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FIRST-PERSON: How to talk about America in the worst way

JACKSON, Miss. (BP) — A preacher once told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.” “The country is becoming socialist.” “The president is our worst enemy.” “The Supreme Court is ruining America.” “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak anymore.”

OK, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court has issued ruling after ruling that has changed the character of marriage, definition of gender, responsibilities of employers and a hundred other things.

Conservatives are justifiably concerned. We are stuck with their decisions.

Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write “Ichabod” over what used to be a great country? Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Not so fast.

When a friend sent his sermon outline for the July 4th message he planned to preach — it was mostly a litany of what’s wrong with America — he was not asking for my opinion. He said, “What do you think is the future of America?”

I mulled that over a few hours before replying. Then I said something like the following:

I don’t know what the future of America is. I’m not sure where this country is going. But I can tell you something about that sermon as you have it laid out so far.

Everything you said is true. But your people already know that. So, the sermon is going to tell them what they already know. And, it’ll be depressing. Frankly, this is cheap preaching. Anyone can preach about all the negative stuff this nation — or any nation — is doing. Nations are made up of sinners, and their leaders tend to reflect that.

All governments have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Give us some remedies (I told my friend). Tell about someone who is doing it right, who is a strength to America and a blessing to mankind. Yes, go ahead and lay out the problem. But don’t dwell on it. Move on to the positive, to examples of people who are doing something helpful, something inspiring, something righteous.

When I was 19, I joined a Southern Baptist church near my college. Before long, I began hearing negative preaching flowing from the pulpits, usually accompanied by flailing arms and raised voice: “Our homes no longer have family altars!”

I had to ask someone what a family altar was. The term suggested to this untaught mind a place of human sacrifice.

Often in Sunday School, teachers would drop in testimonials such as, “In my childhood, Dad would gather us all around after supper and we would spend a half hour reading the Word and praying. People don’t do that anymore. What’s the world coming to?”

To me, a spiritual infant, this all communicated one impression: no one has a family prayer time anymore and this is the norm. If you are not praying together as a family, you’re like everyone else. So don’t beat yourself up about it and feel guilty.

The negative preaching and teaching had communicated the opposite of what had been intended.

What, I wondered, would be the result if we told stories of parents who got this thing right? Later, as a pastor, I told about Jim and Sondra.

Jim jogged from 5 to 6 each morning, and Sondra from 6 to 7. While she was out, Jim awakened their preschoolers, dressed them and played with them. They had a solid hour together every morning. Sometimes in the afternoon, Jim would call home. “Honey, I’ve got 30 minutes with no appointments. Get the kids ready.” He rushed home from his veterinary practice. He walked in the door, set the oven timer for 30 minutes, went into the children’s room, closed the door and played with them. When the timer sounded, he was out the door and back to work.

When I was Jim’s pastor, I delighted in telling what he did. It’s a positive declaration about family life that encourages people rather than depressing them under a load of guilt and worry.

I used to have a veteran deacon who would teach the young men about leading their families. “My wife and I love to use the Open Windows (devotional quarterly). They’re just long enough and have excellent readings. And the church provides them free.”

He was telling the young men that this was the norm, that as a godly father you should lead your family and here is one way to do it.

Is anything right in America? Then, tell it, pastor.

Is anyone doing something inspiring in America? Let’s hear it.

Absolutely, call attention to the areas of concern. No one is suggesting you ignore the dark side and tickle the ears of the congregation. But if the goal is to produce righteous saints who function as salt and light in a dark world, tell how it’s done.

The most patriotic thing I can do for America is to lead a child to Christ, to raise a healthy offspring who becomes part of the answer of this nation and not another of its problems.

I cannot undo the Supreme Court’s ruling. But I can do everything in my power to help the redeemed in Christ have solid Christian marriages and raise terrific kids.

Let’s build sermons around that, pastor. Let’s show them how it’s done instead of bemoaning the fact that no one is doing it.

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever