Sunday, May 8, 2011

Goodness Gracious

It's Mother's Day here in the Northland and the morning began with a breakfast, waffles with an assortment of add-ons, prepared for the women of the church by many of the men of the church. The food was rich and the fellowship even richer.

The service began with Pastor Brad greeting us and offering a clue to today's theme. The opposite of good is not bad, he said. Rather, it is selfishness. The sermon was to elaborate.

The Quartet opened our service with a bit of lively singing and then ushered us into a time of worship.

The announcements were two in number. First, that Bob Nading has taken it upon himself to manage a Saginaw version of the Cash for Clunkers program. In this case, vehicles would be donated for sale to help raise money for the New Life Covenant Building Fund. (Contact Bob for details.) The second announcement pertained to a baby shower next week after the service for Shylee Smith, Shyanne McGregor and Kim Frye.

After the offering, Leonard read the familiar story that took place on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35. Brad then took the pulpit to lead us in prayer and to present the message.

Goodness Gracious

Brad began with a game show flair, having us shout back words that meant the opposite of what he shouted. Beginning with words like Black, Big, Short, and Republican he came to the word of the day, Good. Many would say bad was the opposite of good, but Brad challenged this notion, citing a passage from II Timothy, chapter 3. "In the last days there will be terrible times... people will be lovers of themselves, not lovers of the good." Brad proposed that the opposite of good is selfishness.

The sermon centered on the account of the rich young ruler, Luke 18:18ff.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This guy was an affluent, high achiever. Brad said he could picture the guy in his Armani toga, Italian leather sandals, driving a 4-wheel drive chariot, with Brad Pitt looks, abs of steel, and a bronze tan.

There must have been something inside the guy that still wondered how good he really was, though. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

It's a decent question. We all have these questions at times in our lives. But Jesus' reply is something of a kicker. "Why do you call Me good? Only God is good."

Right off we see that Jesus uses the word "good" in a different manner than the rest of us. Apart from God the whole concept of good has a huge problem, because ultimately only God is good.

Well, Jesus continues to talk with this affluent fellow to help him understand how good or not so good he is. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’"

The rich young ruler replied, "I'm straight A's on this stuff. I've done all this since I was a boy."

Hmmm. Brad said it reminded him of a certain trait that psychologists call "Self-Serving Bias." Self-serving bias is our tendency to attribute our successes to personal qualities, and blame our failures to factors beyond our control... parents, circumstances, a bad teacher, etc. We have an idealized view of ourselves. Even prisoners see themselves as nice guys who had a bad break.

Brad illustrated by telling a story about a serial killer on death row who was convicted of brutal murders of sixteen men. When a book was published about his life and deeds, he sued the author and publisher for 60 million dollars damages because he said it smeared his good name and unjustly portrayed him as a sick twisted man, thus ruining his chances for future employment.

So the question in light of this tendency toward seeing ourselves as better than we are, how do we get past our self-deception?

One problem we have is that we think heaven is a reward for good behavior. It's actually a gift of God's love for us, not earned but received. In the Mark account of this same story there is an additional sentence: "Jesus looked at him and loved him."

Goodness begins in us when God has our hearts. Eternal life is not something you earn. But this man's heart was possessed by his possessions. And here, Brad shared The Materialist's Prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my Cuisinart to keep
I pray my stocks are on the rise
And that my analyst is wise
That all the wine I sip is white
And that my hot tub is watertight
That racquetball won’t get too tough
That all my sushi’s fresh enough
I pray my cordless phone still works
That my career won’t lose its perks
My microwave won’t radiate
My condo won’t depreciate
I pray my health club doesn’t close
And that my money market grows
If I go broke before I wake
I pray my Volvo they won’t take.

So, how do we become good? We need to put ourselves in soul-building environments. You pursue spiritual goals. And as Galatians 5:22 states, when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness.

To be good though is not a static thing. It is to be good-for-something. Where do you find the happiest people? Volunteering, mentoring, prison ministry, helping the needy. As Luke wrote in Acts 20:35, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"

It's good to be pushed beyond our comfort zones, Brad said. Doing good, real good, will raise conflicts in us, will challenge us. But consider these words from Jesus when we help those who are needy...

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa understood this. Using your time, talents, resources for the less fortunate is an opportunity to serve Jesus.

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