The following is excerpted from a message by Renewal Executive Director Rev. Andy Cornell to Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in Ridgetown, Ontario, on September 1, 2019.
The world is changing – fast. Every week, there’s a new advance in technology. Each year, our computers and cell phones become outdated. Trends come and go like the flavour of the month.
On the one hand, change is good. Growth is impossible without it. Any farmer will tell you that. And Christ tells us to turn from our selfish ways.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to press a pause button and stop life for everyone else, but allow you to wander around and take a look at things that are frozen in time? It would be a way of taking stock of the world. Hollywood does this. There’s a technique in which the scene freezes except for one actor, who explains what’s going on to the viewer. Of course, the world of photography is all about that. Consider three iconic images. There’s Muhammad Ali’s knock out punch of Sonny Liston, the V-J Day Times Square street scene with the sailor kissing a girl, and the planting of the American flag on a mountaintop in Iwo Jima. These are great photos, which capture a moment in time and tells us all that we need to know.
Imagine your own lives. Press the figurative pause button and then take a walk around and for as long as you need to get an idea of what’s going on in the world. I did that recently. I spent some time in thought, asking myself, what’s the state of the world in which we live?
I believe it’s important to do that. If we, as followers of Christ, are to witness to the word, we need to get a handle on what’s going on. What’s the zeitgeist, the spirit of our times? The postwar years, the 1960s, the 70s, 80s and every decade is known for a particular attitude. Today, I’m going to suggest that the word which captures the spirit of the times is this: egoism. It’s a fancy word which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “self-interest as the foundation of morality.” Unpack that: it means our values are based solely on what I want or what gives me pleasure in life. In other words, it’s all about me.
We hear a lot these days about the Millennials, the generation of people who are in their 20s and 30s and how they are so high on themselves and expect to make a lot of money and retire by the age of 40. Truth is, I could have easily used that to describe my own generation, people born in the 1960s. There’s nothing new here, except our obsession with ourselves has deepened to the point where it’s become a crisis.
We live in an age in which the prevailing philosophy is that there are no rules. You decide for yourself. The biggest one, at least for me, is the belief that a child can choose his or her gender. Not so long ago it was only teens who might have been aware that we have varying degrees of masculine and feminine qualities in us. Now children, long before they are teens, are being told the same thing with the suggestion that it’s OK for boys to think and act as girls to the point where they can contemplate changing their own gender. It’s not uncommon for young people in their 20s to identify as neither male nor female and come up with their own pronoun.
This is just one example of a world in which we’ve stopped looking to authority for cues on behaviour and beliefs. We look to ourselves. We look within.
Is it any wonder that our churches are mostly empty and the souls that enter these places are from a different age?
In that light, I want to give you some hope. I want to review the fundamentals. It’s good to press pause and remind ourselves who we are and why we’re here. And not why we’re in a church on a Sunday morning, but why we’re on this planet.
Assuming that we believe in God, the one who created the heavens and earth and remains active in the universe, we are told by God’s Son that the two most important commandments are to love God and love each other. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
How do we show our love for God? Same as we do for our earthly parents. “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). His commandments are found throughout scripture. It’s the foundation of the authority of scripture. His commandments are to live in obedience to Him. Read scripture. Listen for the prophetic voices of our day. Ask if what we are doing is in tune with the spirit of the law.
Which leads us to the second of the commandments, to love one another. We care for the least of these. And that includes pointing out when someone is doing something that’s bad for them and bad for creation.
That’s the first thing. The second is this. After Jesus fed thousands and walked on water, he told his amazed followers to seek eternal life. How? Very easy. “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29). Believe that he was the Son of God. Believe in what he did. Believe in what is doing.
Jesus also told us to put God first. After his disciples rebuked him for describing his death, saying “never, this will not happen to you!” Jesus told them to be quiet. “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” And then he said this: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Matthew 16:24-26)
So what do we have here but a radical call to love a God we can’t see and love each other even though we don’t like each other, and to believe in the unbelievable Jesus. And then to forget about what you want in life. Give it up for God. Submit your entire being to the one who created you. It’s about God.
It’s the polar opposite to the prevailing spirit of this age.
Let’s take it a step further and see how this might apply. Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 6 make sense.
“You say, ‘I am allowed to do anything’—but not everything is good for you. And even though ‘I am allowed to do anything,’ I must not become a slave to anything.”
This was written to the most liberal society. Corinth had permissive attitudes that were similar to today: anything goes. Paul quotes their own words: “I am allowed to do anything.”
There is a belief then and now that if God has created something, and it’s enjoyable, then we are fools not to take advantage. God gave us bodies that are capable of experiencing great pleasure, so use them. But the problem is that we become addicted to that pleasure. What does Paul say in the next sentence, don’t “become a slave to anything.” Don’t let anything control your life. I love how Eugene Peterson puts in his translation:
“Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.” (The Message)
There is so much wisdom in that. Read it over, pause and reflect on the deep truths.
Scripture reminds us that we are to be slaves to God in Christ. God is to be our master. Paul called himself a slave to Jesus Christ. And we are reminded that if we want to be free from the control of sin in our lives, we need to be slaves to Christ. Be under His control.
That’s the opposite of what the world teaches, that if only we all signed up for yoga and spent more time in quiet contemplation and got in touch with our inner beings, then we would be at peace with ourselves and each other. What that amounts to is worship of the self. God is missing. Which is beyond tragic. It’s actually insane to think that we are our own gods.
Many corners of the church have bought into that lie. It’s why many churches have abandoned scripture in pursuit of a philosophy of peace. Didn’t Jesus tell us that he came to make us free? Didn’t Jesus come to bring life, and bring it to the full? Yes, but Jesus wasn’t talking about the body. He was talking about our souls and eternity.
The truth is that God has chosen us, he created us in his image. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. He has chosen to allow sin to enter into this world and for it to be part of the human experience. He has chosen to send his Son to show us the way and to live a sinless life. And to die for us. God has chosen one way to connect to Him, and that’s through his Son, who said clearly that “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I have no choice but to believe that. It is admittedly a narrow path.
When we give in to our human desires, we lose control. Our desires control us. They lead to destruction. When we give into God, He controls us and leads to life.
Here’s a truth that the word refuses to believe. We need to position ourselves as slaves to Christ. We need to submit. Who is our master? If it’s not God, then it’s the enemy. It’s black and white. That does not mean we become robots. It means we surrender control to him. There’s a difference.
Unless you consciously make God the ruler of your life and seek a lifestyle based on Biblical purity, then you are working for the enemy. (Don’t for a second think I’ve achieved that. None of us have and none of us will. We are all sinners.)
We need to recognize that and turn from our sins, turn to Christ and believe that he is the way, the truth and the life.
We are wise not to be slaves to this world and the lies of the enemy. We will never be satisfied. We will go deeper and deeper in our pursuit of peace and never find it.
We are invited to be slaves to Christ, who truly brings life, who brings freedom from the lies, freedom from anxiety and worry. This is true peace.
If only the world would understand.