell them that you believe that sex is best in the commitment of marriage?
You can either buy the more expensive car or tithe, but not both. Everyone else goes for the car, will you alone give to God to feed the poor and preach the word?
You worry about whether your kids will find Christian friends and mates like you.
If you have felt alone in your faith, like Elijah, you’re not alone. The clear reality is that Christian influence is declining in our culture, and even faster in Dutch culture where I spent my sabbatical. Grandpa Buurstra’s church of a century ago is shuttered. Sita Hofstra, who came here to study church planting as on our DVD, tells me that of the 10 Dutch Reformed churches in Leeuwarden 3 are closing. As one tour guide who was extolling the beauty of 13th century church architecture told me,
Spiritually church is no longer important here, but architecturally…
Sita and I discussed over coffee in Philadelphia that church attendance has been lower before, but Christian influence on culture has never been this low in western history!
And so we say with Elijah, I alone am left. I get preoccupied with that thought sometimes.
How does God help us deal with the decline of Christian influence in our culture?
Elijah’s loneliness was different from ours for he faced outright opposition. Elijah spoke God’s truth to the powerful, and the powerful didn’t like it. You see King Ahab had married a foreign Queen Jezebel who brought her fertility god, Baal, with her. And Baal, being a nature god, never lifted his worshipers above their basest animal instincts: temple prostitution, no moral demands, no challenge to love your enemy, much less your neighbor. The focus was on manipulating Baal to make your fields and family fertile. Elijah had to speak up for God’s better, holy way, but when he spoke up Ahab got mad!
Satan’s evil is not yet so pronounced in our culture that we’re opposed; the culture is just indifferent. Ask Sita next time she comes how hard it is for her to win the secular Dutch back to Jesus. Ask David how much slower Ignite’s progress is than we had hoped. Ask Christian parents who pray that their kids may be saved from American materialism. Why are people indifferent to Jesus and the church today? Dutch theologian and Prime Minister during my grandfather’s lifetime in the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, writes:
Prosperity and pleasure never bring people closer to God.
So, how does God want us to deal with the decline of Christian influence in our culture? That begins with believing that God has a plan. There in the sheer silence at the mouth of the cave God revealed to Elijah part of the plan:
Anoint Jehu king and Elisha prophet; for there are 7000 who have still not bowed the knee
One of God’s great agenda items for me on my sabbatical was to remind me over and over, I have a plan. God did that through Sita’s quiet confidence in the face of greater decline than American Christianity is facing. When I asked her if that worries her like it does me, she shrugged her shoulders to answer:
No, not really.
And so I say to you who fret the changing culture, God has a plan. God’s plan may be for the US church to be pruned now for greater fruitfulness later, I don’t know, but I am sure that God’s plan includes helping you to make a difference in this lost world.
So how do people who trust in God’s plan live? In quiet confidence. Elijah climbed down the mountain and went about his oil business plan. That is, he got out his anointing oil, and anointed the successors: Jehu to succeed King Ahab, and Elisha to follow him. God poured a double portion of Elijah’s spirit upon Elisha, scripture says.
How do we show confidence in God’s plan? Follow Christ’s plan in mission. At Sita’s church, even though so many heads were graying, the sanctuary incorporated today’s art and today’s music as a way to attract today’s culture. Though I love our new organ, they had only piano accompaniment playing very lively songs. And did those Dutch folk sing! (They could have been singing bar tunes as far as I could tell, but they sang!)
And so can we confidently follow Christ’s plan in mission:
We can give the cup of cold water to the thirsty even as America guzzles into her beer belly
We can gather to praise God on Sunday morning even as neighbors curse bad news on TV
We can speak about God as the seeking father to a neighbor with a prodigal son.
We can confidently follow Jesus’ mission plan in the face of cultural decline.
Because, in the end God’s plan will win the day!
So should being a lonely Christian in today’s world worry you? No, not really, Amen.
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