(part 1)

In most societies there is an appropriate, accepted way to greet people. Societies need such greetings. They allow people to show respect and extend kindness.

When we lived in a West African country, the appropriate, accepted greeting was, "How for your skin?" That meant, "Are you healthy?" Death and sickness were extensive, daily realities. It was respectful and kind to greet a person by inquiring about his or her health. There were three appropriate responses. The typical response was, "I am well." If you felt wonderful, which was rarely the case, you responded, "I am well fine." Only if you were seriously distressed would you respond, "I am not well."

In our society we have a number of appropriate, accepted greetings. One of the most common is, "How are you?" or "How are you doing?" The common appropriate response is, "I am fine."

In our system of greetings, much of the time, "How are you?" is not intended as an inquiry about how you are actually doing. The response, "I am fine," is not intended to a declaration about your actual condition.

What if this happened when we assembled? What if "How are you?" was a serious inquiry we made of each other? What if each of us honestly revealed how we were?

I think that could be good, not bad. It would produce an openness that lowered our masks and destroyed our facades. That would be a shock, but it would be a good shock. I think it would also make a startling revelation: many of us are not surviving the present. Many of us are locked in desperate struggles trying to keep the present from drowning us.

This evening as we consider how to survive our present, I want to begin by reading James 1:12-18.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

I could easily focus an entire lesson to each of the thoughts I share with you, but I want to introduce two things that are critical to surviving the present. I hope to introduce two more next Sunday night.

  1. First, to survive the present, each of us must survive temptation.
    1. We could focus on the need to survive daily temptations that we typically view as being matters of life, not matters of evil. Such as:
      1. The temptation to live in ways that we cannot afford.
      2. The temptation to abuse credit.
      3. The temptation to let occupations cause us to neglect our spouses and children.
      4. The temptation to find the "perfect escape" from stress and pressure.
      5. The temptation to compete with other people's standard of living.
      6. The temptation to pursue personal prominence at any cost.
    2. I call your attention to two common temptations that often devastate our lives and scuttle our spirituality.
      1. The first is the temptation to use short cuts that ignore God's morality.
        1. Our society places a high premium on pragmatism.
          1. "We have to be practical about this."
          2. "We must face reality."
          3. "Let's get real about this."
        2. Pragmatism is valuable, useful, and rightfully a part of serious evaluation and serious decision making.
          1. But, pragmatism that rejects God's morality is destructive.
          2. Pragmatism that rejects God's morality always will result in destructiveness in society and to the individual.
        3. Anytime that we are encouraged to choose a course of life, a direction in our occupation, or an alternative in any area of life that has no concern for God, we are tempted to take a short cut that ignores God's morality.
          1. When those moments occur, the present seeks to destroy us.
          2. If we yield to that temptation, the present will destroy us.
      2. The second temptation is to ignore God's values as we seek success.
        1. This temptation is powerful when we do two things.
          1. We do not ask, "Is this true to the values Jesus died to establish?"
          2. Instead, we do ask, "Will this get me where I want to go?"
        2. Life's core realities are based on value systems.
          1. The entire Christian existence is based on Jesus' value system.
          2. When we declare that God's values are not relevant to the way we live life and make decisions, we attack self at the core of our being.
        3. When we are tempted to reject God's values the present seeks to destroy us.
        4. If we yield to that temptation, the present will destroy us.
    3. God knows that we are incapable of surviving every temptation.
      1. It is critical that we learn how to recover from failure; that is as critical as learning how to defeat temptation.
      2. We recover from falling to temptation by honestly repenting of our failure.
      3. We restore life by making the corrections that redirect life.

  2. Second, to survive the present, each of us must survive deceit.
    1. It would be impossible to identify everything that attempts to deceive us.
      1. We are a very skeptical society because deceit is prevalent in our society in every direction we look, in every sector of life, in every ongoing activity.
      2. We accept as fact that forces beyond number try to exploit us.
        1. How do you successfully exploit people?
        2. To exploit people you must deceive people.
      3. Deceit is a simple thing: deceit occurs when we accept something that is false as being something that is true.
    2. The list of deceits that the present uses to destroy us is a long list, but I focus your attention on two powerful deceits that wreck our personal lives, our families, our businesses, our industries, and our government by cutting the threads that weave the fabric of our society.
      1. The first deceit is accepted by the majority as a fundamental truth: "the central issue in life is my rights as an individual."
        1. We Americans are obsessed with the concept of individual rights.
          1. "You should know my rights."
          2. "Respect my rights."
          3. "Give me my rights."
          4. "Stop abusing my rights."
          5. "Stop denying me my rights."
          6. "I demand my rights."
          7. "You have violated my rights!"
        2. As a people, we are preoccupied with the concept of individual rights.
          1. That preoccupation often becomes an obsession.
          2. It makes us selfish and self-centered.
          3. It justifies the mistreatment of other people to acquire "my rights."
          4. It convinces us that evading and rejecting responsibility is good.
          5. It declares that we are entitled to what we want; it is our "right" to have our desires fulfilled.
      2. The social and personal consequences of selfish, irresponsible devotion to individual rights are terrifying.
        1. That obsession threatens the stability of every institution in our society by placing them in the constant risk of attack that can destroy them.
        2. The destructive impact on family relationships in marriage, in homes, and in parent-child relationships is prevalent right now.
        3. The way it molds the perceptions and thinking of both adults and adolescents is frightening.
      3. Far too many people are convinced that "my greatest responsibility is to me."
        1. The present will successfully destroy the life of any irresponsible person who believes in and practices that deceit.
        2. The present will successfully destroy any irresponsible marriage or family made of persons who believe in and practice that deceit.
        3. The future will successfully destroy any irresponsible society built by people who believe in and practice that deceit.
      4. If you think that is an exaggeration, consider the number of people who believe, "I have the right to violate the law," and consider what that is doing to our society.
      5. The person who believes that the central issue of life is "my individual rights" will not survive the present.
    3. The second deceit is the conviction that "I must save society from itself."
      1. If you think about it, this is the extreme opposite of the concept of individual rights.
        1. The individual exists for the good of the cause.
        2. When an individual threatens the cause, that individual is insignificant.
        3. The individual has no rights; only the cause has rights.
        4. The cause is good; any individual who opposes the cause is bad.
      2. This deceit creates "crusading missionaries" who believe "anyone or anything can be sacrificed for the good cause."
        1. I see a fundamental deceit in the thought process that declares that "you build by destroying."
        2. I see a fundamental deceit when someone murders an abortion doctor because abortion doctor is declared a murder.
        3. I see a fundamental deceit when someone believes that the key to preserving life in the environment is attacking the people who are a part of the environment.
        4. I see a fundamental deceit when someone believes that the way to preserve society is to enable those who hurt society.
      3. Virtually every cause involves complex issues.
        1. Virtually every cause has at its heart a just, vital concern.
        2. But causes commonly are frustrated by the complexities of life.
        3. Because of "tunnel vision," causes frequently champion oversimplified solutions to address complex realities.
        4. This combination builds doors of opportunity for deceit.
      4. The person who believes that he or she saves by being destructive will not survive the present.

It amazes me to see the relevance of Jesus' example as we learn to survive the present. It amazes me because he continues to be relevant 2000 years after he died. We often fail to be relevant to the next generation.

Jesus' world was as complex as ours. His Jewish society was in greater turmoil than our American society. The truth is that we have more to work with in our society than he had to work with in his society.

Yet, he never took short cuts that ignored God's morality. He never sought success by abandoning God's values. He clarified God's morality. He lived by God's values. And he showed us how to be servants. He never demanded his rights. He saved by doing good and sacrificing. And neither you nor I will ever equal his success. He was so successful that God magnified his success through death.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 December 1998

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell