We all hope that if we are in trouble someone will hear our cries and jump in.
One woman was heard one night after her Bible group met.
Imagine walking home after a little fellowship and studying the Bible. Your heart feels content. Your soul feels nourished. But one woman experienced a panic as she narrowly escaped being kidnapped.
According to Fox News, a 21-year-old woman was leaving the Bible study on the east side of Cleveland when she was attacked by a couple of men wearing ski masks, black coats and blue jeans as she tried to get into her vehicle.
The two males tried forcing her into the backseat.
“Get in the car,” they demanded.
She was able to pull away and run back to the house where the Bible study was. But one man grabbed the hood of her coat and pulled her back towards him.
He then dragged her from the driveway and across the street. The victim kicked and screamed to alert neighbors as she scraped the pavement. This is when her Bible study friends came outside to her rescue. The men were scared off and ran through backyards to escape, leaving only footprints in the snow.
Customers from a local tavern heard the noise and came out to assist the woman’s friends.
“It could have happened to anybody and it’s unfortunate that it happened to somebody I know, and somebody who was just coming here to go to a Bible study at the church,” Sam Hartman told Fox.
The neighborhood is shaken from the event.
“It’s a nice area, but it’s frightening to have things happen like that — the Shaker Square bank hold up two weeks ago; they are kind of black marks on what should be a nice neighborhood,” said another neighbor.
Investigators hope to find evidence of who the two perpetrators were by obtaining surveillance video.
What if people didn’t step in? The news could have been bleaker.
You know the Golden Rule or law of reciprocity? It is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. This rule is also associated with what Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:12: “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”
This is something to recognize when we see someone in need.
Author and former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke at the National Press Club on April 7th and said there needs to be five amendments to Islam. She said “individuals” within Islam today are coming forth and admitting that Muhammad provides ‘too much inspiration to too many bad people.’ Listen to her recommendations.
Worship service attendance is up in New York City, but down among young adult Jews, according to recent studies. On the other hand, fewer Spanish-speaking teens are attending Catholic mass, but more are showing up at Evangelical churches.
A recent Barna study shows not only increased New York City church attendance, but growing numbers of “born-again” Big Apple believers.“The findings defy not only stereotypes about ‘godless’ New Yorkers,” writes Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a guest column in the Washington Post, “but also illustrate that, despite all the talk about secularizing America, church participation has remained remarkably unchanged nationally for most of 80 years.”
But what about all the reports in the media that nobody goes to church anymore? Actually only a very small percentage of Americans claim no affiliation with any particular faith. Tooley acknowledges the “much ballyhooed religiously unaffiliated” numbers, but notes that it translates to “about 15-20 percent of Americans (some of whom still report attending religious services and most of whom still profess belief in God.).” In fact, he points out, “About 75-80 of Americans percent say they are Christian, with Jews the next largest religious group, numbering under 2 percent.”
In fact among Jews, the Pew Research Center reports “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish – resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox,” as reported recently by the New York Times.
The study shows that it’s the younger Jews who have catapulted this movement. The editor-in-chief of The Jewish Daily Forward found the results to be “devastating,” but not all hope is lost. There is a group called Reboot that was formed specifically to help young Jews feel more connected to their Jewish identity.
The co-founder of the group is Roger Bennett who, as a “non-religious Jew” himself, found that many of his peers wanted to connect in some way to their Jewish heritage, but did not want to go to synagogue every week or practice the seemingly dusty old religion their parents and grandparents had been brought up with.
Bennett began reaching out to Jews in the creative fields – producers, writers, playwrights, architects, actors and so forth. As a result, Reboot was born and has grown to hundreds of members, with people such as Emmy Award-winning TV writer Damon Lindleof, Los Angeles Times journalist Joel Stein, comedian Jill Soloway, novelist Aimee Bender, science write Josh Foer and How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, who gather each year to talk about new ways to get the younger generation engaged.
“Reboot has turned into a national network of young, creative Jews founded on the belief that every generation must grapple with the questions of identity, community, and meaning on its own terms,” explains Courtney E Greenhalgh of Workman Publishing. “Reboot has created over 100 projects reaching an audience in the hundreds of thousands, including the National Day of Unplugging and the international architecture contest Sukkah City, among others. It was a Reboot meeting that inspired A. J. Jacobs to write his bestseller The Year of Living Biblically.”
Among Latinos, the surprising trend is a return to church – although it’s not always to the Roman Catholic mass of their childhood. Hispanics living in the United States are now increasingly evangelical Protestants, according to a national survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“While Catholic affiliation has dropped by 16 percentage points,” reports Hafiz, “evangelical Protestant affiliation has increased by six percentage points in the same period to 13 percent today. In the same amount of time, the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics has also increased by seven percentage points to 12 percent. Reported in the Hispanic Values Survey, the findings show a significant shift in the religious landscape of Hispanic Americans.
‘“The rise of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics is critically important for understanding the changing composition and political profile of Hispanics in America,” said the Public Religion Research Institute’s Dr. Robert P. Jones. “Many pundits have argued that evangelical growth will lead to a conservative shift among Hispanics over time, but the rival emergence of religiously unaffiliated Hispanics, who are liberal on a range of issues, serves as an important counterweight.”
The survey also showed that Hispanics have a generally more favorable opinion of Pope Francis as an individual than they do of the Catholic Church, as 69 percent of Hispanics surveyed have a positive impression of Francis but only 54 percent said they had a favorable impression of the church, according to Hafiz.
The increasing diversity in the Hispanic community will have repercussions when it comes to courting the Latino vote, writes Hafiz. “When looking at 2012 voting habits, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated voted for Obama, whereas the majority of Evangelicals voted for Romney. It’s really interesting to see this political polarization between the two groups that are growing the fastest. You are dealing with a religious diversity that 20 years ago wasn’t there.”
Has the African-American Christian church lost its influence? Has it become weaker? “The Black church is the single most important institution in the Black community,” writes theologian James Cone. “Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing to the present, it has been the oldest and most independent African-American organization. Its importance is so great that some scholars say that the Black church is the Black community, with each having no identity apart from the other.”
And the Black church remains extremely influential. As Illinois legislators considered legalizing same-sex marriage in their state, a number of traditionally Democratic clergy in the Black community put out the word that they will work to unseat lawmakers who vote in favor, reported CBS News affiliate WBBM’s reporter Mike Krauser.
Bishop Larry Trotter, of Sweet Holy Spirit Church in Chicago, vowed there would be consequences for lawmakers who support same sex marriage.
“I think that they will feel the crunch. I think that they cannot take for granted that they can come to the church and get the church’s sanction and votes and signatures and then go to Springfield and don’t speak what the people want them to speak. If that’s how we have to be heard, we will be heard.”
Bishop Trotter and Bishop Lance Davis, of New Zion Covenant Church in Dolton, said they are planning what to do next. Their activism seems to fly in the face of many Christian conservative leaders who say America is in a “post-Christian” period – citing political setbacks on homosexual marriage and hostility from cultural elites in the media and academia.
“It’s true that America often feels religiously different from past decades,” writes Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a guest column in the Washington Post, “even though rates of religious practice remain mostly unchanged and in some cases even higher than in supposedly more pious eras.
“Unlike 50 or 100 years ago, the commanding heights of American culture are no longer dominated by Christian belief,” writes Tooley. “Not very long ago, universities were still seriously church affiliated, newspaper editors and publishers were often churchmen in their local communities, publishing was dominated by church-affiliated publishing houses, and even Hollywood was led, if not by pious film makers, then at least by persons, especially immigrants, with deep appreciation for America’s religious heritage.”
Such culture-shaping institutions today are vastly changed, mostly owing to what Tooley refers to the collapse of “Mainline Protestantism,” – the increasingly liberal and declining mainstream denominations. They’ve been replaced by a resurgence in Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity – both which have shown a growth in membership.
“The quiet religious revival in New York City is mostly below the radar screen. But it showcases how Christendom, although it ebbs and flows, after 2,000 or so years, is not going away.”
“Daddy thinks the Lord will allow him to live to 95,” said Franklin Graham recently.
It was not a prophecy but a hope, Franklin explained, that he would live to see the beginning of a Christian renewal, a genuine heaven-sent revival in America. And so it was that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association invited pastors, theologians, and evangelical leaders from across the nation to unveil a new outreach emphasis called, “My Hope with Billy Graham.”
Franklin Graham’s introductory remarks and Billy Graham’s passionate plea that followed removed any cynical thoughts in the room that this might be a “send off ” for Billy Graham before he went home to heaven. The old gospel warrior’s words, pauses, inflections, and his aged faintness of voice all carried urgency and an unmistakably genuine, passionate concern that North America needed a powerful movement of God if we were to survive as a people.
This gathering was different, not just because so many got to hear Graham’s burdened plea for revival, but because before them was a man of God who is as committed to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ as he was in 1949.
“In that moment, as this elderly, grey-haired man in the wheelchair spoke,” wrote one of the pastors in attendance, Michael Milton, “I was no longer a minister and a seminary leader in a prestigious gathering with a veritable living chapter in the pages of Church history.
“I was an orphan boy from Louisiana on the edge of my seat at a football stadium and my heart was gripped by the simple, unforgettable, spiritually charged moment when I knew I was a sinner, that Hell was real, and that repentance and faith in the resurrected and soon coming Jesus Christ was the only hope.”
Throughout his ministry, Graham has proclaimed God’s Word with conviction and passion.
Marissa Burt of Seattle recently recalled how “When I was four – maybe five – years old, I went to see a movie. I don’t remember what it was or why the Gospel was presented at the movie theater, but I made a decision right after. I wanted to say that I believed in Jesus, and I wanted Him to come in my heart. Afterward, I remember receiving little comic books in the mail that helped me know more about Jesus.”
Of course, she had attended one of the many films that Graham’s organization produced over the years – all which ended with an altar call for theater-goers and an opportunity to fill out an information card so that a local church could follow up – and so the convert could receive additional information in the mail.
“Now, thirty years later, I want to say thank you for introducing me to the Lord,” wrote Melissa, “I belong to Him, and I can’t imagine my life without faith. Thank you for lifting up Jesus, the one who draws all people to himself.”
“It was the summer of ’63,” recalls Tommy Olive of San Angelo, Texas, “and I was thirteen and home alone that night. I turned on the TV and a live crusade was on. We only had one channel in San Angelo then, so I stayed tuned to the crusade. When Billy Graham asked if I would surrender my life to Christ, I did. I gave all I knew of me to God. I accepted Jesus as my savior. I ordered Decision magazine, but didn’t read much of anything. I didn’t have to back then. I do remember reading one article about the Bible and either it all being true or you couldn’t trust any of it. That made sense to me.
“At that time in my church I didn’t hear anything about getting saved, so I didn’t tell anyone. In hindsight, I think being a loner made my relationship with God go up and down over the next eight years. I was sincere and remember I would read the hymns we would sing each Sunday, almost studying them. I got most of my doctrine from them.
“Later I described my salvation as being in two parts. The first was emotional and the second intellectual. I truly gave all I knew to give at age thirteen. At 21, I realized that I didn’t fully give it all to Him. When I gave it all to Him, a new world opened. Scripture became alive and powerful.
“Now at 56, I continue to be grateful for my complete salvation, which started one night in 1963 while watching Billy Graham alone one night.”
Another story is told of an enthusiastic, well-meaning young Christian man who visited a nursing home a few years ago. As he spoke to the senior citizens there, he challenged them to share their faith. He asked the retirees how many people they had led to Christ.
One old man in a cardigan sweater calmly raised his hand.
“Maybe three or four million,” he said.
“You led three or four million people to Jesus?” scoffed the young man.
“Yes,” smiled the old man. “I was Billy Graham’s Sunday School teacher when he was a boy. I encouraged him to become a preacher.”
“I am convinced the greatest act of love we can perform for people is to tell them about God’s love for them in Christ,” Graham recently told gathered leaders.
A while back, businessmen and Christian leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited Graham, to a luncheon in honor of his upcoming birthday. He initially hesitated to accept the invitation because of his struggles with Parkinson’s disease.
However, the Charlotte leaders said, ‘We don’t expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you.’
So he agreed.
After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said: “I’m reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who was honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century.
“Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train, when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn’t find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets.
“It wasn’t there. He looked in his briefcase but couldn’t find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn’t find it.
“The conductor said, ‘Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I’m sure you bought a ticket. Don’t worry about it.’
“Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.
“The conductor rushed back and said, ‘Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don’t worry, I know who you are; no problem. You don’t need a ticket. I’m sure you bought one.’
Einstein looked at him and said, “Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”
Having said that, Graham continued to his Charlotte crowd, “See the suit I’m wearing? It’s a brand new suit. My children and my grandchildren are telling me I’ve gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious.
“So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion. You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I’ll be buried. But when you hear I’m dead, I don’t want you to immediately remember the suit I’m wearing.
“I want you to remember this:
“I not only know who I am. I also know where I’m going.”