Chicken Little was sure the sky was falling. Increasingly, the conversations we are having in our country and communities sound a lot like Chicken Little. The sky is falling because _________. (insert your favorite problem here) But is that true?
That’s the question posed by a well-known Harvard psychologist named Steven Pinker. In his recent book, Enlightenment Now, he argues that despite the tsunami of headlines that have us convinced the sky is truly falling, the numbers and data tell a different story. For example, he notes the following:
- Humans are living longer lives than in previous generations
- Millions fewer people are living in extreme poverty
- War-related deaths are down significantly
- Totalitarian regimes are in decline
- Literacy and equal rights are far more wide-spread
- Economic prosperity is growing for many populations
- Terrorist deaths are reduced
- Overpopulation threats are diminishing
Is he right? Well, some agree, and some accuse him of cherry-picking the data. I’m not doing either one of those. Whether you agree with Pinker or not, his point is powerful: Our opinions of our current and future well-being have almost EVERYTHING to do with what we choose to focus on. In 2018 it’s super easy to focus on the click-bait headlines and get thoroughly disgusted and demoralized. Pinker’s suggestion is to look at something else, namely the hard data.
Here’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus calls us to focus on something other than only what’s going on under our noses. The temptation is to become fearful and anxious because of the events happening in our family, our city, our nation, or our world. But there’s another place to focus: the kingdom of God. That glorious, unstoppable revolution that Jesus started, and which he will one day finish when he returns. If the book of Revelation has left you scratching your head, then know this about it: Jesus wins! That’s the message of the whole book. For that matter, it’s the message of the WHOLE book, from Genesis thru Revelation.
But we easily forget that. The click-bait culture is conspiring to cloud our vision of true reality. We get so tightly focused on here, that we forget there’s another reality. Here will one day be caught up in the “hereafter.” Oh, don’t be confused. It’s not that we’re getting whisked off this planet. No, it’s actually scheduled for a radical restoration project, much like the radical restoration project that God has already begun in the followers of Jesus. (For details on this, I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s, Surprised By Hope, a book that is sure to rock your understanding of life in the here AND the hereafter.) The hard question is, “what are we focused on?” Is it the immediate…the headlines…the click-bait?
What if, while working faithfully on the real challenges we DO face (because we’re called to be the light of the world), you could focus on the reality that Jesus wins. What if, when tempted to wring your hands and fling your accusations at the mess around us now, you could lift your head up and see down the road. What if, in those moments, you could see the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. What if you took him at his word when he said,
Don’t worry…but seek first his kingdom. (Matthew 6:31-33)
What if we left Chicken Little behind and became men and women whose vision was transformed by the power of the Spirit of God, and fueled by the HOPE of the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ? Then whatever happens around us, we can be those who ignite the HOPE of the gospel in our city, county, and world.
Grace. It’s a gift. It’s remarkable…even “amazing.” Last week we came to understand why we can and must live in, and live out grace for God’s sake. But there’s a scary side of grace.
In his book, The Reason for God, pastor and author Tim Keller recounts this story:
Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion [i.e. the distinction between grace and what is often a works-based righteousness]. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked why it was scary and she replied: If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with “rights”—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by grace—then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”
She understood the dynamic of grace and gratitude. If when you have lost all fear of punishment you also lose all incentive to live a good, unselfish life, then the only incentive you ever had to live a decent life was fear. This woman could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had an edge to it. She knew that if she was a sinner saved by grace, she was (if anything) more subject to the sovereign Lordship of God. She knew that if Jesus really had done all this for her, she would not be her own. She would joyfully, gratefully belong to Jesus, who provided all this for her at infinite cost to himself. (pp 189-190)
What’s your incentive to live a good, unselfish life? For many of us, it’s really just fear. But that’s not grace at all. Grace rightly understood means I belong to Jesus. Is that the grace you’ve experienced?
P.S. I hope you can join us this Sunday, June 2nd at 6:00 pm for our Annual Church Meeting (Road Trip: Are We There Yet?). Unlike other meetings you may attend, this one will NOT bore you, and it WILL inspire and encourage you. You’ll even get to laugh and enjoy good food. Please register if you need childcare.
In just three days our country will remember the unforgettable tragedy of 9/11. It is forever burned into our minds. What do you remember about that day?
- I remember standing in a crowded church office at our Ministry Center on Wisteria Drive, watching a little blurry TV image of the towers coming down.
- I remember the fear that was heavy in the air.
- I remember struggling to understand our world in the days that followed.
- I remember wondering what kind of world my little girls would grow up in.
- I remember standing on the corner of our neighborhood with strangers-who-suddenly-became-friends holding candles and cheering as cars drove by with flags flying.
- I remember gathering to pray for our nation, our leaders, and the families of those who lost their lives on that day.
- I remember LOTS of people coming to church the next Sunday, searching for hope.
I’d appreciate knowing what you remember most. It will help me prepare for this Sunday’s message. Please share your memories in the reply/comment box below.