Dr. Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach, (an awfully grand name for a church of 50) is planning to lead his little congregation in a book-burning on Saturday. This Florida church will be burning the Koran to let the world know that “Islam is of the Devil.” The congregation is proud of where they stand in defense of the ‘Truth’ and, according to their website, they often take to the streets to protest various sins of these United States. I understand them all too well, much to my regret.
Once I, too, was quick to condemn the culture, ready to pick up my pen and blast those ‘sinners’ who were destroying ‘my’ country. Then, the Spirit of God let me see my own sin and contrasted it with the depth of His love, expressed through Jesus Christ. His embrace of grace melted the anger and fear from my soul! I take no issue with their conviction that abortion takes a life, that same-sex marriage (at least in a Christian church) is abhorrent to God, or that Islam cannot lead people to truly know God through Jesus Christ. But, they’re focused on the wrong message!
The Gospel is not about being against something or someone. It is about proclaiming that the “kingdom of God has come near.” The very first mission of the disciples was not a preaching campaign to condemn the sins of their people. It was a invitation into a new order. “One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2, NLT) Sin is real and darkness that exists needs to be dispelled. And how? Not by Law. Not by protest. Not by condemnation.
The way to redeem the culture is to bring the sinner the good news that God stands with open arms to welcome them back home; that through His Son, Jesus, He offers complete forgiveness and life in the Spirit. Will some abuse the grace of God? Yes! It happened to none other than Paul who watched some turn the gospel he preaching into a license to indulge every disobedient, Self-centered whim. It’s happened in my ministry when some have chosen to ignore holiness because ‘grace covers all my sin.’ But, the glory of the Gospel is its breadth. We can’t hope to earn what God has provided at tremendous cost to Himself – right standing with Him, reconciliation with Him.
I wish my mistaken brothers would read the passage you’re about to read. It might change their focus from book-burning to real Kingdom building. Let this word from the Word settle in your mind and heart. I am quoting from The Message because it is easier to understand. I encourage you to take some time to read the same texts from several translations of the Scripture, allowing the Spirit to show you, fresh and new, the heart of the Gospel.
Speaking of those who are not in Christ, we read: “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous… “ (Romans 1:28-29, The Message) “Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.” (Romans 2:1-2, The Message) Then, comes the amazing announcement!
“But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened.” (Romans 3:21, The Message) “God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured.” (Romans 3:25, The Message) Ready for the grand conclusion?
“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” (Romans 5:1-2, The Message)
How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost,
But now I’m found,
T’was blind, but now I see!
– John Newton