David Jeremiah - The Age of Anything Goes
On May the 8th in 2011, Tony Bennett walked across the stage of the Jacob Javits Center to sing a couple of ballads, an open program for a famous New York City charity. The crowd before him was glittering, the room was filled with New York's brightest celebrities, and Bennett's timeless voice thrilled the house, everyone marveling at the 85-year-old crooner's enduring ability to charm an audience. But later in the evening, it was Tony Bennett himself who was charmed, as he listened to a singer exactly 60 years his junior. He was swept off his feet by the clarion voice of Lady Gaga. He later confessed to getting goosebumps listening to the power and clarity of her songs, and he became an instant fan.
Meeting her backstage, Bennett regaled her with stories of his favorite songwriter, Cole Porter. And impulsively, he asked her if she would collaborate with him on a recording project. And when the album "Cheek to Cheek" was released in 2014, the opening song was Cole Porter's "Anything Goes". It was an apt choice. I mean, "Anything Goes" is a bouncy, toe-tapping number. You can't help but smile as you hum the melody. But its words, written back in 1934, celebrated the moral free fall of the American 20th century.
Ironically, anything goes is a philosophy that ruined Cole Porter's own life. If you read his whole story, you discover that the famous composer grew up on an Indiana farm. His mother went to church, but her young son wasn't impressed. He used to say, "I never felt religion was serious to her. She only went to church to show off her hats". He wrote his first Broadway show tune in 1915, and went on to provide crooners like Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra dozens of hits like "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Night and Day," "Just One of Those Things," "Don't Fence Me In," and "I Get a Kick Out of You".
His fans didn't realize that his love songs were written for his boyfriends, that his marriage was a sham, or that his earnings financed an endless series of anything goes parties. In 1964, Cole Porter was wheeled into a California hospital for the last time. The nurse studied the patient, and perhaps wondered how anyone so famous could look so sad. His secretary lamented that her boss never found the strength that came from faith in God. "Without faith, one is like a stained-glass window in the dark," she said. The world is darker now than ever, and our culture resembles a stained-glass window through which no light is shining.
We're living in a world where anything goes, and almost nothing satisfies. The Bible expresses this in an analogy to an earlier time. In Matthew 24:37, Jesus said this, "As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be". Those words take us back to Genesis chapter 6 and verse 5, which is a description of the way it was in the days of Noah. Listen carefully to these words, "Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually".
I remember reading that verse one day, and underlining all the key words, "every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". Perhaps in America, we have not yet sunk to the lows of Noah's day, but our moral compass seems no longer to have a true north. We're spinning around crazily, looking for direction. We don't know where to go because there is no foundation of truth still standing in so many places in this nation. Let me give you a few illustrations of why we seem to be heading back to Noah.
Let's talk for a moment about what's going on in our minds in this nation, the depravity of our minds. In January of 2016, the Internet's largest online pornography site released its annual statistics. On just this 1 website in just 1 year, 2015, consumers watched 4,392,486,580 hours of pornography. By converting these hours into years, it means that people on our planet collectively spent more than 500,000 years watching porn just on this 1 site, just in this 1 year. In Noah's day, remember, "Every intent of every thought was only evil continually". And now, we have the technology to take the most lurid fantasies of the human mind, and project them onto a screen a little child can hold in her hand.
The depravity of our minds, what is happening in our mental culture today? And what about marriage? In the case of Obergfell vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 vote, took it upon themselves to redefine marriage. I put quotations around "redefine" because no human agency can ever do that because God himself defined marriage in Genesis chapter 2, in the garden of Eden. Before human governments were established, he originated the ordinance of marriage. Listen to the words of our Savior from the New Testament, from Mark chapter 10, "From the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one".
In other words, God ordained marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. That's God's covenant of marriage. And who do we think we are, justices, or congressmen, or political pundits that we can mess with God, and say, "God, we don't like your definition of marriage, so we're going to change it, and thus we have done it"? So, the whole concept of marriage is in free fall right now because of what's happening in our country.
Let me speak to you for a moment what's going on in the military. You may wonder why I would even bring that up, but then you stop and think about the fact that I live in San Diego. And San Diego's one of the great military towns of all the world. I want to tell you the military, if you talk to these men and women, they're very frightened about what's happening today.
As I was working on this message, I read about a prisoner of war missing in action display at the Veterans Administration Clinic in Akron, Ohio. Included among the displayed items was a Bible, which has historically been a part of the military. I've read many accounts of POWs, and I know from their testimony how even though they may have entered into the service away from God, it was the Bible that they read while they were serving our country that brought them back to faith, and that sustained them through very difficult times.
Yet, the VA removed the Bible because the secularists protested. The space on the display table is empty, a silent witness to the intolerance of those determined to rid us of the Scripture. Bible-believing members of our armed forces face new restrictions, and our military chaplains are on the front lines of intense politically correct pressure. Literally, they're being squeezed. Perhaps the most glaring example of depravity in medicine is what is called the abortion industry. Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, 58 million babies have been legally murdered. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, the rate of US abortions since 1975 has been consistently over 1 million per year.
Never could I ever have dreamed when I started in the ministry that I would be dealing with issues like we're dealing with today. I couldn't possibly have dreamed it. And there are some reasons why this has happened. Let me give you two lines of thought, first of all from history. The historical explanation of what's happened to us as a nation dates back to the 18th century Enlightenment. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Western world, for all of its darkness and depravity, at least had an understanding of objective truth. I mean, the existence of God was granted. And that provided a basis for belief in absolute values of right and wrong.
The Reformation of the 1500s set that truth on fire. But hard on the heels of the Reformation, the secular thinking of the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, coming from France like a force-field across Europe, hit the New World. And many of the Enlightenment thinkers couldn't totally shake off the existence of God. They just couldn't do it, they tried, but they dispatched him, instead of getting rid of him, to a place of insignificance by promoting a religion of deism. And the word "deism" is an interesting word. It teaches that the creator started everything, and then ran off and left it alone so it could work itself out.
The unifying belief, which laid the foundation for this philosophy of secularism, is God, if he exists, is irrelevant. Humanity is calling the shots. Humans are evolving biologically, socially, governmentally, and morally. Forget about answering to a holy creator. We are responsible for ourselves, and we can now govern our own morality by our own societal consent. People wonder why there's so much crazy, crazy behavior in our culture today. If you have no God to whom you report, if there's no true north, if there's no right and wrong, then everybody is free to do whatever seems right in his own eyes. And you have a culture totally out of control.
That's the historical view of the whole process, but let me give you the biblical explanation. Long before this all started happening in our culture, Paul wrote about it in the book of Romans, and he said that a culture that finally destroys itself will do so in the following way. Now, let me tell you, these words in Romans 1 are, as someone has said, dark words. They're words that you wouldn't choose to read if you were going to go to the hospital to comfort somebody. These are the words of Paul reminding us of what happens when God is left out.
I'm reading from Romans chapter 1, verse 18. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood in the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse". The existence of a creator, according to Paul, is obvious when we study creation itself. I'm amazed as I get into this a little bit at the symmetry, the scope, the systematic order of our universe, whether you look at it through a microscope or a telescope.
The Bible says it's foolish to deny a creator, for the existence and complexity of creation means somebody had to be behind it. In the book of Psalms, we read, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" And Psalm 19:1 says, "The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the skies display his craftsmanship". And that's a real problem for modern humanity. You see, for the existence of a creator implies that he is in charge. And if we're subject to a maker, we just can't live our lives any way we want. When you take God out of the picture, then there is no true north, and everything can just run randomly as people, they make up their rules.
As I mentioned recently in an interview, the Bible tells us that we're created in the image of God. And instead of believing that, we've decided to create God in our image. So now we can all make up our own god. Since there isn't any real God, we make up our own god. And so, our gods are the gods we feel comfortable with. As I've said before, so many people come to me when you preach on something like sin, or if you ever mention hell, or you ever say anything about judgment, inevitably someone will come up and say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, I want you to know something. My God would never do that. My God would never send anybody to hell". And I agree with them. I tell them, "That's exactly right because your god doesn't exist. You made him up. You made him up in your own mind".
Who would think you would be able to do such a thing, the creature making up the creator? Doesn't that sound backwards to you? That's what's happened in our culture. There is no God in the politic of our nation, even though sometimes his name is brought up for effect. And the Bible tells us in Romans chapter 1 that this all starts with one simple thing, ingratitude. The Bible says, "Because they knew God, and did not glorify him, nor were thankful". When you stop being thankful for God, God disappears from your life. And when you take God out of your life, guess what? Idolatry comes right next because it says in Romans 1:22, "Professing to be wise, they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man".
Here's the problem. God created all of us with a God-shaped vacuum right about here. And no one is ever satisfied in their life until God is at home in that vacuum. So when you say there is no God, and you deny the creator God, you are left to find a god you can try to trust in and put him there, but it never works. There's never any sense of peace. One of the most common things people say when they come to Christ is, "For the first time in my life, I feel at peace with God". Make no mistake about it, friends, when we reject the creator God of Scripture, we have to find a substitute, we have to have an idol, and that leads us to the next step downward that Paul speaks about, and that is a lust-driven life.
Romans 1:24 and 25, he says, "Therefore God gave them up to the uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen". Paul said only the true God of heaven is holy enough to empower his people to live according to the dictates of his holiness. And when a culture denies its creator, and worships its own gods, and succumbs to a lust-driven existence, it inevitably becomes a nation full of iniquity.
Listen to Romans 1:26 and 27, "For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due". The headlines of recent years are simply society's commentary on these Scriptures. And this downward spiral of decency finally leads to the basement, all the way down to evil that's almost impossible to describe.
One of my most memorable moments as a pastor took place on Sunday night, April 28th, 1995. And on this particular night, we were planning to observe the Lord's table at the beginning of our service, which we always do at Shadow Mountain. But after studying these verses from Romans, I just had an impression in my heart that I should teach first and observe communion at the end of the service. I waded through the words of Paul used to describe the corruption and depravity of man, and then we celebrated communion.
And in that communion service, something beautiful occurred in my heart, and I sensed that it was happening in the hearts of many of our people as well. I saw tears, and I fought back my own. I don't ever remember being more thankful for grace than I was that night. If we think we're all right without God, we will never reach out for the grace that he provides for all who will come to him. How many of you know nobody has ever sinned so much that they've sinned away from the grace of God? You cannot out-sin God's grace. And no matter what you've done or where you've been or what kind of trouble you're in now, I promise you this, God's grace is enough to take care of all that sin.
But if you don't know there's sin, if you don't accept that, you will never hear the message of grace. It will whistle right through your skull, and you will never appreciate it. And that's our hope today, is it not, to give ourselves to that God with all of our hearts, to reacquaint ourselves with the glory of God in our lives, and to commit ourselves that while the rest of the world may be going that way, I'm going God's way. And I'm going to honor him with my life. And if nobody else does, I am, and people will see us do that, and maybe the glory of God will start to return to this country. That's my prayer.