A Church That Reads the Signs of the Times


Karl Barth supposedly said that preachers should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Given the sorry state of the prophetic voice in the American Church today, perhaps that’s the wisest approach we can take given the circumstances.

Just last week, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Tax Revolt Is Quietly Brewing In Some States.” An excerpt:

On Election Day, Massachusetts will vote on whether to eliminate its state income tax. Advocates hope victory in a place long thought of as a free-spending liberal bastion will pave the way for similar initiatives in other states over the next few years. Critics insist a yes vote would lead to fiscal disaster.

While Americans are focusing on the presidential and congressional races, voters in Massachusetts and other states will decide the fate of dozens of state and local tax and spending issues.

The article goes on to note that several states face this type of citizen-inspired tax repudiation come November and beyond, not just Massachusetts. People are tired of cronyism, waste (studies peg wasted tax monies in Massachusetts at 41 percent of the state budget), and the fact that too many people are on the dole as employees of governmental agencies at all levels. In my state, Ohio, I saw a figure recently that claimed that 37 percent of employed workers in the state worked directly for a local, city, county, state, or federal government agency.

That’s utterly ridiculous. No wonder people are fed up. (Note: I am not against government. Obviously, we need certain government functions like our representative assemblies,  military, and law enforcement. The issue here is one of scope and sprawl and the ability to justify the amount of money it takes to defend and fund that bloat. That’s what has so many people upset.)

But that’s not the point of this post. Can you tell what is? Church, can we read between the lines on this tax revolt issue?

If we can’t, we need to learn. We need to be smarter about these things. If our self-anointed prophets are unreliable, then we need to improve how we comprehend the signs of the times.

What happens when the government is forced to make cuts because of reduced revenues? Social services go bye-bye.

Here’s the $64,000 question: Who will pick up the slack when social services taste the business end of the axe blade?

Too many Christians glamorize the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s in this country. They look at those years as the golden age of Christianity in America, the age of Norman Rockwell paintings depicting families praying together, the age of Leave It to Beaver and good, solid, Christian values.

But that would be denial.

Because what happened during those glory days was a wholesale abandonment by the American Church of the social services it alone provided the least of these. Christians shirked their duties as they caved to Industrialism and consumerism, jettisoning their responsibility to care for the downtrodden, instead voting to let the government assume that role, a role government was never designed to handle. That, in turn, weakened our resolve as a nation and forced us to suck at a socialistic, governmental teat.

And now some people are sick of the results because it’s hurting them in the one thing they value more than anything else: their wallets.

This I ask: Anyone care to guess how many churches in Massachusetts, or any of those other tax revolt states, are prepared to handle social services when the government can no longer afford to maintain them?


What’s your church’s plan to care for the mentally disabled?

What’s your church’s plan to care for the senior citizens in your community?

What’s your church’s plan to deal with those families who don’t have enough food and must subsist on government handouts that are most likely going away?

What’s your church’s plan?

Our churches don’t have a plan, do they?

Consider this passage of Scripture:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
—Acts 11:27-30

Did the early Church sit idle, only to react too late, or were they proactive? When I hear people saying that the revelatory gifts aren’t for today, 'The Good Samaritan' by François-Léon SicardI ask how they expect to ever be proactive in times of distress. Has the kind of crisis we see here in Acts 11 ever stopped happening? Shouldn’t the Church always be ready to deal with this kind of thing, supernatural revelation or not?

It’s bad enough that we either despise prophecy or we gather false prophets around us, but isn’t it even worse that we get fair warning from secular sources and can’t even react to that? Just how dull are we?

Regular readers are surely tired of me beating these kinds of dead horse issues, but why is it that we are NEVER prepared?

For all those going on and on about an end-times revival, I say this: Here’s your chance. Because no one is more open to the Gospel than the person in dire need of a social service who then finds a born-again Christian ready and willing to help. Nothing verifies the Gospel in the minds of jaded people than to see the Church actually bringing its doing in line with its speaking.

A great opportunity looms before us. Are we going to run with it now or will we once again wait until its too late?

The Medium of True Blessing


The medium is the message.

Marshall McLuhan

Times have been rough here of late. When the homefront reels under attack and the newspaper screams out worrying headlines, sometimes it’s all one can do to get out of bed.

Last Sunday in church, our pastor spoke on entering God’s rest. That’s a difficult message to hear right now. I’m working 60-hour weeks and my family faces some tough expenditures in light of recent illnesses. Even with the private health insurance we carry, the costs will be considerable. Finding rest when that “final straw” may lurk in each new day proves easier said than done.

Amid one of the most difficult weeks of my life, I noticed that a back tire on our car was badly out of balance. After yet another visit to the doctor, I tried to squeeze in a free tire balancing at the store that sold us the tires. Free.

Sitting in the waiting room at the tire store, I watched the clock tick and wondered how we would live in the light of illness. God, what does this mean for us? How will we go on?

When the hands of the clock clicked past a few too many minutes, I investigated and found three mechanics huddled around our car. Then came the dire words: “Sir, there’s a problem.”

That problem amounted to $850 worth of repairs, not including two new tires. Hadn’t I come in for a free tire balancing? My wife and I walked out of the store, estimate in hand, stunned. We drove off in our wounded car, wondering how we could possibly pay for this pressing repair.

So I sat in church that last Sunday with the wheels coming off of life, no rest in sight.

After the service, I walked up to a man in my church whom I respect for his spiritual insights and his nearly thirty years experience in the car care field. He’s retired from the car repair business now, but he knows far more than I can ever hope to know. I asked what he thought I should do. He said he’d call a few people.

The next day, he knocks on our door. He had to run an errand in another part of the city and wanted to take our car to some folks he knows.

That night, he returns with our car. His people had taken care of the $850 problem and the tires. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said, “Don’t worry about that. I took care of it.”

Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost asked this question this week:

If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?

When I reflect on my life, I can’t remember many sermons that stick out. Even the words of my favorites hymns don’t always surface in memory when I need them. Gustave Doré - 'The Arrival of the Good Samaritan at the Inn'I can’t remember more than hazy concepts from the blogs I’ve visited. Viral videos? Web 2.0? Dancing 3-D holograms? Heck, I can’t even tell you the movies I’ve seen in the theater in the last five years.

But I can vividly recall every single time when life beat me up and left me for dead by the side of the road and someone in the name of Jesus took me up, cleansed and bound my wounds with his or her own hands, and made certain I was cared for.

The medium of the Christian message is you and it’s me. It’s the cup we hand in person to the parched and thirsty soul.

Fifty years from now, no one will remember the name of that blogger, the genius behind that YouTube video, the author of the Web 2.0 site. Nor will we remember what all the hoopla was about.

What we will remember are those people who were there for us in tough times. Those people who invested their lives in ours by showing up on our doorstep in our bleakest hour. Those people who took the time to be Jesus for us when we needed Jesus the most.

Because 2,000 years later we still tell of the Good Samaritan. May his message—and his medium—always be our example.