Wednesday, November 22, 2006

what has gone wrong (a sermon)

Last weekend, I spoke at the Young Life retreat about 2.5 hours outside of Madrid in the Gredos mountains near Avila. I gave four talks over the course of the weekend that corresponded roughly to a traditional evangelical presentation of the gospel. On Friday night, I gave a "Jesus" talk (as Young Lifers put it). This talk was intended to introduce the young people to the character of Jesus and draw out a text of Scripture where Jesus reveals who He is to someone. I chose to perform my "George" drama for this.

On Saturday morning, I gave a "sin" talk. This teaching was intended to give a basic presentation of the problem we all have that separates us from God and results in death.

On Saturday night, I gave a "cross" talk. This teaching was intended to give the answer to the problem; that is, Jesus dies on the cross to bear our sin.

On Sunday morning, I gave an "appropriation" talk. This teaching focuses on how we need to respond to the gift Jesus offers us and appropriate the death and life of Christ to our own life and heart.

Though these concepts are familiar to many evangelical Christians, I still thought I'd post here the second, third and fourth talks I gave so that...

1. You all could see what I was up to those days
2. Perhaps you might enjoy some slight "variations" on the traditional evangelical approach to the gospel.

Most of what you'll read here follows the traditional approach and will seem familiar to many, but hopefully we can all benefit from a renewed look at these issues (even if only these basic concepts serve to remind us of the wonder of new life in Christ).

I offer these talks here in hopes that those who already believe in Christ will be encouraged and assured of their faith, and that, perhaps, those who may still have serious doubts concerning the Christian faith may find some clarity as to just what Christianity is all about.


What Has Gone Wrong?
a teaching by Troy Cady

The story is told in the Bible that one day Peter had been fishing and hadn’t caught anything. He decided to call it a day and so he was cleaning his nets. Just then, Jesus suggested to Peter that he give it one more shot, just to see what would happen. Luke 5 records this story:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

You can see that, when Peter realized he was in the boat with a miracle-maker/holy man, Peter suddenly felt self-conscious and ashamed. Why? Because, how was he to know but that Jesus could look straight into his heart and see all the bad stuff he’d ever done? That’s why Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord. For I am a sinful man.” In other words, “I’ve done some bad stuff and I don’t want you seeing that side of me.”

You know, like Peter, we all have a “dark side”. We all have things in our lives (you could call them “dirty little secrets”) that we like to keep hidden. Some of the things we keep hidden not because they are wrong in and of themselves, but rather just because they’re kind of embarrassing.

Still other times, we hide things because we know we’ve done actual wrong. For example, we may have done something and then hid it from our parents or a friend.

But, in either case, we all hide things because we don’t want other people to see that side of us, for fear that they might think less of us.

Some time ago, I heard about a website called “Postsecret”. Here’s how the site works: Someone has a secret that they’d like to tell someone else but they don’t have the courage to do so. You can get this secret out in the open by sending in an artistic postcard to the site master. On this postcard, you put your secret. Then, each Sunday, the site master puts up a sampling of the hundreds of cards he receives each week.

I mention this because I can really identify with some of these cards. Some of them make me laugh and some of them make me sad. One card that was sent in by an alcoholic says, “This drink that is slowly killing me is the only thing keeping me alive.” Another card was sent in by a young person who had just lost her virginity. Still another card was sent in by a person who’s constantly tempted to kill himself.

When I read those kinds of things it makes me sad. When I read those things I think: “But this isn’t the way things are supposed to be!” Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life; and have it to the full. “ (John 10:10) This is a far cry from God’s desires. And so, I ask myself, “What has gone wrong with the world?”

We look at the news and we read about things like abandoned babies, school shootings and terrorist bombings and we say: “What has gone wrong with the world?” Things shouldn’t be this way.

Or we hear about a friend whose parents are getting divorced and we say, “What went wrong?” Things shouldn’t be this way.

The Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn wondered about this once. He lived during the time that Joseph Stalin took over the country. And Stalin did not like what he was writing. So, he got put in one of Stalin’s concentration camps where prisoners were forced to march to worksites that were miles away in rain, slush and cold. They had to wait in long lines for nothing more than a dinner of thin cold gruel. They weren’t allowed to read books, and, of course, there was no television or radio. They got less than one day off in two weeks’ time. That’s only about 26 days spread out over the course of a whole year! The hard life they lived resulted in literally thousands and thousands of deaths every year.

Once, Solzhenitsyn became sick and he was sent to the camp’s hospital. While he was there, a Christian man named Kornfeld paid him repeated visits. This got Solzhenitsyn to thinking about the state of his own heart and the state of the world. But before Solzhenitsyn was released, one day he heard some people fighting and shouting in a hallway near his room. He found out later what it was all about: His new friend Kornfeld had been bludgeoned to death.

Now: Solzhenitsyn had seen Russia before Stalin’s reign. And he had seen what the world had become after World War 2. And this got him to thinking: ‘What has gone wrong with the world?” And here’s the conclusion he came to. He writes:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”

When Solzhenitsyn was sick, the doctor asked, “What’s wrong?” And he immediately tried to look for a cure. In a similar way, Solzhenitsyn saw that the world has a sickness; something is not right. And, as he sought to diagnose the problem, his examination took him right to the human heart. Jesus agrees.

Like Solzhenitsyn, Jesus lived during a time when his people were asking “What has gone wrong with the world? And how can it be fixed?” Jesus’ country was occupied by Rome. Because of that, some of the Jewish people felt that the Roman government was the source of all their problems. So, they thought that the problem could be fixed by getting Rome out of Israel. Still others looked around and thought that the chief problem they needed to worry about was people’s adherence to the list of 613 rules by which most Jewish people lived. They thought if they could just keep this list of rules, then everything would be better. Some of the rules involved things like dietary guidelines: they were not allowed to eat pork. Other rules involved issues of cleanliness: they were supposed to wash their hands and clean their cups and dishes in a certain way. These rules sound ridiculous to us, but, for these people, they were serious kinds of issues. In that context, Jesus said these words:

"Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "

"Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' " (Matthew 5:10-11;17-20)

In other words, the line separating good from evil is not “out there” somewhere, it’s “in here”. It’s in our heart. Yes, we all have good inside us, but we all also have something else inside us that’s not-so-good. In fact, Jesus calls it “evil.” That’s why Jesus tells us we need a change of heart. If a sick heart is the source of the problem, then a fixed heart is the answer to the problem. That’s what we need: a change of heart.

When I was almost 14 years old, I had a realization like never before that I needed a change of heart. See: I grew up as kind of a wild child. I don’t have time to explain why I say that right now, but let me just say that, by the time I had turned 10, I tried on different things like getting high and getting drunk just for the heck of it. I had also become well-acquainted with magazines like Hustler, Penthouse and Playboy. Through that, I had acquired attitudes towards women that were degrading and demeaning. Of course, all this affected my mouth too: I’m guessing that from the age of 11 till I was almost 14, about every other word that came out was “F” this or “F” that. I told jokes that were racist. I cheated. I made fun of kids that were weaker than me. I basically cared only about myself.

But during this time I noticed a change in my grandfather. See, he had been a rough sort of guy, foul-mouthed, awful temper. But one day, he gave his heart to God and he became softer, gentler, more loving and kind. He had a change of heart and I noticed that.

Shortly after that, I visited my uncle’s. And I noticed that he and his family lived a different kind of life, too, because they followed Jesus. They didn’t take drugs and they didn’t have pornography in their house, for starters. But, more than that, I noticed that they were nice to each other, they loved each other. For the first time in my life, I realized, “Life can be different.”

Then, my mom started following God and her life changed. She started caring for us kids again after about 5 years of parental neglect.

Because of that, we started going to church. And because of that, I got to know the pastor of the church we went to. So, one day, I heard his story. He talked about how he used to live. He used to, for example, run with a pretty tough gang, literally. But then, one day, he gave his heart to God and God changed him. Now he had this joy and peace that was contagious.

And I saw that I needed to change too. I saw that I was a sinner. That’s basically an old-fashioned way of saying I knew that I was not living the way God wanted me to live.

At that time in my life, I was a little like King David…Let me tell you a little of his story:

He had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. Then, he killed her husband.

Then, one day, about a year later, the prophet Nathan confronted King David about what he had done. And David saw that he had broken God’s law. He was a sinner.

He actually wrote a song about this realization. In it he used a few different words to describe the ways he had sinned and the ways all of us break God’s law.

One word he used could best be thought of as “outright rebellion”.

Another word he used could be thought of as “perversion.”

And, a third word he used could be defined as “missing the mark.”

Now, I take a look at those three ideas that King David used in his song and I say, “Well, I haven’t committed adultery or murder, but that’s me, right there. Yep. All three.”

See there are times when I adopt a stance of outright rebellion to God’s ways.

There are other times when I simply twist or pervert God’s ways, changing things ever-so-slightly (but changing things, nevertheless). See, the problem with changing God’s ways for us even just a little bit is that God’s ways are perfect and we can’t improve on perfection. The fact is: you start messing with “perfect” and what do you get? Imperfect, every time. You get decay, you get breakdown, you get twisted reality.

And, then, there are still other times that I “miss the mark.”

And, if we are honest with ourselves, each of us would have to say we can identify with at least one of these kinds of things; and if we were really honest with ourselves, each of us would say we can think of instances in our lives when we’ve exhibited all three.

Remember: the line separating good and evil runs right through every human heart, including mine and including yours. This is what the Bible is talking about when it says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

And if you doubt this, then I would say this to you: “you can’t see your own butt”. See, nobody’s perfect. Everybody has something in their life that is out of line with what God intended for us, even if you’re not aware of it or can’t see it yourself. We’ve all gone wrong somewhere. It’s not a question of if you’ve sinned. It’s a question of how did it happen and (even) how does it happen?

So: how have you sinned? What are some instances where you’ve rebelled, perverted God’s ways, or missed the mark? Be honest with yourself, okay?

Now: what’s the big problem with this? Well, the problem is: God is the source of life. Remember: All life has its origin in God. So, if we choose to walk away from God, the source of life, what would the natural result be? Death. Any time we walk away from God, it’s like we’re killing our soul, it’s like we’re putting a dagger right through our heart. This is what the Bible is talking about when it says that “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23a) In other words, death is a natural consequence of sin. Sin pays us back by killing us. That’s the big deal.

This means we better do something about this sin problem, or else we’re history. And that’s what we’ll look at in the next teaching: “What can be done about this sin problem, this need for a change of heart?”

To read part 2 of this three part series, go here.

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