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Living Lives that Matter
01/06/2008
Scripture: Daniel 1: 1-21
Track 1 of 11 in the Living Lives That Leave People Speechless series
Running time: 26 minutes, 03 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.


"Living Lives that Matter" Daniel 1:1-21 January 6, 2008

When I come to worship and we sing, I find it hard to imagine that anybody wouldn't want to be a disciple of Jesus and be a worshipper of God. I find it a so engaging and so incredibly powerful moment in my life from week to week just to be able to experience that, and I'm really confused when people don't want that. But the truth of the matter is, they don't. Here is the troubling thing. The vast majority of people are not like us. Even at its very best all the polls that have been taken in the last ten years or so have said about 40 percent of all people in the United States go to church on any given Sunday. With some regularity at least. That sounds like a pretty good number, 4 out of 10, and then you look around in your own community like ours and you begin to wonder, well, if that's true, where are they?

There is a factor that comes into play, and that is that pollsters know that an awful lot of people answer questions the way they think you want them to answer, and so there are those that would argue that the statistic is really closer to 20 percent of people in the United States actually go on a regular basis. In any case, it's a troubling kind of thought when you see something that has happened over the last three or four generations. This is the part that is really troubling to me because if you are 62 years old and older in here, chances are you and everybody in your age bracket are pretty much the same, and 65 percent of you go to church with some regularity. If you happen to be in an age category just under that, say 46 to 61, the odds are that about 35 percent, 3 out of 10, of you would go to church on any given Sunday with some regularity. But when you back up one more generation and you come down to those people who are between that 30 to 41 age group, that number drops to only 15 percent; and when you come to the generation 16 to 29 years old, the number has fallen to 4 percent. Somehow in a matter of three generations we have moved from 65 percent of people engaged in some kind of worship, some kind of God honoring life to the place that only 4 out of a hundred choose that for their lifestyle.

And I'm asking myself the question, what happened? Where in the world did we go wrong? What did we do? And I don't mean that to sound condemning. I'm only trying to raise the question. If 6 out of 10 people went to church in that generation and they tried, which we assume they did, to pass that down to the next generation and to the next, how did we end up with only 4 out of a hundred? The information is discouraging, and it's going to form the backdrop against the things that we say for the next several weeks. So you'll hear more like it.

Now, there is a category of people out here in the world that are known as born again. It's a category that simply kind of communicates that they've had some kind of a faith experience with Jesus and they consider themselves to be Christians. There is a narrower group within that that are known as evangelicals. They have a much tighter knit feeling, belief system about God. The bible is inspired. They would hold it to be true. They would say that you should make your decisions based on biblical truths. They would uphold Jesus as the answer to men's problems. Typically conservative. That, by the way, is us. Our church would fall in that category.

The interesting thing is if you take that group of 16 to 29 year olds of which only 4 percent go to church, if you take that age group 16 to 29 and you take all of those unchurched 16 to 29 year olds and you ask them, they will tell you that they have, at least 86 percent of them have met a born again person. In fact, 57 percent would say that they have met an evangelical christian. It's not like they don't know who we are.

The problem isn't that they are not aware of us. In fact, that may be the problem. They are. Because if you ask that same group of unchurched 16 to 29 year olds what their impression is of an evangelical christian, just slightly over half would tell you that they have a negative impression. Another 46 percent would tell you that they have a neutral impression. So if you are really quick with your math, that means that when a 16 to 29 year old unchurched person meets an evangelical person, somebody like us, 3 percent of them have a positive impression.

And since I know I leave a positive impression, I'm wondering who the other 2 are and where the rest of you have been. Somehow in the course of the christian life we just haven't been able to keep it up, to be able to live it in such a way that people look at it and say, that's a positive. I want that. It's a struggling kind of thing when you ask what happened to this influence. Kinnaman who writes for the Barna Group would say it this way: We are better known for what we are against than what we are. Actually we come out looking pretty good in the polls. When you ask questions about how many of you smoke or swear, the odds are evangelicals are coming out in pretty good shape there on things that really matter.

When a 16 to 29 year old meets a christian, there are six impressions, six words that they use for us, and they are automatic. You don't get a chance to prove yourself before they decide this. This is what they have already concluded about us. They would say, for example, that we are hypocritical. We say one thing but we do something else. They would say that the only thing that we are interested in is making them into one of us, a church goer. They would look at us, and their very first impression would be that we are anti-homosexual. They would look at us and they would say that we are sheltered and naive. We don't know what's going on in the real world. They would tell us that we are too political and ultimately that we are judgmental, that we look down on people. They are not as good as we are because they are not religious like us. And if you're like me, your automatic response to that is to get defensive. That's not true. We're not like that.

Okay. Kenneman asks this question, and this is the question I can't get away from. What if they are right? To step back, get away from your defensiveness for just a minute and ask the question, what if they are right? What if that is who we are? Would that explain why we've gone from 65 percent of people to 4 percent of people going to church, because we haven't lived up to the expectation? I find myself wanting to know what in the world has prevented, has caused this lack of influence, and I want to ask the question, what in the world is the solution?

I want to point you to a text this morning to kick off our entire year's worth of sermons. First Peter Chapter 2, Verses 11 and 12. I just want to use this to set the stage for what we are going to try to do over the next several weeks and months to try to address the question of how in the world we can live lives that really matter, live lives that make a difference, live lives that when they look at us people are literally left speechless because they don't know what to think. This text in First Peter Chapter 2 so closely parallels what Peter would have heard Jesus say in the sermon on the mount when he said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world and that we don't hide our light and when the light shines it draws people to Jesus.

So Peter says in the context of a church living in a culture that is radically against the Christian faith, he says to those people that day, Verse 11, "My friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day that he visits us." What we are really talking about, what Peter, I think, is driving us to is moving beyond mediocrity. It's moving us beyond going halfway in our faith. The image that you see on the screen is the kind of bridge that goes nowhere. It's like we start something but we never get there. We never decide to put in the last step.

I got to thinking about this yesterday. If you weren't here, you don't know. We had a great big wedding that was an awful lot of fun. And I just got to imagine what it would be like for Becca to have come halfway down the aisle and then said, that's as far as I'm coming. You want me, come get me. No. You don't come halfway. You are either in this thing or you're not. You are either buying into it or you are not. And that's what Peter is saying. You are either going to be a disciple of men and you're going to live your life in such a way that it looks like a disciple's life or you're not. And there isn't a halfway point where you stop and get off and say, okay, that's good enough. And the call and the challenge of the text, the call and challenge of multiple texts that we are going to look at, even this week in your study guide, is to say, live a life that is worthy of the gospel. Live your life so that it matters, because we live in a world that is attractive and will do its best to pull us into it and make us just like it.

Peter's opening line is we live as aliens and strangers. Next fall we are going to take a period of time in our preaching just to talk about that one image alone. What does it mean to be an alien in the world, to live as a stranger, to not get seduced by the culture, to live in it as if you are just like it. I remember the first trip I took to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I was invited to go and work with the Portuguese speaking people, took a group of college students. I was told that the man that we would be working with spoke broken English and we would be just fine. I walked up to him. He said hello. I waited for the rest of the sentence. That was it. I learned later that he also knew thank you and praise Jesus, but that was it.

And so we didn't have any choice but to find somebody that spoke English and Portuguese, and so we turned to the kids because kids typically learn pretty quickly and they were bilingual and they were pretty good translators. The problem was none of them wanted to translate for us because none of them wanted to speak Portuguese. They had become Americans and they wanted to look like Americans and sound like Americans and they did not want anybody to know that they were Portuguese. That's the lure of the world that draws us in and sucks us in and says, don't look different.

And Peter says, you're an alien in a world that is trying to war against yourself and suck you in. And at the same time he says, I'm going to ask you to live, calling you to live a life that is attractive, the kind of life that when you live it is so powerful that when people see it they are drawn to you. But more important than that, they are prepared when the Lord comes to welcome him and not be frightened by him. They will be ready when he comes to visit, he says. Now, the fascinating thing is, and we don't have to time to pursue this this morning, but just to set it in its context, he immediately begins to set out in the rest of the book of First Peter the kinds of places where we live those lives, and they stand interestingly enough almost directly opposite of what those 16 to year olds say about us.

The very first thing he says is that you're supposed to pay attention to the government and be a good citizen. That's the very next paragraph in First Peter starting in the next verse. And so he calls us to live in the world and to be involved in the world, but to live like a Christian, to be engaged as much as possible but not to be too engaged. And those 16 to 29 year olds look at us and say, you are way too political. Now, why in the world would they think something like that? Maybe they watched the Iowa caucus. Maybe they will turn on the television this week and they will watch as various people parade their spirituality and their religiosity in New Hampshire to try to capture the evangelical block because they know that we like to vote that way. But rather than really raising up faith issues and demonstrating what it means to be christian in the midst of that, we will simply use it to get a vote.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm grateful that every Sunday I can look around this room and I can pick out the faces of those who are directly involved in our systems, even here in this town. You are involved and you are active and you make a difference. You're there, and it matters. But it matters because your faith is being seen in action, not because your faith is trying to produce a particular result.

The next thing he says, slaves, masters. We don't have a lot of slaves and masters today, but we all do work somewhere. We live in some relationship where we are subordinate to somebody else, and he says we ought to be the very best employer, team mate, employee that we could possibly be. Christians ought to be the most productive, most honest people in the work place or the school. That's who we are. And, again, I tell you, I just delight in being able to stand up on Sunday morning and to recognize that we have people out there making a difference in the world. And yet this generation of 16 to 29 would tell you that they don't see that kind of thing. What they see are hypocrites. What they see are people who claim to go to church on Sunday morning and yet they take extra time at the break just like everybody else. They steal just as many pencils. They lie just as often about their work ethics. And what they are asking is, does it matter to you that you're really a disciple, that if you claim to go to church, that if you claim to be a christian you will live like it.

This group right here, they sit here every Sunday, and every week you know who they watch most closely? The rest of you. To decide whether or not what you said today is going to carry over to the way you behave. When you go to a party or when you are in a business meeting or when you go on a trip or when you do the things that you do in your work, do you demonstrate the integrity of the faith?

He moves immediately out of Chapter 2 in First Peter to Chapter 3, and the very next thing he talks about is marriage. You know, the frustrating thing, the heart breaking thing is that for the last decade every poll taken has shown that Christian marriages don't last any longer than non-christian marriages. There are just as many divorces. And, of course, we got defensive, and we went to Barna and said, you just can't put that particular statistic out there without asking some other questions, because the assumption is that those divorce statistics apply to those who became Christians after their divorce and so the divorce was already a factor. So Barna did. He went and he has done the research. And what he discovered was 90 percent of those Christians who divorced divorced after they became Christians. So it's made very little difference. The 16 to 29 year old comes to a wedding and hears us say until death do us part, and they sit back and wonder are we going to keep that commitment or not. Do we really mean it.

The next paragraph in Peter is about suffering. He says, we live out this attractive christian life in the context of suffering. It can be the suffering of persecution like it was in First Peter. It can be the suffering of just life circumstances that we go through, and what they want to know, what this non-christian unchurched generation wants to know is, do you grieve differently than I do? Do you suffer differently than I do? Do you take it differently than I do? Because if you don't, they are going to slap hypocrite all over you. And Peter says, we live our lives in such a way that they are so incredibly attractive that we draw people to Christ.

So here is the challenge. Are you willing to live a life that matters? Because that's the call of scripture, and that's the call that we are going to make over the next several months. Are you willing to step up and live a life that matters? Will you answer the challenge to be the person who lives their life in such a way that people look at you and say, that is Christian. And we are going to address that. The first thing we are going to do is we are going to take a look at that through the book of Daniel, and we are going to take a look at lives like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel and others where God's sovereignty comes down in the form of human beings lives among people and demonstrates no matter what it costs me I will stand for God, and if things don't turn out the way I think they are supposed to turn out, I will be faithful anyway.

That's the challenge -- lives that leave people literally speechless. They look at us and they have no idea how to respond, because they can't imagine anybody living that way. From there we are going to move right into answering questions, life questions, not simple questions, but the kinds of questions that people are asking out there everyday about the church, about Christ, about God, about the bible, about suffering, and just see if there aren't some answers that we can give to people that will help them get over the hump of believing that Christianity is naive and sheltered..

From there we are going to move into the book of Philippians, and we are going to talk about what it means to really focus on Christ and to live our life in such a way that everything focuses on him, and we are going to invite you to make that decision with us, to move in that direction, to live in that way, to be involved in things like our Inside/Out planning where we strategically go out and try to help you serve people and invest in the lives of people so that when people discover that there are Christians doing this they are going to step back and say, that isn't what I thought Christians did. And we are going to prove to them it is what Christians do.

See, I'm convinced that if the poll was taken on Madison Park Christian Church, not the world at large, we would have better statistics than the rest of the church world because I know what you're like. But I also know we can do better, and I know we can go out and make a difference and we can live our lives on a weekly basis. And on those Wednesday nights we can invest our lives in the lives of people, and they will sit up and take notice and say, if that's church, I want that. Why? Well, if Verse 11 is correct, because it matters to your soul. This kind of living has something to do with your eternal salvation, but more importantly according to Verse 12 because it has something to do with other people's salvation. Often their salvation hinges on what they see in us.

In the Revolutionary War a number of native American tribes sided with the British. The Seneca Indians in northern New York, for example. They were represented by an orator who happened to speak English. His name became Red Jacket. That was because he had so many British coats that they gave him for being loyal. After the war was over in , there was a missionary society out of Boston, Massachusetts, that made a request that they be allowed to go out and preach the gospel and try to win converts from the Seneca people. And so they appealed to Red Jacket for permission. This is his speech. It's about 12 or 13 paragraphs long. It's brilliant. I'll read just the next to the last paragraph.

"Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people at this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while. We'll see the effect of your preaching on them. If we find that it does them good, if it makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, then we will consider letting you come and speak to us."

We are going to issue you a challenge this morning, a challenge to rise to the call of scripture, to live your life in such a way that it matters. I'm not expecting you to be perfect, not asking you to say today that you will never make a mistake. We are asking you today to make a commitment that you will live your life in such a way, you will attempt to live your life in such a way that it matters. The first thing we are going to do is invite you to read a text of scripture and then to make a commitment statement that says, today I commit myself to this journey of living a life that really makes a difference. I want you to feel perfectly free not to read. I do not want this to be something you are coerced to do. Don't read it if you don't want to do this. If you are not ready to do this, don't say it. But I am going to invite those of you who are ready to get started on this journey or to go a bit further in this journey to join me in reading this morning.

To Him who is able to keep us from falling, to present us before his glorious riches without fault and with great joy, to the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, before all ages now and forever more, amen. We will seek to live our lives as if they mattered. We will strive to make a difference for Christ in the way that we think, speak, and act.