During the 1920s and ‘30s, the most notorious gangster was Chicago’s Al “Scarface” Capone. Capone was known as the leader of organized crime while running Chicago’s gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging empire. So great was his power that he claimed he “owned” Chicago. Few men were able to stand in his presence without trembling fear in their voices because he was a formidable and ruthless man. Although he was extremely intimidating, he became a popular figure among the citizens of Chicago. However, there was one citizen Al Capone was never able to impress, and that was his own son, Al, Jr., or “Sonny,” as he was called. Sonny never followed in his dad’s footsteps. He supported his wife and four daughters with a variety of jobs and was considered a law-abiding citizen. Sonny refused his father’s offers to delve into the underworld, opting instead for a quiet, respectable, and exemplary life. As a matter of fact, later in his life, Sonny would change his name to Albert Brown because he was deeply embarrassed to carry a name associated with so much controversy.
The America I knew growing up is drastically changing before my eyes. Laws have been passed that forbid the public display of the Ten Commandments. Judges have ruled that we cannot pray in public assemblies or in schools. Officials are demanding that the words “One Nation Under God” be erased from our pledge of allegiance. And now, the Christ of Christmas is being replaced with “Happy Holidays.” What troubles me most, however, is not the changes that are occurring as much as the casual adaptation of the church. We are facing this desperate hour without a spiritual statesman who possesses both the favor of God and the respect of men to champion the cause of Christ. Oh, how we need a Jeremiah willing to weep over our condition! Oh, how we need a Nathan unafraid to call our leaders out! Oh, how we need a John the Baptist unashamedly pointing the way to Jesus! Our silent, submissive cooperation with the world can only be attributed to one of three things: we are either too apathetic to care, too afraid to confront, or too ashamed of our cause. I fear the pressures of society may be proving it is the latter in our generation. In Luke 9:26, regarding the terms of discipleship, Jesus said, “For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed…” Do we fully realize what is at stake in our generation? To live ashamed today is sure to produce decaying apostasy tomorrow. Why are we headed in such a downward spiral?
We are growing ashamed of the stigma of the cross. In Romans 1:16, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” Although our generation prides itself on preaching sermons that are more practical, relevant, and less dogmatic, poor old Paul only had one sermon, and that was “…Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” The only motive he had for preaching was to lead men to the cross. There is no hope for a man to be led anywhere else! The shallowness of modern preaching is leading men to the mirage of their own goodness, or better yet, to the greatness of the orators themselves! Robert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “I see a man cannot be a faithful minister, until he preaches Christ for Christ’s sake – until he gives up striving to attract people to himself, and seeks only to attract them to Christ. Lord, give me this!” The stigma of the cross is that it is still foolish, offensive, and divisive to the world. However, to those of us who believe, “…it is the power of God unto salvation…” The cross is still the only place where mankind will ever find true liberty, tender love, and a transformed life.
We are growing ashamed to stand out in the crowd. In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul said, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord…” The word “testimony” means “evidence given.” As Jesus ministered on earth, He didn’t merely look different and talk different. Jesus was different! The grave danger with modern Christianity is our growing desire to blend in with the world. Have we forgotten that we were transformed from a grub to a butterfly and we can NEVER blend in again? He who has forgotten where he came from has already lost sight of where he is going! Adam and Eve tried to blend in with the greenery, but their blushing flesh exposed them. Abraham tried to blend in with the Philistines, but a dream uncovered his faith. Peter tried to blend in by the world’s fire, but his speech betrayed him. There is very little preaching today on separation, and the result is a church the world doesn’t respect and a people the world doesn’t trust. Our tolerance of the world has bred the world’s intolerance of us. If we would dare to let Christ live through us, a skunk has a better chance blending in at a kennel show than we would have blending in with the world!
We are growing ashamed to suffer for the cause. In 2 Timothy 1:12, Paul said, “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed…” For Paul, suffering was not a problem, but rather a privilege that was given to him. However, our generation gauges success by the decibel level of men’s applause. Ministerial fame has shifted the focus from what is right or wrong to that which is right or left! Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Doth that man love his Lord who would be willing to see Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, while for himself he craves a chaplet of laurel? Shall Jesus ascend to His throne by the cross, and do we expect to be carried there on the shoulders of applauding crowds? Be not so vain in your imagination. Count you the cost, and if you are not willing to bear Christ’s cross, go away to your farm and to your merchandise, and make the most of them…” We are highly trained in the skill of negotiation, and have gone to great lengths to discover diplomatic ways to avoid suffering for the cause of Christ. However, trying to negotiate with the world to avoid suffering is like trying to feed an alligator hoping he will eat you last! A man never truly knows what he is living for until he knows what he would die for.
Tom Elliff tells the powerful story of a school teacher who found himself facing two enemy soldiers during World War II. Pointing to the flags of his country and his faith, which were on the wall behind his desk, they demanded that he tear them down or lose his life. Upon his refusal to tear the flags off the wall, the soldiers shot him, ripped the flags off the wall, and threw them over his body which they left for dead. A friend found him and quickly got him medical help ensuring his survival. The friend asked him why he didn’t just tear the flags down and spare himself being shot. The teacher replied, “Sir, there comes a time in the life of every man when he must prove what he believes by what he does.”
You may ask, “Now, preacher, are you calling the church to militant action?” I would prefer to say I’m sounding a cry for the church to awaken from its slumber, and valiantly stand at the post of all we say we really believe. When the Roman soldiers came into the Garden of Gethsemane, it wasn’t Peter’s sword Jesus needed as much as He needed Peter firmly standing with Him. If we take the wrong stand today, our children and grandchildren may just change their names tomorrow because they are so ashamed of us!
© 2011, Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.