Tom Brokaw recently wrote a book about America in the 30's and 40's. He called it "The Greatest Generation"--and with good reason. There is much to admire in these people who kept America going during the difficult years of the Great Depression and then who, quite literally, saved the world from totalitarianism.
Let me tell you, no one will ever call my generation "The Greatest Generation." We are not. We are among the most immoral and selfish people who ever walked the face of the earth. We have squandered the great legacy of past American generations and left a political and social mess for those who will follow us. We like to call ourselves "Baby Boomers," but that's certainly not the best name for us. Journalists once referred to us far more accurately. They called us "The Me Generation," and that is, in general, just what we are: a generation of people that care about themselves and almost only about themselves. Psychologists and philosophers have a term for such people: solipsistic. Solipsistic comes from a root word meaning "self," and a solipsistic person is one who is so self-absorbed that the only thing that truly matters to them--and ultimately the only thing that's even real to them--is themselves.
Now such people are not at all easy to live with for any great length of time. They can be, and frequently are, very charming for a while--until they get whatever it is they want from you. But if charm doesn't work, they turn tyrannical and domineering.
I had a student once who had no patience with such people, and didn't mind at all putting them in their place. One of her favorite phrases was, "Who died and made you God?"--a phrase well worth remembering whenever we're tempted to by selfish and domineering.
Now how did so many people in my generation become so solipsistic? Basically, they succumbed to a very old temptation, a temptation almost as old as human race.
Adam and Even were placed in the garden of Eden. They had every good thing imaginable, and they were given completer freedom. But they were told to avoid one thing. They could eat of every tree in the garden except one. But if they ate of that one tree, they would surely die. The serpent then tempted Eve. He told her, "You will not surely die; you will be as gods knowing good and evil."
There are two temptations here. The first one is obvious. You'll be like gods. You'll be mighty important. You'll be the center of everything.
The other temptation is a bit more subtle: you will know good and evil. The Hebrew word for "know" can be translated many ways. Usually it means "to know" or "to understand." But here it means to decide for oneself. "To know good and evil" means to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil. And this is what Eve did. God had said that it was wrong to eat from the tree. But Eve saw that the tree was good for fruit, pleasant to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise--and so she ate. And her husband ate too.
You see, they decided that God was wrong, and that they could jolly well make up their own minds about whether or not to eat from the tree.
But God wasn't wrong. To eat from that tree was death. From this point on, Adam and Eve were spiritually dead. No longer was there within them the spirit of life, the spirit that comes from God, the spirit that had, up to this point, guided their lives. And all that was left was a little voice that said, "me, me, me, me...."
That little"me, me, me" voice is one of the most terrible things in the world. It is the voice of sin, that little voice that, unfortunately, Adam and Eve passed down to each one of their descendants. And if we are not extraordinarily careful, that little "me, me, me, me" grows at an incredible rate. Me, me, me, ME, ME, ME, ME!, ME!!, ME!!!
Most generations and most societies have been terribly afraid of letting that voice get out of hand. They pass laws to stop us from trampling on others. They use social pressure to humilate those who would treat others badly. They have philosophies and religions that remind them constantly that pride is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins, and to reinforce the ideas that to allow that "me, me, me" voice to have its way is the worst thing one could possibly do.
But my generation is different. My generation has said that this "me, me, me" voice is perfectly fine, and the only thing wrong with it is that, maybe, it's just not loud enough. And so every institution in our society has been re-engineered to amplify the "me, me, me" voice. The media encourage our consumerism and self-absorption. In the last forty years, we've gone from, "Ask not what your country can do for you," to "Ask only what your country can do for you." Our schools are more concerned with enhancing self-esteem that with building character. And our churches?
American churches have, for the most part, gone right along and not just the liberal churches (where maybe you'd expect it), but Bible-believing, evangelical churches. Churches everywhere these days seem to have as a primary goal making people feel good about themselves. What do you hear in church these days? "God loves you the way you are." "I know I'm somebody 'cause God didn't make no junk." "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." "You can't love others until you love yourself." "God wants you to have a Cadillac."
Now there is more than a little truth to these ideas (except maybe for the idea that God wants you to have a Cadillac), but the scriptures on God's love have been twisted in such a way that our religion ends up centering, not on God, but on ourselves, and we get addicted to these "feel good" messages.
Maybe some of you wanted one of those kinds of messages tonight. Maybe your just here for your religious self-esteem fix.
Well your going to have to find yourself another supplier, because I'm not going to give you a bunch of stuff to make you feel good about yourself, and certainly nothing to encourage you to listen to that little voice that says, "me, me, me" all the time. Two reasons. One, it wouldn't do you any good. Oh, sure, you'd feel good for a little bit. But when the fix wore off, you'd feel even worse than before. The other reason I won't give one of those kinds of messages is that I am convinced that listening to that "me, me, me" voice is the surest way to Hell, the surest way to unhappiness.
It is the path of Satan himself. Once he ws called Lucifer, "the light bearer." He was apparently one of God's chief angels. But he decided to say "ME," he decided he would be like God. Knowing full well what would happen, he chose the path that cost him heavn and will leave him eternally in misery. Why? Because, in Milton's words, he preferred reigning in Hell to serving in Heaven. He prefered having his own way in the most wretched of conditions to doing things God's way in the most glorious of conditions.
And this is the path we follow whenever we try to make ourselves into gods, when we maker ourselves instead of God the center of our lives, when we ignore God's standards and make our own standards of right and wrong.
See, our society badly misunderstands God and the Scriptures he has given us. We think of God as some sort of kill-joy, and his law as a recipe for misery.
But it's not! It's the recipe for happiness. Notice what Moses says about the reason for God's laws (Deuteronomy 30:16-17):
"I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it."--"
The laws are there so we can live, so we can be happy.
And before us there's a choice: obedience and happiness and life or disobedience a and misery and death.
"Choose life!" pleads Moses.
But we don't. God says it's wrong to lie: but we say God is wrong. God says covetousness is wrong, but we say God is wrong, God says adultery is wrong, but we say God is wrong.
No. God isn't wrong. Those things are poison. Those things are death. And to give in to that voice that says, "me, me, me" is death of the worst kind. It is the opposite of what Christians should be doing. But many of us are so influenced by that "me" voice, so used to having it amplified for us, that we have done a terrible thing. We have confused that "me" voice with God, and we have made it into God.
We do something completely wrong, and justify it because an inner voice assured us it was ok. We say that "inner voice" is the voice of God when it's really only the "me" voice.
Now how do you tell the difference? It's easy. First of all, the real voice of God never contradicts scripture. You want to know if that inner voice is from God? See if what it says agrees with the scripture.
And there is another way to tell the difference. The
"me" voice says self first. The God voice says others first.
The Apostle Paul said, "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory, but, in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves." But then he adds something really important:
"Let this mind be in you which also was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient, even unto death."
And here's the answer to the question: "who died and made you God?"
The Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus died to make you the sons of God, he died to bring you into fellowship with God, he died to make you truly like God.
Jesus died to kill that voice within you that says "me, me, me" and give you a diffent voice, the voice of the Holy Spirit, God's voice, the voice that says "love, love, love, love..."
The scripture says, "To as many as obeyed him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." And not only that, Jesus promised us that we would become one with each other, one with him, and one with God himself.
Jesus had every right to say "me, me, me." He was the Son of God, after all. But instead he humbled himself...and he has told us that we, too, ought to take up our crosses and follow him.
And here's the choice before you. You see, every one of you is going to be like God. But you are going to be like God in one of two very different ways. You might be like God is Satan's sense, deciding right and wrong for yourself and making yourself the center of all things. Or you might be like God in Jesus' sense, humbling oneself and putting others first.
Now I guarantee that if you listen to that voice of love, you'll have trouble. When you truly love others, it looks like weakness to the world, and it simply invites the selfish to take advantage of you. And you are going to lose the things that this generation esteems most. But you'll get in return something of far more value.
The apostle Paul again:
"But what things were gain to me, those I count loss for
sake of Jesus Christ. Yeah, doubtless I count all things but loss
for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I
have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung that I
know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his
being made conformable unto his death."
My generation thinks such stuff foolishness--yours does too: at least for now. But what would happen if starting right here with IVCF, each one of us quit listening to that "me, me, me" voice, and started listening to the voice that says "love, love, love, love"?
Well, we know what would happen. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know thay ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another." And if your generation started listening to that voice, the voice that says "love, love, love, love..."
Well, if you can do that, it will be you, even more than the depression-era folks who truly deserve the title "The Greatest Generation."