Ever say those words, “I don’t feel like it?” I don’t but I feel them. Sometimes, when I the alarm wakes me up in the morning, I don’t feel like getting up. I don’t feel like doing some parts of my job. I especially hate doing paperwork; I never feel like doing that. On the other hand, I almost always feel like reading. I always feel like eating, often things that are bad for me. I learned, a long time ago, that feelings are rather unreliable guides for living, and I generally try to do what is necessary and right. That has always seemed rather reasonable to me.
I was telling a friend about my hope to start a school for immigrants. I told her that I couldn’t quite understand why God gave such a responsibility to me because, in many ways, I feel quite unsuited, and she wrote back:
Maybe you are getting that burden because our country is just trying to get along with the immigrants and not teaching them to become one of us. I think by just putting
everything in 2 languages, we separate them more from the people of the U.S. Good
luck on getting Christians to help. I have found that most Christians…but far from all…care about what’s in it for them. So sad… Our church motto is ”It’s all about Him,” but I am afraid most people feel it’s all about themselves…
Her thoughts aren’t exactly original, but they have been bouncing around in my mind for several days. Is it really true that American Christians have become selfish? Is a downside of prosperity selfishness? Do we care so much for ourselves that we don’t have time to care for others? Is there something beyond the normal problem of sin that has infected us and our churches in the United States? Is the great American missionary movement over? I wonder, too, if Christians have ever really cared for those of other nations and cultures. Is the current attitude about illegal immigrants only concern for our American security and heritage, or does xenophobia infect the hearts of believers in the United States
“Most people feel” caught my attention. For much of the last century, we have been shifting from thought to feeling as a basis for living. Existentialism has given way to postmodernism, but both share the sense that the self, the individual, is the center of the universe. We have traded the objective authority of God and His Word for the subjective authority of personal opinion and preference. We have given up knowledge, reason, and wisdom for ignorance, impulse, and feelings, but it isn’t necessarily a new problem:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s
wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.—I Corinthians 1:20-25
Neither Jew nor Greek was looking for the cross, a symbol of suffering and sacrifice; they each sought their own
version of subjective proof. Greek “wisdom” was dissociated from the real world while Jew wanted signs for the
thrill. It’s easy for sinners to set up obstacles to avoid doing business with God and for believers to excuse
themselves from obedience.
Christians put a spiritual veneer over their selfish desire for good feelings, taking them in two wrong directions. On the one hand, Jesus promised hardship and hatred for those who followed him, not exactly feel-good
emotions; on the other, his example of love is outwardly sacrificial, not selfishly self-gratifying. We allow
inadequate substitutes, all that are left to unbelievers, to become our own, exchanging lies for the truth:
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind(set), to do what ought not to be done. 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, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 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 1:28-32
Sadly, there’s considerable evidence of that progression in modern American culture including many congregations, regardless of their history, denomination, or charismatic, fundamentalist, or evangelical label. The reason we find it so difficult to convince people of wrong choices and preferences is that they have given up, practically if not nominally, the authority of the Word and the methods of reason that allow us to understand it. Instead, we feel. My interest in starting schools for immigrants ought to tap into 3 traditionally strong areas of Christian ministry—children, missions, and patriotism. Immigrant children, regardless of their status, face a difficult future here, even if it appears to be an improvement over their country of origin.
They are outsiders in our culture, our schools do an even poorer job of teaching them since they don’t bother actually to teach them English, and many of them will not be able to prosper as a result. Millions of non-English people live here already, and the influx of new immigrants is substantial. We also provide college and graduate
education for another large body of internationals. The potential for missionary outreach is enormous. Since most of them want to learn English, despite our own nation’s ambivalence about a single national language, a school would provide an open door into the lives and hearts of people, many of whom will become neighbors and co-workers, while others could easily be the next generation of missionaries back into their communities, here and abroad.
Finally, we have a tremendous opportunity not only to bring these folk into the Body of Christ but into traditional American life. While many fight a political and ideological battle to reclaim our American heritage of faith and values, we could be winning it with kindness, generosity, and love, expressed in schools that teach English, authentic American history, constitutionalism, and traditional values that most immigrants already possess. While politicians and educators play games with immigration in order to gain cheap labor and votes, we could be turning our nation around.
Unfortunately, if my friend is right, we will fail. If we are too self-centered to care about these people, and too short-sighted to recognize the threat we face, then we will not only lose our nation, we will lose the “good feelings” we are focused on instead. It will be hard to feel good in a country that we will no longer recognize.
I offer two challenges to those with self-serving attitudes. First, from a purely selfish point of view, living in complacent self-absorption is like being an ostrich with your head in the sand; hiding from the threat doesn’t
make you safe. Christians have enjoyed such liberty and blessing in this country that they seem to think that nothing can destroy their good lives. Like the frog in the kettle, we don’t seem to notice how hot things are getting to be.
However, the second challenge is the more important. The greater threat for believers comes from ignoring our god-given mandates—be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, preach the gospel, make disciples of all nations, and love one another. Many have substituted humanist notions for these, ignoring God’s word and flatly disobeying Him. Some Christians condemn unbelievers for their disbelief and earthly values; many need to look into the mirror of Scripture and see their own lack of faith and obedience. Then, they should be afraid:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man…For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.—Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
I am grateful for the free gift of forgiveness in Jesus Christ and for the gracious, merciful God who arranged salvation in the sacrificial death of his own Son. Yet, when I consider my own failings, despite the assurances I find in Scripture, I feel just a little nervous. That’s what I feel. I certainly don’t feel like I can ignore the problems around me or those inside my own heart. I have my own struggles with selfishness, as we all do, but the new heart that God has given me feels compassion for others. It isn’t purely automatic, or Jesus would have commanded us to love one another or love our neighbors as ourselves, and those are high priority mandates, to be ignored “with fear and trembling,” it seems to me.
So, what do you think? Do you share my friend’s doubt that people care more for themselves than for these most desperately needy strangers among us? Is it “All about Him” and what He wants us to do, or is it really just all about “Me?” Are the words of worship and praise sung in thousands of American churches, every Sunday, “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7)? Do we put more effort into storing up treasures in heaven or treasures on earth (Mathew 6:19-21)? Where is your heart? Where your treasure is, that’s where.
Do you feel like doing something to preserve or restore our American heritage? Probably not. Do you feel like putting your own interests aside for the sake of people who are different and even a threat to the life we know? I doubt it. Do you feel like serving God as a missionary or evangelist, even in your own back yard? Unlikely. Do you even feel like giving up just a little of your safe and happy life to make a difference in someone else’s? If you are like many Americans, not a chance. I don’t ask you to feel like doing anything. Instead, I challenge you to do what is right, needful, and faithful to God, regardless of how you feel.