What I want to speak on today; I’ve spent a significant amount of time really looking at and studying and researching, and it’s a fascinating topic. In fact, I’m having to divide it into two, and the challenge that I had was to take all of this material, this information, and to distill it into a 40-to-45-minute talk and make it coherent and also make it relevant to your life.
Nevertheless, whether I’ve succeeded or not, we’ll see, but I feel somewhat like I’m here to spray a firehose out on the audience, and hopefully you can take what I’m sharing and maybe take a few gulps and apply something to your life or find something of value from what I’m going to say. And you may, as we get into it, say, where is he going with this? What’s he talking about? And I just ask you to stick with me. It’s kind of a tough issue because it can go in so many directions, but it’s just absolutely fascinating and hopefully you will agree when we’re done.
I want to start by sharing an important illustration that I use often, and I’ve used it over the years. A number of years ago, a group of sociologists conducted a series of interviews. And the criteria of being involved in this interview is you had to be 95 years old or over. And they were asked just one question; if you could live your life over again, what would you do different. If you could live your life over again, what would you do different?
They went out and interviewed all of these people. They came back, they took the data, they looked at the research, they compiled it, and they recognize that three common answers emerge. Now there were more than three answers, but if you grouped them together, you could group them into three responses. The first was, if I could live my life over again, I’d have reflected more on the important issues of life. My life was too much of a frenzy and I never stopped and really thought about what really matters in life.
The second answer was I would have taken more risks in life. I played it way too safe. I was afraid to fail. The third response was I would have invested more of my life in endeavors that will live on after I’m dead, which is a reflection that people desire for their lives to count for something.
But what struck me is that these elderly people were telling us that I wish I knew back then what I know now. I wish I knew back then what I know now. Do you ever think these thoughts does that ever cross your mind? Because ultimately what you see in these elderly people is a sense, not necessarily a deep sense, but a sense of regret. And that’s what I’m finding as I meet with men every day is that there’s so many men who live with the pain of regret.
Now I’m going to come back and talk about that at the end. But I share this because where I started in my preparation was there is a guy, well, there is a book in the Old Testament that most people would agree, most scholars would agree, it was written by Solomon. It’s called the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the Book of Ecclesiastes was clearly written in the declining and the last years of his life. It’s very philosophical when you read it. And what you see is he, Solomon is looking back over his life and he’s sharing what he has learned over the course of his life.
As Norman Geisler has said, perhaps you can say that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book about the sorrows and the regrets and the life of Solomon. And you may be thinking well, wasn’t Solomon the wisest man that ever lived? Well, he was, but most people don’t realize that Solomon ruled over a very dark period in Israel’s history.
You see, he turned away from his faith in his latter years, and he turned away to false God gods and to idols of the many wives that he had taken from foreign lands. And as he writes this book, he often stops and looks back and steps back, and he asked this one question, ‘can man find meaning in life if there is no God?’ He calls it ‘life under the sun’. I encourage you to read the book. It’s about, I think 9, 10, 11, 12 chapters, very philosophical, interesting book of the Bible. Some people wonder why it’s even there. But you’ve got, here you have him stepping back and asking that question. Can man find meaning in life if there is no God?
He kind of takes the same approach that great philosopher John Lennon took. You remember the song, ‘Imagine’? I know some of you younger men probably don’t even remember John Lennon, one of the Beatles, but he wrote one of his most popular songs was called ‘Imagine’. He says, “Imagine there’s no heaven, no religion too, know hell below us, above us only sky.” He says, if that’s the case, how do you expect people to live? How do you think people would live if they lived with no religion, no God, no hell?
Now you might be thinking, well, this really doesn’t have any application to me because I believe in God. In fact, you know, most polls, I heard one just this past weekend, most polls, Gallup included, says that 90 to 95% of all Americans believe in God or some type of higher power, whatever that is. But what’s even more interesting, and may give you comfort, this is a nice religious nation, but these same polls reveal that for most Americans, their belief in God has no dramatic impact on their lives. And nor does their belief in God answer for them the ultimate questions of life.
And as I see those results from these polls, I’m reminded of a term. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but the term is ‘practical atheism’, a ‘practical atheist’. If you’re not familiar with that term, a practical atheist is a person who believes in God but lives his life as if God did not exist.
And so, the question that I would ask you to consider is are we a nation of practical atheists? We believe in God, but it does not impact our lives or the way we view life and the big questions of life. Based on this poll, I would say yes.
Now, if that’s the case, as it was in Solomon’s case, as he writes the book of Ecclesiastes, what we’ll find is that there are no coherent set of answers to the significant questions that confront each of us in the passage of our lives. For if God does not provide us with these answers, where are we going to get them?
What’s interesting, is one of my favorite authors is a philosophy professor at Boston College by the name of Peter Kreeft. Kreeft did a study of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History. It’s twelve volumes studying all the civilizations that have ever existed. It took Toynbee 27 years to write this. And Kreeft did a study of it.
He said, “of the 21 great civilizations that have existed on our planet, according to Toynbee’s study, ours, the modern west,” not Western civilization, the modern west, that’s us today, “we are the first civilization that does not have or teach its citizens any answer to the questions of why they exist. Our society has nothing but its own ignorance to give us this, the most important of all questions.” And then he says this, and this is what I want to point out. “As our society here in the modern west grows, it knows more and more about less and less. It knows more about the little things and less about the big things.”
You know, I don’t know about you, but you know, I’ve come to the conclusion that life forces us to think about the deeper issues whether we want to or not. You know, think about what happened at Columbine High school. Think about 9/11. You know, every time I watched those planes flying into that building, seeing people jumping from buildings, it stops and makes you really reflect on what’s it all about? You know, I read where, right after 9/11, people flocked to the churches, but the problem is over a period of time, they went back to their normal attendance and most people came to the conclusion they really didn’t get any answers from their churches. And then you think about the signs of your mortality and the people who are close to you, who you have to watch die.
You know, it struck me, I was telling somebody this, and this really impacted me when we were talking about being back in high school. And it hit me that when I was in the 12th grade, a senior at Mountain Brook High School, which doesn’t seem like so many years ago, myself and eight of my friends over spring break went to New Orleans for four days. And I was telling somebody, but what’s interesting, of the nine of us, three of them are dead. Three of them are no longer here. And it’s kind of a personal reminder to me of the brevity of life.
There are things like this that always seem to come before us. And what happens according to Solomon is we’re forced to think about the bigger issues of life, such as our own existence, its brevity, its meaning, its uncertainty. He says, what happens is a sense of despair sets in particularly if you don’t have any answers. And that’s what happened to him. You see a real despair as he writes this book. And so, he asked the question, so what’s one to do.
Two weeks ago, I began to meet with a guy for the first time to go through The Investigative Study. And in our first meeting—it is interesting, people seem to open up—and we talk about all kinds of issues. And he told me something, he says, you know, a number of years ago, I asked some of my friends, we were just kind of getting together, just kind of horsing around, talking, a bunch of guys. And he said, I asked the question, do you guys ever think about what’s going to happen to you when you die? Have you ever thought about that? You know, eternity? I said, well, what did they say? He said, they got upset with me. They got angry at me. They said, you need to lighten up, you know, go drink a few beers. You know, this don’t fit you. This is something you don’t really think about. In other words, what they were saying is avoid that question. You know, that’s something you avoid. That’s not something you talk about in public.
Pascal said, and he said this 350 years ago, he says, “being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” And according to Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes, he says, “men will therefore pour their lives into anything that will avert their attention from these issues.”
And I’ve kind of broken them down into two categories. One is we use the pleasures of life. The second, which I’ll talk about in January is, is what I would call work, achievement, and recognition. Now think about pleasure for a minute. I was reading this book called Making Sense of It All by Thomas Morris. Morris is a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. And he talks about this when he says, “Back in 1980, I was finishing my graduate work at Yale. One of my good friends was also finishing his work as an MD. He was a doctor of pathology, and we were getting ready to go out into the workplace. And each of us had job offers and we were talking about these offers and then we talked about what kind of money we might make.”
He said, “My doctor friend, all of his offers were six figure incomes. My best offer was $16,000 as a philosophy professor. And as we talked about, he said, ‘you mean $16,000 a year’. I said, ‘that’s right’. His brow furrowed deeply, and he slowly shook his head. ‘But we’re both at Yale, and you work just as hard as I do’. He was perplexed and even seemed offended at the apparent injustice. ‘Why do we pay medical doctors so much?’, he asked. Because we want them to keep death from our door. We want them to keep death and the troubling questions it raises as far away from us as they can. We want this badly and we’re willing to pay for it. But have you ever noticed that we pay the best entertainers even more? In fact, much more. The movie and television stars, the sports heroes; maybe it’s because we know deep down that the physicians will ultimately fail. And the entertainers keep us from thinking about that. This could also,” and he says this tongue in cheek, “this could also explain why we pay philosophers so little because they make us think about these things.”
A book that I’ve just almost completed, it’s called The Question of God, one of the best books I’ve ever read by Dr. Armand Nicholi. And I want to read you his credentials because I’m going to quote a couple of times from him. He is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and at Massachusetts General Hospital, he’s the editor and coauthor of the classic, the Harvard Guide to Psychiatry. He teaches courses at both Harvard undergraduate and Harvard Medical School.
And in the course that he teaches, he compares the life of Sigmund Freud, who he is an expert on, and C.S. Lewis, an atheistic versus the theistic view of life. He also, interestingly, was the psychiatrist for the New England Patriots for a number of years. And I’m not sure what that says about him, but he says this about diversion.
He says, “Within the university, students at Harvard and professors scrutinize every possible aspect of our universe, from the billions of galaxies to subatomic particles, electrons, quarks, but they insidiously avoid examining their own lives and the big issues of their lives. In the wider world, we keep hectically busy and fill every free moment of our day with some form of diversion, work, computers, television, movies, radio, magazines, newspapers, sports, alcohol, drugs, parties. Perhaps we distract ourselves because looking at our lives confronts us with our lack of meaning, our unhappiness, and our loneliness, and with the difficulty, and the fragility, and the unbelievable brevity of life. Pascal may have been right when he observed that if our condition were truly happy, we wouldn’t need to divert ourselves from thinking about it. The sole cause of our unhappiness is that we do not know how to sit quietly in our rooms. We hate solitude. One of my Harvard students stated during a class discussion, that living is a scary business. Perhaps the reason we find it difficult to sit quietly and examine our lives is because doing so makes us uneasy. It makes us anxious, but until we examine our lives, we can do little to make them less happy and more fulfilling.”
You know, if you think about it, pleasure is the most natural diversion in life. I mean, I don’t know about how many big fans we have here, how many of you watched the game this past Saturday night, but at our house, we’re big Alabama, I’m an Alabama fan, my wife’s Alabama, so we’re big college football fans. For that three-hour period, we were locked into that game; you know, really nothing else in life mattered. It’s absolutely amazing how you can block out everything in the midst of something you thoroughly enjoy. I mean, it’s like time stands still.
But go back to what John Lennon said. Remember the song that I quoted, he said, “Imagine there is no heaven, no religion too, no hell below us, above us only sky.” Do you remember the next part of the song? The next lyric? He says, “Imagine all the people living for today.” In other words, he says, if there is no God, there are no answers, so you should eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow you die.
I don’t know how many of you watch or have viewed any of Woody Allen’s movies. In the last 10 years, they’ve been pretty deplorable; they have not been good. But he’s done some really excellent films. His best in my opinion, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and he’s always exploring the big issues of life, and he always comes to the conclusion, there are no answers because there is no God. And this is what he says at the end of the movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors. He says, “if you think about the big questions, if you think about the meaning of life, there are no answers. Therefore, all you can hope for in life is simply to enjoy the pleasures of the day.”
And for a period of time, that’s what Solomon bought into. And let me just tell you this about Solomon, really quick. And this is an opinion. I would contend that he experienced more intense pleasure than any man that ever lived. He had more wealth, he had more concubines, he had more food, more drink, he had more wine, women, and song than anybody in this room could ever experience. And yet listen to what he says about it. These are Solomon’s words from the second chapter.
“I said to myself, come now, I will test you with pleasure. So, enjoy yourself. I said of laughter. It is madness and a pleasure. What does it accomplish? I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely and how to take hold of folly until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I built houses for myself. I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself. I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. And all that my eyes desired, I did not refuse them. I did not withhold from my heart any pleasure. I stood back after a period of time, and I considered all of my activities. All that I had done; and behold, all was vanity. All was striving after the wind. And there was no profit under the sun.”
Solomon is telling us that as delightful as pleasure can be, it doesn’t work. In other words, it doesn’t satisfy. He’s saying, you know, after the party is over, after all is said and done, he says, I examined my heart and I realized how empty I was. He says, it added no value to my life.
Nicholi, the Harvard psychiatrist, says pretty much the same thing in his interaction with the students, those same students who he says, look for diversion to deal with the deeper issues of life. He says, “I often ask my classes whether or not, from their observation and experience, are people around them happy, invariably, they answer no. Invariably, I express surprise. I point out that compared with most people in the world, they possess everything. Youth, health, intelligence, abundant food, clothes, a comfortable place to live, education, a promising future. What in the world causes them to be unhappy? And ultimately it gets down to a lack of meaning.
Back in 1993, I heard Billy Graham speak in Washington at the President’s Prayer Breakfast. He had just been, ironically, at Harvard meeting with President Derek Bok, who has since retired. He was leaving their meeting and the last question he asked Bok was this. ‘What is the greatest problem that faced the students at Harvard?’ Bok didn’t even have to think about it. His response was very swift. ‘Living empty lives.’ Living with emptiness. Living lives with no meaning.
Now, I had originally planned at this point to stop and talk about God’s true intention for pleasure, and I’ll get to that. But I want us to go a little deeper with this, particularly on behalf of a number of younger men in the room. And, as I said earlier, I did a great deal of research on this and encountered some fascinating information. Human beings, it’s important to understand, we naturally delight in pleasure because that’s what God intended. You know, it was His idea. You know, pleasure is a good thing. I’m not taking pot shots at it. But what we do is we elevate pleasure to the point that it is the center of our being. And it’s also a diversion that keeps us from facing the harsh realities of our existence.
And what happens is, is what, and I believe this was Albert Einstein, in my reading, I didn’t really identify who came up with this principle, but it quotes Einstein, so I’m going to assume it’s his principle. And listen, this is powerful. He calls it the ‘double power principle’. I think this is right on target. He says, “The greater power anything has for good, the greater the power it also correspondingly has for evil.” I want you to think about that. I’m going to read that again. “The greater power anything has for good, the greater the power it also correspondingly has for evil.”
I mean, they use the examples of nuclear power or painkilling drugs, but one that I thought of that was not in this book that I read, but I think has pertinence to maybe a lot of us, maybe most of us who are married or have been married, but God tells us one of the greatest gifts to mankind is marriage. It has the potential for the greatest pleasure and fulfillment, but it also has the greatest potential for pain and suffering in a person’s life. This is also true of pleasure though, because it does offer, it offers great delight. And in God’s scheme, it does play a very important role which I’ll mention in a second. But when it’s misused and it’s elevated to the point that it provides the basic reason for living, this is what I discovered. It leads to two things.
The end result over time is going to lead you to two directions. If that is kind of your God, it leads to meaninglessness or emptiness, and this second one fascinated me; boredom. It leads to boredom. G.K. Chesterton said, “It is not weariness and pain that brings meaninglessness to life but weariness and pleasure.” Professor Gene Veith who wrote a classic called Postmodern Times said, “Boredom is a chronic symptom of a pleasure- obsessed age. When pleasure becomes one’s number one priority, the result, ironically, is boredom.”
Listen to these words from Reader’s Digest. The title of the article was “How to Cope with Boredom.” “Despite its extraordinary variety of diversions and resources, its frenzy for spectacles and its feverish pursuit of entertainment, America is bored. The abundance of efforts made in the United States to counter boredom have defeated themselves and boredom has become the disease of our time.”
So, what happens then? What happens to men? It gets worse because if you’re bored and you find life to be meaningless, you try to get rid of it. And this is what’s even more interesting. John Richard Newhouse, probably one of the most famous scholars of our time, he’s a professor at Notre Dame, he says, “What happens, particularly to men, is that decadence comes when people lead meaningless lives.” This book by psychiatrist Richard Winter is a book on boredom in a culture of entertainment. And he says, “One of the bitter roots of boredom, particularly among young men, is aggression and violence.”
In fact, even Pascal said, and this is just kind of shows you the difference in young people 350 years ago today, he said, “When young men can’t find anything to do, that’s when they look for ways to torture the cat.”
Today, this psychiatrist, Richard Winter, he quotes from this guy, William Anderson, and Anderson is a superintendent of correctional facility for adolescents in Vermont. And this is what he said. “I am seeing something in young people coming into jail today that I’ve never seen before. The 17, 18, 19-year-old kids I see, they don’t care about anything, including themselves. They have absolutely no respect for any kind of authority. They have no direction in their lives whatsoever. They are bored out of their minds. Young men with a proneness to boredom find an intrinsic appeal to high sensation and acts of violence.”
You know, why is it? Why is it that our country, the most prosperous nation in the world, leads all other nations in categories of social pathology? In other words, why are we the most violent nation on earth? I’m talking about violence among its citizens. You know, Iraq’s pretty violent right now, but that’s more militarily. I’m talking about people killing each other, hurting each other. We’re the most violent nation on this planet. Why is that? We’re the most prosperous, we’re the most educated.
The final consequence of when we look to pleasure as the source of life is something that’s not going to surprise any of you. It’s the problem of addiction. That’s when pleasure is truly misused, the problem of addiction. And every one of us are touched by addiction, whether it’s in our own life, or some people that we love. And what’s interesting is this, and I think it’s appropriate for me just to mention this. I don’t know if you realize it, but 80% of the people who struggle in this land with addiction are men. I teach at alcohol and drug rehab facility once a month and 80% of the people there are men. And it’s always the case. Approximately seven out of every 10 men are addicted to either drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography. Now you look around and you may say, well, I find that kind of hard to believe. The problem is, is that we desperately hide our addictions. We don’t want anybody to know about them, but I believe one of the most newfangled addictions with the most deadly consequences is Internet pornography.
I went into Joe Muggs in English Village the other day to get a cup of coffee. And this magazine was staring me in the face. I don’t know if you recognize this young thing. She’s cyber porn superstar Jenna Jamison. And this is not a pornographic magazine. This is the New York Magazine. I mean, it’s a book that New Yorkers read, a magazine that New Yorkers read, and it always has interesting articles in it. But this one says, “Porn is everywhere thanks to the Internet. It’s never been less shocking, but what is it doing to real relationships?” And it’s a fascinating article. And what it’s saying is we’re starting to see consequences in young men that we’ve never seen before. They struggle relating to normal women, because they’re always comparing them to the porn stars that they look at everyday on their computers. And what the sexologists have found is that they’re also, they’re losing their sexual desire.
And then, and both of the journalists that write this are fairly liberal journalists, they say something that you would almost think they’d been reading the Bible. They said internet pornography is leading to a loss of sacredness and mystery in our sexuality, which comes straight out of the Bible. Our sexuality is to be sacred and there is to be a mystery to it. So, guys, what did God intend for pleasure? What role did He intend for it to play?
Well, C.S. Lewis says, he says it well, and this is brilliant. Lewis warns that “although all pleasure and happiness is, in its own nature, good, and God wishes us to enjoy it, He does not, however, wish us to enjoy it without relation to Him. Still less, to prefer it to Him.” Lewis keeps emphasizing a basic principle of the spiritual life when one’s relationship to God is given first place. He says, “Everything else, including our earthly loves and pleasures, increases.” What a paradox. In a letter to a friend, he said, “When I have learned to love God more than my earthly desires and pleasures, then I will enjoy my earthly desires better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly desires at the expense of God, I shall be moving towards that state in which I shall not enjoy earthly pleasures, i.e., meaninglessness and boredom.” And this is the crux. When first things are put first in a person’s life, secondary things are not suppressed, but they increase. They increase.
As my wife and I were talking about this, she said, and you know, my wife’s got a master’s degree in counseling, she says, pleasure should be purposeful because then it is meaningful. So, pleasure plays a vital role in our lives. And that’s why Solomon even concludes in Ecclesiastes, in that same chapter that I read to you, he says, you cannot eat and drink and enjoy life without Him.
Now, what I believe I’ve laid out guys is truth. Not only from the research that I’ve done, but the conversations I’ve had with men, and yet, with a group of men, you never know. You never know what goes on in somebody’s life because whenever you, and I’m sure this happened this morning, you say how are you doing? It’s always, well, I’m great. I couldn’t be better. I remember there was a guy I used to ask this; I’d see him from time to time, and some of you probably experienced this with him as well, I’d say, how are you doing? And his answer was always, oh, it’s just another day in paradise, just another day in paradise. And he would say that over and over again. And I began to wonder what kind of life does this guy lead? Does he have any problems? Because, if you think about it, if you never have any serious conversations with any other men, you might think nobody struggles with life except me. But you know, that’s not the case.
This past week I went to a conference in Atlanta. It was Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday morning. Saturday morning, I was getting, packing up to leave, it was early morning because they started early, and I had the TV on and watching the Biography channel. And on this Biography channel, they were doing the biography, some of you will not know this man, of Jackie Gleason. Some of you do know him. As a kid, I remember him, because in the 1950s and early sixties, he was the highest paid entertainer on television. His show, The Honeymooners, was at the top of the list. He was a funny man. And yet what’s interesting, in fact, if you had to compare him to somebody today, he would be kind of the Jerry Seinfeld of today. And you would think, here’s a guy that has it all.
But if you ever, any of these TV or movie stars, it’s always interesting, if you ever get their life behind the scenes, you see how messed up their lives are. And Gleason was no exception. I never knew this, but as I was listening to them talk about his life, it was almost, because I’d been preparing this talk, it was almost as if they knew what I was talking about, because they said, at midlife, Gleason got depressed. And he says he had struggled, had trouble sleeping at night. He would stay up reading about his mortality. He read philosophy, believe it or not. He read about death and dying because he was afraid to die. And then they come along, and they say, you know how he dealt with it eventually? This is real interesting for this group. In mid-life, he took up golf. I mean, imagine trying to take up golf at age 40. Maybe you’ve done it. It would be very difficult for me. And he loved it. That was the way he got his mind off this.
You know, the second thing he did? He got him a 22-year-old girlfriend. So, golf and his new girlfriend is what got his mind off of his troubles. But then, it said that three different times, you know what his greatest struggle in life was? He was consistently bored. It said at three different occasions that Gleason struggled with boredom. Isn’t that interesting? A guy who had it all.
We began our time this morning talking about regret, the pain of regret. And one of the things that I have found is that the pain of regret is one of the few pains in life that lingers. In some cases, it almost haunts you. It’s hard to get rid of. And I was thinking about that first illustration, those folks, 95 years and older, who said, if I could go back to where we are, I wish I had thought and reflected and spent more time on the deeper issues of life. I’m sorry that my life was so superficial. Do we avoid those questions? Do we avoid them?
This really hit home to me recently in one of the Bible study groups. In fact, this past Wednesday morning, we were looking at some verses that really disturbed me. In fact, I have to tell you, they disturb me every time I read them because they get, Jesus, you know, He says a lot of good stuff that makes us feel good and encourages us and teaches us. But then He’ll say things that’ll knock us out of our chairs. And these three verses, every time I read them, I have to stop and give them deep thought. This is out of the Sermon on the Mount. These are Christ’s own words. Listen to them. “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name, cast out demons and in Your name perform many wonderful works? And then I will declare to them. I never knew you. Depart from me.”
Jesus is saying, this is about people, who He’s saying one day will experience life’s great regret. On that day, is God’s judgment day. And, but what really probably troubles me the most is He says in verse 20, He says many. And I looked up seven different translations of the Bible to make sure that’s what this really meant. It says many not few. And it says on earth, you called Me Lord. In other words, they believed in Jesus. They call Him Lord and they say, Lord, this is why I should go to Heaven. Look at all of my good religious work. Look at all the good things I did. And I did them in Your name.
In other words, they were trying to justify themselves with their good works. Then it struck me, you know, this is natural. This is a natural reaction. We as Americans have, because we believe you have to earn what you get. You know, good people go to Heaven, bad people go to hell. Isn’t that the way we were kind of raised, but Jesus says, only God is good. If you read between the lines, He’s saying that means that we’re not good.
Now you might be, every time I’m in a group and I share this, and we can have discussion, people struggle with that. Well, there are good people out there, and there are, when you compare them to other men. But I started, I used to think I was a good person until I realized what a good person really was. A good person keeps the great commandment every day of his life, every moment of his life. You remember the great commandment? Jesus Was asked, how about summarizing the law? Jesus says, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. Do we live this out every day? Every moment?
Remember Paul Walker last week? He said in the Episcopal church, before they take communion, they read this prayer, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and for whom no secrets are hid.” See, God sees our hearts. And that’s the problem. I always make this proposition to men. How would you feel if somehow, since God does know the heart, what if He somehow, over, let’s just go back 30 days, took all of your thoughts, all of your motives, everything that’s gone through your brain, and puts it in writing and documents it, and then distributes it to everybody you know? How would you feel about that? What would become of your life? I told somebody I’d probably want to leave town. Bottom line is, men, none of us are good.
Jesus said you can’t save yourself. If you think you’re good enough, look at His response. He says, I never knew you. What’s He saying? What He’s saying is we need our sins forgiven so we can be in right relationship with God so we can know Him personally. Do we know Him? Do we know Him? Jesus said right before He died, right before He goes into the garden, He says this, this is eternal life that they may know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ who now has sent.
I think Nicholi, the psychiatrist from Harvard, maybe articulated it better than I am. And I’d never heard this. He says there are two categories of people in the church today. Those who adhere to what he calls extrinsic Christianity—extrinsic Christianity; they are those who are motivated by a need to attain status, do what is respectable, please their spouse and children, find a good social setting, and by being in church, they hope to gain some type of favor with God—extrinsic Christianity. But then he says, there are those who adhere to intrinsic Christianity, and they are those who internalize their beliefs so that their faith becomes the primary motivating influence in their lives. They speak of a conversion experience and their life is focused on a deepening relationship with God. On that day. Do we ever think about that? I mean, is that one of those issues that we like to push aside?
Let me share with you my last thought and we’ll finish. A year ago or so, a guy came to see me. He’s a man I have great respect for and whom I like a great deal. And if I mentioned his name, almost everybody in this room would know who he is. And he had just lost one of his very close friends unexpectedly. And I could tell it really disturbed him. And he shared, you know, he says you know I’ve attended church all of my life, I’m involved in a Sunday school, but he kind of confessed, he said, you know, I really don’t know much about the Bible. I really don’t know much about Christianity. You know, as we talked, it kind of became clear to me. He says, my Christianity works well for me when things are going well. You know, it’s a nice compartment that fits neatly into my life. He said, but I’ve come to realize that my Christianity doesn’t have much substance to it.
And what struck me, this is a guy who is a law-abiding civic-minded church-going successful businessman, fine family man, but when it got right down to it, he truly did not understand the Gospel. He didn’t understand the Christian faith. Just as these people in Matthew 7 obviously didn’t. Because if they did understand it, they wouldn’t be standing there arguing with God.
The reason we have these breakfasts, guys, the reason we have these Bible studies, more significantly, the reason we have these Investigative Studies, is to enlighten men to God’s truth, to answer the big questions that we so easily want to avoid. I invite you to explore the significant issues of life through any of these means, through any of these studies. But what I’m finding, and I realize that some people, either they’re not ready for it, they don’t want it right now, or they may never want it. So, what I want to do, this is a little unusual, what I want to do is I’ve got, at the back when you leave, I’ve got some CDs of Paul Walker by the way, but I also have a CD that I think is as significant of a message that I can give you. And I’ve got a copy for everybody.
Unless you’re in one of my groups or you’ve been through The Investigative Study, I’ve got one for everybody. And some people will be back there to hand them out so you can take it and you can listen to it in the privacy of your home or in your own car. But it’s there for you. It’s a gift, no charge. But I challenge every man in this room. We need each one of us to look reality in the eye, to face the truth in the eye and deal with the significant issues of life. If not, life will end up being boring and meaningless. As Pascal said, too many people live their lives, running into the abyss and they never realize it until it’s too late.
As we approach this Christmas, remember the words of the hymnist, Joy to The World, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.
Let’s close in prayer. Father, we acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We may think we can. We may think we can be good enough, but when it gets right down to it, and when we look at our hearts, when we examine our lives, we realize we fall short, and we need you as our Savior. What I pray is that we leave this place that we would think deeply about these thoughts, that we’d be men of courage, and we wouldn’t be afraid to face the most crucial issues of life. We thank You for Your love. We thank You for Your son, Lord, we thank You for all the friendships that are represented here. All the families that are represented here, I ask Your blessing upon them; for we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.