Chico, California is a quaint city. Nestled about 120 miles north of Sacramento, it is surrounded by miles of orchards, rice fields, plowed fields, and neatly manicured cattle ranches. In the distance, one can see the mountains reaching heavenward between Chico and the Pacific Ocean. Gorgeous. Not at all like Southern CA.
My wife lived in Northern CA for the first few years of her childhood. She had always told me how beautiful it was, and that it was not like the hot deserts of Southern CA in which I trained while in the US Marine Corps. After 37 years on this planet, I finally found myself on a flight from Atlanta to Sacramento, on my way to a wedding in Chico. And, Northern CA did not disappoint, unique in its landscape, a testimony to our Creator God’s greatness, beauty, and glory.
Except one little detail, which did disappoint me greatly. On the second morning of my stay, I nestled in behind the local newspaper with a hot cup of what had to be the best hotel coffe I have ever imbibed. The coffee notwithstanding, what I saw in the “Religion” section of the paper ruined my day. While it was not shocking to me or even surprising, it was disheartening.
There, on the page where local churches and pastors list the worship service times and the upcoming sermon titles, I saw churches offering “Pet Blessing Services.” Come have Pastor so-and-so pronounce a blessing on your furry friends. One has to wonder how such a blessing goes:
Almighty God, please bless and keep Fluffy. Please cause Your face to shine upon Fluffy, and be gracious to him. Please lift up Your countenance upon Fluffy and give him peace. Amen.
Now unto Him who is able to keep Lassie from running into parked cars, and to make Lassie street-wise and blameless before His glorious presence . . . be all glory, majesty, dominion, and authority forever. Amen.
As if that advertisement were not enough to raise my gospel hackles, I read on and found the sermon title from the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship: “The Psychology of Uncivil Behavior: Exploring how uncivil behavior affects personal, civic, political and spiritual lives.”
God help us! If this is what the “church” is offering to Americans, no wonder they are staying home in droves. And, if this is what they’d hear if they did attend a “worship” service, then by all means they might as well stay home and watch the TV preacher. At least maybe he would say a little something about unholy sinners living in outright rebellion to a holy God, and therefore living under His just wrath and condemnation. Maybe, just maybe, the TV or internet preacher would mention the provision this holy God has made to forgive unholy sinners, to spare them His certain wrath, through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Maybe the televangelist would at least quip about Jesus absorbing the Divine punishment rightly due us guilty sinners. Maybe he would exhort sinful people to flee from the wrath to come, turn from sin, and trust wholeheartedly in the saving work of Jesus. Maybe he would remind listeners that they are completely helpless to earn heaven or God’s gracious forgiveness. Maybe he’d say sinners can never be good enough to meet a standard of absolute perfection. Maybe he’d again urge people to cry out for mercy from God, and lean wholly on Jesus’ perfection. Maybe he’d preach like Jesus, saying “The kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Oh, how far American religion has fallen from the days of Roger Williams and Jonathan Edwards. Pet blessings and Psychology lessons are a far cry from “Preach the Word; be instant in season, and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim 4:2).
Preachers, if you’re listening, preach the Word. Teachers, teach the Word. Parents, talk with your children about the Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). The stakes are too high, and time too short to worry over Fluffy’s spiritual status. Incivility is not the root problem. Sin is and it is heart-deep. Preach the Word.