The Paradox of Our Age

paradoxOne time Jesus spoke to his disciples and warned about the danger of materialism. It’s easy for us to pay more attention to what we have than who we are. He told his disciples, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NASB)

Dr. Bob Moorehead, who preached at Overlake Christian Church wrote an essay called “The Paradox of Our Age” where he described how far we’ve come financially, but how little we’ve progressed spiritually.

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results.

 

We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

 

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often.

 

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

 

We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we’ve done larger things, but not better things; we’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we’ve split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success.

 

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We’ve become long on quantity, but short on quality.

 

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships.

 

These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

 

These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes.

 

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, thow-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill.

 

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room.

 

Indeed, these are the times!

My first response is to feel a bit depressed, but then I remember that society has always marched in this direction. Christianity calls us to march to the beat of a different drummer—even if that means marching alone.

Parents Matter

Information_for_ParentsFrom 2001-2005, researches from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill set out to study the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents. They wanted to understand what teenagers think and why they act like they do.

The results of the study surprised many in the media. If you watch TV, you’d believe that all teenagers are rebellious drug-addicts who do nothing except complain about the older generation. The researchers found quite the opposite: teens generally have a favorable view of the church. They aren’t all pluralists who believe that “anything goes.” They really are pretty decent, after all.

Perhaps the most important finding of the study was this: when it comes to faith, teens generally mirror their parents’ actions.

Here’s what they had to say:

“…parents are normally very important in shaping the religious and spiritual lives of their teenage children, even though they may not realize it. It seems that many parents of teens rely primarily on the immediate evidence of the overt attitudes, statements, and sometimes behaviors that their teenage children dole out to them on a daily basis in order to estimate their current level of parental influence.

 

Many of the attitudes and statements that teenagers communicate to their parents do not exactly express great admiration and gratitude for and readiness to listen to, emulate, or freely obey their parents. Many parents therefore appear to come to the conclusion that they have lost their influence in shaping the lives of their teenage children, that they no longer make any significant difference. But for most, this conclusion is mistaken.

 

Teenagers’ attitudes, verbal utterances, and immediate behaviors are often not the best evidence with which to estimate parental influence in their lives. For better or worse, most parents in fact still do profoundly influence their adolescents—often more than do their peers—their children’s apparent resistance and lack of appreciation notwithstanding. This influence often also includes parental influence in adolescents’ religious and spiritual lives.

 

Simply by living and interacting with their children, most parents establish expectations, define normalcy, model life practices, set boundaries, and make demands—all of which cannot help but influence teenagers, for good or ill.

 

Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”

Parents, even when your teens roll their eyes or make bad decisions, don’t forget: you matter!

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

Where Do You Go?

key_to_believe_by_augenweide-d4cefwlIf I need trustworthy information about legal risks, I hire to a lawyer.

If I want to figure out that strange thumping noise my car is making, I talk to a mechanic.

If I am preparing a meal and don’t know how high to set the oven, I consult a cookbook.

If my teeth hurt, I (begrudgingly) go to a dentist.

When we want an authoritative answer to a question, we find the best source we can. A lawyer has been trained in reading and applying the laws of the land. He knows how the courts have interpreted those laws. A mechanic knows his makes and models. He has the service bulletins and the schematics to diagnose the troubles. The cookbook has a tried-and-tested plan that produces a good meal. The dentist has seen thousands of teeth before yours. He knows what’s healthy and what’s broken.

When my car is broken, I don’t consult a chef. When I’m ready for a good meal, I don’t call the dentist. I go to the right place for the right answer.

Where do you go when you have a spiritual question?

Sometimes we just sit around and try to think about it as hard as we can. We ponder our thoughts and feelings until we’re sick and tired of thinking about it. We don’t consult anyone except our own minds—the minds which got us into the mess we’re in. Maybe we get really desperate and actually talk to a friend or family member, or we turn on our favorite TV self-help guru or read our favorite author.

When we want a trustworthy answer, we need to go to a reliable source. We understand this with lawyers, mechanics, chefs, and doctors, but sometimes we fail to see it in our spiritual lives. When we have a spiritual problem, the best place to go is to the authority on the spiritual realm: the Holy Spirit. He wrote a book, you know! It’s called the Bible. If you’re having trouble finding what you need in that book, that’s exactly what our elders are here for. They shepherd us and feed us to help us find out what God wants for us.

When you have a spiritual problem—make sure you consult a spiritual source!

“The Cold Within”

coldheartA friend recently shared this poem by James Patrick Kinney, and I thought it fit for this cold weather. It paints a picture of how prejudice and pride (which come from within) hurt us and those around us. It reminds me about what Jesus said—“It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” (Mark 7:20)

Six humans trapped in happenstance
In dark and bitter cold,
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.

The first woman held hers back
For of the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.

The next man looking across the way
Saw not one of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use,
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned,
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did naught except for gain,
Giving only to those who gave,
Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin,
They didn’t die from the cold without,
They died from the cold within.

* * *

Here’s the video version:

 

Tour Guide or Travel Agent?

tourguideWhat’s the difference between a travel agent and a tour guide?

Donna O is a travel agent—and a good one, at that! She tells schools about where they might like to go. She finds the best plane tickets, restaurants, and hotels, and books them for you. You hand her money. She hands you an itinerary and tickets.

A tour guide has a very different job. The travel agent stays home; the tour guide gets on the bus and goes with you. He sees the same things you see and experiences the same things you do. He makes the trip better by pointing out the good stuff and warning you about the bad stuff. He goes with you.

Christians ought to think of themselves as tour guides. We walk with each other through this world. We point out the highs and the lows. We warn of danger in the road ahead, and give encouragement that hope is just around the corner. When our brothers and sisters are down, we’re down, too. When they rejoice, we rejoice. (Sound like Romans 12:15 to me!)

All too often, we are tempted to act more like travel agents. We tell people to come to church, get a ticket, and say we’ll meet you in heaven. You’re on your own until then.

Believers have fellowship with each other. That words means “sharing” or “partnership.” The idea is that we’re in it together! So let’s make sure that we’re more like tour guides and less like travel agents.

The Gift of Jesus

Link

Back in the winter, I spent four Sundays at Burns focusing our attention solely on the life of Jesus. It was one of the most satisfying experiences in preaching I’ve had. Each week we used a harmony of the gospels to put together an extended (1-3 chapter) scripture reading that told the story of a part of Jesus’ life. The sermons were shortened to reflect on that scripture.

We just got that sermon series online at the church website for you to download (4 MP3’s). If you’re snowed in tonight or tomorrow, take a listen. The preacher wasn’t great, but he had really good material to work with.

Help for Unanswered Prayers

unanswered-prayers-1-728At some point in their lives, most Christians will wonder why it is that some prayers are answered and others seem to be ignored. Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, has a chapter called “Unanswered Prayer: Living with the Mystery.” He begins by considering the reasons that a prayer might not get a positive response:

Some, but not all, unanswered prayers trace back to a fault in the one who prays. Some, but not all, trace back to God’s mystifying respect for human freedom and refusal to coerce. Some, but not all, trace back to dark powers contending against God’s rule. Some, but not all, trace back to a planet marred with disease, violence, and the potential for tragic accident. How, then, can we make sense of any single experience of unanswered prayer?

We may never know why God says “yes” to some and “no” to others, but when I don’t get the response I want, I take comfort in realizing that I’m not alone.

After all,

  • Moses pled with God to enter the Promised Land, but his request was denied.
  • King David prayed for his infant son not to die, but he did.
  • Moses, Job, Jonah, and Elijah all prayed that they would die. Fortunately for us, God said no.
  • Habbakuk prayed for deliverance from the Babylonians.
  • Jeremiah prayed for Jerusalem not to be destroyed.
  • Paul prayed three times for the removal of the “thorn” in his flesh.
  • Jesus prayed that the cup would pass.

I know that it doesn’t feel good when we don’t get what we want, but we have to realize that God is God and we are not. John Baillie wrote that we should use our unanswered prayers and our pains as catalysts for something better. He learned to pray this way:

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.

May we learn to trust that even when God says “no” – he is still good!

Don’t Sing Louder

Birkenau_gateOn Friday night, several of us gathered to watch Paper Clips, the story of Tennessee middle-schoolers who set out to create a Holocaust Memorial. During the project, several Holocaust survivors spoke about the atrocities committed by Hitler’s men. Sometimes it just seems hard to believe that a society could ever get to the point where this could happen.

Andy Andrews wrote a book called How to Kill 11 Million People. It set out to explain how something like this happened, and how it might could be prevented in the future. In the book, he quoted a German churchgoer:

We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because we felt, what could anyone do to stop it? Each Sunday morning, we would hear the train whistle blowing in the distance, then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it now, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep.

Edmund Burke wrote, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Or, in this case, sing louder.

If you want to do your part to make tomorrow better than today, you can’t pretend that nothing is wrong. You can’t cover up the “check engine light” with electrical tape. You can’t sing louder to drown out the cries of brokenness in your heart. You can’t ignore where society is jumping off the rails by simply hoping the train won’t derail. You need to take action.

Simply put, “nothing” is one of the worst things a disciple can do.

An Encouraging Stat

It seems like society is full of gloom and doom predictions for Christianity, and sometimes those predictions can get us down. Doug Couch has a sign in his office that I really like that stands against that trend. It tells the truth about a philosopher who proclaimed the death of God. Here’s a picture:

Print

The news is usually better than we think it is. How do you think Bible reading stacks up against the Super Bowl? Most people know that the Super Bowl is the most watched television event in the country. Last year, nearly one third of Americans watched the big game.

Do you know how many people read their Bibles at least once a week? According to a recent Barna study, 37% of Americans indicate that they read their Bibles once every week or more. While a third of our country watches the big game one time a year—even more people open up the big book every week.

I don’t know about you, but I find that encouraging. There are people who want to do right. People are listening to God’s word. Whether or not you watch the game tonight, don’t forget that more people are tuning in to God.

(H/T to Faithlife Blog)