A sermon by Nicholas J. Holmes at Mt Refuge Church, North Brisbane.
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9
I want us to reflect a little bit this morning on that last statement – “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”. That should be of great comfort to us right now. We are living in an unprecedented time of uncertainty. People have lost jobs, there’s concern about the future of the economy, and there’s a lot of fear out there. So when I read “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”, I feel it’s important to really take that in. It’s important that in this changing world, we have a solid foundation. It’s important to know who we are, and what we are about. So this morning I want to speak to you about finding purpose in a changing world.
Those of you that are familiar with social media will know that almost every day you have a high chance of seeing someone post a strong view about something. What strikes me the most is the number of times the government is mentioned – either by people who blame them for not dealing with the Covid situation, or by people who are looking to the government to fix all of this. The scripture tells us to respect those in authority and to pray for them. However, I do feel that a lot of people are looking to the wrong place for their hope.
Now why do I say that? Well, let’s backtrack a little bit. Historically, who was it who built the western health and education system? Because it wasn’t the government. It was Christians and churches who built those things and it was also their idea to make those services freely available. What do missionaries do when they go to a country or region that no one else has been to? They dig wells, they build schools, they build hospitals, and many of them are teachers, or doctors or nurses.
This is why it perturbs me that the most common portrayal of the Church on TV or social media is that the church is tyrannical and oppressive, like we spend all our time sitting around judging people and trying to control peoples lives. Those of us inside good churches know that that is not the case, even though we also know there are certain issues where the church and the world are in disagreement. The real reason these kind of statements are made about the church is because people outside the church don’t hold the same values as us. They hold similar values to us at a superficial level, but not at a deep level, and why would we expect them to when they have not been changed by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. The scripture says in 1 Cor 5:12 “Do not judge those outside the church.” And then it goes on to say, “Are we not to judge those inside?” What does that second part mean? It means I look at myself and make sure I am following the way of Christ before I jump on somebody else. It’s futile for us to judge people who are outside of our beliefs. They don’t believe them! And to take that further, they don’t understand them.
The people of today have very short memories. They don’t remember who it was that pioneered many of the services we take for granted today. They don’t remember people from the 19th century like George Mueller, who came to Christ and was completely transformed. He moved from Germany to England and saw the huge numbers of orphaned children who lived in the streets, and his heart was moved to do something about it. He purposed in his heart to build orphanages for these street kids he was encountering. There was no concept at that time of social welfare by the government and no financial incentives or benefits he could ask for. So George Mueller took it upon himself to finance and build these orphanages, and carry the ongoing cost of feeding, clothing and housing these orphans. That’s huge! How did he do it? In one sense we don’t know, because George Mueller made it a point of personal integrity never to tell anyone his needs. But what we do know about George Mueller is that he took everything to God in prayer. He prayed non-stop for the financial provision to take care of these children that no one else wanted. And the resources he needed were always available. On one occasion they had no food to give the children. George Mueller told the staff to set the tables and call the kids for dinner anyway. He believed in faith that God would provide, and at the eleventh hour a baker turned up with a donation of enough food to feed the children that evening.
That’s just one example, and there are many more. Historically, what would happen is that the government would see the value in what these people were doing, and begin to fund them and eventually take them over. So they became government programs even though the government didn’t come up with them. They came from people, and they came from churches.
The upshot of all this has been that our society, whether Christian or not, has benefited from Christian values. People in the world don’t recognise this, and have fought hard to separate Church and State. So much so that now we find ourselves in what is commonly called the “Post-christian” era.
There’s a podcast I listen to called This Cultural Moment. It’s done by two Pastors, one from Australia and one from the US. They describe the current state of Western society as “The kingdom without the king”, meaning that society nowadays wants all the benefits of Christianity, but without the accountability. This has led us to a point where people can profess outright Atheism and still claim they know what good morals are. But they fail to recognise they have borrowed those morals from Christianity. Without the foundation of Jesus Christ, you are building your house on the sand. So in all of the Western nations, we have this kind of binary spirituality where on the surface we all hold to moral values like murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, etc., whether we profess to be a believer or not, but it is only at a superficial level.
To illustrate this further: The Canberra Times recently ran an article written by Michael Bones, who is a prominent Climate Change protester. He’s one of those guys who sits on the grass outside Parliament every day in peaceful protest. But in his article, he said that the protests aren’t working, and that the political left need to learn from churches. I think this is the only time I have seen churches portrayed positively in the media, or without stereotyping. As an outsider looking in with his natural eyes, Michael observed that Churches offer belonging and meaning, and positive mental health benefits. He also quotes a social researcher named Hugh Mackay, who said that faith in something larger than oneself reduces anxiety. So they have recognised the benefits of having faith – and they have also recognised that we are having more impact than they are. But what is it they’re missing? They don’t know the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s about more than me or you.
So what does this tell us? That the world doesn’t understand the transformational power of faith.
I once attended a Christian leadership conference where they brought in a speaker who was not a Christian (at least I don’t think he was). He was a management expert because I guess the organisers thought that corporate management could have some insights to offer Church leaders. So this man, he worked for Gallup polls in the USA. He said the great thing about working for Gallup polls is that if you have a question and you want to know what people think, you can ask everybody. You put out a survey.
Now he wanted to understand how well managers in the corporate world were doing, but he didn’t want to hear from the managers. He wanted to hear from the people who worked at the grass roots level how well the managers were doing. So he put out a survey question and they asked a whole lot of people in several countries around the world. They asked them “Do you have the opportunity to give the best of yourself every day.”
In the United States, 29% of people that responded answered yes to that question. So according to them, only 29% of their bosses were good managers. According to the people they were supposed to be getting the best out of, those people rated them poorly. 29%? That’s pretty bad. But that’s the best in the world. The UK scored 17%, Japan scored 9, and Singapore scored 4. How can you run a country where over 90% of your people don’t feel that they’re giving the best of themselves?
So what does this tell us? That the world doesn’t understand this. This is how the world is operating, in their natural strength, and they are failing. The church, through the gospel of Jesus Christ has transformational power for change. The world does not.
This is a sobering thought to me. How this speaks to me is that we as the church have more power than we realise sometimes. So surely that suggests that we, as individuals within the church, have a responsibility to find what it is that God has uniquely gifted us to do. Because the fact is, we are all different, and we all have different gifts and strengths. That means that while I in my own strength can do very little, with the power of the Spirit and collaboration with my brothers and sisters, I (and we) can achieve a lot more than the world can. I believe we need to find again that pioneering attitude that so many of our predecessors had, the people who rose up and met the challenges of their day, like George Mueller who I mentioned before.
For me, the way this all impacts me personally is that it gives new meaning to Scripture. EG. Jesus said what we did for the least little child, we do for Him. The book of James says don’t wish a brother well without doing something practical.
Now I’m not saying you need to go and join World Vision or Compassion International and head off to a Third World country. Some people are wired up for that, and some people aren’t. Everyone has been wired up differently by God, and everyone feels close to God in different ways. Some people are wired up for visiting people in hospitals and prisons. Some people (like me) are activistic, some people are worshipful, some people are relational. Some people are tree-huggers, and feel close to God when they are out in nature. None of us should be telling anyone else the “right way” to feel close to God, but we should be encouraging each other to tap into that way. However you are wired up, God wired you up that way for a reason and for a purpose, and I want to suggest to you this morning that need to find your purpose. As God said to Moses, “What is in your hand?” That’s why I encourage you to think about the gifts you possess – because that’s where you start in finding God’s purpose for you.
So you might say to me that’s all very well, but look at what’s going on right now and all the uncertainty that is out there. It’s become about more than just the Coronavirus. People are now fearful of the economy collapsing, or even our whole way of life. Now to be completely honest, I think this is more of a concern for people in Western nations. For a long time in the West, we thought we were the leaders of the free world. Again, I think some of this comes out of our Christian foundation, and this was once recognised by China when they commissioned a study into Christianity because it recognised the successes of Western society. You can google it. And I think we let it go to our heads. We thought we were leading the wold in morality, in human rights, and in technology.
The thing is, other countries are now on the rise, with cultures and religions that don’t share our values. Remember I said earlier how we have believers and non-believers in Western countries who hold similar values? You might be Christian or Atheist, but we have similar values in the natural. But outside of the West we are seeing the rise of countries like China. We know China doesn’t see human rights the same way we do, not by a long shot. India is on the rise as well, and they don’t operate from a Christian worldview. In terms of technology, we might think we have flash malls to go shopping in, but if you walk down the main street of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia you will think you’re in the future. These countries are rising up. The Western world has talked for years about globalisation, and a global village, but they always saw themselves as the Chief. But now these other countries are rising up, we are entering a truly global village where Christianity is in the minority in terms of worldview.
Now that scares some of us. But as Christians, it shouldn’t. Because it is presenting us with exciting opportunities we’ve never had before. One example I heard about was in Africa. Now China have been investing in Africa just like they have been in the Pacific and other places. Over a million Chinese have gone into Africa to start businesses etc. And inevitably, they meet African Christians, and some of them are getting converted. Quite a lot. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where churches in Kenya have started requesting course materials for the Alpha course in Mandarin. Let that sink in. Kenyan churches are asking for the Alpha course in Chinese!
It is now more important than ever that we own our faith and find our purpose. It is very difficult to find meaning and purpose without God. Certainly not objective meaning. What blows me away about the beauty of the Christian faith is that anyone can possess it. Anyone can take hold of it. I once heard a debate between and Atheist and a Christian where the Christian laid out all his evidence. He had about 5 different lines of evidence for the existence of God. But then he said something really interesting. He said the other thing he wanted to say was that you can know God totally apart from evidence. He said you can ask God into your heart right now and know him. That means an intellectually challenged person or even a little child can have faith.
We practice this at home by praying with our kids and they are allowed to say whatever they want and for as long as they want. And at bedtime those prayers can go long because they don’t want to go to sleep. My youngest is funny because he likes to thank God for broccoli and vegetables, even though if my wife or I put those things in front of him he’d be like get outta here. But we let them carry on because they’re learning how to pray, and I’m not going to knock them back because they didn’t cover the three theological points I needed.
This is how God sees us when we step out in finding what he wants from us. This is where our focus should be. In the example I gave earlier where they surveyed all those people about their managers, they then went and looked at the good managers to find out how they did things. What they found was that the managers who invested time into finding out the strengths and weaknesses of people in their teams, then assigned tasks to people based on their strengths. They found ways to utilise their staff’s strengths and manage around their weaknesses.
It’s not that way for most of us. Usually in a performance appraisal they spend 2 minutes talking about what you did well and then the rest of the time telling you what you need to work on. So again, the world doesn’t understand. This is the opposite of God’s way of doing things. If you get nothing else out of this message this morning, then please hear this:
It is not God’s intention for us to sit around all day thinking about what we did wrong.
Most of us know our weaknesses because we have regrets about things we did in the past, or things we failed to do. We don’t need to be told over and over again what our weaknesses are, because we are very familiar with them. It’s very easy to find people in our lives who will tell us what we’re doing wrong. Usually they are not telling us anything we don’t already know, or want to be reminded of.
These are the challenges we face when we attempt to find our purpose. Because to pioneer something, you have to stick your neck out and risk getting it chopped off, amen? There is risk involved in finding your purpose. You risk being called a Do-gooder or a busybody. Why are you trying to fix the world? Etc. You risk being simply taken for granted.
But again, it is not God’s intention for us to focus on these things. This is why Paul spend a lot of time in Scripture instructing the church to find your gifts and use them. This is the opposite of what the world teaches us.
I’ve been a Christian for 33 years now. And when I first became a Christian, I remember trying really hard to find God’s purpose for my life. Nobody told me to do it, I just wanted to find out. God placed the desire in my heart. And I remember an older man saying telling me that I was “trying too hard”. And I remember thinking how can you try too hard to follow God?
Well now I’m an older person. I just turned 50. And I’m telling you, keep trying. Keep working. Keep striving for God and don’t let people knock you back. Philippians 2:12 says work out your salvation with with fear and trembling. Does that sound like someone who’s just taking it easy?
One of the unique things about my generation is that we have always known change. I started my first job just after the 1987 Wall Street Crash. That was the end of people staying in the same job for forty years. Older people would always ask me if my job was safe, and I would answer “no job is safe.” That’s just not something I have ever known. So we and the generations coming up are uniquely positioned to face the world in these changing times.
So let’s find our strengths, and find our purpose, amen? Let’s pray for government and those in authority over us. Don’t expect them to share our values. Don’t judge them for that. Don’t be limited by what they do and don’t do. Don’t look to them for your hope. The government is not the answer to our problems. You and I (the church) are. We were born for a time such as this (Esther 4:14)
I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from? (Psalm 121)
God in his amazing grace and mercy has made it possible for all of us to know Him and to do the good works He prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10). He has a purpose for you, and in this changing world it is more important now than ever that we find his purpose for us and carry it out. So let’s do it. Amen?
The One thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham