Rev. John Kha Tran

A pastor was delivering a strong message on the evils of alcohol. Rather loudly he said, “If I had all the wine in the world, I’d dump it in the river.” Even louder he declared, “If I had all the beer in the world, I’d dump it in the river.” Finally he pounded the pulpit and ended his sermon by exclaiming, “If I had all the whiskey in the world, I’d dump it in the river.”

The music director rose for the final hymn and said with a crooked grin, “Please turn to hymn 108, ‘Shall We Gather at the River?”

Gather at the River

It is funny but also true. We sin. We go to confession to get rid of our sins. Then we go out to commit the very same sins we wanted to get rid of.

In his vision, the Prophet Daniel says, “Someday all peoples, nations, and languages will serve the Son of Man.” We have not seen that day yet. That day is still on its way. We don’t know it is near or still far away. There are still much works to do. The Son of Man already came and died for the salvation of humankind, but the majority of people in the world still have not accepted him. The Son of Man has already given his life to the world, but the world is still looking for life without Him.

Last week the Los Angeles Newspaper reported that “There is no room for a 60-year-old Nativity display in Santa Monica’s showcase park after a federal judge ruled against churches who had sued to keep the tradition alive when atheists stole the show with their own anti-God messages. The Judge said the city was within its constitutional right to eliminate the exemption that had allowed the Nativity at the oceanfront Palisades Park because the change affected all comers – from Christians to Jews to atheists – and provided other avenues for public religious speech.”

We continue to struggle between the worldly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. The People of Israel struggled to decide to stay under the reign of Pharaoh or the reign of God. Pharaoh did not support the people of Israel. They had to make the choice either to stay in Egypt or to leave and follow the leadership of Moses to cross the Red sea and the desert into the promise-land. Some people chose to stay in Egypt and the majority others chose to follow the leadership of Moses to the promise-land. Today we also have to decide either to stay with the worldly kingdom or to follow Jesus Christ and live under the kingship of Christ and the leadership of the Church. If our government chooses to be unfriendly with our Christian faith, we choose to continue to show our faith in friendly Christian ways. If we are not allowed to display the nativity scene in Public Square, we will display it in the front yards of our houses. There are Christian churches in every city around America; the Nativity scene can always be displayed there. We don’t need to fight with atheists in courts or at the city halls. We need to fight the war within our hearts to reclaim and renew our Christian commitment and our faith in Jesus Christ.

Alarming Signs

The problem is not our government but our hearts. It is alarming that many people do not want to be on God’s side. Many of our people are turning away from God. Jesus Christ has become only a sentimental celebration of the season. They celebrate Christmas, but Christianity is no longer appreciated in America’s public life. Christ is no longer the personal Savior to many people. Christian culture is becoming less welcomed in America. According to Dave Miller, “For 185 years, American culture was friendly toward Christianity. America was, in fact, considered a 'Christian nation.' After all, America has never been considered an Islamic, Buddhist, or Hindu nation, even as it has never been a religionless nation. But for the last 50 years, sinister forces – from humanism, atheism, and evolution, to social liberalism, pluralism, and 'political correctness' – have been aggressive in their assault on the Christian religion. They have succeeded in gradually dismantling many of the moral and spiritual principles that once characterized society. America’s religious, moral, and spiritual underpinning is literally disintegrating... Indeed, America is at war! America is fighting a spiritual culture war. Regardless of the surface issues, the central issue is – God. Make no mistake: America is in the throes of a life-and-death struggle over whether the God of the Bible will continue to be acknowledge as the one true God, and Christianity as the one true religion” (Dave Miller, “The Silencing of God, p. 1).

The reality is that our society has become more secularized. Our people are more and more embracing the secular values. A prominent executive in the communications industry who owns several television stations, and chairman of his own broadcasting company, and also a multi-millionaire, was speaking to a group a broadcasters and journalists, he said: “I am not much of a religious person, to tell the truth. I don’t like ‘isms.’ I mean, I don’t like communism or capitalism. ‘Isms’ by far have the most problems in the world and they are the result of religion. Religion is responsible. I mean, I am sick of it. Heaven is going to be a mighty slender place and most of the people I know aren’t going to be there. Remember, heaven is going to be perfect and I don’t really want to be there. Those of us who go to hell will meet most of us in this room.” (Meaning journalists, broadcasters and so on). “Most of us in this room will go to hell.” He continues, “Heaven is perfect. Who wants to be in a place that is perfect? Very boring.” Then he says, “Your delegations to the United Nations are not as important as the people in this room, broadcasters and journalists. We are the ones that determine what the people’s attitudes are. It is in our hands. We are in control.” The people who were at the meeting applauded him, laughed, thought he was the greatest guy. And here he was telling them, “I don’t believe in religion. Religion is terrible and we, the broadcasters, the journalists, we are the ones who determine the attitude of mankind.” (Msgr. Edward Peter Browne, God First Sermons: The Kingship of Christ. Vo. 1, 1994).

That is a reality. The media and journalists have more influence in the life of our people than the Church of Jesus Christ. Their voices are being listened and their messages are selling better than our Christian messages. It is not because the Christian messages are irrelevant. Christ is always relevant. His messages always give life. The problem is in us, the messengers. We are inadequate messengers. 

Our Core Mission

We cannot blame the government or the people of the world for being anti-Christians. It is wonderful to have a government that is friendly to our Christian faith, but we cannot depend on any government to promote our Christian faith. Jesus did not entrust his saving mission to the Roman Empire neither to King Herod nor to Pilate. We cannot blame God to let the world to turn away from Him either. God already gave his only Son to the world. God’s Son already offered himself as the sacrifice to save the world. And He has entrusted this saving mission to his followers, to the Church, to you and me. It is up to each of us now to continue this saving mission in the world. It is important that we renew our commitment to Christ and make our own sacrifices for this saving mission. We cannot afford to be ignorant and timid of our faith or intimidated by the secular worldly culture. It is important that we proclaim and practice our faith with clear and strong conviction! We are being sent into the world to continue the saving mission of Jesus Christ. He is our King. And we are serving under his kingship. If you and I are true disciples of Jesus Christ, we will commit to Christ and to make his teachings known to the world. To be effective in our mission, we need to be well informed Christians. We need to study and consult with Jesus Christ in prayers. We cannot represent Christ in the world if we do not understand him and accept his teachings. Our voices are not heard and our messages are not selling in the world markets because we have not taken adequate times to be with Jesus and to consult with him about his saving products. We have not adequately understood his saving mission. When our minds and hearts are united with Jesus Christ our King, and when our concerns are no longer about things of this world but only about the saving mission of Jesus Christ, saving the human souls, our voices will be authentic and our messages will be heard. People will take our messages seriously when we are authentic Christians, living, serving, and seeking the interests of the Kingdom of God. Jesus clearly defines his kingdom, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” Clearly Jesus’ business is to save the world. Our business in this world is to help Jesus saving the people of our time. We can promote Christian values in the world only with our authentic living as Jesus’ followers!