We all would like to think that we are special in some way before God. We want to be sure of His love for us and His guiding hand in our lives. For most of us, being special translates into a feeling – an emotional response that produces a sense of security. But is that all there is to being special? For the Christian at least there is much more to it. We know that everyone is not called to follow Jesus and we also know that according to the Bible, God does specifically call some to follow. How does this work? How does God get your attention and touch your heart and mind? What makes us want to respond to God and what might make us shy away from responding to Him? Is it easy to recognize when God is seeking us out and trying to touch our hearts?
Christians like most other people are creatures of habit. Although society has engineered dramatic changes in how we handle our lives, for many Christians the act of going to church remains a staple in their lives. We go to church to do what? Traditionally we have gone to learn about God, to have fellowship with those of like mind, to get away from the rat race of our lives and to remind ourselves about how to live in a Christlike fashion. Traditionally we have gone to church to reaffirm our faith – to strengthen ourselves to better stand for our core beliefs. As I said, times have changed...now it seems as though many of us go to church for different reasons. In many instances church has become a place of neighborly activity, social acceptance, goodness, activities entertainment and fun. Church is now a nice place to go to feel good about myself. So, are these changes unhealthy or bad? What’s wrong with feeling good about myself? What makes a church a really good church?
Last week we began our conversation by saying that pride can be a tricky thing and prejudice can be an awful thing. We focused our attention on the pride side of the matter and its insidious way of taking over our lives. Now it’s time to talk about prejudice, and this is a hard conversation to have. For most of us, we can observe what we think is prejudice in others. We see a skewed view on some group or approach and we think about how unfortunate it is and wonder why they cannot see a bigger picture. Well, the bigger picture begins with these questions: How prejudiced am I in my view of the world and of others approach? Am I willing and able to recognize prejudice in my own thinking, and when I see it am I willing to attack it with the same passion that I feel about the prejudice of others? Prejudice needs attention and eradication, no matter where it’s found. How do we do that?
Pride can be a tricky thing and prejudice can be an awful thing. Let’s focus on pride right now. On the one hand we are told to take pride in our work – well, at least when I was a kid that’s what I was told! We want to be proud of our children and to be proud of our country. We want to take pride in the things we own and we want to leave a legacy that we can be proud of. So, pride is good! Well, on the other hand, we can see how pride comes before destruction, how pride can skew our view of others and how pride creates temptation to be dishonest. We can see pride becoming obsession, and we can see how pride can create a lack of trust in others, a lack of compassion for others and a lack of credit to others. So, pride is bad! Obviously this is a subject that needs not only clear definitions but clear principles to establish clear thinking. There is only one solution – let’s see what the Bible says!
Failure as everyone knows is an unlooked for and unwelcome commodity in life. It disrupts our plans, impedes our progress, upsets our feelings and is generally intrusive to our lives. As a result of failure’s glowing resume, we often do whatever we can to avoid it, and when we experience it we often try to soft-pedal its impact or even hide its presence. All in all, these descriptions of and reactions to failure are really quite unfortunate. Failure gets too bad a rap. It is judged too harshly. A few weeks ago we began a journey towards a better understanding of failure. In that journey we began to see the place that failure holds in our lives and the value that it can bring us. Let’s get back to it, for success begins when we understand our failures!
241 years ago the course of world history changed, for on July 4th, 1776, the 13 colonies adopted “The Declaration of Independence” and proclaimed themselves to be The United States of America. Since then these United States have risen to become a world power and have been the source of many amazing world innovations. One innovation that seems to never be talked about or even noticed is this country's profound contribution to recognizing, appreciating and preserving the wonders of the natural landscape. Nature. It covers the world with its intricate complexity, its unfathomable beauty and its breathtaking majesty. For most of us, our park system doesn’t feel like an innovation; rather it feels like a common, scarcely noticed commodity – yeah, we have National Parks – cool! Today we stop for a moment and ask how did these National Parks come to be, what was the motivation for their existence and what does all of this have to do with Almighty God?
Have you noticed how easy it is to offend people these days? There seems to be such an overt need to accept and to be accepted that we go overboard with the “correctness” of our words and behavior lest we hurt anyone’s feelings at any time. Now, being accepting of others is a good thing, but is it the most important thing? Should we willingly lay all other principles and standards upon the altar of mutual acceptance? Are we compelled to accept the world the way it is without regard to the good we have gleaned from the way it was? How did Jesus do it? He certainly spent time with the sinners of his day but was it at the cost of higher principles? Did Jesus actually “hang out” with sinners? Was his time with them to make them feel good or accepted? What is God’s role in all of this? If we want a relationship with God, does He accept us as we are or is there more to it?
Nobody likes failure. Even when we have been told that failure is good for us, that it is a stepping stone and that you don’t learn from success nearly as much as you learn from failure, we still don’t like it! For many of us, failure can be discouraging, debilitating and even depressing. So, what do we do with this? We learn from it. We look into the lives of those whom we consider successful and study their failures and their reactions to those failures to see how we can use their experiences to help us navigate our own experiences. The Bible is full of great examples of faithful ones who had many failures, and the Bible is also full of their success stories afterwards. What are we waiting for? Let’s get started with this whole making-failure-work-for-me thing!
We all need to be heard, and we all need to be acknowledged. We all need that feeling of validation that comes with being personally recognized as having value, and all of this comes through the important tool of communication. The problem is that we have become terrible at both the giving and receiving ends of the communication spectrum. Somehow we think that posting, texting, tweeting and emojis can replace actual conversation, looking someone in the eye, feeling their emotions or touching their shoulder. Whether it is our lack of attention span, our need for convenience, personal laziness or simply not knowing what we are missing, we have seemingly deserted real true person-to-person communication and replaced it with cold and emotionless technology. So, what do we do? How do we relearn both the giving and receiving ends of this invaluable and necessary tool for a fulfilled life called "communication"?
The world is systematically becoming a dark place. It is not that people are purposely looking to dwell in darkness. It is that people - many people - have come to believe in things that had their origin in darkness and treachery. Wherever you look you can see the subtle creeping in of thinking, philosophies and actions that do not reflect the wholesome goodness of godly righteousness; but they rather engulf all in their path in a pervasive and deepening gloom that is labeled as a "new understanding" of what is good and acceptable. Jesus emphatically told his followers to be the "light of the world," to be that "city set on a hill for the whole world to see." So, how are we doing with that? Is Christianity truly the light of the world or have we misrepresented and failed the light of the Gospel? Is the world supposed to see our light and come to it or are we simply off track in our understanding?