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Changing Culture: Unchanging Message
Scripture: Romans 1:18-32
Track 3 of 14 in the Study of Romans series
Running time: 27 minutes, 47 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, June 15, 2003
Father's Day
"Changing Culture: Unchanging Message"
(Romans 1:18-32)
C. Sackett

The Westminster shorter Catechism begins this question. What is the chief end of man? And it answers it this way. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

In a contemporary rendition of that to try to bring it down into a little more contemporary language, the question is asked like this. What is the primary reason God created all the people in the world? And the answer goes--God created all the people in the world so that they may know, love and serve him. This enables us to enjoy him forever.

That's the message of Romans Chapter 1, to glorify, or to honor God and to enjoy him. But it becomes perfectly clear when you read Romans Chapter 1 that even though that seems to be God's intended purpose for us, man hasn't done a particularly good job of that. Romans 1:18 through 32 is a statement about man's basic human desire to sin. And it's pretty clear and straight forward. Let's read through that text starting in Verse 18.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Let me call your attention to a series of repetitions in this particular text. Look back at Verse 21 where he clearly says they knew God. He says that again in Verse 25. They exchanged the truth of God. You can't exchange truth if you don't have truth. They knew God. It shows up again in Verse 28--they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God. Well you can't retain what you didn't have and so the implication is very clear. In this text, they knew God. They knew something about God. The opening part, Verses 18 through 20 have simply been stated and repeated and then repeated again. They had a clear understanding of who God was supposed to be.

The repetition continues in Verses 21, 25, and 28, if you look at it--although they knew God, they neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him in Verse 21. Verse 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and in Verse 28 they didn't think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, they rejected that very knowledge. They being, humanity, us, you, me, humankind. Because they knew God and yet chose not to honor that knowledge--because they knew God and yet chose to reject that knowledge of God and to put it aside and do their own thing. Here's the response that God makes which makes the same repetitions. Verse 24--Therefore God gave them over--Verse 26-- God gave them over--Verse 28--He gave them over. They knew God. They chose not to honor that, that they knew, so God simply pulled off the restraints and turned them loose to do whatever it was that they desired to do. And you can read the litany of things that developed out of human chaos.

Well, my question is, what happens when you roll this text over and you ask it this way. What would happen if men and women actually decided to retain the knowledge of God? What would happen, if rather than choosing to reject what we know about God, we chose to honor God like the text says? What would that do to us as a group of human beings? How would that impact us.

Let me answer it this way. I think in the first part of this text you would understand this. That we would develop a healthy view of creation. See, if you choose to honor the God of creation, then you can view the created world in a way that is healthy. God gave us--and we looked at this last week in Genesis Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 --what has been known as the Dominion Mandate.

We are to take responsibility for the earth. God gave it to us. He says it's yours. Do with it what you're supposed to do, but be good stewards of it. Care for it. And if man does exactly what he is supposed to do, he will, in fact, care for the earth. He will take care of the world that God has given to us.

It seems to me, however, what we have done is we have fallen into one of two extremes. There is the extreme that says --let's worship the earth--and if you've not followed that trend in recent years--that's exactly where many people have ended up. It is part and parcel of, for example, the wicca movement and the whole mother earth kind of thing, and literally worshiping the earth and finding Gods behind all parts of creation. It is simply a resurrection of what was going on so completely in the Old Testament. But it's become part of the new spirituality in culture--that we have changed from thinking that, well you remember the butter commercial about don't fool with mother nature and how that was all humerus to the place that now it's a serious part of a religious experience to worship mother earth. Or, if you don't go the route of worshiping mother earth, you become more of a (and I use this word, although I hate it) tree hugger. I don't mean that badly, because I personally think that we ought to be good ecologists but there is that extreme out there that says it's more important to take care of a snail darter that it is to take care of humanity--that we would invest more to protect a spotted owl than we would 1.5 million babies that we abort every year.

And so we push creation to the far extreme. The alternative of course, is on the other end of that is that we become those who basically abandon creation and we don't do anything with it that's profitable and unfortunately sometime Christians are as guilty as anybody else about having no respect for creation.

I remember a number of years ago, I was invited up to Canada to do a men's retreat just outside of Toronto. Was a rather laid back, loose kind of weekend. We stayed in this ah, well, kind of like LaMoine Christian Service Camp, out in the wilderness. And there was one particular gentleman there who was obviously East Indian. I just assumed (now that ought to be a dead giveaway that there's a problem coming, because anytime you assume something, you're in trouble), I just assumed that all the men at this retreat were Christians. We were the first ones to use the cabins that particular spring and so when the heat came on, it stirred up and warmed up a bees nest. And coming out of the light fixtures was this steady stream of yellow jackets, and so like any self-respecting male dominant kind of people, we grabbed everything we could and we started swatting bees - self defense!

The next day I'm out on a walk with this particular gentleman, who is East Indian, and he says, why is it you Christians are always wanting to kill things?

Silence - - - - - - - -

That was my answer, absolute silence. I understand his perspective and that is, as a Hindu, if you kill that creature, you might be killing an ancestor. Because they believe in reincarnation. But that isn't what he was coming from. He was coming from the basic perspective of human kindness. Why do we feel so much pleasure in killing stuff--just to be destructive and cruel? . . . and I thought. . . well we don't.

Then I thought about the high school kids who thought it was really cute to find a bunch of kittens and drive down the street and throw them under the rear wheels of their car.

And I thought about the times I have been with people who thought it was really neat to hit the squirrel in the middle of the street instead of missing it.

And then I thought about 1.5 million babies that get aborted every year.

And then I thought about the laws in Denmark that have legalized euthanasia.

And I thought about the holocaust.

And then I began to wonder if this man wasn't asking me a very serious question--that if we really chose to honor God, we would choose to honor, in a healthy way, creation. . . . . and treat it with some dignity and respect, neither falling off the extreme of worshiping it nor falling to the extreme of simply abandoning it, as if it weren't important. . . because it strikes me that those who understand God understand that the created order is testimony of his wonder and his majesty and his creativity. . . and ought to be appreciated. . . but, not worshiped.

Well, what would happen if we really did choose to honor God? Not only would we view creation in a healthy way, we would also have a healthy view of sexuality.

For some people who come to church and find out that sex was God's idea is novel at best. But it was. Genesis was very clear. God created us male and female. He decided this thing we have going on between us we call sexuality. He gave us this wonderful procreative gift for not only the ability to reproduce ourselves and to be creative like he is creative, but to have a source of pleasure in our life.

The problem is, that in culture, we have decided that the sexual act is the end all of all things. So I sat in chapel one day, at a particular Christian college which shall remain nameless and had a student stand up and say, if, if I knew that the Lord was coming back tomorrow, what would I do today? And you know what he said? GET MARRIED! You know what that meant? HAVE SEX! Don't want to miss that before Jesus returns because that's somehow is the end all of all life. And that's where we have been pushed in our culture. . . . is that somehow this sense of human relations and intimacy is nothing more than just a physical act.

So, here's a list of memorable TV moments.

Some of you won't be able to remember these things.

1951 - I Love Lucy - Rickie Ricardo and Lucille Ball are going to have a baby, but, they are not allowed to use the word pregnant on television.

1961 - The Dick Van Dyke Show - ten years after Lucy and Rickie slept in separate beds, so did Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.

1965 - I Dream of Jeannie - Barbara Eden who played Larry Hagman's sexy genie to be, was not allowed to bare her belly button in public.

1970 - back to the Mary Tyler Moore Show - it was conceived as a divorcee living alone but that was not allowable in 1970. She had to be a young woman who was single who had broken up with her fiancee. But she couldn't be divorced.

1994 - NYPD Blue - some of you will remember that these are the first people to ever use nude bodies in sexual situations in prime time television, along with a whole list of profanities. AND OF COURSE

1997 - there is the coming out party for Ellen DeGeneres when she announces on the air that she is openly gay.

Would you like me to tell you about what is coming in 2003? This fall programming?? I hate to even tell you the name of it because you might go out and look for it. . . . it's called Coupling. That should tell you enough by itself. I can't even describe for you in a public setting what that show's going to be about. The description that they have given of it is embarrassing to read, so let me tell you one that's a little less troublesome. How about this one? Hotel Paradise. . . which will be about eleven people at a fancy hotel and if you can't (here's the language)(and for those of you who are a little too old for this, you'll figure it out), if you can't "HOOK UP" with someone before the weekend's over, you're off the program. Hooking up, by the way, is just the contemporary term for sleeping with somebody.

Well, if that one won't do it for you, how about this one? You remember the Dating Game? Here's the new version. . . Boy Meets Boy. . . .and the problem is, some of the contestants aren't gay and you've got to figure out which ones aren't.

If you want to read an interesting article--last Monday, June 2nd, 2003, USA Today Entertainment Division introduces the Boy Meets Boy programming on Bravo TV. A bit later there is a young lady by the name of Sarah Warren who says we know youth drives what comes out of Hollywood, that's why we're seeing more (and she's talking about gay and lesbian and bisexual actors) And now that they let the genie out of the bottle, there is no way to stuff it back.

The fundamental principal of scripture is very simple. It isn't really hard. It doesn't require us to be hard to get along with. It doesn't require us to go around and be unkind to people. It's very, very simple. The fundamental principal is, heterosexual relations within the context of marriage only. That's it! That's a healthy view of sexuality. Heterosexual relationships within the context of marriage. . . no place else under no other circumstance.

And yet, here's a 1999 edition of a book. You might find this to be interesting. Here's the title of the book. . . .Affair - How to manage every aspect of your extra-marital relationship with passion, discretion and dignity. Here's the publisher's blurb. . . . .Thoughtful, detailed discussion of every aspect of considering, preparing for, beginning and conducting a successful and emotionally extramarital affair.

Changing culture. My fifth grade teacher didn't live with her husband for the last thirty years of their lives but they would never divorce.

Changing culture. My cousin was a homosexual but nobody in the family was allowed to talk about it, ever!--anywhere!--under any circumstance.

Changing culture, but unchanging message. God created us to enjoy a relationship with each other in the confines of our marriage. Male and female he made us. A man shall leave his father and his mother and cling unto his wife and they shall become one flesh. It's a very simple principal which would solve many of today's contemporary family ills. The problem is, we would like to trade the immediate for the long term and every assumption on every television program and in almost all music is, the sexual relationships for recreation or pleasure or any other reason, with any other person, of any gender is okay. And the Bible will not support it.

A healthy view of God will give you a healthy view of your sexuality.

He goes on to say, I think in this text, that if we had a healthy view of God and we honored him, we would also have a healthy view of sin. I hope that makes some sense--a healthy view of sin. I think what it means is this, that we come to understand in scripture that all people are sinners and all sin is sin and there is no BIG sin, LITTLE sin. It's just that some sin has more consequences than others, but they all separate us from God.

There are twenty-one of them listed in this particular text. They range everywhere from murder to disobeying your parents. Boy, am I glad I hadn't read Romans 1 when I first became a Christian. No, I never did murder anybody! But I sure was good at disobeying my parents. Because they were not Christians, I even used the fact that I was a Christian as an excuse to disobey my parents. I'm glad the scripture can teach us better than that. See. Some sin, and here's what Paul reminds us of in this particular text. Some sin carries in at it's own consequences.

Here's what he says, Verse 27--That they have received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Some sin just has inherent in it, it's own consequence.

I remember going from Idaho to Oregon to talk to my father right after we learned he had cancer. I asked him what he thought about it, tried to get into a conversation about that whole thing. Here was his response--I thought it was classic. I don't know what else I would expect. My father found out he had lung cancer after about sixty years of his life smoking. He understood. He got what he deserved if you put it in those kinds of terms. There wasn't any reason to be angry about it because all he did was reap the consequences of his actions. He knew that. If he didn't teach me anything else, he had always taught me that. You make the choice, you live with the consequence! He did it. He got the consequence.

Our family friend, Bill Griffin, sat at the dinner table on Thanksgiving day . . . . . . . and said, My doctor just told me if I don't quit drinking, then I'm gonna die. That afternoon he asked me to drop him off at the Pine Tavern on the way back to the Veterans Hospital. I refused. I don't have to help people die. He called a cab, went back to the Pine Tavern, went right back to his drinking and he was not at the next Thanksgiving meal because he did, he died from alcoholism and its related diseases. But, you know he never complained about it. Even though he wasn't a Christian, I never heard the man gripe and complain about his illness because he understood--he made the decision to drink--he suffered the consequences.

I think of a young lady who shall remain nameless, from thirty years ago who sat in my living room (I think I've told you her story). Sat down on a box on a day we were moving, packing to move to Illinois, and said, I'm about to have a baby and I can't keep it. What do I do? See. Some sin has its own consequence. You don't have to punish people for it. It has its own punishment built right in.

I think of Larry who came to visit my class at school, who after about thirty or forty minutes of talking to our students, announced that the reason he was here to visit us was because he was dying with aids. Well, you could see everybody in the room try to scoot their chair back just another inch further. Oh by the way, his wife is also dying of aids and they have four children, two of whom were conceived after he contracted aids. In God's grace, none of the children are infected. Then he told us how he got it. He was bi-sexual. He contracted aids and then gave it to his wife. See! Some sin has consequences we would never dream of.

But a healthy view of God and a view of God that caused us to want to honor him as God would give us a healthy view of sin and we would begin to understand that sin is not something to be laughed at, something to be made fun of, but sin is something to be treated with the seriousness with which God treats it. God is not intending to make our lives miserable by saying certain things are sin--don't do them. He's trying to give us a life that is healthy and holy. But the problem is that you will do the same thing I'll do--I'm just guessing--I don't think I'm any different than anybody in this room. When there is humor about sin, I'll laugh!

And then a few minutes later, I'll stop and wonder--should I laugh about that or should I cry?--that in this degenerate culture, we have come to the place that we are laughing about that which would make God's heart break! A healthy view of God would help us understand that sin is still wrong and always will be and nothing we can do will change it, whether it's gossip or murder, slander or immorality. See, it is just as wrong for a Christian to say things about other Christians just as it is for me to walk up to Steve and shoot him in the head. Sin is SIN, whether you do it with a gun or with words. It's still the same and even Christians have to understand that.

Well, what's the bottom line of this text then? I think it comes out something like this. Glorify God and experience real life. Glorify self and experience lies. Did you notice that back in Verse 25? They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. You know, that's not a very good translation. It's not a lie, it's the lie. They exchanged the truth of God for the lie. What lie? Probably the lie that man is the end of all things and that we should satisfy ourselves and gratify ourselves--be in control. This is a text about trade. Did you notice that? Three different times he talked about exchanging things. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images in Verse 23. They exchanged the truth of God for the lie in Verse 25. They exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones in Verse 26. Three times he says, God gave them over, but please do not understand that to be abandonment. When God gave them over he was not abandoning them. He was disciplining them.

I want you to hear just a brief text. I'll just read a bit of an excerpt out of it. It comes from the profit Hosea. "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town and yet you have not returned to me," declares the Lord. "I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away and yet, you've not returned to me," declares the Lord. "Many times I struck your gardens and your vineyards and yet you have not returned to me," declares the Lord. "I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt and yet you have not returned to me." I overthrew some of you, like I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and yet you have not returned to me."

Do you hear it? It is never abandonment. It is never punishment. It is always redemptive. What God does in human life is always intended to draw us back to himself. It's a call to return. So Amos says, Seek me and live. Seek the Lord and live. And that's the call of this text in Romans. It's not a call to bash people because of their sin. It's a call to say when culture changes so radically, you can expect it to fall apart, but the message of God is always the same. Honor me and experience real life. Come to me, he says. Seek me and live.

We're going to invite you to just remain seated and at the appropriate part, join us as we reflect upon God's call to draw us back to himself.

That's our prayer Father, that you would give us clean hands and a pure heart, that when people take a look at our lives, they will see a generation of people who want to honor and thank and glorify you alone. We're grateful for the grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. We come to you seeking to live, so forgive us our sins. Cleanse us from all unrighteousness we pray through Jesus. Amen.