The Struggles Of Modern Life

A number of years ago, there was a fascinating article in the publication Psychology Today. It’s a publication that psychologists read, and the article was written by a Dr. Martin Seligman, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s interesting, he called the article, or the title of the article was “Boomer Blues”.

Now I don’t know if you know what a boomer is, or if you even fit into the baby boom generation, but, if you were born between 1945 and 1964, you’re considered a baby boomer. This man had obviously done a great deal of research on our generation, which I’m a part of, and he compared our generation with our parents’ generations, and in his research, he found that the rate of depression among boomers compared to their parents’ generation was 10 times higher. Ten times higher, and he said this has become an epidemic with the baby boom generation. And then he made an incredible statement, and I don’t know how he came up with this, but this is what he said, and I quote, “We are the most depressed generation in all of history.” And then he gives the main reason why he believes this is happening. Now, I don’t think he was intending to give a spiritual answer, but I feel like he did, because this is what he said. “Boomers have lost the art of learning how to relate their daily lives to a bigger cause for which they are living, in which they believe is real and true.” And then he says, “Their lives are totally focused on themselves, making money, having fun, and all of their various hobbies.”

You know, many scholars would agree that probably one of the most thoughtful books that has been written in the last 30 or 40 years is Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, “The Denial of Death”. And you know what, he has a very similar take on this issue. He said, “Every person seems to have a need for,”what he calls, “cosmic significance”. In other words, purpose and meaning in their lives. He says, throughout history, all the way up until modern times, people knew that they had value and purpose because of the transcendent, because of God. Becker said, throughout history people knew their place in the universe, they knew who they were, they knew their value and identity. He says, but modern people have lost this. They’ve lost that sense of purpose. He said, “We have become secular.” He said even most modern churchgoing people are secular, that their lives are not normally impacted personally by their beliefs. He says, Becker has a little different take; he thinks that what God has been displaced with is sex and romance. He says that this is why our culture’s preoccupation with sex is outsized compared to other cultures in the past. He says what men have done, is that; God has been displaced for us by some “goddess”. Now it’s interesting to note, also, that when Becker wrote the book, he was an atheist, but apparently, at the end of his life, he changed his mind. But it’s an interesting point of view. It’s an interesting take that he has. Now some of you may be saying, are you telling us that that we have become a godless nation?

Well, here’s another interesting fact. George Gallup, every year, along with a number of other pollsters, tries to kind of get their finger on the pulse of the religious life of America. In fact, Gallup has supposedly been doing this for 50 years, and the results have been consistent year after year after year. For the last 50 years, over 90% of the population believes in God, or some higher being, or some higher power, but this is what’s so important to know, these same polls reveal something very significant about us as modern people. These polls tell us that our belief in God has no dramatic impact on our lives. And they furthermore tell us that our belief in God does not help us answer the questions of purpose and meaning in life. I think this reveals what Ronald Rolheiser calls, “we are a nation of practical atheists.” I don’t know if you know that term, “practical atheists”. A practical atheist is a person who believes in God but lives his life as if God does not exist. In other words, most people believe in God but He is irrelevant when it comes to the living of their lives.

And I guess this morning I would ask a question, could that be true of my life? I personally think that this is something that we need to think through, because the ramifications are significant, not only to me personally, but relationally, as well. It’s interesting, 3500 years ago, Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, says that our knowledge of God is where we get our understanding of life; our knowledge of God is how we interpret life. Dr. Tim Keller says, “How we relate to God is the foundation of our thinking. It determines our view of life in the world.”

This morning I’ve mentioned a couple of these views. One, there’s a view you have, a view of God that He does not exist. You know, that is a take on spiritual reality that there is no God. Another view that exists is that He is pretty much irrelevant, except maybe on Sunday mornings, when I’m in church. A third view that I’ll offer is that God is the King and Lord of my life, and I want to seek to serve Him and please Him with my life. Now these are all three different views of God, three different views of spiritual reality, and whether you realize it or not, all of your reasoning proceeds from this view, because what you end up doing is embracing or screening out all that fits or does not fit with your view of God. This is why Solomon said that our understanding of God is the beginning of our knowledge. Dr. Armand Nicholi is one of the most prominent psychiatrists in our land today. He teaches psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and he says this about our view of God. He says, “It influences how we perceive ourselves, how we relate to others, how we adjust to adversity, and what we understand to be our purpose. Our view of God helps determine our values, our ethics, and our capacity for happiness. It helps us understand where we come from, our heritage, who we are, our identity, why we exist on this planet, our purpose, what drives us, our motivation, and where we’re going, our destiny,” and then he makes this incredible statement. He says, and I quote, “Nothing has more profound and more far-reaching implications for our lives than our view of God and the role he plays in our lives.” Do you see the significance of this? And this is something we rarely even think about.

I want to give you a couple of examples. Let me take again the one that Becker brings up, our sexuality. Let me give you the view of sexuality from a Biblical Judeo-Christian perspective. The Judeo-Christian view of sexuality is that the healthiest, most meaningful, most satisfying, and most pleasurable sexual experiences are found between a man and a woman in a covenant relationship called marriage. A covenant is a promise, a pledge of love and loyalty and faithfulness. A covenant involves continuity, the sense of a common future tolook forward to, and a history to look back on together. A covenant means belonging, a commitment to a rich and growing relationship of love and care. You remember Jesus comes along in Matthew 19 quoting from the Old Testament and says, “A man shall leave his mother and father and he shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” The word “cleave” is a word we don’t use much but it’s a Hebrew word that means absolute unity. It means total union, deep profound solidarity, not just the physical union, but an emotional union, an economic union, a social union, a complete union. To cleave to someone is to say, I belong exclusively to you, permanently, and everything I have is yours. I am yours, and this is what marriage is. This is why God created sex, for cleaving, as a cleaving apparatus. God made sex to be able to say to another human being, I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you, all of me, everything. Now, that’s the Christian view of sex. It’s pretty powerful. But what about the modern view? The modern view is that sexuality is just another thing you do as far as recreation.

You know, the most prominent sexologist to ever live was a guy by the name of Alfred Kinsey. He did more research on sex than anybody. They even did a movie on his life. Liam Nielsen played the part of Alfred Kinsey. Kinsey was an atheist so, in his view, God had nothing to do with sex and sexuality, and he believed this. We are mammals, and you should enjoy sex with any other mammal, whether it’s an animal, a child, your father, and your mother, your aunt, your uncle, your brother, your sister, he said, it really doesn’t matter. Now I know you’re probably thinking, that’s a pretty extreme view, that’s a pretty twisted view, and most people today don’t really buy into that. But I had a former youth minister tell me that the two hottest TV stations for teenagers and college students today is MTV and VH1 and the most popular shows they now watch are no longer the music videos, but they’re the reality television shows. He was sharing with me one of the most popular today, some of your kids are probably watching it, and it’s called A Shot of Love with a girl named Tila Tequila. Tequila is a bisexual girl who is trying to choose between 12 guys and 12 girls. Each week she eliminates one, until she ends up with one, and between each week, they’ll all get together, and get in the hot tub, and mess around, and do all kinds of things. Last season she chose a guy, and this year she chose the girl. This youth minister sent me another one yesterday. We could sit here and spend the rest of the morning, me telling you all of the perverse TV shows, and the way sex is perverted, but that’s not really the point I want to make. The point that I really want to make, and ask you to consider, is the spiritual worldview behind all of this. Look what happens to human sexuality when God is irrelevant in a culture.

And the question that I would ask you to consider is do you see how this is filtering down into our culture and into people’s lives? Do you see where it’s taking us? Our view of God is everything. Take the value of human life. Books, and books, and books have been written on this. Now let me share just one simple illustration. You know, both Hitler and Stalin, both of them, their religious worldview led them to kill millions of innocent people, with no remorse at all. And then on the other hand, you take Mother Teresa, and her worldview led her to minister to the outcast that the rest of the world had forgotten. Now all three of these people, Hitler, Stalin, and Mother Teresa, all believed strongly that they were doing what is right, and what is good, but their spiritual worldview made all the difference.

I want to bring one a little closer to home for us as Americans. If you ask any American who is the most evil and twisted person to ever live in this country, most people, or many people would say Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s been a while since he was killed in prison, but for maybe some of you who are younger, he was a serial killer who not only tortured his victims, but after he killed them, he cannibalized them. And whether you know it or not, before he was killed in prison, he did several interviews on national television. I saw one with him, and his father, and Stone Phillips. Fascinating conversation, but what was so interesting, he came across as very sane, very normal, and he was very intelligent, but in one of these interviews, he was asked why he tortured, killed, and cannibalized so many people. I want you to listen to his response. This is a quote, verbatim, off this TV show. He says, “People watching me on TV all have desires. Some may be the desire to exercise and work out. Others to go to a movie and to eat ice cream. Other people like fast food, but people have desires, and people are going to satisfy their desires unless they have sufficient reason not to. So if people want to satisfy their desire for ice cream or fast food, they’re going to do this unless there’s an overriding reason that says they shouldn’t do it. When I was in high school, I found within myself the desire to torture animals. I didn’t believe in God, therefore I didn’t believe in a judgment after death. I didn’t believe that God was looking.I didn’t believe we were here for a purpose. It seemed to me we evolve from the slime and when we die, our particles returned to the slime. I have four score and 10 to live in this earth, if I’m lucky. Given that, I wasn’t here for a purpose, and I’m going to die, and that’s the end of me, and there is no reason why I was here, and I couldn’t find any sufficient reason to deny the satisfaction of my desires. And as I tortured animals it got to the point it no longer satisfied me, so I decided at that point to torture human beings, and frankly,” listen to this, “frankly, I could not think of a reason why I shouldn’t, given my view of reality.”I’m not saying that if you don’t believe in God you become an evil killer, but what I am saying is, look where his spiritual worldview took him.

Now I want to give you one more example, this is a powerful one, and it is probably the most pertinent to what I want to say to you this morning. Several years ago, there was a debate at and for Him.” And Isaiah says, “He speaks about this people who I formed for Myself.” I Corinthians 8:6, it’s a real long verse and right in the middle there’s a little phrase that says, “We exist for Him.” And probably my favorite is I Corinthians 1:9, it says, “We have been called to live our lives in fellowship with Jesus Christ.” And that word “fellowship” literally means companionship. We have been designed, guys, to live our lives in a love relationship with God. This is what we have been put here today, and as St. Augustine said so eloquently, “God you have made us for Yourself and our hearts will not find rest until they rest in Thee.” I would also contend that we function best as people when we do what we’re designed to do, and when we fail to do that, we malfunction, not only in our individual lives, but relationally, as well. Most of you probably know that the first great philosopher, I realize were not philosophy students or experts, but the first great philosophers were Greeks. Now Socrates is somebody we’re all familiar with – his name. His star pupil was Plato. Plato’s star pupil was Aristotle, and the Greeks believed, and by the way, these men lived right around the same time a lot of these Old Testament prophets lived, just in different parts of the world, and these philosophers believed in the concept called, the “logos”. L-O-G-O-S. It’s where we get the word logic from and it literally means the reason for life. These Greeks believed that when you found the logos, the reason for life, then you would be complete and whole as a human being. But you know what the problem was? They never could agree on what the logos was, and this is why, several hundred years later, when the apostle John comes along, in the opening words of probably the most prominent, the most popular of all the four Gospels, the apostle John drops a bombshell when he says, this is the first verse of the book of John, he said, “In the beginning was,” and the Greek word they use is “logos”. In the beginning was “the reason for life”. It was with God, and The Reason For Life became a human being, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. Do you realize what John was saying? He’s saying that the reason for life is not aphilosophical principle. It was a Person. It was Jesus, the Son of God, and what John was saying is, when you know Him, when you love Him, when you serve Him with your life, when you get your life in sync with His purpose for your life, that’s when you find meaning. That’s when life makes sense, and is coherent. That’s what Dr. Craig said in the debate. What changed his life was when he met the Person of Christ. And so, the question that we need ask this morning is, have we found that higher purpose in our personal lives? Have we found the reason for life? Do we know it? I would have to say, based on the work that I do, and the counseling that I do with businessmen, the answer for so many is no. No.

So what keeps us from finding it? What keeps us from getting there? If I believe in God, why doesn’t my belief really impact my life? Well, as I wrap this up, let me just share this thought with you, two final thoughts, really, illustrations. I think there are a lot of reasons we don’t connect with Him, but let me get to the heart of the matter. And you know, it is a matter of the heart. We live from the heart. Life flows from the heart. As Solomon says, “The heart of man reflects the man.” In St. Augustine’s biography, St. Augustine lived a couple hundred years after Christ, he reflects on an event that took place in his life, in his youth. Augustine is probably one of the most revered Christians in all of history, with both Catholics and Protestants. Incredible man, but, as a young man he was like a lot of young men today. He was a drunk and he was a philanderer. Then he became a Christian and his life changed dramatically. But as an older man, he was reflecting back on an event that took place in his youth. He calls it “the pear tree incident”. It’s where number of his friends climbed a fence of a pear orchard. I’m sure there were signs that said “do not trespass” but he and his friends, they climbed the fence, they loaded up with pears, they ran off and ate the pears, and he said we got such great delight out of this. He looked back on that incident and he asked himself, Why, not only why do we do this,but why do we get such great delight from stealing and eating these pears? He says, “Were we hungry?” He said, “Not really. Were we poor and just needed the food? No, we had plenty to eat.” Then he said, you know, “to be quite honest, I don’t really like pears that much, but I got great delight this day of eating those pears, and why is that?” And he said as he examined his life, as soon as someone said, “don’t go in there,” he said, “I wanted to go.” He said, “I began to realize that deep in my heart, there was a voice that was crying, my will be done. My will be done, not somebody else’s will, not God’s will, but my will be done. I want to live the way I want to live, I want to live for me.”And he realized that was the deep cry down deep in his heart, and he said, at the root of every heart, there’s that voice the cries “my will be done.” It’s a selfishness, it’s a depravity of the heart, it’s what the Bible calls sinfulness, and Augustine says it’s at the center; it’s deep down in every person’s heart. He said this is what I realized, “This is what distorts everything in life, every relationship, and every decision is distorted by this desire that I have for myself.””But you know what else”, he said, I also realized that to become a Christian you have to acknowledge this sinfulness. You have to acknowledge that it’s there. You have to acknowledge your need for God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.” But you know what else he said he realized? Ultimately, you have to relinquish your will to Him. You have to relinquish your will to Him, to follow Him.

Somebody just recently pointed out to me that the one message that Jesus hammered home more than any other message, He said this over and over and over, He says, if you want to find your life, you have to lose it. He says if you want to save your life, you have to surrender it; you have to surrender your will to Him. Unfortunately this is where many of us refuse Him. We refuse to let go. This is a battle I had in my life for years – resisting God, resisting relinquishing my life to Him. It was a battle of the heart. It is a battle, isn’t it? Relinquishing my will to follow His. I’ll leave you with one final illustration, and it’s a powerful one. It comes from C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia”. I don’t you ever read him, or if you’re familiar with them, The Chronicles. They’re children’s stories that he wrote, but adults have read them more than kids. They’re allegorical and they’re powerful, and to set the stage, I’m going to read to you a couple of paragraphs, just a little incident in the, I think it’s five or six different books, this one is from “The Silver Chair”, but, to set the stage, you need to understand that the Bible speaks consistently of the thirst that exists in every human soul, and that our yearning for purpose and meaning is related to this thirst. Ultimately, it’s a thirst for God, but the Scripture says that this thirst is quenched only by living water. By God Himself. You see those words “living water” in both the Old and New Testaments. Remember when Jesus encounters the woman at the well? She had been married five times, and she is currently living with a man, and Jesus hones in on the spiritual need in her life and offers her living water. Now in the story that I’m going to read to you, there is a girl named Jill, and she represents us. Her life is clearly focused on herself. Her will be done. And if you know anything about the Chronicles, Azlan, this great and mighty lion, represents Christ.

Jill grows unbearably thirsty. She can hear a stream somewhere in the forest. Driven by her thirst, she begins to look for the source of water. Cautiously, because she’s fearful of running into the lion, she finds the stream, but she Is paralyzed by what she sees there. There’s Azlan, huge and gold, still as a statue, but terribly alive. And he’s sitting beside the water. She waits for a long time, wrestling with her thoughts and hoping maybe he’ll just go away. That’s kind of like us; we want Jesus to be at a distance. Then Azlan says, “If you are thirsty, you may drink.” Jill is startled and refuses to come closer. “Are you not thirsty?” said the lion. “I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill. “Then drink,” said the lion. “May I, could I, would you mind going away while I do?” Again, typical, God, I want what you can give me, I want you to bless me, but I don’t want You, You go away. The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And just as Jill gazed at his motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her near frantic. “Will you promise not to do anything to me if I come? Will you leave me alone?””I make no promise,” said the lion. Jill was so thirsty now that without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat little girls?” she said. “I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry, it just said it. “Then I dare not come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the lion. “Oh dear,” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream.” “There is no other stream,” said the lion.

You know, guys, Jesus doesn’t give us many options, but so many of us spend our whole lives looking for some other stream that’s out there in life, but Christ said very clearly, there is no other stream to quench the thirst of your soul, and He’s very clear about that. I leave you with this thought. If we don’t drink from His spring, we will die. Let me close in prayer. Lord, we thank you for that living water that You offer each of us, and yet we realize that the real struggle in all of our lives is we do want our wills. Lord help us to relinquish that; help us to be willing to let go and connect with You, the truth of life, and drink that living water that only You can offer. As we depart, we do thank You for all the good friendships that are existing in this room, we thank You for our families, we thank You for the lives that You’ve given us, and we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen


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