Monday, October 20, 2014

October 19, 2014 Revisiting the Question of Suffering






45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous – Matthew 5:45

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:1-3

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised this summer, as I read through your responses to the three questions I asked you, at how many had to do with the question of suffering.  My initial response was to think did nobody notice that I preached four messages about this topic back in the spring, as we studied the book of Job?  Didn’t I answer that question?

I read those messages this week, and as I reread them, I realized they were, basically, messages of comfort and encouragement more than they were messages about the theological questions related to suffering.  They were pastoral messages, and those kinds of messages are certainly needed, especially on the topic of suffering and difficulties.  But they didn’t give an answer to the question of why, if it is possible to do so.

In revisiting this question this morning, I hope to give a more definitive theological answer.  In doing so, however, I hasten to add that this question does not have an answer in the way we typically think of answers.  As people who live in the modern age, where science promises to give us either an answer, or the promise of an eventual answer, to every question, we have come to expect a very succinct, definitive, and logical answer to all our questions.

But not every question can be answered by science, or technology, or logic.  Some questions are very simple, such as what is the answer to the equation 2 + 2?  (Although I did ask my 9th grade Algebra teacher why 2 + 2 had to equal 4.  I wanted to know then, and still want to know now, why we can’t assign any value that we prefer to that equation.  That probably explains why I failed the class).  Other questions are much, much more complicated, and though science can answer many questions, from the simplest to the very complex, science can’t, for example, answer questions such as what is great art, what is great music, what is a meaningful definition of beauty, nor can it explain matters of the Spirit.  Such questions, and definitions, fall into a different category, a category generally occupied by philosophy and faith.

So the expectation of an answer to every question is part of the problem when we come to the question of suffering, because it is simply not the way in which the world works.  In spite of the promise of science and technology and logic, there will never be a succinct, definitive, and logical answer to every question.  The universe is so vast, and we occupy and understand such an incredibly small corner of that universe, it is the height of arrogance to believe that science will ever fully answer every mystery of the universe or every question about life itself, because a question such as suffering cannot be placed under a microscope or examined in a laboratory in order to find a satisfactory answer.

But still we ask – what is the answer to the question of why we suffer?  Why do some good people suffer and, conversely, why do some evil people prosper?  Why do innocent children become sick and die before their time?  Why do natural disasters take so many lives?  Those questions gnaw at us and we continue to search for answers, especially to the two big questions – can God do anything about this suffering, and if so, why doesn’t he seem to do more? 

But here is what I believe we must know.

We have to approach the question of why in a very different manner from other questions, and the manner in which we approach that question is to say, first of all, that the question why is the wrong question.  The real question is this – of the two alternatives to this question, which will we accept?

The first alternative is the one proposed by skeptics and people of no faith.  Their alternative says that everything is random and some bad things happen and some good things happen simply because the universe is random and that’s the only explanation.  There are no forces beyond the acts of nature and the laws of physics governing the universe.  Sometimes a planet gets in the way of an asteroid and terrible destruction is the result.  Sometimes an earthquake happens because the layers of rock beneath the crust the earth randomly shifts.  Some people’s bodies have a genetic mutation that causes a disease. 
Within that point of view there has been a bit of progress made to deal with some of that randomness.  Medical science, for instance, has progressed to the point that not every disease is a death sentence, or at least not an immediate one.

We can accept this view that we live in a random universe and that everything that happens to us in life is a result of that randomness and there is no inherent meaning to anything.  If we accept that view we then face the alternative of going through life believing that we are little more than a collection of atoms and molecules and that the electrical impulses connecting the neurons of our brains that give us the illusion that there is some measure of meaning to life, but within that view, there is no meaning.

The skeptic looks around at the universe and sees a collection of planets, stars, and space debris and says let’s hope we can stay out of the way of the randomness of those objects.  The skeptic looks around and puts together an equation that would read if A=a suffering world and B=a loving, powerful God then something doesn’t add up so I’ll jettison any idea of God and live with the randomness and lack of purpose and meaning.

The perspective of faith is the other alternative.  From the perspective of faith we must understand that sometimes we have the expectation that because we are people of faith our lives will somehow be exempt from the sufferings of life.  We learn from the book of Job this is certainly not true. 

From the perspective of faith, we acknowledge that suffering exists; that is the simple, sometimes brutal fact.  Nothing is going to change that fact.  Nothing is going to exempt us from suffering. We can buy every insurance policy available, every security device, and seek to insulate ourselves in every way possible from reality but we cannot escape some measure of suffering, and that is the reality for people of faith and people of no faith.  The believer and the nonbeliever face that same reality. 

But the person of faith looks around and says we live in a world that is not random but is the result of the hand of God, and just because A and B do not add up in any way that I can see I will continue to see meaning and purpose in this great universe and in my own life.  I will believe there is a greater purpose, even when it is a purpose I can neither see nor understand.  I will hope even when it is difficult to hold onto hope, even in the face of suffering because the only alternative is despair.  I will believe even when it is hard to hold on to faith in the face of suffering because the only alternative is no faith and that leads me nowhere and to no answer. 

If faith cannot answer every question with the specificity we desire then we must also know that skepticism offers no answer at all except emptiness and hopelessness and its only promise is a few years of whatever experience we can grab and then an eternal lights out and we become nothing but fertilizer until the universe implodes and then we become that to which such a view ultimately leads – nothing.
I don’t know about you, but I find the choice between these to alternatives to be an easy choice. 

So the first question is, which of those two alternatives will we accept, and the next question becomes because suffering will come our way and is unavoidable, what will we make of the suffering that comes our way?

As people who follow Jesus, we believe in a God who suffered.  In that sense, Christianity is absolutely unique among religions, in worshipping a God who is not far off and immune to and callous toward suffering, but he has walked through suffering and he has suffered.  As people who follow Jesus we are a resurrection people and we believe there is something on the other side of our suffering and resurrection is always ahead for us.

I closed the first of my messages on Job with a story about the oldest couple I married.  I’ll close this one with a story of another couple, who were much younger.  Early in the first Gulf War, I was in the attic of the church I was serving at the time, working on some insulation.  I was dirty and sweaty and had been up to my elbows in the work when someone called for me to come down.  A young couple had walked into the church and asked if there was someone who could marry them.  The young man was in the military and in a few days he was going to be sent to the Middle East.  I told them I could do the wedding, but would need to go home and get cleaned up.  They didn’t want to wait, it didn’t matter to them how I looked, and I looked pretty bad.

As we talked for a few minutes before the brief ceremony, they told me they wanted to get married in case something happened to him.  I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be easier to wait?  Why put yourself through all the sorrow if something does happen?  Don’t you want to provide yourselves with a measure of insulation from the possibility of loss and grief?  But they were determined, and I performed the ceremony, and I never saw them again, but have wondered about them a number of times over the years.

I find something wonderful in their determination to get married just days before he was sent to war, with no guarantee that he would come home.  I find something encouraging about the fact that they did not decide to break up in order to insulate themselves from the potential of sorrow and heartbreak.  I find it wonderful and encouraging because that is life.

We can’t live life in an insulated bubble.  I could get used to a life of sitting on the porch, taking vacations, doing only the things that will make me happy.  I find that to be very attractive, actually.  And even though it won’t insulate me from all of life’s sorrows and difficulties, it would insulate me from a lot of them.

But that’s not the way I am meant to live.

Why is there suffering?  I will tell you that is the wrong question.  The real answer to that question is that we have a choice between only two alternatives – one of a random, empty universe that has no answer, or one that tells us that God has created this universe, and for whatever reason that suffering is a part of it, he is not only with us in our suffering, but he has also suffered, and has entered into our suffering, he asks us to enter into the suffering of others.





























FCC Shelbyville | October 12, 2014 Sermon

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 12, 2014 Understanding the World of Our Children and Grandchildren


 

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
– Mark 10:13-16

There’s a fascinating element to that passage of Scripture.  It’s hard to imagine why the disciples would rebuke people for bringing their children to Jesus.  I imagine they had no idea they were standing in the way of kids and young people coming to Jesus, and were probably shocked when Jesus became angry with them.  People don’t always know when they stand between kids and Jesus.  Do you ever wonder if we do?  Perhaps there are times when we stand in the way of kids and Jesus, and we don’t even realize we are doing so.  I pray we never stand in the way.

I want to share a geezer moment with you this morning.  That’s right, I’m an old geezer about a lot of things.  But don’t laugh, because some of you are as well!

Have you ever had one of those moments where a memory is triggered, and you are transported back into a moment of time in such a powerful way that you feel you are almost physically there?  Not long ago I had such a moment.  I have no idea what triggered it, but my memory kicked in and took me back to Franklin Elementary School, where I spend 1st to 6th grade.  I enjoyed my years at Franklin School, and a couple of years ago, when I was home visiting my mom I drove by the school and stopped, hoping to get in to walk through the halls once again.  It was during the summer and the school was closed and locked, but I looked in the windows and walked around the playground.  When my memory took me back there on that recent day, I could almost hear the sounds of the playground and smell the hallways of that old school.  I could see the basketball court, the kickball field, and the playground.  There was a very real sense of assurance and peace that came over me as my mind took me back to that place and what I remembered as a much simpler time of life.

But my mind also reminded me that those days were not all simple.  It was a time of immense and unsettling social change.  It was a decade of war and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  We have to remind ourselves from time to time that as much as we like to think and talk about the good old days, they were not always as good as we remember.  We might desire to return to the simplicity of earlier years, but we have a somewhat selective memory about those good old days.  The good old days included the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, segregation, and many other difficult chapters in history.

Young people today are coming of age in a world radically different from that of previous generations, and to be honest, it is a world that often confuses and troubles me.  I struggle to understand today’s world.  I struggle to see beyond the horizon of the present and try to imagine what the world will be like in another ten or twenty years.  At the current pace of change, I am troubled by what changes may yet come.

I realize that much of my uneasiness is related to the world becoming less like the one in which I was raised and more like one that seems alien to me in many ways.

As much as the change unsettles me – and probably you as well – what must it be like for our children and grandchildren?  I imagine that what is worrisome to us is normal to them.  Commentators often speak of the new normal.  Well, the new normal is very different from what most of us knew as children.  But to our children it is just the way things are – it is what it is, as you might hear them say.

But I am hopeful as well, as I shared in last week’s message, and I hope that what I have to say doesn’t come across as despair. This morning we are talking about Understanding the World of Our Children and Grandchildren, and I’ve been very curious to discover what I would have to say about this topic, as I don’t really understand the world of our children and grandchildren.  In fact, Tanya asked me recently do you know anything about that topic?  Not as much as I’d like to know, but when has that stopped me from commenting anyway?

After thinking quite a bit about this topic I finally decided that what I would like to do today is to speak to what we need to understand about the world of our children and grandchildren, which will be a very brief overview, and then speak of what those children and grandchildren can learn from we who are further down life’s road.

We don’t know what it’s like to grow up in today’s world. 
The world is not at all like it was when I was young.  Mayberry is gone.  The Cleavers don’t exist (that’s a reference to Leave It To Beaver for those who are younger).  We lived in a world that did not have cell phones, personal computers, tablets, the internet, video games, satellite dishes, cable TV, and other technologies that now fill our daily lives.  We could also walk home at night with very little fear.  We could count on finding a good job after graduation, could count on the possibility of staying with that employer for the entire length of our career, and then enjoy retirement with a pension from that employer.  Today, students graduate with mounds of debt, no guarantee of a job or a way of repaying that debt, little or no hope of staying with one employer throughout their working years, and certainly not the guarantee of a pension.

We did not grow up in a world overrun with drugs, violence, and uncertainty.  We grew up in a world where most families remained intact and where there were three or four TV channels to watch, and we all watched the same programs.  As kids, we were raised in a joint effort by our entire neighborhood.  Now, a lot of kids raise themselves and don’t have any idea who their neighbors are.

We don’t know what it’s like to grow up in today’s world, so when we say back in my day, we must remember that day no longer exists, and it’s not coming back.  We need to know that when we are tempted to criticize young people for a lack of commitment or work ethic or in some other area that we may be mired in misunderstanding because the world is so different and they are different.

The world of today is one of constant change and uncertainty.
The other day a radio commentator said the world is changing fast.  You think?  Did he just figure that out?  Has he been living under a rock (even if he did, in this day and age the rock probably has Wi-Fi). 

It’s not changing fast; it’s changing at a break-neck speed that is confusing and disorienting to all of us.  Every generation experiences change, but it is the pace of change that is so different today.  Whereas it took several generations or decades for significant social change to take place, it now comes at a dizzying pace.  It is this world, where things change quickly and nothing seems certain, that our children and grandchildren live.

It has often been noted that young people think differently about social issues, trending to more liberal or open-minded points of view. When you study surveys about attitudes toward social issues by generation you find a great deal of difference when you come to young people. They are, for instance, much more accepting about same-sex marriage.  But the issue that looms extremely large for young people is not a social issue such as marriage, but whether or not the world is going to survive.  Instead of worrying about many of the social issues that trouble my generation – and older generations – they are worried about whether or not the human race is going to survive, so that trumps all the other issues.

 Take, for example, this fact – the world’s population has increased from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.9 billion in 2010
(http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/mortality/en/index.html.)  How many people can our planet conceivably support?  We may find out in the next century.  And then there’s global warming.  A good number of people in my generation and older are skeptics of global warming – I am not one of those skeptics – but talk to young people and you’ll find that almost all of them do, and for good reason – it is their future that is at stake.

Their relationship to faith is often different from ours.

It has often been reported that younger people are less religious than previous generations, citing, primarily, the rise of the nones.  But this is not as true as it appears.  Younger people aren’t necessarily less religious as much as they are religious in a different way, because their desires and preferences are different. When was the last time, for instance, that you saw a young person reading a newspaper?  You probably can’t remember.  Do you know any young people who watch an evening news broadcast by one of the major networks?  Probably not.  You would probably struggle to find a young person who evens wears a watch (most of them use their phone to tell time).  They still consume news and need to keep up with the time, but their desires and preferences related to so many things and the manner in which they consume those things has evolved into something very different.

We now live in a world that is organized less by obligation and more by desire and preference, and this has serious implications for the church, especially when it comes to young people.  

Many young people don’t, for instance, feel the necessity to connect to God in an institutional manner, such as church.  Because younger people are not “joiners” in the way our generations were, civic clubs and all manner of organizations, not just churches, are awakening to a very different reality.  Attend a meeting of a civic club today and you will probably struggle to find a member under the age of 35.  My generation, and previous ones, felt it important to join a civic club.  Doing so was part of our “civic duty.”  The fact that attending church could also be good for their business had an impact as well.  Today, instead of traditional networking, such as in civic clubs, business contacts are forged most often online and civic duty is fulfilled in crowd-funding or creating an online movement via social media. Young people probably won’t use the phrase “civic duty,” but they still hold to the concept of serving their community.  Young people simply do not relate to things in the same manner as previous generations. 

But the big question in this category is one that people often ask me – should I force my child to attend church?  I don’t always answer that question in any kind of concrete manner.  My siblings and I were taken to church regularly, it was assumed we would go to church each week.  There were times, when I was young, when I did not want to attend church, but I was “encouraged” to attend in spite of my resistance.  I’m grateful my parents encouraged me to attend, even against my will at times, because I don’t know what I would have done had it always been up to me.  Looking back, I am grateful that my parents instilled in me a pattern and appreciation for something I could not adequately value at the time.  Tanya and I have continued with this approach.

At some point, though, the decision on how to relate to faith must be made by every individual; as parents we cannot make that decision for our children.  I would say that as parents the dilemma is when to leave that decision to your children.

I would also add a word of encouragement to the parents and grandparents who grieve because their children and/or grandchildren do not attend church, or demonstrate much of an interest in faith.  Young people generally do what young people so – they experiment with different ways of thinking, of finding their own way, and, very often, doing things to separate themselves from their parents, including attending church.  But let me remind you that many people who leave either church, or faith, often return at a later point in life.

Now I want to add a word about what we – as older generations – have to offer young people.

You know a lot, but you don’t know everything.
The world has changed a great deal, there is no doubt about that fact, but there are still some important truths and some wisdom that we have to offer.


Most of us probably realize how much wiser our parents seem to get as we become older.  When I was 18, 20 years old, my parents didn’t know much of anything.  As I aged, it was amazing how their IQ went up along with my age.
Which means it is important to –

Have a greater appreciate for your parents.
A few days after becoming a parent I sat down and wrote a letter to my mom and dad, thanking them for all they had done for me.  It was a long-overdue letter.  Although I had been a parent for only a few days, it totally changed my perspective on life and certainly my perspective on my parents.  I’m grateful I wrote that letter.  I’m grateful for what I learned from them.






You need to learn the relationship between time and money.
I don’t mean anything at all related to the old saying that time is money.  What I mean about the relationship between time and money is the manner in which time can work for or against you in relation to money.  If you invest early in life, time is your great friend.  If you invest $2,000 at age 18, and never add another penny to that amount, and if you receive a 10% return each year, at age 48 that $2,000 would be worth $34,898.80 (http://www.fool.com/investing/beginning/why-should-i-invest.aspx).  

Imagine if you took other amounts, smaller amounts, and added each year.  The point of this is not simply to amass wealth, but to help you escape the debt that burdens so many people and dictates all their financial decisions, but most of all, to allow you to be generous, and a good steward of the gifts given to you by God.

Understand the value of church.
I struggle to understand online education.  I know that’s a big part of education now.  Lexington Theological Seminary is now totally online.  Maybe some day all education will be online.  Maybe one day a lot of church will be online.

Church is not outdated or irrelevant, as much as some may claim that it is.  One of the beautiful gifts of the church is the gathering of people cross-generationally, which happens almost nowhere else in society.  That’s not possible in an online format.  We need to be together.  We were created for community, which the church provides in a more powerful way than any other entity.

The world has changed.  The world is changing.  The world is not the same as it was when I was young.  It’s not the same as it was yesterday.  It won’t be the same tomorrow.

But the good news is that we have a God who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As uneasy as we might be about the changes in our world, and the challenges that face our children and grandchildren, we must remember that God has carried us this far, and will continue to care for every generation.





FCC Shelbyville | October 5th, 2014 Sermon

Monday, October 06, 2014

October 5, 2014 - What In the World Is Wrong With Our World?




It appears that Hollywood has apocalyptic fever.

I was surprised a couple of months ago to learn that Nicholas Cage would star in a new movie version of the first Left Behind book (it opened this weekend).  I’ve not read any of the books, and I don’t know that I’ll see the movie, but it’s one in a long line of apocalyptic movies that Hollywood has produced in recent years. 

The word apocalyptic refers to the end times or to events that are so cataclysmic that people believe the end must be upon us.  The most popular genre of movies in recent years has been superhero movies.  Most of the superhero movies are apocalyptic, because they portray the earth as under threat of destruction and must be saved by a superhero.  The zombie craze, so popular in movies and on TV, is also apocalyptic, as humanity is threatened with destruction by some kind of zombie virus. 

Why are these movies so popular?  Because they play out, onscreen, our anxiety about the condition of our world, and in seeing a victory over apocalyptic events we are reassured that everything will be all right.

The apocalyptic theme is no accident, but a reflection of the great sense of fear and uneasiness in our world about the path of humanity.  Everyone, certainly, feels some measure of unease about the future.  Elon Musk, founder of Tesla automobiles, is so worried about the future of humanity that he wants to put a million people on Mars to ensure the survival of humanity.

It is not necessary for me to list the numerous ills facing our world today.  Do we really need – or want – to be reminded of all the problems facing our world?  I don’t think so.  We are all painfully aware of the struggles of the world and of every day life.

This morning’s message is What In the World Is Wrong With Our World?  As our world seems to be coming apart at the seems, it is worth asking, what does our faith have to say about not only the condition of the world, but the future of the world?  What message does our faith bring to a world where there is such an incredible amount of worry about the present and the future of our world?

It is certainly a very difficult world in which we live, but it has always been a difficult world.  We live in a world filled with unbelievable brutality, but that has always been true.  What is different today, I think, is that the threats to humanity are increased because it is, first of all, a smaller world.  We are no longer protected by distance as in the past.  Our country has been shielded by much of what the rest of the world faces because of two oceans, but that is not the buffer it once was.  It is also a far more weaponized world.  Humanity has always specialized in creating weaponry but the 20th century brought weapons by which mankind could bring about its own destruction.  If you are my age or older, you may remember the drills in school in the event of a nuclear attack.  I remember being taught to get under our desks.  Evidently, we don’t need to build fall-out shelters; we just need to get some school desks under which we can hide.  We have also reached a tipping point as the world has increased to such a large population that the coming years could bring war based on the struggle for resources that grow ever more scarce.  If you don’t have some measure of unease about the condition of the world, you are probably not paying attention.

My intent is certainly not to scare you this morning or to raise your stress level, but to ask how our faith responds to what is happening in our world.

Many people, when they contemplate the future, turn to the book of Revelation.  That’s helpful, if you do so in the correct manner.  The book of Revelation is very mysterious with all of its strange symbols and visions, but it was written to bring comfort and assurance to people who were asking the same kinds of questions as we ask about the condition and future of the world – what is happening to our world?  Why is it happening?  What is God going to do about it?  What’s going to happen to us?  Unfortunately, some people use the book of Revelation to instill fear in people rather than bringing comfort and assurance.

But I prefer to turn to the words of Jesus when I think about the condition and the future of the world, and let’s read some of them.

Matthew 24:3-14; 36, 44 –
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.
For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.



When we think about our world, its condition, and its future, there are several options as to what we can do –


1.  We can live in fear.
There are plenty of people in this category, and the sad part of this approach is there are many people who have found ways to profit from our fears.  People profit from our fears both financially and politically.  There are companies who have done well marketing to our fears – buy a product that will protect your identity, buy anti-virus software that will protect your computer, but a home security system, buy plenty of insurance, and don’t forget to buy a weapon.  How much protection do we really receive for all that money?  I have some of those products, and I think we ought to have some of them, but we can spend and spend and it won’t guarantee our safety.

But it’s not just businesses – plenty of politicians have exploited our fears for their own political gain and political ends.  Uncertain times brings out a certain kind of political rhetoric that is designed to exploit our fears.

Jesus lived in a time of great fear, and yet he was fearless.  I’ve always admired that about Jesus, and wished I could emulate it.

2.  We can withdraw.
We can withdraw into our own little world and forget about what is happening around us.  We can withdraw into a world of our own concerns and interests and ignore what is happening around us.  There is enough evidence to support prove that many people have made this decision. 

It is very tempting to withdraw into our own lives and look after me and forget everyone else and their problems.  When a group of us traveled to the Diersen Center on Tuesday evening to lead worship we entered a place where people are mostly forgotten by the rest of the world.  It is a place where people are housed in a manner that others don’t need to know they are there. 
But Jesus didn’t withdraw, did he?

3.  We can find someone to blame.
When disasters strike, when we endure great tragedies, when we enter periods of momentous change, people want to find scapegoats and lay blame for what is happening in the world. It’s certainly nothing new, as scapegoating has been with us from the beginning, when Adam shifted the blame for his own actions to Eve – the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it (Genesis 3:12).  Adam manages to blame Eve and even God – she gave me the fruit, and you gave her to me, so both of you are to blame, he implies.

St. Augustine wrote one of the most monumental books in history when he penned he City of God in the 4th century.  Augustine wrote the book as the Roman Empire was collapsing, and someone had to be blamed.  Many around the empire blamed the Christians for the collapse of the Empire, so Augustine writes in response to the church becoming the scapegoat.  When the church ascended to power in the Middle Ages it began to find scapegoats for the problems of the world, and the tragedy of the Inquisition began.   

In our own time, we hear scapegoating by religious figures as they pick out group to become the scapegoat for the tragedies we endure, whether natural disasters or human disasters.  It’s the fault of feminists, or environmentalists, or gay people, or some other group.

Robert Jeffres, pastor of FBC, Dallas, Texas said earlier this year went so far as to say that things are so bad because President Obama is paving the way for the Antichrist.  It doesn’t matter where you stand politically; I would hope we could agree that’s going overboard.

4. We can embrace the world, following the example of Jesus.
There has always been a tendency to do all of the above in the world of religion.  It happened in the day of Jesus, it happened in the early church, and it has continued to the present day.

There are still people living in great fear, and there are religious people happy to capitalize on that fear.  My goal is not to make you afraid, but to remind you that God remains in control of this world and when we live within his care and know are destiny is ultimately in his hands we do not need to be overwhelmed with fear.  We don’t need to withdraw into our own little world, as some churches encourage, building their own subculture that protects them from the larger, scary world.  And neither do we need to lay blame upon others for what is happening in the world.  We don’t need to scapegoat people who are simply living their lives but are convenient targets as those whom we want to blame for the ills of the world.

I want you to look closely at the next picture on the screen.

Is that sunrise or sunset?  If you had the correct perspective you would know – if you knew whether or not the sun was in the east or the west you could determine if this is a sunrise or a sunset.
Are we in the final days of time, watching the sun set on humanity?  It depends on your perspective.


I would not minimize the difficulties that we are facing in our present age.  The problems facing humanity are very grave indeed, butI believe that much of the unsettledness of our time is a fermenting of something new, and God is working through all the change and all the uncertainty of our time and that he is going to bring an amazing new work from what is happening.  I believe that contrary to what many people believe, we are in the early stages of a new and great spiritual awakening.

What in the world is happening wrong with our world?  There is a lot that is wrong, but God is going to put it to right.