When an expert tells us that the human brain is self-referential, that pretty much explains why we are always thinking about ourselves. This self-preoccupation has shaped the age in which we are living, an age of radical individualism where the importance of one’s own personal rights and needs supersede those of others.
The Bible tells us why we are this way. Something terrible happened in heaven; rival forces pitted themselves against God, and they were literally thrown out of heaven. This only triggered a greater vengeance against God. Satan’s strategy was to destroy the relationship God had made with a man and a woman–which He did.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘ You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “ “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5
This Genesis account is referred to as the Fall of Man. The cause of that fall was a lie. “You will be like God.” Believing this, the human being lost its relationship with God. Consequently–We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6
Self-referential, as the brain expert said, is just another way of saying that by our very nature we tend to revert back to ourselves, not by choice, but by our state of being. The official seal of the Harvard Corporation was originally Christo et Ecclesiae which translated means Christ and Church or Christ Church. Later the seal was changed to Veritas–truth. The absolute will of God has been replaced by truth as a human idea. It is my opinion that because of this growing shift man’s relationship to God has been gradually replaced by the changing demands of a society or a culture.
In her book Is Reality Secular?, Mary Poplin explains why this shift has been taking place. “After the Enlightenment, and particularly in the Twentieth Century, we humans finally matured and no longer needed to socially construct a God or gods or any supernatural entities to understand our lives or guide our behaviors. We have now evolved enough to go it on our own, armed only with human reason and scientific evidence to steer the course of progress and break away from limiting rules and regulations.”
There is a certain belligerency, both hostle and aggressive in our nature, when it comes to our opinion of God. David Berlinski writes in his book, The Devil’s Delusion that science has made it known that we are nothing more than vehicles for a bunch of “selfish genes.” But the truth is as Richard Lewontin writes, “Science cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” As I have written in the book, Beyond Time, the major world views of scientific materialism, humanism, and pantheism deny the existence of a transcendent God.
Thank God for Christmas. Hosts of Sunday School teachers in large and small churches keep telling children about Jesus who alone is able to transform our natures into new ones. Our children spend six to seven hours five days a week being indoctrinated into a socialization process that denies the existence of God. But God will never allow His own to be consumed by this world. Besides the Sunday School teachers, it takes the courage of parents, pastors, uncles and aunts, grandmas and grandpas, friends and neighbors to keep telling them about Jesus.
Permit me to tell you a story that reveals this sterling courage. The story is taken from the book, Queen: The Story of an American Family by Alex Haley and David Stevens. Queen was Haley’s grandmother.
“Queen had been abused by a supposed friend, a white man, who treated her cruelly, and beat her continually, knowing that she was black even though she looked white. She ran away with no place to go. With her body bleeding as she wrapped her coat around herself as if to cover up the shame, she just started to aimlessly walk in the direction of Huntersville without any sense of direction other than the elusive North. The wounds were excruciating, and she thought she could go on no further. She heard the sound of a choir singing a hymn, and saw a little church in the distance, hastily put together with a small steeple with a wooden cross. She thought it was a black church, though she was not sure. But she had to get out of the scorching sun that was torturing her wounds. She walked in. The preacher had honed his sermons out in the cotton fields and had developed a voice that rang to the open skies.
Our troubles in this world can last a day, a year or a lifetime. But they cannot last forever. Forever is eternal, and our mortal misery is a moment in the blinking of God’s eye. And when that moment we call life is done, we will be taken up in the bosom of His sweet glory, and our troubles will be banished forever.”
Can you imagine the courage it takes today to live in a world that is bent on destroying us and not fighting back? He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7
From whence comes the courage to say that this life is but a moment in the eyes of God and what is up ahead will last forever? Imagine, standing on the distant shore and hearing the voice of the preacher echoing these words.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
The word anointed literally means baptism, the time when we receive the first-fruits of the Spirit and are freed from ourselves to live in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul explains it this way.
“So it is written The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Paul is saying that a physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. Soul means far more than a physical body. Soul is a given. A tummy button tells us we were once connected to a mother. Our soul bears the imprint of an eternal God. Satan severed that connection. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, restored that connection through the gift of rebirth in baptism. Christ becomes present in our lives through faith.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 1 Peter 1:23
When we eat the bread and drink the wine, Christ is present and the power of the sweet glory of God is revealed to us.
“I own them for my people and children; and, therefore, what kindness or cruelty you exercise toward them, I take it as done to myself. I have created them for my glory, and therefore I will glorify my power, and goodness, and faithfulness in delivering them.” Isaiah 43:5
Epiphany is an “aha,” a leap of faith; it is a letting go and letting God’s sweet love live in us. Moment by moment we learn of this sweet love as it is revealed to us in the person of Jesus. And we learn of this Jesus in God’s Word. In those brief years He lived among us, He left us with this promise. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:25-26
Dr. Alvin Rogness was a dear friend and mentor to me. His son had been abroad studying for four years and when returning was only three miles from home when he was killed in a car accident. Shortly after the tragedy, while preaching a sermon, Dr. Rogness collapsed in the pulpit. In the days of recovery from his grief, he found strength in singing the great hymns of the church. One of those hymns was John Newton’s, “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.”
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer’s ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole And calms the troubled breast; Tis manna to the hungry soul, And to the weary, rest.
Till then I would Thy love proclaim With every fleeting breath, And may the music of Thy name Refresh my soul in death.