PHOENIX?Texas pastor Jack Graham, in his president’s address at the 146th annual meeting of the 158-year-old Southern Baptist Convention, June 17, told messengers he knew he was stating the obvious.
“If we are going to make a difference, we of course must be different,” he said, challenging Southern Baptists to represent Christ to a decaying culture.
Citing a familiar passage from Matthew 5:13-16 about Christians being “salt and light,” Graham recounted Jesus’ description of how a citizen of the Kingdom of God is to live.
While it may be difficult to define the Kingdom, it is essential to demonstrate the Kingdom, he stated, referring to this year’s convention’s theme ? Kingdom First. And although the concept is commonly understood by Southern Baptists, Graham said there seems to be little difference between “the way Christians live today ? or professing Christians ? and the way the world lives.”
Elaborating on the words of Sir Winston Churchill, Graham spoke of the opportunities each person has to make a difference.
“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared and unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
Graham challenged Southern Baptists to rise to their “finest hour” at a time of “an ever darkening and increasingly decaying world” in which people seem to invent new ways to demonstrate “sinful depravity.” That should not surprise God’s people, he said, recalling the apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Tim 3:13 that “in the last days, evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
The optimism of the 1990s encouraged by a flourishing economy and seemingly impregnable national security was erased by the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on America, he said.
“Once again, we recognized the face of evil and the weight of sin,” Graham admitted.
“Some would say we should pack it in, go to our churches and worship and wait for the next bus to heaven. Some would say the world is going to hell and there’s not anything we can do about it.”
Strongly disagreeing, he insisted, “There is something we can do about it. There is something we must do about it. Future generations, our own children and our grandchildren, for their sake, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, we must make a difference for the cause of our King.”
That occurs by penetrating the decay of the culture and illuminating the darkness with the mission and vision of God rather than “retreating into some Christian subculture,” he added.
“It seems that in our time the world wants to hear every view but our view, and then they even have the audacity to blame the problems of the culture and society on us. We have been called in recent days terrorists and bigots. … You are the national scapegoat,” Graham said, adding that it reminded him of the biblical account of King Ahab calling the prophet Elijah a “troubler of Israel.”
“Elijah shot back,” Graham said. “‘It’s not me. You, O king, you are the troubler of Israel because of your idolatry.'”
Graham drew applause when he challenged Christians not to retreat in the face of persecution. Instead, “run to the roar of our king and the king’s battle, and we will win the day. May God give us the lion heart of our King.”
While some forces are attempting to silence believers, discouraging them from influencing schools, workplaces and lifestyles, Graham said Christians cannot “resist the rub and the call of God to penetrate our world.”
“Can you imagine the moral condition of our world if it were not for Bible believing, Kingdom-living Christians?” asked Graham.
“Can you imagine where we would be, for example, on the abortion issue in our times were it not for the salty influence and penetrations of God’s people at this particular time?”
Graham said people in the United States will not be made better nor the world changed through social programs, education, and legislation or even in electing the right president.
“There is only one way to change the world, and it is by changing people’s hearts. And the only way to change people’s hearts will be by the life-changing, unique and only message of truth ? the message of Jesus Christ,” he said, referring to the exclusivity of the gospel. “The cultural solution, the moral solution of our time is a salt solution.”
As a part of this process of preservation, Graham said the salt penetrates, irritates and stimulates. He pointed to the need for Christians to resist rottenness in order to combat evil and deter decadence.