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At Ease in Athens
Scripture: Acts 17:16; Proverbs 3:5-6
Track 1 of 13 in the American Idols series
Running time: 36 minutes, 56 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.

"The Power of a Name"

The Kenyan families our daughter Amy lived with named their children when they were 5 years old. A distinctive ceremony involved the children's heads being shaved and names given. The names were reflective of the character the child had displayed.

After living among the Kenyans for two months Amy was included in the ceremony. She was invited to name a Kenyan child. The surprise was, they wanted to name her. They cut a lock of her hair (instead of a full shave) and named her "Nenkai."

While we were not surprised by their decision, we were certainly proud. Nenkai means "woman of God." They had captured our daughter's character in a name. I still believe that name is befitting of her character.

Naming is powerful. An appropriate name captures the essence of the concept named. When we can identify a way of thinking so clearly we can name it . . . then we can respond appropriately.

We are shaped by the way we think. (Proverbs 23:7) Unfortunately, we don't always think about who we think (fish don't think about water, either). We just do it . . . not recognizing how such thinking shapes who we are. This new series aims to "name" our American thinking.

The name . . . American Idols . . . identifies the issue. There are some ways of thinking that are idolatrous (they replace God). We must first identify them and then name them. Once we've done that, we can determine how to think more Christianly about these various ways of thinking.

What we're attempting to do is "take every thought captive to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Once our thoughts are captive to Him, our lives will take appropriate shape.

Sermon for Sunday, June 3, 2007
Proverbs 3:5-6

I'm confident that you're going to be relieved to know that the elders did their homework before they allowed me to come on full time. They sent me out to make sure that I was Orthodox. They put me on a web site called, "Belief-O-Matic". This is a true site, here is the lead: Even if you don't know what faith you are Belief-O-Matic knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more; and Belief-O-Matic will tell you what religion, if any, you practice or ought to consider practicing. And I want you to know that I agree 100% with conservative Christian truth.

Of course I also believe 99% of what Eastern Orthodox people believe, 62% of what those in Islam believe and actually I agree with 27 different religious movements in the world at various levels. You know how religious we are? That is just an amazing thing. We are a religious people. It is absolutely amazing. Now we wouldn't use that kind of terminology I am quite certain, but we are.

Here's a news week article from just about a year and a half ago. It's called, In Search of The Spiritual. Beliefnet, the religious website sends out more than 8,000,000 daily emails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5,000,000 subscribers. Generic inspiration is the most popular 2.4 million emails, followed by the Bible 1.6 million. But there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, and 268,000 subscribers to daily Muslim wisdom; and 236,000 who get spiritual weight loss messages. I didn't look those up to see what that was.

Even nature worshipping pagans are divided into a mind boggling pan plea of Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Platonism, the God of Spirituality folk ; and in case you can't find one to suit you on that list, Eclectic Paganism.

If I were to walk through Beliefnet's website, I would draw this conclusion: We are very religious people. In fact if you're under 60, which some of you are, and you are typical in the United States; 79% of you would categorize yourself as spiritual. Not Religious, but spiritual. The amazing thing is that when polls are taken 2/3 of all Americans claim to pray every day. That doesn't say what they pray to, just that they pray.

I am without question reminded of Acts 17 when I read this information and that is the text we're going to use to start with today: Acts 17; and we're going to take a little time to just try to create what it is that seems to be the case in America that we are very spiritual people or are at least interested in spiritual things however we might choose to define that.

Paul's statement is so clear about the kind of world that he lived in and how similar it is to ours.

He's in Athens. Athens was the Greek city. Athens was the place of the Acropolis, which some of you studied sometime in school. It was the home of the Areopagus, which was the place that the philosopher's would gather a hillside above that called, "Mars Hill" where they would sit and discuss philosophical questions of the day. Paul went there.

And having walked around the city just a bit, he was a little distressed at all of the "spirituality", if you will; that he saw. Literally carved stone gods everywhere. Here's what he says, Acts 17:22, Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an alter with this inscription: "To an unknown God". Beliefnet calls that, "Eclectic Paganism". If you can't find one to suit you, just join this one.

Now what you worship as something as unknown I am going to proclaim to you: The God who made the world and everything in it, is the Lord of Heaven and Earth and does not live in temples built by hands. He's not served by human hands as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth. He determined the time set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he's not far from each of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.

As some of your own poets have said, "we are his off-spring"; therefore, since we are God's off-spring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by man's design and skill; in the past God overlooked such ignorance.

But now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Very religious.

Two primary, actually; religions if you will; philosophies: Stoics, and Epicureans. Those seem to be the ones who highlighted the day and they're not unlike those who are current today.

The stoics were those who believed that you shouldn't get passionate about anything at all. Control the emotions, be logical, make sure that you are simply reasonable about everything. Totally apathetic to the presence of the gods, didn't make any difference cause the gods couldn't do anything anyway. This was a matter of just realizing that humanity was able to control his life if he just would.

And then there were the Epicureans, now whose fundamental belief was pleasure is a virtue. Now not Hedonism much like into today's world, they were not the same; as those people who were out gratifying everything in their life. Epicureans were those who believed that there was no god because there was too much evil in the world, but you could achieve peace if you could just bring all of your passions under your own control and gratify only those things that really mattered.

We live in a world full of religious people. Spiritual. It runs the gamut. From Neopagens, Druids, Wiccans, all the way to Christians. We live in a world that is ignorant. I don't meant that derogatorily, I mean uniformed, let me change the term; we live in a world uninformed about the ways we have learned to think. That we have just been sucked in by a culture that has taught us to think in certain ways and we have not taken the time to stop back and ask ourselves are those Christian ways of thinking.

So, Paul says this unknown god, I want to inform you about him. That's my goal.

My goal over the next several weeks is to simply see if we can't figure out who are the idols. What are the idols? I'm not talking about carved in stone and I hope you don't end of thinking, that I'm going to be talking about the typical thing often preachers talk about, your house, or your car, or your career. I want to talk about the way we think. That's where Paul goes. He goes to the way we think.

In fact he says in 2 Corinthians, chapter, ah well in 2 Corinthians I'll tell you where in a little bit when I remember. That we're going to take every thought captive to Christ. Not just every thought, every way of thinking is going to come captive to Christ. What we want to do is begin a process of naming things.

Do you know that there is power in naming? If you could put a name on it, you can begin to understand it and deal with it. In fact, here's now please, this is not a political statement.

Do not get lost in the politics. Please, do not get lost in the politics. It's just such a clear statement I felt like I had to use it. This comes from a website called, "The Game of the Name." One of the things that makes me despair of the Democratic Party is that its leaders don't understand why our own issues are always discussed on terms set by the Republicans. They simple do not grasp the power of naming. Those who name a problem define it, claim it; own it. Its because Republicans have been very good at naming issues that we're now talking bout the "Death-Tax" rather than the "Estate-Tax". Now don't get lost in the politics stay with me. The issue is naming. Can you put a name on it? Can you identify it clearly enough that you can then begin to deal with it?

Over the next several weeks I want to try to put names on things. Because we have ways of thought that are controlling the way we act. For example: We have by and large as a culture, please do not feel like if I say "we" that I'm necessarily looking at you. I am, but don't feel that way.

We bought into consumerism. I don't mean just buy stuff, what I mean by consumerism is this: We use things. We are users. We don't take into account the future. We don't take into account the consequences. Our role in life is to use stuff. And when we're done using it, throw it away. Move onto something else. It's often what destroys relationships with people because we learn to use people to our own advantage.

We're guilty of business. What I mean buy that is if I am busy, I have meaning. So as long as I stay "busy" then I am meaningful. I think we are guilty of affluence. Somebody coined this term, "affluenza" It's the disease that says, "How much do you need?" A little bit more.

I think that there are lots of those kinds of things that we need to try to name if we're going to be Christians in the way that we conduct our life. And I want us to come back and try to wrestle with how does God address that? Cause see I think it will get addressed. Did you notice it in Paul's statement? Verse number 29 and 30 particularly? When he gets right down to it or verses 30-31 particularly, he says there was a time that God overlooked ignorance but now-do you hear it? There was a time when God said alright I understand you may not know about all of the idols, you may not understand all that is going on in your world; but that time is over. Now he says I'm calling every person to repent. All men everywhere.

This is a warning. I'm just going to go ahead and say it now, so that you can feel free to leave. Or to not return. Because once you become informed, you become responsible. So, if you don't want know about the idols you're going to have to deal with, my suggestion is to take the summer off. Or attend two discipleship classes and avoid coming in here. Because I'm going to do my best to name the idols and once we've named them, and we talk about them; you're going to be responsible to deal with them. And the way that you deal with them according to this text is by repenting. That's the only alternative, turn around and walk the other way. Turn your back on it and claim a Christian way of thinking. Why? Because, God is going to hold us accountable to that according to verse 31. There's coming a day when we will be asked to give an account based on what? Based on the resurrection of Jesus. Because God raised his son from the dead, he has established that there is one who is going to hold us accountable for the way we think and therefore, the way we act.

This is no small matter. I want you to hear that. As much fun as I would like to have with the idea of American Idol; I want you to understand this is serious business. Because idolatry is serious business.

You know the term that is used most often for idolatry in the Old Testament? Do you know the metaphor that God uses constantly to talk about idolatrous people? The King James word for this is "Whoredom". "Prostitution" "Adultery" In polite society we simple call it, "unfaithfulness". God does not take unfaithfulness lightly. He calls, quite simply; for loyalty and allegiance. That's going to be the call that you hear every Sunday this summer. To turn your back on the idolatry of our world, to challenge the cultural values we are simply swimming in and to say I am going to think like a Christian and therefore act like a Christian whenever I know how to do that. Because I'm going to give myself in absolute loyalty to God.

Now I am not done. I'm coming back. I'm not finished. That's just the problem. I want to talk a little about the solution and how we're going to address those issues in these sermons.

But you know, before we move to that part of the sermon, we have already sung about the ultimate solution to this issue. "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus." And where, where of all places on Sunday morning can you proclaim your absolute allegiance. Oh, you can do it being here, that's true; and that's good. But the place that you ultimately claim your allegiance to Jesus is when you faithfully come to this table and you remind yourself that outside of the blood of Jesus Christ, I am absolutely hopeless.

I don't know what idols hold you, what I do know is this: God sent his son to free you from that and he calls you to come and celebrate at the table to be reminded that there is nothing in this world that can do a thing about what is going on around us except one person Jesus Christ. And he's already done it. And we're invited to come celebrate that. So we're going to share in the Lord's Supper and then I'm going to come back and talk a bit about how we're going to address these idols.

Father, thanks, thanks for your son, who ultimately destroyed any possibility there is any God but you. When you raised him form the dead, you proved who you are. We come to you because we have no place else to go, and we come today celebrating our freedom in Jesus Christ and joining together to proclaim our allegiance be coming to this table where we meet Jesus once again. We pray this in his name, we drink this in his name, we eat in his name; Amen.

2 Corinthians 10:5 by the way. Here's the problem, it's wrapped up in two identical verses in the book of Proverbs: "There is a right that seems right to a man, but the ways thereof are death". Proverbs 14:12;14:16;14:25. It's captured, I think in Jeremiah 17:9:"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it? "

The problem that we face is that we live in a culture in which there are so many things going on around us that we just simply stop noticing. Its like asking a fish to describe water. They don't know what it is, they're just in it. They know that's the environment in which they live, but they don't stop and think about it, they don't stop and ponder H2O:" I wonder if there's oxygen in it"; they just live in it. That's what we do. We grow up in culture, we grow up in our world, we grow up with the values around us, we're just; it's just us. And we see it and we hear it and we experience it in the movies and we hear it on the television, and in what we read, we hear it in our educational system, we just get it. And sometimes, someplace along the way somebody has to say, "Wait a minute, hold it for a second; is this Ok?"

I don't know who is going to do that if isn't the church. I don't know who is going to ask us to stop long enough to think about our world and to name some things if it's not us. So, I'm gong to ask you to do that. I'm going to do my dead level best and that's the best I have to offer. To help you identify the world that we live in and what it's trying to say to us, and I'm not sure I'm capable; I want you to know that right up front. I'm telling you that I think that this will be one of the most challenging things for me to try to do. Because I don't know if I'm any good at this. But I'm willing to join with you in trying to figure this thing out. To try to ask ourselves questions about what this world is like, because we are so easily fooled. You got to know this right up front. The idols are genuinely absolutely worthless. They will not do it.

Did you hear the Apostle Paul? These things that men created. And I've been in Athens, I've walked where he was when he was talking about it and there are literally idols everywhere. They are so prolific in Athens, that they actually use them to decorate subway stations. I mean they must have been available by the thousands in Paul's day. And Paul says they're not real. If your hands can make them, they're not real. You want to know about a real god, he says; look at the God who made the Heavens and the Earth. He doesn't live in temples made by hands, he doesn't need anything. He's the one who set the world in order, he is the one who put men where they belong, he is the one who does these things. The God who is really God doesn't need to be captured in a wooden box or a stone idol.

And yet, man has a pension for wanting to do that. That's what we like. Something that we can define. Something that we can look at. Something that we can touch. Something we can see. I think of all the texts, that has been most meaningful to me, this little brief section; to whom will you compare God? What image would you compare him to? As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fastens silver chains for it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for skilled craftsmen to set up an idol that will not topple. Does that sound like a God you want to place you life in? One that rots? Or that topples?

I looked out my window last week after that wind storm and this nice little tree that the city kindly put in the parking strip there in front of my house was lying in the middle of the street. I didn't think the wind was blowing that hard. Over it went.

Every idol topples. When you read your bulletin insert this week Brent put some stuff in there about that that is so good you're going to be just challenged by that thought. Every idol ultimately topples. Every one of them. And that's the thing that you and I have to figure out how to address. How do we identify the weakness of the idols that surround us? The thought processes.

Let me try to introduce to you this morning to something really simple: Ask questions. Just stop long enough to ask questions. I'm going to try to suggest some along the way but how about this one: Will this way of thinking, this idol if you will; this small letter god, "g" will this god sustain your life over the long haul? I know that it may give you a sense of purpose or meaning or fulfillment now, but will this thing sustain you over the long haul? If you have adopted a busy lifestyle because a busy lifestyle makes you feel like you're really meaningful and important, w ill you still feel that way when your business has driven everybody in your life that matters away from you because you didn't have time for them. In the long haul, will being busy really satisfy you?

How about this question: Can this god, can this idol, can this thought process sustain you through the hard times? This way of thinking that you've adopted to judge your whole life by, will it carry you when life goes south as they say? You spend your money trying to have just a little, spend your time trying have a little more stuff, a little more affluence.

Can I let you in on a little secret? You don't have to be Einstein to figure this out. You cannot buy health. Here's the question again: Will this idol, will this way of thinking, will this commitment that you make with your life, sustain you when life gets hard?

How about a question like this: Can this god give you real meaning and purpose in your life? Will what you do, really matter?

If you've chosen to play the blame game, which is one of America's favorite pastimes; if you've chosen to be the "victim" and to use that victimization as you excuse for your choices in life let me ask you a question: What happens when people stop going, "oh, too bad"? Will the god of blame sustain you when people stop feeling sorry for you?

Here I think is the ultimate question that you have to ask: Every thought process, every choice of thinking and that's this: What's the end result if I pursue this path long enough? If I choose this direction in my life, if I choose to govern my life by thinking this way; where am I ultimately going to end up? Can you separate yourself from the immediate long enough to look out here a little ways?

See, this just amazes me; and for those of you in the finance world if you're not amazed by this I'm going to stop coming to you for advice. You've heard about upside down mortgages? The fancy name "negative equity"? See if you name it right, it doesn't sound so bad. What it means is you can owe 125% of your houses' value in the hopes that property values keep going up. Do you know where that ultimately ends up for most people? The word is called, "Bankrupt".

Now here's what I'm saying: I'm not talking to you about finances, I'm talking to about asking bigger questions. If you choose to go this direction, with your life, where will you ultimately end up?

What I would love for us to be able to do, is to come back for the rest of the summer knowing that collectively together we're going to wrestle with the way we have been conditioned to think and we're going to ask questions about that thought process in such a way that we can make intelligent response, and that ultimately we will reach the conclusion that the only God that really is God, is GOD.

Was that profound enough for you? Because that's all we're really saying isn't it? That's all Paul said. He said you're interested in gods? Let me tell you about GOD. Because there is one who is ultimate over every other way of life and thinking. And the way we're going to do that is we're going to address some of the Proverbs, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. We're just going to see if GOD has said anything to us in the Proverbs that might make a difference in helping us govern our lives and so if you wanted to get a step up on what is going on you could start reading the book of Proverbs because that's where we're going to be. And if you wanted, you could get the brochure when its ready and you could know ahead of time which Proverbs particularly, we're going to look at. And you could have some time to kind of think about those. You could even take that list and you could see the idols we are going to cover and you could send me information so that I actually have something to say on Sunday morning.

For example, here's the first few verses of Proverbs. This is why we're going to Proverbs for our information in this series. Proverbs 1:1: "The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David; King of Israel. What are these Proverbs for? He says. Why write down wise sayings? Now you know and if you don't know, you will know; these are not promises, these are not guarantees, this is a different kind of literature in scripture; these are wise sayings. They are general statements of truth based on observation on the way GOD works in the world. Men can foul them up, but as a general rule, these are the things we should be thinking about.

So he says, the Proverbs verse 2 are for attaining wisdom and discipline. For understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and wise life, a prudent life. For doing what is right and just and fair. For giving wisdom to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young. Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance for understanding Proverbs, and parables and sayings, and riddles of the wise.

Verse 7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Why are we going to go to The Book of Proverbs to try to address American cultural issues? Because that's where GOD'S wisdom is housed. And we're going to do our best to absorb GOD'S wisdom and insight to make us wiser in the way that we live. And we're going to start and return repeatedly to this one: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, in all your ways acknowledge him. Some of you know this one already don't you? Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will set you on straight paths, he will guide your life.

Do you hear it? That's the commitment that I'm asking you to make with me. That we will today, collectively agree that we're going to do our best to acknowledge the Lord. To trust the Lord, to not lean on our own understanding, to not be absorbed, to be sucked into the world and its way of thinking but to literally trust in GOD'S wisdom, acknowledge GOD'S place, not lean on our understanding and assume that GOD will guide our paths and give us wisdom.

But that's a choice you make. That is your choice. You choose whether you're going to accept or reject the wisdom of GOD. You choose whether or not you are going to wake up to the world around you. I would not do this, I'm telling you the truth, I've never done it, I do know that it is true. You could put a frog in a kettle of water and boil him to death and he'll never try to get out as long as you start the water cool and slowly warm it up.

Do you realize that happens to us all? We're so absorbed in the water of our culture that as it changes, and becomes dangerous, we don't even notice until the next thing you know we're dead. I'm asking you to wake up to what we're swimming in. To identify it, name it, and respond to it like a Christian. And what that means, I hope; is turning so strongly to GOD that you hunger him more than you hunger anything else in life.

Cause that's it; that's what repentance is. That's what Paul called for. In the absence of ignorance, he says; in the informed world turn to him in repentance and claim him. Hunger for him.

So we invite you to hunger for him. Just to hunger for him, to long for him in your life.

[Transcribed by VW5]