Posts Tagged ‘David Brooks’

Sermon 05-05-19: “The Most Important Healing”

May 8, 2019

I’m happy to report that I will once again be preaching regularly! For the next seven Sundays I’ll be preaching at the Lavonia United Methodist Church in Lavonia, Georgia. After that, in late June, I will be appointed senior pastor at Toccoa First UMC. I’ll be posting sermons here and on my podcast each week.

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Sermon Text: Luke 5:17-26

The following is a manuscript I prepared from my outline. It will differ slightly from the sermon I delivered, which you can listen to above.

Last week I listened to a podcast from the Gospel Coalition, an evangelical Christian ministry. It featured an interview with New York Times columnist and political writer David Brooks. Brooks was raised in a secular Jewish family. Throughout most of his adult life he would have identified as either an atheist or an agnostic at best. But recently something changed, and in this interview he described his conversion to Christianity.

He said he knew he had a profound spiritual problem 15 or 20 years ago… when his dreams came true; when he satisfied what he believed was his heart’s deepest desire; when he wrote his first New York Times-bestselling book. Isn’t this what all aspiring authors dream of? To land a book on top of the bestseller list! Brooks thought, “If only I could write and publish a #1 bestseller, my problems would be solved. My life would change dramatically! I could have lasting happiness and joy. If only...” Yet he said that when his publisher called to give him the good news that he had a bestseller, he felt “completely empty.” It didn’t make him happy. It didn’t change his life for the better. It didn’t fulfill him—even though it meant greater fame, more career opportunities—not to mention more money.

He needed something more… something else… Someone else to satisfy him.

And I believe the paralyzed man and his friends in today’s scripture aren’t so different from David Brooks. They undoubtedly had an “if only” condition as well. I’m sure that before he encountered Jesus, the paralytic thought something like this: “If only I could walk again, then I would be truly happy, then my life would be everything I want it to be, then my problems would be solved.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 05-10-15: “Who Is Our Judge?”

May 26, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court,” said the apostle Paul. How many of us could say the same thing? We usually think it’s a very large thing to be judged by others. And we often make ourselves miserable because of what others think of us. This sermon is all about the sin of pride and how our “puffed up” egos can be healed.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-13

To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3 file.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

worcesters

Worcester’s National League team once played before a hometown crowd of six people. Unsurprisingly, their franchise license was sold the next year to Philadelphia, where the team that eventually became the Phillies was started.

 

A couple of weeks ago, in Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles set a new major league record, which had previously stood for 123 years. In 1882, there was a National League team from Worcester, Massachusetts, called the Worcester Ruby Legs—I’m not making this up. And the Ruby Legs played another National League team from Troy, New York, called the Trojans. On September 28, 1882, these two National League teams played in Massachusetts before a crowd of six fans. Read the rest of this entry »

Another worthy David Brooks column, this time about suffering

April 10, 2014

Last fall, as I was shoulder-deep in Tim Keller’s profoundly good book about suffering and providence, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, I might have mistaken this column from New York Times‘s David Brooks for an excerpt from it. Brooks begins:

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. That’s normal. When people plan for the future, they often talk about all the good times and good experiences they hope to have. We live in a culture awash in talk about happiness. In one three-month period last year, more than 1,000 books were released on Amazon on that subject.

But notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

“People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.” Exactly right! This experience of feeling formed is better and deeper than mere happiness, as most of us know, even if we wouldn’t ordinarily choose it. We would choose formation by some easier path than suffering, but God knows suffering is what we usually get. Jesus speaks to this paradoxical truth when he talks about “finding our life by losing it,” denying ourselves, and choosing the narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Jesus promises and delivers us an abundant life, it just doesn’t come the way we want or expect.

As C.S. Lewis put it in probably the best book about Christianity I’ve read:

I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects. I see in loved and revered historical figures, such as Johnson and Cowper, traits which might scarcely have been tolerable if the men had been happier. If the world is indeed a ‘vale of soul making’ it seems on the whole to be doing its work.[†]

But as Lewis and Brooks both know, the same potentially soul-making action of suffering can, for some people, be soul-crushing. As Brooks writes,

Now, of course, it should be said that there is nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering. Just as failure is sometimes just failure (and not your path to becoming the next Steve Jobs) suffering is sometimes just destructive, to be exited as quickly as possible.

What determines whether it’s one or the other? I agree with Viktor Frankl, whom Brooks also refers to. Frankl said that all suffering—and by all, this Auschwitz survivor means all—can potentially be an opportunity for spiritual growth: it only depends on our response.

How does suffering do its soul-making work? Brooks offers this insight:

First, suffering drags you deeper into yourself. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote that people who endure suffering are taken beneath the routines of life and find they are not who they believed themselves to be. The agony involved in, say, composing a great piece of music or the grief of having lost a loved one smashes through what they thought was the bottom floor of their personality, revealing an area below, and then it smashes through that floor revealing another area.

Then, suffering gives people a more accurate sense of their own limitations, what they can control and cannot control. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, they are forced to confront the fact they can’t determine what goes on there. Try as they might, they just can’t tell themselves to stop feeling pain, or to stop missing the one who has died or gone. And even when tranquillity begins to come back, or in those moments when grief eases, it is not clear where the relief comes from. The healing process, too, feels as though it’s part of some natural or divine process beyond individual control.

Who can’t relate to this?

In my recent experience as a Christian, a renewed awareness of my own sinfulness and God’s judgment—which might seem either depressing or terrifying to some—had the effect of thrusting me “down into these deeper zones” within myself—at which point I found a gracious God waiting for me.

Isn’t it interesting that Brooks describes sufferers as coming to grips with their own lack of control? That’s what I found, too: through sinful pride, I tried to wrest control of my life from God, and the results were disastrous. A part of repenting and turning back to God means surrendering control. Like the Prodigal Son, we surrender our rights as a son or daughter—”I am no longer worthy to be called your son”—only to receive them back again: “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” Repentance is a kind of death and rebirth.

Brooks refers to a “divine process beyond individual control,” a “larger providence,” and a “call” that comes from suffering. That’s right: the reason suffering is, or can be, good for us is because God is working in the midst of it, providentially.

Brooks concludes by saying, “The suffering involved in their tasks becomes a fearful gift and very different than that equal and other gift, happiness, conventionally defined.”

Imagine: David Brooks just told a secular audience in our present age that suffering is a gift fully equal to happiness. Could he have said anything deeper or more countercultural than that?

Regardless, it has the ring of gospel truth.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 108-9.

“Finding serious things to tie yourself down to”

June 1, 2011

David Brooks has been listening with displeasure to this year’s crop of college commencement addresses. After complaining—in grumpy old man mode—about how poorly served by parents and institutions this generation of college graduates has been to cope with adulthood, he writes some really interesting things:

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Most people don’t “find themselves first” and then pursue their dreams. Rather, they are “called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.” If we aim directly at something called happiness we’ll likely miss. True fulfillment is a byproduct of a life pursuing something other our own interests. “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”

I commend the whole piece to you. The only thing I would add—not surprisingly—is the role of God’s providence and grace in the process of self-formation. (But this isn’t Guideposts, after all.)

We Christians are often afraid to follow a savior who teaches us, paradoxically, that if we want to find our life we must lose it, and that dying to oneself is the way of finding oneself. But I appreciate that David Brooks, at least, has the intuition, along with some anecdotal evidence, that this is true.