Several years ago I awoke to a terrifying sound of someone screaming help! Our neighbor’s house was on fire. Thankfully, by the time we got ourselves out of bed and to see if we could help others had responded and the fire department was quickly on the scene.
· The truth is that not one of us would hear a cry like that, simply roll over and go back to sleep and wonder what’s that all about?
But in fact, that is exactly what we do…all the time. Our neighbors, family members and friends’ lives are in grave danger. And we are doing nothing about it.
I’m talking about their souls. I believe that worse than any time in American history, personal faith is confused, ambivalent, and fading fast. Too many of our loved ones are spiritually shallow and their souls are in grave danger.
· And they don’t see it. So they’re not crying for help. There is no smoke; there is no fire to alert them to their mortal danger. They are clueless to the fact that their fate is hanging in the balance.
…that is unless you do something about it. It’s time you roll out of your bed of indifference. It’s time to save lives.
So, for the next five weeks we will wake up to the state of Americans soul. We will unearth what’s going on deep within the conscience and spiritual lives of the people around us.
· In addition: We will seek the heart of God on the matter. What does he see when he looks at the American soul? Fortunately we have some excellent insights offered to us in the book of Romans.
· Finally, once we get an unvarnished look at the souls of the people around us we’ll ask ourselves – what are we supposed to do about it? What is my responsibility when I discover that my neighbor is in serious trouble.
Let’s begin with reality…how things are. There is an enormous amount of research being conducted by sociologists and Christian researchers about the state of the American soul. Here is a summary:
The typical American claims some kind of identification with Christianity. (8 out of 10)
· most have little to no connection to a church ... they just remember the past
More and more Americans are “nones”. (1 out of 5)
· “None of the above” on religion/belief surveys
Less and less Americans participate in a church. (1 out of 4)
· On any given weekend 25% of American’s are in church
· Indy metro = 1.7 million ... every weekend 1.2 million are reading the paper and eating bagels while 425,000 are in church
· oh and, Only 1 out of 10 participate beyond weekend worship
· oh and, church goers are getting older – avg. 50 yrs’ (5 yrs’ older than general population
Americans’ trust in religious leadership is declining fast.
· faster than any other type of leadership.
Americans are shedding traditional Christian theological values rapidly.
· 75% Americans believe there are other religions that offer a true path to God
· More and more don’t believe in absolute moral truth
· There is a measurable decline in believing in the Bible's authoritative truth (*Despite the success of the Bible min-series, and that majority of Americans own a Bible)
· Trend in theology is toward an uninvolved God who only exists to resolves problems.
· 2 out of 3 Americans believe happiness is more important than holiness.
Most Americans are only casually Christian
“Christianity is becoming a shadow of its former self.”
“The easiest way to follow Jesus is from a distance on a solo stroll to the beat of the same drummer you have listened to your whole life: your own personal preferences and already held beliefs.”
“Faith in America is a have-it-your-way spiritual marketplace.”
“Jesus is the chaplain of the American Dream.”
“The predominate American religion is intensely personalized and its adherents immature, soft, and intellectually lazy.”
So let me mash this up into a composite picture of your neighbours and family members: A one-time Christian who now isn’t so sure any more. They like the Bible but don’t regard it as special. They believe there are many paths to God. They have only marginal connection with any church and are sceptical of organized religion in general. Mostly they just want to be comfortable, enjoy life, be busy, raise their family, and hang on to just-enough-God in case some problem arises.
What they don’t see is that their spiritual house is on fire. And their fate is hanging in the balance.
Want to know how God sees them?
Romans 1: 18
Background: letter from Paul to the church in Rome , roughly 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
· introduction of himself to them
· his manifesto about God and Jesus and the world
· first attempt to help them in their confusion – new diverse church
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
· God is angry. And he is angry about 3 things he sees going on among human beings:
o godlessness – life without God and without spiritual moorings – he’s angry about agnosticism and atheism.
o wickedness – unjust and wrongful – sin (we’ll spned more time on this later)
o suppression of truth – “to hold down” … to personally take something and restrain it… not accidental but purposeful
This is what God sees when he sees your neighbor and your loved ones who are casual about him.
· and he’s doing something about it: his wrath is being revealed
o present tense. but what does that mean? God is actually presently responding to the godlessness, wickedness and suppression of truth – yep and wait to you hear what he is doing – it is chilling!
Before we look at how God is pouring out his wrath…we get more insights into how people suppress the truth:
19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
There is an oxymoron here : What is invisible is apparently able to be seen. (God’s eternal power and his divine nature) People should be able to see those things.
How? God has made his character plain and understandable through “what has been made”
God is angry that humanity is not aware of him in:
· In the physical creation
· internal conscience – guilt (right and wrong), love, hunger for transcendence
· life experience – IL Our reaction to tragedy or turmoil …is it not amazing how an increasingly irreligious culture suddenly finds God during the Newtown massacre, West, TX tragedy or Boston terror. “our thoughts and prayers…”
Tomorrow – all that is temporary. Tomorrow your neighbor will return to suppressing the truth.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
When people suppress the truth about God their lives become futile – empty, and their foolish hearts get even darker – things get more hazy and confusing.
22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24
Here is a great irony – all the while we are plummeting spiritually – we are getting technically smarter.
· IQ is growing with every generation - “If judged solely by their IQ scores, today’s kids are smarter than any generation since testing began — so smart that many of their great-grandparents would have been found mentally deficient by today’s standards.
We claim to be smart and wise…but are getting more foolish by the month. And…further…needing a god of some kind, we are making god’s up as we go. Idolatry.
· their kids – immortality symbols (that which bestows glory on me)
· their appearance
· their possessions
· their success
· their comfort
· their freedom
Those are the gods of America. And the one true God is angry about it. And is doing something about it.
24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.
In his wrath God is “giving people over” – what does that mean?
· OT concept – how God handed over Israel to invading nations – not just took his hand off but gave a little shove
· Picture your loved ones life as a boat (boat pic) on a fast dangerous current. God has his hand on the gunwale (side). Now picture God taking his hand away and shoving the boat into the stream…
Vs. 26- 30 describes the river…the cultural current that people are bobbing in:
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
I’m telling you the fate of your neighbors and loved ones who are distant from God is hanging in the balance. They are in deep trouble.
· when God takes his hand off the boat the current can go anywhere!
· Without God there are no restraints.
Let me show you something very chilling… if this isn’t upsetting enough…
32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:18-32
· our neighbors and loved ones who are drifting from God are taking others with them. “Approve of those who practice them”
o they approve (are pleased…are gratified)
o they are thrilled to be floating downstream with others
o they are crying out for people to shove off from the restraints of God
· We are horribly beset with a “herding” mentality…our culture is full of moral cancer…the herding of unruly cells.
· The worst case scenario is that we are passing this on to the next generation. (wait until we talk about that next week)
Listen to me…your loved ones, neighbors and friends are in deep trouble. God is angry…is responding in wrath…and what about you?
What are you going to do about it? Roll over and go back to sleep?
Over the next 5 weeks we’ll explore our reactions to the fate of the American Soul but let’s start right here in Romans 1:16
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Romans 1:16-17
Time for a gut check… Do you believe this? …that there is good news (gospel):
· that is powerful
· that can save – rescue or deliver from peril
· that there is righteousness – a way of living that puts a person in a reconciled relationship with God
· that there is a path to redemption that starts with faith
Stop a moment and ask yourself – Do I believe this?
Do I believe that God can rescue my friend? Do I believe that they can be transformed by faith in Jesus?
Am I ashamed of that? Am I convicted by that? Am I motivated by that?
Enough that you will get out of bed and do something about it?