I want to preach to you this morning about Damaris. I don't know if anybody here is named Damaris. I see one. Anybody else named Damaris? We have one member named Damaris. That is such a great Bible name. And Damaris believed. What a great statement.
Did you know that 18 years ago, two thirds of Seventh-day Adventist families had zero children in the house? And did you know, that last year, the year in which the last statistic was available, that three fourths of Seventh-day Adventist homes have zero children in them. That means that we’re getting gray and bald. We’re getting older as a denomination. We’re not alone. This is happening to all churches. Something is going on. The average age of the Seventh-day Adventist Christian is 51. The average age of the average American, the average American is 36. There's a big difference there. 15 years. Now of course we don't baptize babies here, so if you take, we do that by the time they’re eight or 10 years old, so if you factor that in we are still about eight years older than the average American, here in the Seventh-day Adventist church. We’re doing better than a lot of churches. A lot of the non-evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations are suffering much worse than we are. We're doing pretty good. And here in our own local church we’re doing fairly good. We have lots of young people including some that have been gone for some time. We're glad you're back home, and we appreciate that. But we need to do better.
And why are the young people leaving? Who is leaving? Well it’s young adults, basically. Kids grow up and then kind of go away, and why is that? Well, there are many, many reasons. First of all, the world is changing. And we are changing. Postmoderns don't think like pre-moderns. What makes sense to some of us makes no sense to others of us. For instance, thousands of postmodern young people, basically, are excited about saving endangered animals. But many of them are promoting abortion. It's like we think more of mother earth than we do of Father creator. I don't know. If we as a church try to hang on to the old methods of reaching people we’ll probably drift out of existence. We've got to change the methods. Not the beliefs. Not the doctrines. But the methods. And we need to make them more relevant to our young people and our children. We need to reach out because times are changing. We need to discover why they are leaving. Often times we don't understand why people think the way they do.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which we all get our electricity from, here in the Tennessee Valley was going to dam up a river and they needed to move some of the old-timers out of there and there was one family living in a log cabin that did not want to go. And so they said, “Well, I'll tell you what. We will, over here on this higher ground, which isn't far from where your cabin is, we will build you a nice new ranch style home with a big fireplace, because your cabin has a fireplace and you would like that and we’ll build it and we’ll just give it to you, and our bulldozers will take care of your old cabin for you.” And so they built the new house and they said, “Ok, you can move in.” And the family said, “We’re not moving.” And T. V. A., the best they could do, they could not get them to move, and so they sent a social worker down there and interviewed the folks and said, “Why don't you want to move?” And the old man said, “Do you see that fire burning in that fireplace over there? My grandpa lit that fire himself, and it's still burning. He lit that over 1 hundred years ago, and he never let it go out, for he had no matches and it was a long way to the neighbors and then my paw tended the fire until he died and now I'm tending to that same fire, and none of us will ever let that fire die. I ain't agoin’ to move away and let grandpa's fire go out.” So the T. V. A. thought, “Hmmm.” They went and got a huge cast-iron apple butter kettle and scooped up the fire, robustly burning. Loaded it into that big kettle and hauled it up the hill and put in this new fireplace, a big fireplace in the new house. And you know what happened? When the fire left the people left. They moved into the new house. They were proud to be there. Grandpa's fire didn't go out. The family moved and the bulldozers came and the water is there and now you go out on your boat and you don't see that old log cabin. As far as I know that family lived happily ever after. I hope they did.
But often times people don't want to accept things that we think they should, and our postmoderns maybe don't want what they see the church really is, and so when times change we need to change our methods of reaching out to people and convincing each successive generation or we will lose our fire. The fire of these young people will go out the doors of the church. And we need to reach them. And the church’ll get lukewarm if the fire goes out and the church will die out. And there won't be anything left but old cold black coals and an old cold church.
And Paul, he came to Mars Hill, he came to Greece and he met with a generation that was different than any generation he had ever been around before.
Look over here at our scripture for today in Acts, chapter 17, and I want to begin with verse 21. This sermon is based on these verses all the way through the end of the chapter. Verse 21 tells what these people did all day long. “All”, it says, and you want to be careful when you use the word ‘all’ or ‘never’. It says, “All of the Athenians and the new foreigners there who lived there, spent their time doing nothing”, now that's another word you want to be careful of using. ‘Nothing.’ It never happened. “Nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” That's what they were doing all day long. Paul left the Bereans. He went over to Athens and he saw these people, all they were doing all day was talking. These elite uppity ups. I guess they let their slaves or their wives do all the work. I don't know who did all the work. All the men did was talk all day long. And you know, that type of mentality, those lazy people, no work going on. That's what almost killed, did kill the Roman Empire. History is revealed by the type of shoes you wear. When things are on the up and increasing and gaining and growing strong, people are wearing boots. When a society goes down they’re wearing silk slippers.
The Athenians talked all day and it's said that big people, you know, talk about ideas, medium people talk about things and little people talk about other people. And if we don't work or walk our talk, we will fail as a church.
So Paul wanted to plant the truth there in Athens, but how would he reach this group for Jesus Christ? And you know, in the Seventh-day Adventist church, we are Christians. We love Jesus Christ. We believe in the full gospel here, and we want to reach others for Christ. Athens was famous because of the famous people that had lived there. Plato and Aristotle and Socrates. The town had one of the most famous universities of ancient times. And Paul didn't go there to sightsee. There was much to see. The Acropolis. Paul went there to win these people for Jesus Christ. And that's an admirable goal.
Verse 16. While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, he was troubled because he saw that the city was full of something. What was it full of? It was full of idols. How many idols do we have here in Collegedale? When you drive around our fair town do you see a lot of idols? It depends on your definition of what idols are. Paul went there, he saw the town was full of idols and what was his reaction? He was what? He was upset. He was disturbed by that. When you see your non-Christian neighbors, are you disturbed at the fact that people are lost? Does that bother you?
What did Paul do when he saw the city was full of idols? He met with them and reasoned with them. What did he not do? He did not get a bomb together and go over and bomb the Acropolis. He didn't get another bomb together and destroy the Parthenon. He didn't go out and deface the idols at night when nobody was looking, and chop their heads off or whatever. He didn't do any of those things. And I believe that true Christians are peaceful. Don't you? We are not terrorists. We don't go out and destroy. We should never do that. We don't take life. We go out to save life. Paul did not go out and create trouble. He didn't sign a petition. He didn't write letters to the editors against idols. Jesus’ people are not terrorists. We can either lash out or reach out. Right? You can attack or you can attract. And the best way is not to attack people but to attract people to what we have. To Jesus Christ. Paul preached the truth.
These idol worshipers. Who were they? They were obviously polytheistic. They believed in many deities. They had about 30 thousand idols there in their one town. And that's a lot of idols and Paul went around and looked at all these. And here in America we are extremely religious as well. According to George Barna, we have, in America, approximately 3 hundred thousand different places where religion is worshiped or practiced. More than any other country our size.
We’re similar, though, to the Athenians. We are filled with religion, but we are not filled with the true God. We’re not filled with Jesus as we should be. Many religions, in fact, in America, are just as bad as those idols. You think about Waco. You think about some of these weird people in Jonestown or Hale-Bopp, comet worshipers. Kooks. People that don't believe in Jesus and His deity. Jesus is God. Just like the Father. There are lost people that are dying in Chattanooga, because they don't know Jesus Christ. Our postmodern kids are leaving the pews because they see no hope. But there is hope in Jesus Christ. There really is.
The modern age is over. I keep saying the ‘postmoderns’. Let me just explain that. The modern age is over. We’re into the postmodern age now. The modern age began back in the mid 17 hundreds. People thought that science and medicine and industry and steam engines would bring in an era of where we would just wouldn't have any more problems. But people have found out the hard way that these things do not create a utopia. We have more problems than ever. In fact, we are told that all of our modern gadgets are contributing to global warming. To terror. To bombs. To AIDS. To crime. All these things are out of control. All of those things aren’t saving us. Our modern inventions and Thomas Edison didn't help a whole lot because we're just as bad as we ever were.
People are becoming, young people especially, are becoming pessimistic. They turn to heathen gods. They turn to New Age theories. To yoga. To the mosques that are springing up all over America. Young people are going there. Mysticism. Spiritualism. They are turning to astrology. You know, people think, “Well, the future is hopeless. So I might as well just enjoy life that I have today, because this life is it. I’ll eat, drink and be merry and give in marriage until the day when it's all over, because what I'm experiencing is real. Therefore I want to go out and have fun, because that's all there is to life. Death is final. Life is the only treasure there is, so I will go and enjoy it and logic would tell them that I, just whatever I'm experiencing is all there is.” And that's probably the reason that Pentecostalism is growing so rapidly right now because people want to experience the here and now.
Well look at what Paul did. He adapted to his quandary with the numerous intellectuals and philosophers there in Athens. In verse 18 it says that he met with the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were these people that were atheistic, sanguine partygoers. They said, “Well wherever it's the most fun, that's were I'm going to be.” And the Stoics were kind of stoic. They were polytheistic. They believed in pantheism. They worshipped creation. These were the tree hugging environmentalists that we see today. And God is not a tree. God created trees. Paul taught people to worship the Creator and not His creation. And creationists and evolutionists are still at each other's throat arguing about where the throat came from in the first place.
Acts 17, look at verse 22. “Paul stood before the meeting of the Areopagus”, the Greek name for Mars Hill. In verse 22 Paul continues. “People of Athens I can see that you are very religious in all things.” Was he criticizing them here? When you go to win people, the first thing you need to do is criticize them, you think? You won’t win very many converts by beating them over the head with a hammer. Don't do that. Don't criticize others. Don't criticize their religion. Baptists are great people. Seventh-day Adventists are great people. We’re Christians. Let's build on the relationship that we have. Don't criticize their religion or your own religion. Don't publicize the faults of your church or their church. Learn from Paul. Paul complimented them. “I see you are very religious.” That's a compliment and so they invited him to speak at their next occasion.
We are not criticizers of the brethren The devil is the criticizer of the brethren. We are supposed to be working for Jesus Christ and not the devil. We need to be building bridges, and not obstacles.
One time there were two brothers who lived on adjoining farms, and they came into conflict. It was the first serious conflict in over 40 years of farming. They shared their machinery. They shared labor. They did everything together, but they fell out of sorts, and it got worse and worse. The misunderstanding grew into a major difference and finally they just exploded in an exchange of words and arguments. They agreed to not speak with each other anymore. And so they were silent. And this went on for a long time. One morning there was a knock at the older brother's door and he opened the door and there stood a carpenter with his tools and he said, “I'm looking for part-time work. Do you have anything around here that needs fixing or anything that I could do?” And he said, “Weell, no… well yes there is something you could do. I have a job. You see across the creek over there, my neighbor, who happens to be my brother. We don't get along and the other day he took his bulldozer and cut a place in the levee and now there’s a creek going down right between our properties. He's trying to destroy us completely. I’ll tell you what you could do. It would help a lot. I would like for you to build a fence between my place and his place 8 feet high so that I can't even, I won't even have to look over there at the pain.” And the carpenter said, “I think I know what you want. You want a fence 8 feet high. Okay. Well, give me some nails, and some boards and a post hole digger, and I'll do you a good job.”
The older brother had to go to town for supplies so he helped the carpenter get all the materials and everything ready and he went for the day. Well the carpenter rolled up his sleeves and went to work with his hammer and his nails and sawing and measuring, and about sunset, when the farmer came back, the carpenter had just finished the job. And the farmer's eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. He had built a bridge. The bridge was stretching from one side up and over to the other side, and it had nice rails on it. A beautiful bridge. Well done. A fine piece of handiwork.
And the farmer looked and there on the other end of the bridge stood his younger brother with his hand outstretched. And he walked up and his younger brother said, “You know, you're quite a fellow to build this bridge. After all that I've done and I've said to you.” And the two brothers stood at each end of the bridge and slowly walked and embraced each other, and shook each other’s hand. Apologized. They turned to see the carpenter and he took his toolbox and they said, “Oh stay. Don’t leave. We have a lot of work that you can do.” The carpenter said, “Well, I've got plenty more bridges to build. I'd love to stay, but I better go on.”
What did Paul do in Athens? He built a bridge. What can you do with your children? Your postmodern children. You’ve got to build a bridge. The relationship is more valuable than anything else. Build a bridge to your young people. Build a bridge to your neighbors.
Look at Acts 17, verse 23. Paul is speaking. He said, “As I was going through your city I saw the objects that you worship and I found an altar that had these words written on it. ‘To the unknown God’”. To the God who is not known. “You worship a God that you don't know and this is the God that I'm going to tell you about.” The unknown God. Do we worship an unknown God? Do you know your God? Do you know Jesus? Is Jesus your God? You say, “Well, yes.” Well do you know Him? Maybe you're worshiping an unknown God, that's unknown by you. Jesus knows your heart, but do you know His heart?
I was talking with one of my relatives not long ago and she referred to what she called ‘the higher power’. She doesn't go to church anymore. Who is that? Who is the higher part? It's God, isn't it? He’s the only high power that we have. We need to worship God. Our Creator. And we can't do anything without God anyway. He is the higher power that does everything. We could do nothing.
How many of you, now don't raise your hand, but how many of you like to make things from scratch? May I submit to you that nobody can make something from scratch. If you want to make something from scratch then start with a universe, because everybody that makes anything starts with something, and where did that something come from? It came from our Creator. We believe in creation here in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, because the Bible talks about creation. We came from the hand of God. We were created in seven literal days. God is our Creator. Nobody makes anything from scratch. Only God starts from scratch, and I think sometimes when He starts with me He starts with scratch, because I am nothing. God is the only Savior. Jesus is the only Savior there is.
Do all roads lead to heaven? What do you think? They don't. This is what the Athenians thought. They had 30 thousand different choices that you could choose from. One is just as good as the other. Friends, let me tell you, when you approach so-called St. Peter at the gate, when you get up there, do you think if you have a little statue of Buddha that that will get you in. Does every religion, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Moslems and all these other religions. They’re good people. I'm not criticizing the people but is that the way to be saved? Look at what Peter said in Acts 4, verse 12. He said, “Salvation is found in no one else. There is no other name under heaven given by men by which we must be saved.” Only Jesus Christ.
You can’t save yourself. You can’t even put your own name. “Don Gettys is my savior.” If that's the case then you’re lost. You are not your own savior. There's nothing you could do. He's done it all. He is our Savior. Jesus was adamant about that Himself. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father except by Me.” There's only one road that leads to heaven, and that’s Jesus Christ. You can’t, it’s got to be Jesus. You can't deviate off of that. There's no room to wiggle. None at all.
Paul got acquainted with his audience. He read their books. He quotes from their authors here. He knew his people. He walked around and saw the idols, the monument to the unknown God. And then he tried to direct people, you can read his sermon. Our scripture reading this morning. Most of his sermon, beautiful sermon uplifting Jesus, uplifting the father God, uplifting our Creator. Idols can’t save. Only God can save.
We don't have any idols, of course, here in Collegedale. But do you know what an idol is? An idol is anything that you value more than you value God. Now let me unpack that just a little bit. An idol is anything you value more than you value God or Jesus. Let's suppose that you, that somebody tempted you for 10 dollars to sell your soul. Would you do it? Would you do it for a million dollars? Would you do it for one million trillion dollars. You wouldn't do it, would you? I hope you wouldn't. But, when you choose to go to Six Flags and skip your devotions and skip church, what are you doing? Maybe I'm unpacking this too much here. You know that some idols are materialism. Fun is an idol. When you would rather go do a fun thing than worship God, where is your heart? Money. None of those things will save you from sin. Jesus is the only Savior we have and Paul was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Acts 17, verse 34. Did he have thousands of converts here in Athens? What happened? Verse 34 says, “A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” Praise the Lord for Dionysius. Praise the Lord for Damaris. Many people procrastinated. “Well we’ll hear you later,” and you're not going to see them in heaven. When you get to heaven I think you will see Damaris. You will see Dionysus, I believe, because they were believers. And so our real question today is, “Are you a believer?” That should be your question, that you should answer. “I am a believer in Jesus Christ.”
There was a small community that bought a fire truck. They bought a brand-new fire truck and the city council met and said, “What shall we do with the old fire truck?” And somebody said, “Well, let's keep it for responding to false alarms.” “Let's keep that old fire truck for the false alarms.” How do you know it is false? Not until you get there usually. Let’s wait and accept Jesus at a more convenient time. Would that work? That doesn't work. Now is the day of salvation. You never know until it's too late.
I urge you to believe in Jesus Christ. Believe in Him with all your heart. Choose Jesus. Don't look at some other person and say, “Well that's the reason that I'm not going to be faithful is because of that person.” Otherwise, that person will keep you out of heaven. You choose Jesus yourself and don't let anybody keep you out of heaven.
Let’s sing our closing hymn and I want you to sing this like you believe it because the name of this hymn is ‘I Know in Whom I Have Believed’. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. Doesn't mean you're going to be perfect, but you know Jesus Christ and you believe in Him. Let’s sing our closing hymn.
Dear Father in heaven. We know that Jesus is coming soon and we know that our time is limited. May we, like Damaris, believe and accept Jesus as our Savior and be in love with Him forevermore. Bless us. Bless this church. Bless our young people, and may we all be in Your kingdom together, soon, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #165, Look You Saints! the Sight is Glorious Scripture: Acts 17:24-28 Hymn of Response: #511, I Know Whom I Have Believed
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 9/8/09