Fault us moderns as you may, we like to keep things polite and cordial in public. Of course, I’m well aware of the toxic, vitriolic exchanges online in social media posts and the comments section on most webpages. But, in public, we try to keep things polite. And if someone breaks this social code, we take great offense.
We also try to maintain a similar relationship with God. We want to keep things mostly polite, calm, and cool. And we certainly want God to keep it that way with us. But sometimes, God just looks at us and says, “You whore.” What?!? Yes. But He doesn’t do it to be rude. He does it because He’s hurt, and He wants you to know that the way you’re living your life isn’t right. Your choices are destructive. Your relationships are poisonous. Your treatment of others is heinous. Your priorities are upside down. Your hopes and faith are misplaced. And you’re cheating on God. But you don’t notice any of it. So, what needs to happen? How are you going to realize what you’re doing?
You need someone to confront you with truth. You need someone to tell you that you’re whoring your life away. In the book of Hosea, this is Israel’s national condition. She’s cheating on her husband, Yahweh, and whoring her life away. Hers is a textbook case of how to be an adulterer. So, the language in the opening to Hosea is heated, fierce, and anything but polite. But God takes the dialogue to this alarming, even offensive, level because of how completely committed He is to His people, His wife, Israel. When love is real, and passionate, and threatened, politeness is a luxury it can’t afford. So, let’s spend the next few weeks listening in as God attempts to win back His adulterous wife.
“The hands with which you hold this book will be lifeless.” This is how the book on death that I read a couple of years ago began. The premise was simple. To say “we’re all going to die someday” is a tired cliché that doesn’t really move anyone. We are effectively isolated from intimate experiences of death by the outsourcing of the care of the dying to professionals and institutions. And, in spite of the death that is regularly beamed into our lives by news and entertainment, these are not real deaths to us. Their safe distance reassures us that death is, in the end, for someone else and not for us. No one, then, really has a grip on the reality of their own inevitable deaths. But they should, especially if they’re Christians.
Fear of death has plagued man from time immemorial. In recent times, lists of Americans’ greatest fears have always contained the fear of death, even though its position rises and falls. More recently, however, it’s fallen quite a bit, being buried beneath the more pressing concerns of corrupt government officials, pollution of drinking water, not having enough money for the future, and cyber-terrorism (for a complete list, see Chapman University’s “America’s Top Fears”). Is this because Americans have finally adjusted to the notion of their own deaths, or is it because we’ve managed to avoid confronting it by our tendency to push it to the margins and distract ourselves with other priorities? In reality, fear of death still lives, even amongst Christians. We need to know what Jesus would have us do with it.
So, remember: the hands with which you hold this bulletin will one day be lifeless. Have you embraced and come to peace with this truth? Let’s see if we can work it out this morning.
Before you say to yourself, “Wow, that title sounds like this is the church for me!” - allow me to explain. That’s a lyric from a 1969 song recorded by Peggy Lee entitled “Is That All There Is?” In the song, she gradually progresses through major experiences of life that usually offer occasions for deep reflection, wonder or satisfaction. She sings about watching her childhood home burn down as a child, seeing the circus as a young girl, and falling “so very much in love” with the “most wonderful boy in the world.” And after each experience, she’s left saying to herself, “Is that all there is?” The things that were supposed to evoke deep feeling, delight, or satisfaction simply don’t. And, as far as she’s concerned, if that’s all there is, then “let’s keep dancing…break out the booze and have a ball.”
We can’t help but search for a deep satisfaction of the soul, something that lets us say to ourselves, “Ah, I’ve finally found it. Now, I can rest. Now, my heart is full and the dull, achy restlessness of my spirit is gone.” More often than not, however, we discover that what we think has satisfied us hasn’t. We grow numb, jaded, cynical, or worse. The woman in Peggy Lee’s song eventually realizes that people listening to her might wonder why she just doesn’t commit suicide, but she replies that death would probably be a disappointment, too. So, “let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” Can we do better than this? Is there a better satisfaction for the human spirit, maybe even a satisfaction that we’re made for? At Eastside, we think there is. That’s what we’re talking about today. Thanks for being here!
“We Americans are programmed to be consumers…Even when hard-pressed financially, we are pressured by our culture to consume. “This is our identity” (Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus, 70). Do you feel “pressured to consume”? If so, where does the pressure come from? Your colleagues at work? Your social groups? The parents on your kids’ soccer team? Your media? Yourself? What drives us with a feverish anxiety to keep wanting, getting, collecting more?
There are various reasons why we feel we need to acquire more and more, and one of these is the fear of not having enough. This fear can take two forms: a legitimate fear that’s genuinely worried that next month’s bills won’t get paid and an illegitimate fear where all of one’s needs are met and yet a drive to accumulate, expand, and consume continuously gnaws at your heart. In modern American society, you’re likely to find both of these fears in equal supply. There are scores of people who live in poverty and who realistically harbor doubt about how to feed their families while waiting for the next paycheck. However, there seem to be just as many who have everything they need and more, and yet have an impulse to keep acquiring. The Bible speaks to both of these anxieties, these fears of not having enough. However, it is far less kind to those who fear not having enough because they succumb to the “pressure to consume.”
Today, we’re talking about the fear of not having enough. Do you harbor such fear? If so, which kind? Let’s look closer in the message today.
Christian counselor Ed Welch once noted, “No matter how much I try, God’s love in itself doesn’t quite deliver me from desiring psychological trinkets from others” (Running Scared, 182-183). He was talking about how to get past the need for another person’s approval. In other words, he was trying to focus on God’s love for him as a means of getting over his need to be loved, admired, and respected by others. But this wasn’t helping. What he found was what all of us find in some measure or another: In spite of our awareness of God’s love, we crave the love, admiration, and approval of other human beings. In some sense, we will always want the “psychological trinkets” that others give to us by their approval and respect.
This typically doesn’t create problems until our desire for recognition, affirmation, and approval leads us to significantly alter our behavior and refrain from doing things we should or actively do things we shouldn’t. The Bible refers to this tendency to drastically change our behavior on account of others’ opinions or importance as the “fear of man.” And we all have it to one degree or another. We all want someone’s approval. We all want someone important to notice us and think that we’re important. Sometimes, however, this fear goes too far and carries us too far with it. How, then, do we confront our fear of man, our tendency to drastically change plans and behaviors out of concern for what other people will think? That’s our focus today.