Thursday, July 29, 2010

In the Service of Others

A few weeks ago I was watching ESPN’s special broadcast of Lebron James’ announcement of where he will play basketball next year. He became a free agent at the end of this season, which means his contract with Cleveland had expired affording him the opportunity to play basketball for any team that was interested in signing him.

The show in which he would announce his decision was aptly called “The Decision.” You may have seen some of it as it invaded just about every television channel at 9:00 p.m. I could spend the rest of this blog discussing our fixation as a society with professional athletes but that is a topic for another time.

What I wanted to discuss was the advice Lebron James received from his mother regarding his decision, which he referenced several times during the show. He said that when he asked his mom which team he should join, she said that he needs to do what makes Lebron happy.

On the surface this sounds like sage advice, after all who would advise one of their children to do something that would not make them happy? But I believe her response is indicative of the self-serving mindset that has permeated our American culture for decades now. The idea of sacrificing your wants and desires for someone else or the greater good of society almost seems anti-American, doesn’t it?

If you look throughout the corridors of history, you will find thousands of biographies of men and women who practiced the principle of doing what made them happy. You will also find within their lives bitterness, depression and a sense of never having enough. Many believed that money and the pursuit of fame would be the ultimate fulfillment in life only to discover it left them wanting and empty. Just listen to some of the wealthiest people of their day:

- "The care of $200 million is enough to kill everyone. There is no pleasure in it." - W.H. Vanderbilt

- "I am the most miserable man on earth." - John Jacob Astor

- "I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness." - John D. Rockefeller

- "Millionaries seldom smile." - Andrew Carnegie

- "I was happier doing a mechanic's job." - Henry Ford

When our Savior preached the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 many thought He was insane. The selfless principles he outlined that pictured the kingdom of God were too difficult for many to comprehend. It is easy to see why upon hearing this sermon, His listeners were shocked. Jesus begins each point by naming a group of people normally thought to be unblessed or unblessable and pronounces them blessed because of the presence and availability of the abundant life in God's kingdom to everyone, everywhere, regardless of status, circumstances, or condition.

In Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon’s book, Resident Aliens, the authors make an important point for consideration, “The Beatitudes are not a strategy for achieving a better society...they are an indication of life in the kingdom of produce a shock within our imaginations and to see life in a radical new way."

In other words, Jesus’ sermon was the antithesis of the culture 2,000 years ago. Not much has changed today. If anything, as our affluence has increased so has our reliance on humanism. Mrs. James statement to her son pinpoints the heart of a society that actually believes professional championship rings will bring a lifetime of happiness. How very sad. I was just reading the other day how the market has been flooded with New England Patriot championship rings from the early part of this decade when the team won three championships in four years. Apparently, the hard economic times has forced many players to sell their rings to pawn shops for ten percent of what the ring is actually worth.

Jesus is offering something much more valuable today than a championship ring or an executive promotion or a new house. He is offering Himself and within that offer comes the abundant life. For you see the abundant life that everyone is pursuing on Wall Street and within corporate America is a mirage. It offers nothing lasting, nothing of eternal value in this life or the next. The true abundant life exists within the life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is here at the cross of Calvary that you find what you have been looking for – unconditional love, forgiveness and self-worth. It is Jesus Christ who is the key to all that fulfills and truly satisfies. Much of what He said and taught underscores this marvelous truth. If you do not know Him, I pray you come to know the Savior today (Romans 10:9-10).

"God may thunder His commands from Mount Sinai and men may fear, yet remain at heart exactly as they were before. But let a man once see his God down in the arena as a Man--suffering, tempted, sweating, and agonized, finally dying a criminal's death--and he is a hard man indeed who is untouched." - J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small

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