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Awakening and America

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: 2 Chronicles 7:11-14

Last Thursday, President Bush was visiting with a group of second-graders when one asked him where he’s going to live next. The president said that he is relying on Laura’s judgment about their new house in Dallas, and for good reason—he has never seen it himself. “That’s called faith,” Mr. Bush said. I drove by their new home in Preston Hollow this week, and am happy to endorse Laura’s choice. I’m sure the president needs more advice these days.

Mr. Bush has just finished eight years in the most stressful job on earth. An article in this week’s news called “The graying of the presidents” states that American presidents apparently age twice as quickly as the rest of us. Their hair turns gray, their faces wrinkle, and they usually die prematurely. Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, died 15 years younger than actuarial tables would suggest; Woodrow Wilson lived seven years less than normal.

During prolonged stress, our bodies release hormones such as cortisol; these in turn damage blood vessels, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Presidents also suffer from a lack of friends they can trust. It’s all a prescription for stress and suffering.

Can you imagine the stress President-elect Obama will feel when he takes on this office? What is happening in America in these days? What is God doing, and allowing, and saying to us? What does it all mean for you and me this morning?

Is national judgment inevitable?

Remember our setting—Israel is at their high-water mark, with the largest geographical, economic, and military strength they would ever see again. If any nation’s future prosperity was guaranteed, it would be that of the “people of God.” But our text begins, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain . . .” (v. 13). Not “if” but “when.”

So it had been all through their history. Moses led them to the edge of the Promised Land, but they refused to trust God by faith and wandered 40 years in the wilderness until that entire generation died. After Solomon, Rehoboam’s cruel despotism would split the nation; the idolatry of the kings and people would lead to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.

Eventually the Southern Kingdom would be captured and enslaved by Babylon, then ruled by Persia, Greece, and Rome. Jesus predicted of their mighty Temple, “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Within a generation it was so.

Will every nation eventually face periods of spiritual darkness and resulting judgment? Tradition dates the founding of Rome at 753 B.C., the conversion of Constantine at AD 313, the “Christianization” of the Empire soon to follow. The world had never seen a mightier army or civilization, but the people fell into immorality and idolatry. Rome was sacked in AD 476 and the Empire came to ruin.

If you were asked to name the world’s greatest military, strongest economy, and largest empire in the year 1900, the answer would be Great Britain. If you were asked to guess the army with the most troops, tanks, artillery, and nuclear weapons in 1980, the answer would be the Soviet Union.

Is America in crisis?

Can the same happen to America and the West? Is it happening to America and the West? Consider the cultural crisis of our time, our battle with Radical Islam.

All Muslims believe that God’s final and superior revelation is the Qur’an, and that he wants all people on earth to convert to Islam. Radical Islam takes two steps further. First, they teach that the West has been attacking the Islamic world since the crusades and especially with the establishment of Israel. Second, they believe that since the Western world is democratic, where we elect our leaders and our taxes support our military, none of us are innocent in this attack.

Since the Qur’an expressly forbids Muslims to initiate violence but requires them to defend Islam, these points are critical to understanding 9-11 and the mind of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations like Hamas. In their minds, lobbing rockets into Israel is the defense of Islam mandated by the Qur’an.

We have been at war with Muslim extremists far longer than most people realize. You could begin with the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. In April of 1983, Hezbollah attacked the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 and wounding 120. In October of that year, another Hezbollah suicide bomber attacked the American barracks at the Beirut airport, killing 241 U.S. Marines in their sleep. In 1984 and 1985, terrorists hijacked airliners and cruise ships, killing Americans each time. In December of 1988, Libyan agents bombed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 270 passengers.

In 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the garage of the World Trade Center, injuring over a thousand people. In 1996, a truck bomb attacked American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, wounding 240. In 1998, our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked on the same day, killing more than 200. On October 12, 2000, a boat carrying suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors. On September 11, 2001, 2,740 Americans were killed by Islamic terrorists.

I participated last Thursday in a fascinating discussion about Hamas, Gaza, and Israel. Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, was the keynote speaker. One of the most disturbing trends he is seeing in this conflict is the rise of public sentiment in the Arab world for Hamas and the Palestinians. Even Muslim governments sympathetic to America and the West such as Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey are facing uprisings among their people if they do not support Hamas. He is afraid that when this conflict is over, the enmity between Israel and the Arab world will be far greater than it is today. Who knows where that will leave us?

As I said last Wednesday night, Radical Islam is a spiritual ideology. This war is more like the Cold War than World War I or II. Killing Osama bin Laden will not end this battle. This is a war for the souls of mankind, the battle of our generation.

Madrassas are Islamic schools scattered around the world. Saudi Arabia has spent $100 billion exporting radical Islam through these schools. There are approximately 24,000 educational institutions in America; there are more than 37,000 Muslim madrassas in Indonesia alone.

So far, the West is not responding well to this threat. Four times as many Muslims go to mosque as Christians go to church in Great Britain today. Anglo birthrates in Europe average around 1.2 children per household; Muslim birthrates average around six children per household. Many are speaking of Europe as “Eurabia.” This is a spiritual movement, and must be countered spiritually.

This is to say nothing of the moral crisis of our day. You perhaps saw the recent Newsweek cover story, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Forty two percent of those who use the Internet view pornography on it. Sixty five percent of Americans see nothing wrong with premarital sex. Drunk drivers kill someone every 30 minutes in this country.

And the economic crisis of our day is graver than in 80 years. The nation’s retail chains confirmed on Thursday that they suffered one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in decades. Markets have continued their decline into the new year.

Our oil-based economy is more vulnerable than ever before. There can be no doubt that oil is the gold of today’s global economy. The United States has an estimated 29.9 billion barrels of reserves, ranking 11th in the world. The top five nations (in order) are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, with a combined 716 billion barrels, 60 percent of the world’s supply. When the Muslim Arab world wants to shut off our oil, they can.

Conclusion

What can we do to face these cultural, moral, and economic crises? Undoubtedly our response must include military and economic measures. But you and I have a critical role to play in the future of our nation and culture. Our text calls us to “humble ourselves and pray.” The Hebrew word means to call for national repentance and turning to God. This is our mandate from our Maker for this day.

We must pray every day for the conversion of Muslims to Christ, for missions to the Muslim world, and for awakening to come to America. We must pray every day for a spiritual rebirth and moral awakening in America. We must pray every day for God to use this economic crisis to turn Americans from themselves to him. And we must ask for Awakening to begin with us.

A spiritual mystic once said, “There is one thing that must never be forgotten. It is as if a king had sent you to a foreign country with a task to perform. You go and perform many other tasks. But if you fail to perform the task for which you were sent, it will be as if you had done nothing at all.” Will you do what God has sent you to do for your nation?

An elderly father could not decide which of his two children should inherit his mansion, so he devised a test. He gave each of them $20, instructing them to buy something with which to fill every room in the estate. One bought straw and scattered it as far as it would go, but it did not nearly cover the mansion. The other brought candles, placed one in each room, and filled the entire mansion with light.

Which child are you?