Life-Ecstatic (Faith), Sermons

A Better Life: Not The Point

Football and Beer

Last Sunday I preached at my church (Church on the Square) a message entitled Choose the Better Life or Choose the Better Hope.

Here it is for those who would like to download it -> 05 Feb 2011 – Choose a Better Life or Better Hope

(Right click and choose ‘save-target-as’ to download it rather than stream it.)

The world’s philosophies and everything we are taught in this world revolves around having a better life. Everything is about making our life better, getting what we want, making things better for ourselves.

But this isn’t just a problem in the world but also in the church. When we walk into a Christian bookstore the best-sellers are often the latest self-help book that centres on making our life better in some way.

We are not called to seek a better life but to seek and pursue a Better Hope – Jesus Himself. He is to be our treasure and our all in all. But often the pursuit of a Better Life is disguised in Christian lingo and hides behind good sounding things like having a better marriage, a solid family, etc. These things aren’t bad to want and God wants us to even have them, but when they become our core focus and desire they become our treasure, and we are commanded by God that He and He alone should be our treasure. If we treasure anything else we are in the area of idolatry.

And so He should be our treasure because actually there is no joy in this world that compares to Him. But we might not be able to agree with that statement until we’ve actually experienced Him for ourselves, until we have tasted and seen that He is good.

We need our eyes opened to see Him and glory in Him. When we chase after the Better Life our lives get aggravating and full of anxieties. We try hard to make things work, to find the latest formula for our life, and the Bible is not meant to be used as a book to give us the formula for a better life; rather, it’s there to open our eyes to see Jesus and rather have our hearts changed to seek the Better Hope. We were not created to bear the burden of making life work but rather created to enjoy God forever.

That’s what the sermon is about. Hope you enjoy! I’ve tried to fix the sound as it is quite soft but I’m not having much luck. So you might need to put it up a bit.

Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

Work (Pt 2): Don’t Stop; Don’t Fret; Don’t Seek a Better Life

bread working prosperity

In Part One of this series we covered that God is the one who created WORK, and he called it good. One of the principle points around this I mentioned was:

If we were created to work, we must work, and in doing so we do one of the things we were made to do – regardless of what we are doing. So menial jobs carry a greater meaning. Also, the point of life is not to try and do whatever we can to stop working. We must work, despite our bank balance.

We tend to either be workaholics or idle busybodies. And both of them lead to anxiety while at the same time tend to become our habit because of anxiety.

We’re anxious about what people will think of our work, whether we’ll be a success or not, if people will call us a failure, whether our family will be proud, whether we are working hard enough to receive a good reward – and that reward is usually financial and often in an effort to stop working. If we could just crack this next big deal we may have enough money to quit this job, maybe retire, or maybe start our ‘dream job’, only to find years down the line that our dream job has also become a bit of a pain.

Psalm 127: 1 – 2

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.”

The point of work is not to stop working. We must work regardless of our bank account. Sure, it’s nice to do something you really love, but if idleness is our goal then even what we love will become a pain to us. We must see work from God’s perspective – he created it, it’s a good thing and it can be a joy in our lives, regardless of what we’re doing. In this every kind of job carries a greater and more glorious meaning. We’re doing exactly what we were created to do – we’re working.

At the same time, we’re not called or created to fret and be anxious about our work. God is the one who prospers it, who makes something out of it. Unless He does, all of our labour – our rising up early, our staying up late – is in absolute vain. He needs to prosper it and there is no way we can make him prosper it. Hard work often pays off, but not always, and God doesn’t guarantee that He’ll reward hard work or even honest living. He guarantees that He’ll take care of you and I, and He guarantees that we’ll have joy in the hard times, but He does not guarantee financial prosperity – honest work is more likely to lead to prosperity in the long run than dishonest work, but even God does not guarantee that honest work will always lead to prosperity.

This may be hard to swallow, especially in our culture and even in Christian circles. We don’t want a poverty mindset, we say, and I’m not advocating one. But I’m simply saying that God has bigger things in mind.

The difference is in what it is we want. We either want the better life or we want the better hope. We’re either chasing after the riches of this world or we’re chasing after the Treasure of All – one who is worth more than all the riches of this world can offer – Jesus Christ. This God wants to give us, and if a tight pocket leads us to this Greater Treasure, well God is as good as He says He is then.

God sent manna from heaven to the Israelites. He took care of their needs. Manna day in and day out. Manna, manna, manna, and they got bored of it. So would you and I. See, we link the abundance of life God promises us to a life where there is always choice, always diversity, to keep us entertained and feeling happy. Lord, not manna today, but steak; Lord, not manna today, but apples. None of these are bad in themselves, but we want God to keep us entertained and keep the better life coming or we say He isn’t good. Meanwhile, he wants to lead us to a Better Treasure – the Greatest Treasure. We’ll expound on this in the next post.

Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and Why I Cringe

Oprah Winfrey NetworkOn New Years day Oprah Winfrey launched her very own television network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and I cringe, more than I would if someone took a piece of blunt chalk and scraped it on a board for 10 hours.

In numerous interviews and articles I’ve seen Oprah define her goal for the network to revolve around people being ‘all that they can be.’ Finding the potential inside of you. Becoming everything you are.

I cringe at all of this because I find it incredibly shallow and fluffy. That’s not because I’m a man. My wife agrees with me. It’s not the crying or the so-called straight-talk that bugs me, it’s all this you, you, you stuff that’s mixed with a thorough ‘works’ and ‘formulas’ view to a better life and even salvation, with the latter end promoted by a shallow mystical spirituality that Oprah tends to really believe in, evidenced by her quote where she says she has asked God to “Use me… use me until you use me up.”

Oprah finds support because she appeals to something that is hardly new and has been around with us and has been the cause of many (or perhaps all) of our problems: this idea of ours to be the master of our own destinies, to be the gods of our own lives, where God’s main purpose in all of this is to bring us a better life, and our way of attaining God’s favour is doing all the right things.

Oprah’s many shows on her network represent all the formulas. We’ve got some phsycoanalysis with Doctor Phil, who might be a straight-talker and I can sometimes appreciate his way of dealing with things, but the whole vibe glorifies the West’s therapeutic culture where we are, in some way, a victim and ALL things are easy for us to overcome, if we just do it right. We needn’t worry about God’s grace or His Spirit (even though there might be talk of His Spirit in Oprah-land, but more in a way where its all about us and not about the Spirit), we just need to follow the formulas. The same idea even comes out in Oprah’s sex show. Good sex boils down to right formulas, even formulas for relationships, and formulas save us — not God.

You might say I’m taking a narrow and very conservative, gun-ho Christian fundamentalist attitude, but let me show you why I don’t believe I am. Oprah’s message resonates with many Western Christians and churches, liberal or conservative, precisely because it’s so formula driven. Even conservatives, who may say in one corner of their mouth that Oprah is some form of false prophet and New Age and whatever else, will go around saying that if we do thing’s “God’s Way” then we will find ourselves living in freedom. We need to raise our children “God’s Way”, or run our businesses “God’s Way” to enjoy a better life. In principle I might agree, but in experience even doing thing’s “God’s Way” doesn’t provide a ‘better life’. The problem is that the goal of a ‘better life’ may not be what God wants for us after all.

Both of these views rely on formulas to get what we want — a better life. But there are two problems here. Firstly, why do we think the point of living is to get a ‘better life’? And secondly, why is it that there are so many formula’s out there?

Christian teaching talks about grace, how we need God’s grace to have eternal life. The difference here is joy within circumstances, not joy because our circumstances have changed. The difference is also trusting God for salvation, salvation in this life and in the next age; not trusting formulas. So both Oprah and high conservatives I view on the same side — they’re both just selling different formulas that will get us to the same old myth; the same mirage; of a ‘better life’. Neither of them can promise joy in our circumstances, because that’s not really what we think we want. The goal is a better life now. And whoever can sell their formula the best, wins.

But joy in our circumstances — rather than our circumstances taken away — may just be what we really want, because it seems that these formulas work for some, but not for others, and I for one refuse to live my life going from one answer to the next trying to make it work. I’ve been there, done that. None of the formulas I was taught worked for me, and none of those I taught myself have consistently worked. Rather, I’ll rely on God’s grace, not to make life work, but to sustain me with his joy, peace, and love through the hard times — which can’t be avoided and <i>will</i> come.