Thursday, February 27, 2014

Downward Mobility

The Academy Awards are this Sunday night.  I have no idea who will win, but I will make this prediction: Most of the people who do win will take most of their speech time to thank their fellow cast members, directors, writers, producers, makeup artists, and if they are wise, their spouses.  They will say something like, “This award really belongs to you.  I’m nothing without you.” They will mention their fellow nominees and say, “I am honored just to be mentioned in the company of such amazing artists.”  In fact, if someone flips the script and acts in a way that smacks of arrogance and self-promotion, I predict it will be headline news tomorrow.  Imagine someone says, “It’s about time you pathetic fools recognize my greatness.  I shall now pause to allow you to bask in my radiance.  You’re welcome.”  We’ll be talking about it for weeks to come, in very negative terms.  But the question is why?  Why do we insist that people who win—in entertainment, athletics, or any other field—behave in a humble and gracious manner?  That certainly hasn’t always been the case.  We’re in a series now called “The Man Who Changed Everything,” talking about the many ways Jesus changed our world.  One way He did this was by turning humility from an insult into a virtue.  He changed the way we view greatness.  This Sunday, our sermon will examine John 10:35-45, how Jesus' radical teaching on true greatness changed the world forever.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

With All Your Mind

I grew up in the country.  I wouldn't trade that for anything.  I had a wonderful childhood.  My parents made sure I knew how to raise animals and help my grandfather with his corn, peas and potatoes.  But they also made sure that I had a well-rounded education.  My parents are the kind of people who raise cattle AND attend classical music concerts, so they wanted me to know things beyond my small world.  They made sure I was well-read.  I had many excellent teachers, and my parents insisted I listen to them.  Many of our vacations were to historical sites.  My dad especially was good about teaching me to question my assumptions.  If I came home spouting some opinion I had picked up from my friends, he would ask me questions that would often show me how I hadn’t really thought that idea through.  And when I came to the end of my high school years, my parents didn’t insist that I stay home and go to Victoria College so they could keep an eye on me, or send me to some “safe” college where everyone thought just like I did.  They were fine with me choosing a University in a big city, where I would be surrounded by all types of people.  My mom told me, “This is the way the world is.  You need to learn how to relate to all kinds of people.”  Unfortunately, not everyone in my small town thought that way.  I had been raised to be intellectually curious, but I felt like I needed to keep that to myself around most of my friends, and even a lot of the adults I knew.  If I happened to use a word that was longer than two syllables, people acted like I had made a faux pas. I remember at times being frustrated by the small-mindedness of my rural surroundings. When I left that behind and came to a college environment with people who were excited about learning, and who didn't think exactly like me, it felt like liberation.  
So I can relate to young adults today who are leaving the Church in droves.  Many of them say they feel like Christianity is intellectually confining and closed-minded.  They learn new things in their studies or in conversations with people who aren’t Christians, things which they haven’t heard in church.  When they ask questions to try to reconcile this new information with Scripture, too often they are made to feel ashamed, as if asking questions is a bad thing.  They hear from their non-Christian friends and professors that faith and reason are two separate fields; they increasingly begin to feel like to continue following Jesus will mean turning off their brains, and they simply cannot do that.  If you feel that way, or know someone who does, this next sentence is very important: Jesus never made anyone choose between their brain and their faith. 

We’re in a series now called “The Man Who Changed Everything.”  We’re looking at the continuing impact Jesus made on the world.  Last week, we looked at how Jesus changed the way we view needy people. This Sunday, we’re going to look at how Jesus changed the way we think.  We'll talk about what it means to love God with all our minds.  I hope you'll be there!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Man Who Changed Everything

Two hundred years ago, the most influential person on earth was Napoleon, Emperor of France.  He had managed to conquer most of Europe.  But then he met his Waterloo, as they say, and I can’t think of a single way his life directly influences us today.  One hundred years ago, arguably the most influential man on earth was Kaiser Wilhelm II, the ruler of Germany.  His nation was the prime mover that caused a regional conflict in the Balkans to turn into World War I.  Wilhelm died in exile, and today, very few people know much about him.  Who is the most influential person in the world today?  You could make the argument that it's the late Steve Jobs, who pioneered so much of the technology that has changed the way we live.  But there will be new and greater innovations in the years to come.  Someday--probably soon--we’ll look back on the name of Steve Jobs the way we today look at the name of Marconi, the inventor of the radio. 

Now consider this: There was a man who lived over 2000 years ago whose life directly impacts this planet in too many ways to list.  History is literally divided into everything before Him, and everything after Him.  To this day, putting His face on a magazine cover--any magazine cover--virtually guarantees a 50% spike in circulation.  Even people who are not believers in His divinity are astonished at the range of His influence.  For just one example, here’s a quote from HG Wells:  “A historian like myself, who doesn’t even call himself a Christian, finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man…the historian’s test of an individual’s greatness is ‘What did he leave to grow?’  Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him?  By this test Jesus stands first.” 
            All this year, I am preaching on the theme, “Who is this God?” We’re talking about the attributes of God according to Scripture.  We’ve already seen that God is holy.  But according to Scripture, God became a man named Jesus.  That means that for 33 years, God lived in flesh on this Earth.  So the best way to know Him fully is to study the life of Jesus.  Starting this Sunday--Feb. 12-- and continuing until Easter Sunday, that is exactly what I will be doing.  The title of this series is, “The Man Who Changed Everything.”  I strongly suggest that you study the Gospels—Matthew through John—during this series.  If you’d like to read something supplemental, I recommend the book Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg, from which I will be using some quotes, stories and ideas.  I will be focusing on some of the ways the life and teachings of Jesus still impact the way we live today, 2000 years later.  I hope you will invite friends to this series, especially friends who haven’t yet decided what they believe about Jesus.  But the series isn’t only for them. I have discovered, over and over again, that the richest, most exciting and fulfilling thing I can do is get to know Jesus better. If you will go on this journey with me, it will bless your life…and may change it forever.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Holy Fear

He was the richest man in the world, and was also the most brilliant man who had ever lived.  Combine that with absolute political and military power, and you have a man who was literally living the dream of every human, and especially every male, on earth.  So what do you get the man who has everything?  Well, this particular man wanted happiness, fulfillment, a sense of purpose.  He wanted his life to count.  So he used his riches and power to woo beautiful, desirable women.  He could have literally any woman he wanted, and took full advantage of that fact.  He embarked on huge building projects.  He designed cities and conscripted workers to build these majestic monuments to his greatness.  He enjoyed the best food, wine and entertainment money could buy.  He pursued greater knowledge in every field of learning available at that time, and then made himself famous.  People came from other nations to listen to his wisdom and knowledge, and they showered him with gifts, making him even richer than before.  Then he reached that point in life when he began to assess things.  He decided to write a memoir, something that would offer the lessons of his life to future generations. That memoir is what we call the book of Ecclesiastes.  It’s the diary of an old man who regrets most of his life.  It is unique among all the books of the Bible, because it focuses primarily on what NOT to do.  Ecclesiastes was written by a man who calls himself The Teacher (Qoheleth in Hebrew), but it’s obvious from the way he describes himself that this is Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel.  Nothing brought him the happiness and fulfillment he sought, not sex, achievements, power, pleasure, riches, fame or knowledge.  But note how Solomon ends his depressing diary:

            Now all has been concluded, here is the end of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

            Let’s put this another way: Imagine you had lunch with a man who has the power of a president, the lifestyle of a rock star, the riches of Warren Buffet, the knowledge of Stephen Hawking.  He’s done everything there is to do, owned everything there is to own, and learned everything there is to learn.  And you say to him, “What can I do to live the best life possible?”  He says, “Fear God.”  Then he hands you a Bible.  You open it to find that he has highlighted over 300 references to the fear of God.  As you read, you find that, according to Scripture, a person who fears God lives a life full of delight, joy and increasing knowledge.  He becomes the person he was created to be, and steers clear of the self-destructive choices that others make. He influences the people around him as well as the generations who come along after him, for good.  In other words, the person who fears the Lord truly lives a life worth living.   But you’re still confused.  You say, “Fear God?  What does that even mean?  I believe in God, but how do I know if I truly fear Him?  And if I don’t, how I can learn to fear Him as I should?”  We’ve been talking since the first Sunday of the year about the holiness of God. Scripture makes it clear that the only proper way to relate to a God this holy is in holy fear.  But we don’t tend to talk about that in churches these days.  So this Sunday I want to answer those three questions I asked earlier: What is the fear of God?  How do I know when I have it?  And what can I do to get it?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My response to Coke's Super Bowl ad

Did you see the Coke Ad during the Super Bowl this year?  Every year, it seems, there is at least one Super Bowl commercial that becomes a point of public discussion.  This year, it's Coke's ad, featuring the song "America the Beautiful" sung in several different languages.  The controversy revolves around angry comments made by some viewers on Twitter, who resented "their" song being sung in languages other than English.  I will not rehash those comments here; they can be found with an easy search, and some are referenced in Jim Denison's excellent commentary that I link at the bottom of this post.   

My response to the "controversial" Coke ad:

 1. I doubt there is much controversy, actually. The internet allows people to anonymously say awful things they wouldn't have the courage to say in public. And we give them attention for this! (Yes, I realize I am doing that right now. The irony).

 2. One of the great things about our country is that is a melting pot of hundreds of different cultures and languages. Yes, my forefathers spoke German when they first got here.

3. As American, I am happy to hear people sing for God to shed His grace on my country in any language, thank you very much. 

4. I live in the most diverse city in America. Whether or not I am comfortable with that fact, my Christian faith demands that I see it as an opportunity, not a burden. This commercial, whatever its motives, reminded me that the mission field is here.

 5. As Jim Denison's article (linked below) says so well, we are called to hospitality towards aliens and strangers. Period.