Governor Edwards, senators and representatives, Steering Committee chairs and members, fellow program participants, and distinguished guests and friends:
It is a great honor and personal privilege to address you this morning. When the Governor's Prayer Breakfast was first held on May 10, 1965, our world looked very different from today. The first U.S. combat troops had landed in Vietnam just two months earlier. Malcolm X had been assassinated that February. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and more than 2,600 others were arrested in Selma, Alabama as part of the civil rights movement. The Watts riots would come later that year, as would anti-war marches across the country.
Clearly there was a need for state leaders to gather for prayer. Is that need not as obvious today?
Yesterday's attacks in Belgium shocked us all. I learned from your governor yesterday that your state has a special relationship with Belgium, created in the context of preserving French literature and culture. This tragedy hits even closer to home for you than for other parts of our country.
Meanwhile, you are facing very significant budget challenges. Floods have ravaged your state—the Red River recently hit its highest level in seventy years, caskets were unearthed, and I-10 was closed.
As your governor told you last February, there are two things your state will never run out of: gumbo and gumption. Well, I want to go on record: I am the world's biggest fan of Louisiana gumbo. And I believe that gumption is vital to meeting the challenges of our day.
But we are gathered here because we know that more than gumbo and gumption are needed. Your governor has asked you to join him in praying for your state, and for him and all of your elected officials. Today's gathering is one response to that request.
As a cultural apologist and Christian, I've come to you today in the belief that God redeems all he allows. Because he is perfect, he can never make a mistake. Because he is sovereign, he must allow or cause all that happens. If he allows or causes anything he does not redeem for greater good, he has made a mistake. But he cannot make a mistake. Therefore, his character requires him to redeem all he allows for greater good.
How could God redeem the challenges of these days for his glory and the good of those you serve in this great state? First, by drawing us to himself. Second, by drawing us to each other. Let's consider each in turn.
Draw close to God
More people are coming to Christ today than ever before in Christian history. According to David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia, more than 82,000 come to Christ every day. Other scholars put the number as more than a million a week.
South Korea is one-third to one-half born-again Christian. Hillsong worship is transforming Australia and worship around the world. Brazil will be one-half evangelical Christian by 2025. Ninety percent of the people in southern Nigeria were in church last Sunday.
When I was in Beijing, I was told that 100,000 people come to Christ every day in the People's Republic of China. Cuba is in the news with President Obama's visit this week. I've been to that amazing island nation eight times over the years and can tell you that a massive spiritual awakening is happening there. One church I know in Cuba has shared the gospel with 68,000 people across the island just last year. More than a million Cubans have come to Christ in the last ten years.
More Muslims have come to Christ in the last fifteen years than the previous fifteen centuries. I've met them in Bangladesh and Cairo and across the Middle East.
What about America? Here the signs are decidedly less positive.
Of Barrett's 82,000 conversions a day, only 6,000 are in Western Europe and North America, combined. A recent Harris Poll asked Europeans if they believe in any kind of supreme being or higher power. The results: sixty-two percent in Italy, forty-eight percent in Spain, forty-one percent in Germany, thirty-five percent in England, and twenty-seven percent in France believe in any kind of God.
The number of atheists and agnostics in America has quadrupled in recent years. Our fastest-growing religious demographic is those who have no religion. One in three young adults have no religious commitment.
Why are we not seeing the spiritual awakening that is sweeping the nations?
All across Scripture, our God is a King. Jesus taught us to "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33). He called us to "repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). When he returns, his name will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16).
Tragically, in our culture God is a hobby, not a King. He is for Sunday, not Monday. He is for religion, not the "real world." He is for the spiritual, not the secular. But the challenges of our day show that we need God to be more than our Hobby. We need him to be our Lord and King, every moment of every day. Self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide.
If you would make Christ your King, you've taken the first step toward the redemption God intends for your people in this day.
Draw close to each other
God is calling us to himself and to each other. Collaboration is critical to meeting the challenges of our day.
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday, the night before Jesus' crucifixion. On that night, Jesus shared his Last Supper with his disciples. In his day, guests reclined on low couches, resting on the left elbow while using the right hand to eat and drink. Their bodies stretched out behind them along the ground. And people wore open-toed sandals wherever they went, so their feet were often be caked with dirt, animal dung, and other elements from their rural environment.
As a result, washing feet was regarded as the lowliest work possible. No Jewish male could be made to perform this service.
In John 13 we read: "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (vs. 2–5).
Nonetheless, Jesus "poured water into a basin," an earthenware bowl. Then he went to the first disciple as he lay on the ground. He got to his knees and used the water in the basin to bathe the astonished man's grimy feet, "drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him."
Why? Jesus explained: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (vs. 14-15).
Then our Lord made his point: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (vs. 34-35).
Challenges show us that we need God and that we need each other. When we serve each other, we serve our Lord. When we serve our Lord, we will serve each other. When you stand before Jesus one day, he will not ask about your title. But he will ask about your towel.
God redeems all he allows. Jesus wants to use the challenges of these days to show you how much you need his power, wisdom, and leadership, and how much you need each other. If you will draw close to him in prayer and close to each other in service, you will position yourselves and your state to be blessed by the Father of us all.
I will close with my favorite declaration of faith outside of Scripture. It captures the invitation I extend to you today. It was first discovered the diary of a young pastor martyred for his faith in Africa. In the years since, it has been rephrased and rewritten, and has been attributed to a variety of authors. But the version I cherish came from that martyred pastor years ago.
I am part of the "Fellowship of the Unashamed." I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His.
I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or praise. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.
My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, let up, or slow up 'til I've preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go 'til He comes, give 'til I drop, preach 'til all know, and work 'til He stops.
And when He comes to get His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.