Life is full of questions. From the time we begin using our brains we begin asking questions: “Mommy, why is the sky blue?” “Daddy, why do dogs bark?” The questions become more complex as we age, but we all ask questions. Some questions have definite answers: “What am I going to do today? Can you tell me how to get to Sonic?” Other questions are far more murky: “What do I want to be when I grow up? How can I be happy? Why am I here? What is my purpose?”
This past week I went with a young friend of mine who wants to work in the field of marketing and branding when she graduates from college next year. I have a friend who owns a marketing company and thought it would be good for her to get some insight from someone who has worked in the field for years. When we arrived I sat and listened as the two of them talked. The owner of the company asked my young friend, “What area of marketing do you want to specialize in once you graduate? Strategic planning, graphic design, market research, advertising sales, etc?” She said she wanted to work in strategic planning. Then, the owner of the company said, “Asking a 20 year old, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ is one of the most unfair questions of all. Life is full of twists and turns. You might start working in one area and realize it’s not really what you thought it was going to be, so be open to change.”
Since that meeting I’ve thought a lot about what Steve told Deja in their meeting. The same principle applies to life doesn’t it? When we are young we think we have an idea of what we are going to do, what we want to happen, and how life will turn out…and then life happens. Life is full of twists and turns, joys and sorrow, mishaps and a seemingly endless change of plans. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we planned and other times things work out exactly the way we planned, just as we had hoped, but the outcome is disappointing and not fulfilling.
Leo Tolstoy was 50 years old. He had achieved fame, fortune, and a wonderful family. Time Magazine voted two of his books, “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” the first and third greatest books of all time. Yet, at age 50, Leo Tolstoy found himself struggling to find meaning in life. In his book, “A Confession,” Tolstoy described his battle to find meaning in life.
I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it. All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel no bad effects. And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life. (Tolstoy, Leo. “A Confession.”)
How do you mix in fame, fortune, all of the stuff everyone longs to have, the applause and adulation of the masses, and get emptiness, meaninglessness, and despair? It doesn’t make any sense, but we seem to be reminded over and over again of the stark reality that fame, fortune, and material things don’t make for a peaceful, fulfilling life. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington–their troubled souls which led to their suicides remind us that fame and fortune won’t provide for us what is needed most in life. Sometimes all of the ingredients we believe will make for the perfect life end up leaving a sour taste in our mouths don’t they?
Where do we go to find answers to the big questions of life? Questions like, “Why am I here? Is there any purpose for my life? How can I make sense of what’s happening?” We can try to figure out the answers to these questions on our own, but we were never meant to do life on our own. We can turn to Google, but Google will only confuse and overwhelm you with the massive amount of answers and the way one answer contradicts another. You can turn to science. Science can tell you how things work, but science has no answers concerning meaning and purpose for your life and mine. You can turn to a friend or family member, but you might want to be careful about which friends or family members you turn to or you could end up more confused than ever. You could turn to religion, or as an increasing number of people in our society are saying, “Spirituality.” Even there we have to ask, “Which one?” The answers to life’s big questions aren’t found in a religion, but they are found in a relationship with a person and His name is Jesus. And with that, the average person on the street, in the office buildings downtown, and tucked away in neighborhoods all over the city roll their eyes, and turn to walk away.
For those of us who are followers of Jesus, we know what I’ve just stated is true, tested and true. By tested, I mean we have put Jesus’ words to the test in the living of life and found them to be absolutely true, the truest true of any truth ever offered by society. Let me give you just a couple of examples. Jesus said,
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIVO)
The thief, Satan, the world’s ways, pursuing my own self-interest and self-centered ways will never bring about lasting peace, lasting fulfillment, or enduring meaning. When I surrender my life to Jesus, make living out His will and purpose for my life my one ambition then I will know the fullness of life and the satisfaction of experiencing the purpose of God in my life.
Jesus wasn’t an idealist, a pollyanna minded Messiah. He was a realist. It was Jesus who said to His followers, “In this world you will have trouble.” People have no trouble believing what Jesus said was true about trouble. Whether you are a follower of Jesus, an atheist, agnostic, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim–you will be well-acquainted with the troubles of life.
Albert Camus was a famous literary giant and philosopher. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Camus was a deep thinker. He tried to make sense of the pain and suffering of life, suffering which he was well-familiar during his life. He rejected God and all of the answers found in the pages of the Bible. Camus, the deep thinker, came to the conclusion that life has no meaning. Life has no meaning and therefore there is something deeply absurd about the human quest to try and find meaning. Albert Camus is the father of a branch of philosophy called, “absurdism.” In the opening paragraph of his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” he writes,
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest…comes afterward. (Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus.)
In this world you will have trouble so try not to kill yourself. Is that it? Is Camus right? Before you answer that let me share the rest of what Jesus had to say. Jesus said,
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIVO)
In a world filled with trouble Jesus tells us we can have peace “in Him.” In a relationship with Him. In learning of His ways, what He had to say about life, trouble, joy, purpose, meaning, eternal life, and the challenges of life–you and I can experience peace, real peace.
The growing problem that we as a society are experiencing today is that fewer and fewer people are willing to learn of Jesus’ ways. There are more and more distractions than ever before. There are so many more options that seem more plausible, more relevant to modern-day people living in our modern-day society. Fewer people are going to church in 2018 than in years past. That doesn’t mean that people are less religious than previous generations, but it does mean that more and more people are creating their own path. They may even call themselves Christians, but if you really examined what they believe you’ll find a little Jesus mixed in with a little Oprah, some Tony Robbins self-help mantras, with a morality they’ve created from their set of values. It is a strange day we live in. A day not unlike the days of Paul. Turn to Acts 17:17-23 with me and I’ll show you what I’m talking about. Let’s read together.
17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:17-23 NIVO)
Did you notice it? Paul was “reasoning” with the people in the synagogue as well as in the marketplace. The Greek word which is translated, “reason,” literally, in Greek, means, “to converse, dialogue, discuss, or argue.” Paul was sharing the Gospel in the church house, we’ve got that part down, but we have failed miserably in the other part of Paul’s mission and that is taking our faith into the marketplace. The marketplace was what was called the agora. The Athenian Agora is described as…
A large open square, surrounded on all four sides by public buildings, the Agora of Athens was in all respects the center of town. From the beginning the square was used for a variety of activities: marketplace, elections, dramatic performances, athletic contests, religious processions, and military drill. The excavation of buildings, monuments, and small objects has illustrated the important role it played in all aspects of civic life… Thus administrative, political, judicial, commercial, social, cultural, and religious activities all found a place here together in the heart of ancient Athens from the 6th century BCE until the 6th century CE. (Camp, John. Athenian Agora. Oxford Bibliographies.)
The agora was where the intersection of every aspect of life took place for those in Athens. Paul carried the good news of Jesus out of the synagogue and into the marketplace. And what did Paul see there? He saw that the people of Athens were very religious in every way, but they weren’t worshiping Jesus, they were worshiping idols.
I was reading this past week about Athens in the days of Paul and learned some interesting lessons. Livy was an ancient Roman historian who actually died before Paul visited Athens, but we can be pretty confident that nothing had changed from the time Livy died and Paul walked down the streets of Athens. Livy wrote, “Athens is full of the images of gods and men, adorned with every variety of material, and with all the skill of art.” Pliny the Elder was a Roman author and philosopher who said that at the time of Nero, “Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes.”
There were all kinds of beliefs walking around Athens just like there are people with all of kinds of beliefs walking around Oklahoma City today. Paul didn’t boycott Athens, he didn’t rail against the evils of Athenian society, he took the time to talk with the people of Athens, to share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. We should do the same. The people of Athens had questions about life. The people of Oklahoma City have questions about life. How will they know the Answer unless we go to them?
For some of you, even thinking about sharing your faith outside of these walls, is terrifying. We’re afraid we might say something wrong. We’re afraid they will ask questions and we won’t have an answer. We’re intimidated because our lives aren’t perfect; so who are we to talk about faith and Jesus to others? Those reasons, as well as others, keep us from telling others about Jesus. For those who feel that way, I’ve got a deal for you. In just over one month we will join with other believers all over the world in hosting Alpha for our friends who have questions about life and the Christian faith. They will come if you and I will invite them.
Alpha is the best tool I know of to engage folks who have questions about life and the Christian faith. In the past two years we’ve had two separate groups of people who have gone through Alpha at Britton Christian Church and I’ve seen God work in such a powerful way. I’ve invited two ladies whose lives have been impacted through their involvement in Alpha.
Andrea and Jane will share their stories.
Andrea and Jane have shared with you how God used the ministry of Alpha to answer some of their questions. Beginning in September there will be groups of people meeting for Alpha in over 160 countries around the world. They will share a plate of food, watch a video, and have a conversation about the topic of the night. This will happen in prisons, on college campuses, in churches, bars, cafes, and homes in some 112 languages around the world. Here at Britton Christian Church we will have Alpha in English and in Spanish.
You may wonder how Alpha works? That’s a great question. Beginning Sunday, September 9, at 5 pm we will have dinner for all of those who have signed-up for Alpha. Following dinner the Spanish group and English group will go to separate rooms where they will watch the video for the night in their own language. The videos are about 23 minutes long. Following the video the Table Hosts will go to different rooms in our Education Building with their small group and talk about life and the topic for the night. We will follow the same game plan for 10 consecutive weeks.
Who should come to Alpha? That’s another great question! Alpha is for people who have questions about life and the Christian faith. You may be like my friend who was raised in church, but knows nothing about the Bible and would like to learn more about Christianity. You might be like my friend who isn’t sure he even believes in God, but he’s open to listen. You might be like my friend who was raised in a Muslim home, but is open to learning about Jesus. You might be like my friend who has been fully in charge of her life and years later is empty and thinking, “There’s got to be more to life than this?” You might be like my friend who has called herself a Christian for years, but truth is she really doesn’t know what she believes. All of these friends of mine are great candidates for Alpha. Maybe you are a great candidate for Alpha as well?
Each week, as we study God’s Word we see how open Jesus was to those who had questions. He sought out those who were making a mess of their life. He loved those who had gotten it all wrong. He reached out to those who had been beaten down by life and others. Somehow, some way, maybe through someone…Jesus reached out to you and if you are like me, He’s changed your life like He’s changed mine. And He has called us to share who He is and what He’s done with others so they might come to know Him as well.
Maybe you are here this morning and what we’ve been talking about has struck a chord with you. You’ve searched for answers in other places, you’ve listened to people and people have let you down, and you’ve still got questions about life and Jesus. I want to invite you to come rest in the Savior’s arms. Confess to Him that you don’t have the answers, that you don’t even know all of the questions, but you want to trust Him. He’ll never lead you astray.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 29, 2018