Several years ago, my son Kaleb and I were in Oklahoma City to attend a Grace Christian University men’s and women’s basketball team tournament. (Amber, Kaleb’s future wife, was on the team). Games were scheduled for late afternoon and early evening, so we decided to spend the day taking in the sights of Oklahoma City. (It is a very nice town.) After consulting a city guide map, we chose our destinations and set out sightseeing. We first walked through the sobering Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum which was built in recognition of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1985. Seeing the lighted glass monuments in the garden for the 168 individuals (including 19 children) who lost their lives that day caused emotions of sorrow and sadness. We imagined the interruption in the lives of the families represented there. On that morning in April, they woke up, went to work, and planned evening activities—never seriously thinking about eternity nor the possibility of being “gone” before lunchtime on that dreadful day.
FOOD AT THE ZOO
Later that day, we went to a very nice city zoo. En route I told Kaleb, “We have to get some food to feed the animals — because they will be much more active and enjoyable to watch.” We have all seen those lazy bears and sluggish lions that sleep with indifference and won’t do anything to acknowledge your presence — even when you make a fool of yourself by doing your best to imitate their distinctive sounds. (You don’t do that? What fun are you at a zoo?!) As we neared the zoo, I searched for a grocery or convenience store where I could buy something (a Hostess Twinkie, a bag of jelly beans, or some pretzels…what do bears really crave during those long hours of hibernation anyway?). As we came around the corner, I pulled the car into a parking lot right next to the zoo, discovering we had already arrived without coming upon the desired snack vendors. But as the vehicle entered the parking lot, there in the middle of this adjacent lot was a small plastic package (obviously lost by someone during earlier transportation activities). We pulled the car over to the mystery package, and to our delight, we discovered a pack of hamburger buns! I scooped them up and pulled the car into a parking spot near the zoo entrance—thanking God for His miraculous supply. As we exited the car, we began to stuff a half of bun into every pocket until we looked like disobedient children awaiting a good spanking. (Not that I ever had had any experience with that!) We entered the zoo, and since there were very few people on a weekday afternoon we had a great time feeding the animals what they really wanted – starchy, stale white “melt in your mouth” hamburger buns! We came upon some inactive gorillas that, after seeing what we had to offer, went crazy for the stuff as we “Frisbee tossed” the ‘morsels of choice’ to them over the electric wires and moats separating man and beast. The whole group of gorillas looked like they’d been forced onto the Atkins diet against their will for months and couldn’t wait to “relapse” to normal junk food from their circus days! Is it too painful to state “they went ape” over the stuff? We observed them for a long time and were absolutely amazed at their docile movements to run down and retrieve, beat off the others and scamper away with our ‘dietary supplements.’
I have often heard when relating this story to others, “What would make you think of doing such a thing?” Actually, it was an illustration I had often used in evangelism which merely played out before our eyes that day. In the 1994 move, “Forrest Gump,” the title character, Forrest, makes a profound statement, “When you go to the zoo, always take some food to feed the animals. There are signs there that say DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS, but it wasn’t the animals that put those signs up!”
PERSONAL AND PRIVATE MATTERS
In other words, there will always be people who tell you what is and is not appropriate, but they may be absolutely incorrect. People will aggressively tell you that faith and religion is a personal matter. I agree with that: each one personally — or maybe better stated — each one individually must come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You can’t be forgiven of your sins and receive reconciliation with God by an act of your brother or a friend. But when people tell us it is a “private matter” and not to be discussed because it is inappropriate, we must never acquiesce. This progression in the world’s logic which is used by the devil to keep others from hearing and understanding the Gospel is very recognizable. Remember “faith comes by hearing…” (Romans 10:17), and the devil is fully aware that if he prevents the lost from hearing, he’s won a great victory. Here is the progression the devil uses to blind the lost and neutralize believers from sharing the Good News:
* First, we find it uncomfortable to talk about – it makes people feel guilty or sinful! Therefore, we begin to fear causing ourselves and others any discomfort.
* Second, we become more comfortable NOT speaking about it, so that no one gets put on the defensive or feels bad. We begin to rationalize our silence as better and less “confrontational,” so it is therefore better for everyone involved. (Remember the military policy – don’t ask…don’t tell? that was wildly successful wasn’t it? – [sarcasm implied])
*Third, we actually start to promote the idea that it is “inappropriate” to speak of such issues, because they are private matters and imply that these things are “none of your business” anyway. The common man on the street begins to frown and look down upon those who speak up, and both believers and unbelievers agree to “let it lie.”
*Fourth, we actually legislate against the speaking about such issues. We state, “No one has the right to speak about this.” Therefore if you are “narrow” enough to have a definite opinion on this, you need to keep silent. The legislation – outlawing a person’s freedom to speak on issues — is real in other countries where believers are told “no proselytizing.” So, what do Christians do in those countries? They speak out the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a society that is sick and in need of redemption! (Examples are Indonesia, China, Iraq, and others.)
INAPPROPRIATE AND ILLEGAL
In Acts Chapter 4, the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law met after seizing Peter and John and throwing them in jail. They brought them before the council and asked, “By what power or what name did you heal this crippled beggar and throw our city into an uproar?” Peter, knowing these were the very leaders (the Sanhedrin) who tried and sentenced Jesus to be done away with makes this oft-quoted powerful statement: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by whom we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The leadership dismisses Peter and John and goes into closed session to decide what to do with these troublemakers. After a time of discussion, “they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus“(4:18). It was now moving from stage # 3 to #4, from more than “inappropriate” to “wrong,” and they were further threatened. Notice Peter and John’s response: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God” (4:19). Here we find legitimacy to speak out the truth, while at the same time being submissive to the authorities over us politically and socially.
Furthermore, in the next chapters of Acts we read of the Sanhedrin calling back Peter and John and the other apostles and imprisoning them for disobedience to their commands. The High Priest himself questioned them stating, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name….Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” (Acts 5:28). To that accusation they respond, “We must obey God rather than men!” After more discussion and warnings they are finally “flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus” and let go” (Acts 5:40). They responded by “Day after day, in the temple courts, and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42).
AMERICAN CULTURE’S PROGRESSION OF MUTING THE GOSPEL
The time is coming and is now VERY NEAR, when the label of “inappropriate” will move to what I labeled in stage four above as “illegal.” The legislature of the present administration continues to invade our personal rights in America to what a few special interest groups believe to be more “tolerant.” But this legislation is, in the end, nothing more than an attempt to erode the Biblical standard which applies to all – not just to those who choose to recognize it. It is very appropriate and still most appropriate to share the saving gospel of Jesus Christ with lost and dying men. God is still “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “Everyone” includes those who are behind the signs placed by supposed caretakers of society saying, “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS,” while those who long for the Gospel of salvation are made to live on the unsavory, and unsatisfying words and ideas of man. Paul states “we should pray for kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:1-5). God desires that our peaceful and quiet life never be absent of holiness and godliness and to see “ALL MEN SAVED.” This will never happen if we acquiesce to the prevalent mindset used by the devil – “don’t talk about personal issues.” A soul who is endangered and dying is always worthy of saving – whether we scream at a woman about to be hit by a bus, run and pull a child off the train tracks from an approaching train, or ask someone, “do you believe in a heaven and hell, and where will you go after you die?” Those are “saving actions,” always appropriate to be done in love and concern for those in danger. Never allow the devil to call inappropriate what is most dear to the heart of our Lord!
How many of those 168 individuals who lost their lives on April 19, 1985, lived in close proximity to a believer? How many of them worked, did business with, or lived next door to someone who trusted in Christ and had the answer concerning their eternal destiny? No doubt, many feared the “inappropriateness” of imposing their religious views on their friends, and were devastated to hear they had died without being told. Do they regret believing the voice of society and remaining silent? It is always appropriate to save a life, to hold it out for the taking for those who so desperately are hungry for it, even when they “appear well fed.”