There are an estimated 380,000 Christian congregations in America…our church is a part of the Southern Baptist cooperative effort for missions…there are 47,000 churches we cooperate with for international and national missions efforts…like Jenni and Austin’s work.
I say this to get some perspective on the high-profile Christian leaders who have had moral, ethical failures, or have said they have “lost their faith.”
Here’s what I hear and read: “So many Christian leaders are failing away…what is going on?”
Actually…very, very, very few are…the vast majority are faithfully walking with God, leading in ministry, and loving their families.
One Christian celebrity who was thrust into the spotlight starting at age 16…is now 40 and is struggling with his faith.
*On a side note this demonstrates the problem of making stars and spokespeople out of men and women who have not lived long enough to be fully formed on the inside.
*Paul said we should be slow to set people apart for ministry…for this very reason.
The dream of many parents is for their children to become a celebrity of some kind…never mind that many if not most child celebrities do not live happy lives…they rarely thrive long-term.
My son-in-law Neil, has wisely said…”I hope my kids are average.”
If they are above average, fine…but his point is well taken.
Back to the struggling Christian celebrity…he listed his struggles like…(is the Bible really accurate (contradictions), the problem of suffering and evil, the challenge of different religions, the exclusive claims of Christ)…and he said “nobody is talking about these things.”
This year we have been talking specifically about these things…in fact we have talked about these things for years.
I have read many books over the years, had entire classes…that dealt honestly and specifically with these issues…Christians have been talking openly about these things since there have been Christians.
There are many things involved with this phenomena of a few very public personalities falling away that make it seem like the “sky is falling.”
-Constant media contact
-Obsession with celebrity status
-The negativity bias (we like bad news about others)
But one thing that comes into play in this is the human tendency towards narcissism.
Narcissism Personality Disorder (the extreme edge of the spectrum) is defined like this:
People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also have grandiose fantasies and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment. They tend to seek excessive admiration and attention and have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat.
I have read several studies that indicate pastors have narcissism as a disorder at a much higher rate than the general population.
Though everyone struggles with this on a spectrum…evidently some pastors struggle more…there are some reasons why that are not pertinent for today.
But back to the 16 now 40-year-old celebrity who is struggling with his faith in the public forum…why would he believe that “nobody is asking the questions he is asking”…when I’ve heard super church kids ask them?
Because he likely sees life through the lens of self…he thinks his struggles are unique, his situation is rare…the way he thinks about things are probably through the glasses of Narcissism.
Psychologist James Wilder in his book “The Pandora Problem: Facing Narcissism in Leaders and Ourselves”.
Writes that most mental health literature declares that curing narcissism disorder is hopeless.
I briefly perused some medical sites and sure enough found listed under “cure”…”none.”
Even talk therapy/cognitive behavioral therapy…was found in some studies just to make them better at being narcissistic…it improved their skills of manipulation.
But…Wilder is not without hope for these people…for any person…he believes in the transformational power available in the gospel.
This year, as I mentioned we have looked at how the Bible is a single narrative that:
- Makes sense out of we see in the world (accurate in its description)
- “Works” when applied in our lives in allowing us to thrive in the world (effective in its prescription)
We discussed family, sexuality, suffering and more.
This summer we have looked at various issues related to living transformational in culture…religions, nations, race, poverty and more.
Today we wrap up our summer study of what the Bible says about how we are to live transformationally in the culture where God has placed us.
We are not to attempt to live out of culture…so afraid of its influence on us that we flee from it…thereby failing to make any change in it.
We do not live below or submerged in culture…so afraid of being “irrelevant” that we are impotent…powerless to effect change.
We live in but not of the world…this is not a mere catchphrase…this is a description of a real way we can live.
Today we wrap up by looking at how cultures and communities are actually transformed…how it is possible to have lasting impact on issues such as racism, poverty, war, sexual addiction, violence…and the like.
How will proceed:
- Give you my primary point…summer summary statement.
- Look at a verse and passage on transformation
III. Offer some personal application
- My summer summary: You cannot have cultural transformation without personal transformation.
Cultures are collections of people…if people don’t change…culture doesn’t change.
People change inside out…not outside in. (although outside impacts the inside)
It is a long-term failed human project to try to force societal change apart from changing individual human hearts.
- The OT demonstrates this (we looked at this at length in the first quarter)
- International history demonstrates this:
*One horrific example is the former leader of Cambodia who died in 1998…Pol Pot
-His approach to transform his society was to murder nearly 1/4 of the entire population of 7 million people…forcing people from cities and homes into desperate situations…of course he failed to change his society…but succeeded in almost destroying it.
This is an extreme example but unfortunately not uncommon in human history…more recently ISIS tried this approach to social transformation
*In principle this has also led to failed attempts here in American through social programs (we discussed this last week), education only approaches to change…many, many other examples.
Humanity has a long history of ineffective attempts to change groups of people (culture) without real personal change in people.
- Individual families demonstrate this:
-Parents who believe that by outward pressure or disciplines alone they can bring lasting change in their family structures have been disappointed…Christian Schools, family devotions, rules designed to enforce Christian values…do not by themselves change hearts.
*I am not saying these things are wrong…but unless the hearts are changed…the individuals and thereby the community (family) remains unchanged.
- Transformation: inside out
2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
It is easy for us to lose an authentic vision for the gospel as a transformational reality in our lives.
We can look around and see people who claim Christ…who do not live transformed lives…this is confusing.
We ourselves can become stuck in many of the patterns that those who don’t know Christ are stuck in.
But this is not the full picture…I have some idea of who I would be apart from the gospel.
-I am not who I want to be…but I am also not what I was.
God has kept his promise to keep at his work in me.
I have many friends who have and are experiencing the transformation of the gospel…I see it.
It has changed their approach to God, self, others…decisions, addictions, anger, work, spending…you name it.
It has led them to live more and more from Joy rather than from Fear as the engine that drives their lives.
Let’s go on to a passage
Rom. 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy
-Paul’s urging is going to flow from the reality of God’s mercy revealed in the gospel.
With God’s mercy in full view (not hurts, not self, not winning, not what others think)…go offer your bodies (the full “you”) as living sacrifices (sacrifices=fully devoted, committed to God’s purposes). This is your spiritual act of worship.
What you do at work, at home, at the gym, at the dining table, playing with kids…is to be a full-life act of worship.
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Don’t be submerged under culture…don’t conform to it…but be transformed by God.
Interesting that this transformation is directed at the mind…he is talking to believers here.
So Christ has already entered your life…now God is doing ongoing transformation by changing more and more how you think about God, self, others.
This is not the “thinking vs feeling” dichotomy…in the Bible the heart is the thinking, feeling, choosing you.
There is no firm distinction…when I think something…I have feelings about it, when I feel something…I have thoughts about it.
Then (as you are transformed in the thinking, feeling, choosing “you”) you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As God transforms our minds(our insides)…we are able to understand more clearly what it is God wants for us…what he wants for us is: (his will) is…
-Good (ultimately, finally good)
-We see good from the perspective of “me/now”
-He sees good from the perspective of “him/eternity”
-Pleasing(leads to a thriving life in the long term)
-perfect(not going to change with the latest, greatest study or trend…God won’t get it wrong).
Then the “un-narcissistic” approach to life and others:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
The narcissist looks at life always through the lens of “me” and how do I “win”(how do I make sure you lose)…he or she is driven by a powerful desire to avoid shame, shun weakness.
We are now free to die this nonsense…we can see ourselves are we are. (sober, accurate)
We need God, we need each other…all we have is a gift…not the result of our own personal greatness.
On the other hand all our weaknesses are not to lead to shame, or to hiding…but we see them clearly as well.
We are not strong, smart, or good on our own.
He says this is all in accordance with the measure of faith you have been given.
This is not an individual thing(you got a pound, he got two pounds of faith)…it is the “Faith”…the gospel.
See yourself in light of “The Faith”…the truth of the gospel.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
From there he launches into the reality of our lives lived together.
We have different gifts, different functions in the body…but we are all one body…the body of Christ.
“Each member belongs to all the others” just means…we are all together in this.
In the body of Christ, like in marriage…relationships are “win/win” or they are “lose/lose.”
Christy had minor surgery on her finger Thursday…actually it would be minor for me, I am not a pianist.
It impacted her entire body for a short time…it’s not as if the rest of her body could tell her little finger…”It’s your problem, not ours.”
Her little finger said “Hey, this is all of our problem.”
So let’s summarize this in a statement as it relates to transforming our culture.
Christ transforms us from the inside out…his power in us works its way out of us as he aligns our thinking with his. All we do with our physical, mental, relational selves…is to be ongoing acts of worship.
So Transformation is:
But it is also…
These transformed persons living in transformed local bodies (churches) is how the world is changed.
Lack of transformed persons and/or disembodied (unchurched) believers will not because they cannot bring about real change around them.
When I say “unchurched believers” that would for the writers of the NT be an oxymoron.
Followers of Christ…by default live their lives as part of a local body of Christ.
So to see lasting change in culture (racism, addiction, violence)…you name it…it always begins with transformational “inside out change” in the individuals who make up those cultures.
Paul the apostle
John Newton (slave trader, Amazing Grace)
Chuck Colson (political henchmen turned prison reformer)
III. PERSONAL APPLICATIONS
*In 2005 I was the Chaplain for a Bomber unit deployed to an Island in the Indian ocean.
-One day one of the young B-52 pilots who was a part of a Bible study I was leading came to me in great distress.
-He suddenly struggled with the morality of dropping bombs in warfare.
-He had years of training…suddenly on that day…it became real to him and he struggled with his conscience.
When I think of the current small group of well-known figures who are publicly struggling with their faith I think of this bomber pilot.
Somehow he had gone through all that intensive training to become an AF pilot but had not thought deeply and personally about the implications of what it meant.
-If you are wondering how it turned out for him…he was able to wrestle through it. We had many talks over the months…and he finished his deployment.
I say that to say this…I, we are afraid of no question…not because we have all the answers but because I am convinced of the gospel…absolutely convinced.
Just because no one understands gravity or photons completely…doesn’t mean we doubt them as realities…they are proven realities.
The gospel is a proven reality as well….questions remain…but we can ask them without doubting the reality and goodness of God.
- Ask questions, think, struggle…but do it in community…don’t doubt just because the answer is bigger than your brain.
- Gain or regain a vision for personal transformation?
Paul, St. Augustine, John Newton, Charles Colson…what did they have in common?
*Interactive encounter with God=transformation.
Mere information does not lead to transformation…it’s not just knowing stuff about God it is knowing God.
This is a result of:
- Personal commitment (Big “yes”)
- Ongoing faithfulness (Little “yes’s”)
- In community (plugged into the Body of Christ)
Have a vision for others to be transformed by the gospel.
-Be transformed…then be a witness to the one who transforms
-Transformation involves information and will and skill…but ultimately it is about Christ.
Not what we know or our own will power.
2Cor. 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
- Move from Narcissus to Jesus.
*Transformation is very specific…it is becoming more and more like Christ…less and less like Narcissus.
In the Narcissus myth(there are several versions)…he was a person of such great beauty and arrogance that the god’s cursed him by allowing to fall in love with his own image in the water.
In all versions of the myth he eventually is destroyed by his fixation on self.
Christ, of course is no myth…and he is the opposite of Narcissus.
Phil. 2:2 Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Want to see the world changed?
- Be transformed by Christ (salvation)
- Be transformed by renewing your mind (Every time we use our own judgment to decide good and evil, we get it wrong.)
- Be fully engaged with transformational community
- Be found faithful with where God wants you to engage the world around you
- Live resting in your relationship with God, live in his joy…joy is what God has designed your life to run on.