Here's a sermon from the old Preaching Today Audio archives that we've never put on our site until today. What is striking is how relevant a sermon from the early 90s is for 2009. Pay particular attention to Pollard's reflections in the first half of his message. He focuses on the consequences of the greed and materialism that plagued the 80s. Sound familiar? His overall challenge to move his listeners from Success City and Sensual City to a heavenly city still rings true today.
Do you ever feel as if something is missing from your life? You might think that question is about where you live or what you do for a living. Really, it's a spiritual question. It's like the lady who said, "I never felt better in my life, and I think it's high time I did." We can't quite name the cause of our restlessness, but we experience it nonetheless.
It's encouraging to learn from the Word of God that the man the Bible calls "father of faith" and "friend of God"—Abraham—seemed to share this restlessness, too. Eighteen chapters in the Book of Genesis are dedicated to Abraham's story, and there is a thumbnail sketch of his life in Hebrews 11:810. From these historical lessons, we learn how to live our own history.
Called to a new city
Abraham was living in Ur of the Chaldeans when, at 75 years of age, God said to him: I want you to go, but I'm not ready to tell you where.
Abraham believed and went, leaving behind a great hometown. Ur was the best place to live at the time. The city had a good economy, and it was quite progressive. The University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum once excavated Ur. They found evidence of what they believe to be the first high-rise buildings. They found two-story mansions that served as single-family dwellings. Abraham probably lived in one of those mansions.
But Abraham left Ur to live in semi-arid grazing country. The climate meant his community of three hundred people had to keep moving their black camelhair tents to find better grazing for their flocks. The Bible says he lived as a stranger in a foreign country. What we can learn from Abraham's history is that this man of faith, this friend of God, never really felt at home where he lived. Abraham wasn't at home in Ur—"Success City"—even though he had just about everything anybody would want.
When Abraham was called to leave Ur and head to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, he obeyed and went. The tense of the Hebrew verb indicates continuous action: he was obeying and going as he was hearing the call. "Called" is an interesting word. Being called is being given a desire. Being called doesn't necessarily mean being given a bunch of gifts; if it did, I'd be a better preacher. Rather, a calling is a strong desire. For example, I live to preach, because that's what God called me to do. My calling is evidenced by my desire.
God put in Abraham a desire that's in your heart, too. It says, "There's more to life than this. There's something in me that needs more than just Success City." God did not tell Abraham to be poor. Abraham was never poor. He was wealthy all of his life—even as a nomad. He was known as one of the wealthiest people of his day. God didn't tell him to give it all up. God just said: Abraham, this is not enough for you. This is not going to satisfy you. This is not enough for somebody made in my image. The call is a call to more than Success City.
Remember in Luke 12, when Jesus told the story about a man whose business was booming? It looked as if he was going to have one of the most prosperous years he'd ever had. He said: This is wonderful. This is great. This is all I've lived for. I can be at ease now.
But God tapped him on the shoulder and said, "You fool!" He didn't call him a fool because he was rich but because he was poor. God said: You don't have anything except what you've got on this earth.
Our country has gone through a decade of foolishness in which we thought we could gauge ourselves by what we owned. The eighties was a time of greed and acquisition. Big people were caught manipulating and selling bonds and stealing money from savings and loan companies. Everybody thought, If I could just get it, no matter how I get it, it's going to be all right. Wonderful people have thought, If I just get this and that, life's going to be fulfilled. Now they're all learning it's not true.
I heard a joke about a young man who was driving his BMW around a curve when he realized the car was out of control and about to plummet over a cliff. The young man jumped out, but his left arm was severed from his body. He stood there looking down at his burning BMW and said, "Oh, no! My car! My car!" A man who had stopped to help, said, "Mister, you have just lost your left arm, and you're crying about your car?" The young man looked down and said, "Oh no, my Rolex!"
For breakfast this morning, I had one scrambled egg, hash brown potatoes, whole wheat toast, and the Clarion Ledger. In one small section of the newspaper, it says America must reawaken. There's a summary of the Hanes Johnson book, Sleepwalking Through History: The Reagan Years. Uncle Sam is pictured as a sleepwalker who is about to walk off a cliff. Johnson says, "I began sleepwalking through history in the spring of 1987. America was passing through a period that increasingly resembled the moral slackness of the spendthrift twenties. The new gilded age, like then, would extract a price for its excesses."
Lee Atwater, former Republican Party chairman, said this before he died: "The eighties were about acquiring: wealth, power, and prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth and power and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty." That's what our Lord is saying to us. You can acquire all you want and still feel empty, because it's not enough.
Abraham could also have lived in "Sensual City"—in Sodom and Gomorrah. They offered him everything they had. He could have lived there. It probably looked like a very nice place to live. But the people had done the thing that our society and all societies seem to do when they're not under God's control: they learn that Success City is not enough, so they move into Sensual City. Isn't that what it says in the first chapter of Romans?
The Lord tells what happens when people turn away from him. He says the people had a revelation but turned away. They decided to be gods and worship images like themselves. During the Grecian period, people began to make images that looked like themselves. They began to worship themselves. They began to worship the thing created instead of the Creator. That caused them to turn their hearts to sexual impurity and to degrade their bodies with one another.
This is what happens when you understand that Success City is not enough. Without God in your heart, you go to the next thing. You go to the kicks that kick back. What destruction there is in Sensual City! It destroys and tears down. It's not enough; it won't satisfy us either.
Abraham decided that he could no longer live just in Success City, nor would he live in Sensual City, and so he determined to live in that semi-arid country, where he moved from place to place. He learned that people who live by faith are folks who have to settle into being unsettled. Hebrews 11:9 says: "By faith he made his home in the Promised Land, like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents." He settled into being a permanent alien. He settled into the fact that he would never be settled, not in this land. It was tough knowing that he wouldn't find a place in this world where he'd really be at home.
As he walked that arid country and kicked over the clods and talked about life, he also looked at the clouds. He lived well because he had a vision. Hebrews 11:10 reads: "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Abraham looked forward to a city that would last. Ur didn't last. Sodom and Gomorrah certainly didn't last. But he was looking forward to one day living in that place that had foundations, whose builder and architect is God. In his heart he said, That's where I need to live. That's the only place I'll ever be at home. God designed me; God made me; God is designing heaven. He's building it to fit me, and that's the only place I'll ever really fit. Once he thought such things, he could never feel at home in this world any more.
Heaven is home.
When I was younger, I heard what preachers were saying about heaven, and I thought, I'm not sure I like that. When I was in junior high school, our choir teacher told us, "You better learn to sing, because that's all they're going to do in heaven." Well, if you could hear me sing, you could understand I need to do a lot more than that to be happy in heaven!
I've heard people say heaven is a mansion. That's what Scripture says. But people think, Is it going to be Tudor or Williamsburg or maybe colonial? That's not what it's about! Scripture is saying, "Heaven is my home." Home—not house. It's home. You go shopping for houses. You can look at all kinds of houses, but you move into one and you hang up the picture of granddaddy and grandmother and the kids when they were little. You begin to live there, and it becomes home. That's what heaven is. It's a home you'll never have to leave. Did you ever have to leave home and miss being there?
When my daddy died, he had absolutely nothing, and mother lost her home. I was in seminary. All of my brothers were too poor to help her. It's a terrible thing to lose your husband and your home at the same time. But heaven is a place where you'll never lose your home. And here's a lovely thought: in heaven, we all wear white robes. Some people say, "I don't think I'd want to walk around wearing a white robe all the time. I used to be kind of embarrassed when I'd wear a robe during graduation. I never got accustomed to those kinds of clothes." Some people say, "White is not my color. I'm an autumn. I don't look good in white. I don't know whether I want to go to heaven or not." When the Bible talks about white robes, it's talking about purity. It's talking about being sinless. Can you understand how great that will be, never to make a mistake again? I do things I have to apologize for all the time. When you get to heaven, you're never going to make another mistake. You're never going to make a bad choice. That's what the cleanliness and the white robes are about. You'll never feel guilty and never have to say, "I'm sorry." That's what it means to go to heaven, to be home.
How do you get there? Just as Abraham did. In John 8:56, Jesus says, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." Abraham knew he couldn't work his way to heaven. He did all sorts of dumb things. He did some things I don't think I would do. But he saw the day of Jesus, and he rejoiced, because he knew Jesus was the way to get home.
If you've ever been in the military, you know about traveling under sealed orders. Your orders tell you to go to "this point" and fly to "this place" and then take a boat to "this place." You open your orders, and they tell you where to go next. That's the way Abraham lived. Abraham didn't know where he was going when he left Ur. God just said: You're made for more than this. Abraham said: You're right, Lord. Let's go.
Abraham was someone who could say, "I don't want to live in Success City, it's not enough. I don't want to live in Sensual City because that's dangerous, and it's not enough. I will settle into being unsettled in this world, knowing that one day I'll be home. While I live the best life that can be lived in this world, I'll have the perfect life with him there." Our Lord invites us to do the same.