Saturday, May 4, 2019

A foundation for living

This is a sermon I preached to graduating seniors in their last chapel at Crown College in 2019:

A few weeks ago I was in a Walmart that I had never been to before. I was in the back of the store and suddenly had an urgent need to use the restroom. I was deep in thought about something as I rushed to the front of the store and entered the restroom. It was one of those big ones without doors where you just kind of wind around the corners to get in. Anyway, I looked around and thought, “Well this is weird, there are no urinals in this rest…Oh NO!”

I wasn’t paying attention and entered the lady’s room by mistake. I guess I could have just self-identified as a woman but the beard and bald head may have been problematic.

You have all grown up in a world that is radically different from the one I grew up in. When I was in college everyone agreed that there were only two genders and it mattered which restroom you used. There was no controversy about this. You’re growing up in a world in which many people think there are more than 50 genders, and some people think everyone should just be able to use the restroom of their choice!

A few years before I went to college, a book was published called, Situation Ethics which said that ethics was all relative. It created a huge controversy because even most non-Christians back then believed that ethics and truth were not all relative.

In your world, it is almost taken for granted that ethics and truth are social constructs and that no one has the right to judge someone else’s truth.

When I grew up, Billy Graham would stand up before thousands of people and thunder, “the Bible says” and even most non-Christians would pay attention because most of them had respect for the Bible.

Today, many people are offended by what the Bible says. In fact, we now have to be very careful about what we say, because someone may be offended by a “micro-aggression.”

In other words, the relatively solid foundation that stood under the world of my generation, has been replaced in your generation by a foundation of culturally-constructed shifting sand.

In Matthew 7 Jesus says…  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Building our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings, helps to sustain us in the storms of life.

For example, John absolutely idolized his wife. He built his whole life around her. So John was devastated when she left him for someone else. He felt like his whole world had collapsed! He had trouble sleeping and could no longer cope at work. He increasingly turned to alcohol and drugs to deaden the pain and his life spiraled out of control. He eventually lost his job and ended up on the street. His wife had been like his god, and when she left, his life was destroyed like a house built on sand.

Jesus says that if we build our lives on his teachings, it is like building on solid rock. So what are those teachings? Later in the same Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself gives a summary: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I think Jesus is just re-stating the first of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” In America our gods tend to be the intangible things we build our lives on. For some that may be career or financial success. For some it may be sex or entertainment. It might be marriage and family. It might be personal appearance or sports.

Whatever it is, Jesus would say that if you build your foundation on any of these things, you are building on sand. Your idols are going to disappoint you. They are going to let you down—and when they do, the aftermath may even destroy you.

You’ve probably heard stories of the Great Depression and how some millionaires supposedly jumped to their death out of tall buildings when they heard all their money was gone! I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a good illustration of a life that comes crashing down when someone makes success their god.

Long before Jesus’ time the writer of Ecclesiastes sought meaning in life by pursuing success: luxury, entertainment, power and sex. He ultimately discovered that it was all emptiness; and he finally concluded, “Love God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

If you want to build your life and career on a solid foundation, you will love God—Father, Son and Spirit—literally more than you love anything else in the whole world. In fact, in Matthew 10 Jesus taught that we should love him more than we love our own father or mother, or son or daughter—or even our own life!

Some of you may be thinking, “Love Jesus even more than my own family? Seriously? That’s getting kind of fanatical, isn’t it?”

There was once a well-known seminary professor named Howard Hendricks who spoke to a group of guys about this passage. He said, husbands, you will never love your wife as Christ loved the church until Jesus is the absolute lord of your life.

You see, paradoxically, when you love Jesus more than anything else, that doesn’t mean you love others less—Your love for Jesus actually enables you to love them more, because it enables you to love them unconditionally regardless of circumstances.

In Nigeria right now there is a young girl, about your age, named Leah Sharibu who—in the midst of terrible circumstances—loves Jesus even more than she loves her own life. She was one of a bunch of girls kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist group over a year ago. Since then, some of the girls have died in captivity but over a hundred girls have been released. The terrorists, however, kept Leah specifically because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ. All she has to do to go home is to deny Jesus, but she loves Jesus even more than she loves her own life.

Not many of us will probably ever be called upon to give up our life for Jesus. So for us, what does it mean to love God with all our heart? Well, it’s not just warm, fuzzy emotional feelings or mountain top spiritual experiences. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasizes about a half dozen times that if you truly love him, you will keep his commandments. In other words, if you love Jesus you will love your neighbor as yourself, striving to live a life that is honest and moral, loving and forgiving, kind and compassionate. You will treat others the way you would like to be treated. Not in order to be saved, of course. But because you are saved. Because you love Jesus.

This doesn’t mean we will always obey Jesus’ teachings perfectly, of course. No one does. But the more we ignore Jesus’ teachings, the more we are building our lives on a foundation of sand.

Unfortunately, I fear that the “god” many people love, is an idol. A fiction. Some people seem to worship a god of health, wealth and prosperity—like a cosmic vending machine or Santa Claus who exists only to meet their every need and rescue them from trouble.

They arrive at this god by cherry-picking Bible verses out of context and ignoring the many passages which declare that “in this world you will have trouble,” as Jesus says in John 16. Then when the storms of life hit and the bottom falls out, they find their ”prosperity god” was an illusion and their faith may be destroyed like house built on sand.

Some people seem to have re-imagined God as some kind of an all-tolerant, all-accepting god of niceness who would never judge anyone about anything, because he understands the desires of my heart. They come to this conclusion by cherry-picking verses about God’s love and compassion—and they ignore the uncomfortable passages which talk about the wrath of a holy God who calls people to repentance!

We don’t talk much about the wrath of God anymore because that’s one of the topics we tend to ignore in our cherry-picking. After all, talk about God’s holiness and wrath—and our need to repent, might offend people and provoke their wrath.

Unfortunately, many people in our churches seem to think their job as a Christian is to be liked by everyone, so they do everything they can to avoid the world’s wrath. As a result, they build their lives on the shifting sands of contemporary culture—and then diligently search the Scriptures, cherry-picking passages out of context, to support what the culture teaches. James says that anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!

Let me close with three quick challenges:

First, don’t cherry-pick the Bible. Continue your study of the Bible and learn it well enough to know the whole council of God—and then, if you truly love God, strive to put it into practice.

Second, have the guts to judge modern culture in light of the Bible—rather than re-interpreting the Bible in light of modern culture. And by the way, I am not suggesting that the cultural foundation when I was your age was biblical. It was based to a large extent on the idolatry of materialism and financial success. All cultures need to be critiqued by the Bible.

Finally, build your life on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings. If you build your life and career on the shifting sands of cultural or political correctness, the house you build will ultimately fall like a house built on sand. But if you will build your life on the solid foundation of Jesus and his teachings—loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and loving your neighbor as yourself—Jesus, in John 10:10, promises you an abundant life!

That does NOT mean a life of comfort; or “health, wealth and prosperity”—but it does mean a life that is fulfilling and well-worth living—one that can withstand the storms of life, because it’s built on a solid foundation. 

Father I pray for our seniors. I pray that they would love you with every fiber of their being. And I pray you would give them the knowledge, wisdom and courage to build their life and career on the solid foundation of your Word.