Sermon delivered January 10, 2004 by Dr. Gordon Beitz, President Of Southern Adventist University

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

The Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome

Introduction by Pastor Don Gettys: "We're very pleased this morning to have with us Dr. Gordon Beitz, who is the president of Southern Adventist University. Why would we invite him to come to our church and speak? Well, we think very highly of Southern. We appreciate their ministry, their Christ-likeness, Christ centeredness. Doctor Beitz has been the Pastor of the Collegedale Church, the president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of SDA, and for the last several years, the president of Southern Adventist University. He's my neighbor, he's a great preacher. That's why he was invited to be here. May God bless you, Gordon."

It's nice to be here. It's not exactly a long trip for me, and so that's an advantage also. I appreciate having Don Gettys as a neighbor. I notice him most every morning, rain, shine, cole or wind, walking by our house on his daily exercise routine. And the is an important piece of our life of health and well-ness, I believe.

I'd like to tell you a little bit about Southern Adventist University. I usually do this when I travel to various churches. Basically it's when I'm speaking in the Southern Union and give a little bit of a report. Now, you probably don't think you need a report because you live so close and probably know more than I do in some ways about the University. But I would like to sahre just a few things about Southern.

Albert Myer has said, "Education is a conversation between the older and the younger generations on what is important. And that's kind of our mission at Southern Adventist University. Sharing with the younger generation the things that we believe are important. We have adopted a kind of a theme of passing the mantle, which of course grows out of that particular thought that we are passing the mantle from the older generation to the younger generation.

Just a few statistics: Our first-time freshman enrollment from 1991 to 2003 peaked in the year, 2000. You can see we've had quite a drop-off on freshman enrollment from the year 2000 to the present. That is causing us a little bit of concern and we are working hard on our recruitment for our freshman class next year. But the total growth has continued to go up, even though we have not had a high increase in freshman enrollment. And of course that increase, that total increase up to this year, 2,250n not counting graduate students, is because of transfer students. We have many more transfer students that are coming to the University as compared to just freshmen. And so, the net result is that we are, this year we have the highest enrolment that we have had in our history.

We ask students why they choose Southern Adventist University. Why would they come here of they come from other parts of the United States, or even of the world, and their top choice is because it it's Seventh-day Adventist and it's Christian. 90% of the student's first responses relate to that part. So that's the part that we seek to emphasize.

Again, education in basic mathematics can happen, I suppose, anywhere. And Christian education at Southern Adventist University is not simply saying, "two angels plus two angels equals three angels." I mean, four angels. My math is really great this morning. It's not just adding angels to numbers, it is integrating in the lifestyle of the living, learning community a Christian spiritual orientation. It is having teachers that model and live those values. More Christian values are communicated outside of the classroom than in the classroom. It is when teacher are meeting with students on an informal basis that most of that transmission of values occurs. And, studies indicate that even more important than the teachers and the faculty at the institution are the students and their impact on each other. It is the peer group that has the most influence on an eighteen or nineteen year-old when they come to Southern Adventist University. And for that reason we seek to attract, and I think we do attract a peer group that is a positive spiritual Christian influence on the other students that are there.

Now, that's not to say that academics aren't important. That's not to say that some of the other things are not important. But certainly the prime reason that people generally come relates to our very focused Seventh-day Adventist Christian orientation.

We are in the process over many years of developing a master plan of the campus. You can see where near where Wright Hall is located to orient you to the campus over on the far right side you can see that circle which is a area where we have recently put in Southern Village Apartment complexes. Those are primarily for married students, but because of the increase of enrollment we have had to put student in those apartments. Next year it is our hope to put those single students in the new dormitory wing that is presently under construction. If you've driven by I'm sur you have seen that. And that will have that appearance we are in th process of raising funds for a well-ness center that will go around the gymnasium. The Committee of One Hundred is committed to this project. And our advancement office is working hard to raise the funds to construct this facility. Will transform the main center of the campus as directly across University Drive instead of seeing the gymnasium, you would basicall see this building you see on the screen.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches the whole person, and teaches well-ness. And I think we have been neglect historically at Southern in not having adequate facilities, not only for that teaching. And there will be places for cooking schools and other kinds of activities, but also for the kinds of activity that your pastor does every morning.

As you enter campus, past what we lovingly call the Duck Pond, sometimes the Dead Duck Pond, depending on how fast you drive. There will be a welcome center that we hope to break ground on this year. And that is going to be a conference center, a welcome center and a motel complex for visitors. And it will look like that as you come onto campus with the nice appearance to the campus.

Again, all of these physical things are simply to help us provide for our students in a environment context that will enable them, and strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ.

I have a sermon title this morning: The Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome. Rodney Dangerfield has made a comedy career out of jokes about getting no respect. And you remember one of his was, "I tell you when I was a kid, all I knew was rejection. My yoyo never came back to me." He's made a career out of this sense of not being appreciated. He said, "When I was a kid, I go no respect. I mean, one time I was lost on the beach and the cop was helping me look for my parents and said, 'Mr. Policeman, do you think we'll ever find them?' And the policeman said, 'I don't know kid. There's so many places to hide.'"

All of us seek respect. We want a good reputation. It's important to us to have a proper appearance. I mean, you come here to church this morning. You know, we generally follow the cultural appropriateness in terms of our dress, in terms of our behavior. We want to be liked, we want to be respected. Many times we pay attention to appearances in that regard.

Abraham Lincoln has said, "Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it. The tree is the real thing." And if you put it another way: Reputation is what people think of you. Your character is what you actually are.

And, what about us? What are we concerned about? When people are looking, what are we concerned about? The character? The reputation? The tree or the shadow? For instance, If you knew absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one would ever find out if you cheated on a test, would you cheat? If you knew absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt that no one would ever find out, would you cheat on your wife? Would you do it? If you knew for sure that you could transfer ten million dollars to your checking account byby pushing a button on a computer and no one would ever know, would you do that? Is it the appearances? Is it the external? Or is it the character? If you knew, and you were driving on Interstate 75 down to Atlanta, there was very little traffic and you knew there wasn't any policeman within a hundred miles and you had this new fancy car that go a hundred miles an hour, would you drive a hundred miles an hour on the freeway? That one is a little tougher, isn' it?

Why do we behave the way we do? Character is not a fancy coat that we put on for show. Character is not who are when people are looking. Character is who we are in the dark when no one is looking. That's what character really is.

I read some disturbing statistics the other day. The Josephine Institute of Ethics for Josephson published a 2002 report card and asked a question about high school students. 12,00 high school students were surveyed and ask how many had cheated on an exam at least once in the past year. You can see that in the ten year from 1992 to 2002 the increase from 61%1 to 74%. And they were also asked if they stole something from a store in the past twelve months. And again, these 12,000 high school students it went from 31% to 38%. 38% had stolen from a store in the past eight months.

Well, you might say these were high school students. These are not religious students. Students in religious schools were less likely to shoplift. But there was still 35% compared with 39%. But before you feel too smug about those of us who come from a religious spiritual orientation, notice this. Schools in private religious schools are more likely to cheat on exams: 79% to 72%. They are more likely to lie to their teachers: 86% to 81%.. They are more likely to lie to a parent: 95% to 91%.

I suppose that may be to expectations, high expectations, the driving feel like they need to be perfect. And so they have this tendency to "fake it." Moral character, core values, ethical behavior doesn't seem to correlate with religious beliefs. You can attend the true church and not be truthful. You can study ethics in ethics class and not be ethical. You can attend a religious university and not be spiritual. You can have the right doctrine and be a bad neighbor. As Walker Piercey said, "You can get all A's and flunk life."

Charley Brown was walking along the street, rewinding his kite string in following his string to his downed kite. As he goes along he is waxing expert to his friend, Lucy, about kite- flying. He says, "In kite flying the ratio of weight to sail area is very important. This ratio is known as sail loading and it's measured in ounces per square foot. For example, a three foot kite with a sail area of four and a half square feet should weigh two or three ounces." Lucy observes, "You know a lot about kites, don't you Charley Brown." He says, "Yes, I think I do." By this time the string has led to the mouth of a storm drain where the string disappears. In the last frame, Lucy asks him, "Why is your kite in the sewer?"

There are a lot of experts in religious knowledge whose lives are in the sewer. David's moral underpinnings failed him. His character didn't stand up as he took Bathsheba and killed her husband. And one of the consequences of David's moral failure was the rebellion of Absalom. Absalom, the son of the king, a good-looking guy, a hulk a perfect specimen of a man, and the Bible says, "In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom." From the top of his head to the sole of his feet there was no blemish in him. His hair was described. Whenever he cut the hair of his head he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him. He would weigh it and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard. That's five pounds of hair. And there's a lot of people here that would appreciate that, isn't there.

But, good looks doesn't give you character or ethical values. Absalom had it all. He had it all. In a world preoccupied with image, it's too easy to worry about reputation and not worry about character. It's easy to worry about the shadow: how we appear, and not really the tree. Like perfume, success is to be sniffed and not taken internally.

Building a reputation is a public relations project. Building Character requires focus on values. Absalom's good looks went to his head. In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and fifty men to run ahead of him. In the coarse of time Absalom hired a P.R. firm to promote his good looks.

Mohamed Ali was in his prime when he was about to take off in an airplane and the stewardess reminded him to fasten his seat-belt. He came back very brashly, "Supermen don't need no seat-belts." The stewardess quickly replied, "Supermen don't need no airplane, either." Ali fastened his seat-belt.

With fifty men running ahead of him, do you think Absalom felt he got respect? Do you tink he felt satisfaction? He got fifty people to run ahead of him an say, "He is really a good guy." He had a P.R. firm promoting his cause.

But true character doesn't stand on the street corner to be seen of men. Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm; they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves. Absalom was involved in this endless struggle to somehow feel important and he... I don't want to psychoanalyze him, but probably because his relationship with his father, not being accepted in his presence because of the thing he that had done; killing his step brother. But he didn't get respect form his dad and so he was going to get it any way he could. And maybe it was just the only way he thought he could get respect was to be king.

I've wondered how you can keep a balanced sense of personal value as President of the United States. Everybody fawning over you over you, doing everything for you. Some of you may wonder what it's like to be president of Southern Adventist University. Well, everyone is not fawning over me, I'll tell yo that. But I will have to admit to some strange feelings some times. The other day I was going to a doctor's office to pick up something. I wasn't going to see the doctor, I didn't have to see the nurse, I didn't have to have a shot, I didn't have to have my blood drawn, nothing. I just was going to get something and then I was going to leave. And I was in a hurry. I had a long list of things to do. The office was fairly empty. I came in and she asked me to sign in. "I don't need to sign in. I just need to pick this thing up." "Sign in." So, okay, I signed in and sat down. The receptionist seemed not to be interested in me. She was nonchalant, doing her own thing, nobody else was around. I sat there in the office fuming to myself a little bit I'll have to admit. I'm a busy man. "Don't you know who I am? Why aren't you paying more attention to me?" How easy it is for our pride to get in our way and distort our view of life.

Some months ago I came to the Echo-fest of the gymnasium. Huge crowds of people there. It was full and so I couldn't get in. "Don't you know who I am? I'm president of this place." "Sorry, it's full."

There are two types of people in the world. There are those who say, when they come into a room, "Here I am." And there are those who say, "Ah, there you are." There are those who focus on themselves, and there are those who focus on others. Absalom focused on himself. And you don't have to be Absalom, you don't have to be good-looking, you don't have to be President of the United States of president of the university to think too much of yourself and to not understand the difference between character and external value.

We all need to have a sense of value but not because of our position, not because of our looks, not because of how rich we are, or not because of how smart we are. We develop character, we receive unconditional love when we understand and are accepted by Jesus. And we don't then need to prove ourselves to anybody.

And so in Christ, we feed others so that they can reach their goal, rather than feeding on others so we can reach our goal. In Christ, I'm not called to be somebody; I'm called to serve someone. In Christ, I'm not emptiness to be filled with things that will give me respect, the shadow things of life like money, beauty, brains or position. In Christ I'm fulness to be emptied in service to others. I've been saved by grace; I'm empowered to give that grace to others. I don't treat others as they deserve because I have not been treated as I deserve. I extend God's grace to others, not by repeating Bible verses, but by being graceful to other people. The only way to communicate God's grace to the world is by living gracefully. It's not what we say, it's how we live and what we do that communicates God's unconditional acceptance.

And when we've experienced that as Absalom apparently did not, we are freed from the secular societal focus on those external things that people tend to focus on. And we are freed simply to be who we are and to serve each other, children of God, nothing to prove, no advertizing agency to shore up our reputation, we live by character rather than by shadow.

Once upon a time in Fenton Forest, Freddy the Fox was walking near the top of Lookout Hill on Oak Hole Lane. It was late in the afternoon and the sun cast its light along the crest of the hill. Freddy came to a place in the lane where the evening sun cast its light clearly on him. He stopped for a moment as he looked around and noticed a very large fox on the hill next to him. It was so real it made him jump. But when he jumped he realized it was his shadow. A very large shadow of Freddy was being cast on the side of the hill by the late evening sun. As he gazed at the shadow, he thought to himself, "I am really quite an impressive fox. I am strong and powerful. Why, just look at me." An he made his fur stand up while he growled a fierce growl. The shadow of his teeth looked huge and he scared himself a bit. He couldn't help but notice his large muscular legs and the growl sounded scary as it echoed across Crashing Creek. He thought to himself, 'I don't get all the respect I deserve in Fenton Forest." After that nearly every day when there were not too many clouds in the sky yo could find Freddy there on Oak Hole Lane looking at a huge image of himself that he cast along the ridge in the evening light. 'It truly was awesome,' Freddy would think to himself.

Freddy's friends began to notice a change come over him. He had been rather kind to most of the other Fenton Forest folk, but now he started bullying them around. He went to Scamper's nut hut and demanded that he be served before anybody else. He started bossing Randy Racoon around, and many of the small folks in the forest became afraid of him.

One day, in the late evening as he was imagining how wonderful he was, and how he was getting some respect in Fenton Forest, he looked down the road where he usually stood to observe his shadow and saw Gruff the Bear eating from the newly ripened blueberry patch. Gruff was sitting right in the path, right where Freddy enjoyed his view of his shadow on the side of the mountain and so Freddy said, "Out of my way, Gruff! I need to stand right about there where you are."

"Huh?" replied a confused Gruff.

"I said, 'move it buster,' you're in my way!"

Gruff, with his paws stained blue from berries and mouth watering for more, paused only for a moment before continuing to eat, ignoring Freddy.

"You're in my way," shouted Freddy, noticing the long shadow he cast an listening to the echo of his voice bounce from across the creek. "You'll be sorry if you don't move."

Gruff paused again. Looking at Freddy, who was now very close to him, lifting his blueberry-stained paw he cuffed Freddy across his side, not hard so as to hurt him. And not with claws to scratch him but, hard enough to send Freddy flying through the air across the path into some bushes on the other side. Gruff turned slowly and picked more blueberries.

Freddy lay still, draped on the top of a bush for him to catch his breath, which had been knocked out of him. As he finally caught his breath, Randy Racoon, who had been watching it all came by and sad to Freddy with a glint in his eye, "You should have seen the shadow of the flying fox. It was awesome." Freddy had no breath to argue with him. Slowly he crawled off the bush and started toward his den. He looked back once more at the shadow of himself against the side of the hill and wise old owl perched nearby said, "Respect doesn't come from a shadow he cast but from the character he had."

Hymn of Praise: #27, Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-11
Hymn of Response: #322, Nothing Between

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