The Elephant Man

You Are Not An Animal! (Youth Camp Talk)

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1 You Are Not An Animal

The Elephant Man

Have you ever heard of the movie The Elephant Man? It’s a pretty famous movie from 1980 – which I know is a long time ago, but bear with me. It won lots of awards and was quite popular at the time.

It’s based on the true story of man who lived in the 1800’s, named John Merrick, who suffered from a condition or syndrome that caused his body to grow abnormally. His skin was thick and lumpy and his head grew large bones that caused it to be so heavy that he couldn’t even lie down because if he did he couldn’t breathe.

His father and mother rejected him, he left school at age 13, couldn’t find a job, and ended up touring with a circus group as a side-show named “The Elephant Man.” At some point a doctor named Frederick Treves came to The Elephant Man show and invited him to come to the hospital to be examined and photographed.

Soon after that meeting Merrick went back on tour as the Elephant Man, but was robbed and beaten by his manager. He eventually made his way back to London, but since he couldn’t speak well, they didn’t know what to do with him. They searched his pockets and found doctor Treves’ card in his pocket and brought him back to the hospital. Though they couldn’t do anything for him medically, they allowed him to live there for the rest of his life. He and Doctor Treves actually became good friends and he received a lot of visitors from wealthy and famous people.

The movie spends a lot of time exploring John Merrick’s life as The Elephant Man side show, and how abusive his show managers were. Throughout the movie we are shown that despite his physical deformities the Elephant Man isn’t a horrible monster, or an animal, but a human being worthy of dignity, respect and protection. Eventually his fellow side-show friends help him flee his managers and he runs to the train station in London where he is forced to run through the public.

Here’s what happens:

Before he collapses you can hear him yelling to the crowd, “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I… am… a… man!” He had to shout it because people didn’t see a human being when they saw him – they saw an animal, a monster, a freak – but not a human being.

More Than An Animal

Now, why am I telling you this tonight? Because I’m angry on your behalf – for something you’re probably not even angry about. It’s because you, yes you, right now are being treated like The Elephant Man. You are being told over and over, all day long, that you are an animal. You are being treated like an animal, and you hardly even know it.

I wish you were angry about this, but it’s so subtle and so pervasive in the culture around you, so overwhelming from so many of your teachers, books, movies, blogs and friends, that you don’t even notice it anymore. It’s like asking a fish what water is like – it’s all they know so they can’t describe it – you’re immersed in it.

I want to tell you tonight that you are more than an animal. You are a beautiful creation of God, a person with a heart, a soul, a mind and a body. The world tells you over and over that you don’t have a soul. It teaches you that your mind is just a series of electronic and chemical impulses coursing through the grey matter in your brain. They tell you that your choices don’t matter, that your feelings come from only natural means, that you are driven by evolution, instinct and predisposition. Some people equate your worth with that of a housepet, a chicken or a cow. They believe you are an animal.

In school, as you learn the Theory of Evolution – regardless of whether it’s true or not – you are taught alongside that you that you are merely an animal, a descendant of scum, with simple, biological instincts that drive everything you do. And after doing some reading about it, I believe your school treats you like an animal too.

They tell you that your body is coursing with strong, natural drives that you can’t help but follow. Have you ever been told that you have the choice to say NO to the feelings that are happening within you? Most likely not. More than likely you’ve been told that everything you feel and experience is “natural”, right? How many times have you heard that term, “it’s natural”, or “it’s biological”, as an excuse for doing something? What that means is that “I’m an animal and I can’t help it.”

Telling people that they can simply say NO doesn’t occur to them. Why? Because they believe you and I are animals.

The End of Right and Wrong

When was the last time you heard something was right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or evil from one of your non-religious teachers or friends? People without belief in God can’t really talk about right and wrong because they have no baseline for what’s right and what’s wrong. They don’t have an authority or a book that tells them the rules – so they make them up for themselves. If you ask them if stealing, murder, swearing, or war or any number of other things is “wrong”, they don’t say “yes, that is wrong”, do they?

No, instead they talk about “the situation”, “personal choice”, “biological drives”, “what’s right for you or me”, but never “what is right and wrong.” “Well, that might be bad for you, but it’s ok for me. Well, that’s what you believe, but I believe different, and that’s ok too. Well, it’s good for me, but it might not be good for you. It depends on the situation!”

They can’t speak about rock-solid morality because they gave up the whole idea of right and wrong when they decided that human beings are merely animals. We would never say a tiger is wrong for eating a zebra, right? We’d never say that a dog is wrong for barking at a noise, right? We’d never say an elephant is wrong for stampeding, right? They just don’t know any better. That’s what some people think about humans too. We’re just animals, so there is no right and wrong.

Sin Safely

The best that they can talk about is: “safety”. They can’t tell you what is “right and wrong”, so the best they can come up is to talk about what is “good for you” and try to convince you to do things “safely”. Even if that thing is wrong, immoral, sinful, unhelpful, dangerous, or harms yourself and others, they can’t use those words – so they use the word “unsafe”. Have you heard this? I’m sure you have!

Let me give you a few examples of how they think:

“People want to do drugs, nothing is going to stop them, but we can’t say ‘doing drugs is wrong‘. We know they are dangerous, so we need to try to let people do drugs as safely as possible. We’ll tell people that cigarettes, alcohol, pot, and hard drugs can destroy your body and mind, that  it’s not a “heathy choice”, but because people are just animals, the only way to help is to try to make doing drugs as “safe” as possible. So we’ll get the government to sell the drugs, and pay for places for people to do drugs, and then offer services to help them when they get sick and addicted. Then at least they’ll be “safe” as they do it. After all, people are basically like animals that need owners to take care of them.”

The government is really talking about this right now.

Or another:

“People want to eat sugar and garbage, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them – kids and teenagers are way too stupid to make healthy choices, they’re just animals after all.”

For a while they though that since kids are just little animals, and garbage is the only thing they’ll eat, we’ll fill the school cafeterias with cheap food, pop and candy machines – at least they’ll be eating. Then they figured out that the kids were all addicted, sick, fat and stupid because of what they were eating. But they couldn’t turn to the food and snack providers and say, “feeding kids garbage is immoral and wrong”…so they tried to force schools to find “healthy alternatives”? It makes me angry because these companies and schools treat you as though you are no smarter than a monkey in a cage, or mice in a laboratory. They’re using you to make money. After all, you’re just animals who can’t make good decisions, right?

Or another:

“People want to have sex whenever they want with whoever they want, and nothing is going to stop them.”

They know that doing that is actually quite dangerous, but since they’ve thrown out the Bible and any form of morality, they can’t simply say, “this is the good way to have sex, and this is the bad way.”  So instead they try to teach kids how to do something dangerous as “safely” as possible. They are working overtime trying to keep people (children, teenagers, and adults) from killing themselves and others with heartbreak, diseases, and all sorts of abuse problems, by inventing something called “Safe Sex”.

They get the government to pay for condoms and pass them out because they don’t think people can say no. And worse, the government pays to kill any of the babies these people make, so they can keep having sex. After all, they think, all these people, even the babies, are just animals, pieces of tissue. And we can’t expect them to follow any rules in regards to sex, right?

The World Needs Animals

A lot of our society actually depends on having you to act like animals. Consider the advertisements you see. Food, toy, and cell phone commercials are no different than shining a laser in front of a cat and watching them chase it! “Look, a shiny thing! It’s so bright! Your little brain likes shiny things, right? You should get a credit card because then you’ll get more stuff! You like stuff don’t you! We know you’re too dumb to read the agreement for the credit card or your cell phone contract… and we count on that.”

Advertisements manipulate your most basic instincts: Look, a shiny… go get the shiny! Look, buying this will give you friends… you want to be part of a pack, don’t you? Look, buying this will make you powerful… you don’t want to be weak, do you? Look, buying this will make you attractive… you don’t want to be ugly and forgotten, do you? It’s all primal – they don’t want to you think, and count on the fact that you won’t think! After all, you’re just an animal, right?

The idea of us saying “NO” doesn’t occur to them – because most of the time we don’t. Why? Because they think you’re an animal, designed to consume whatever they feed you, and then crap out money for them. It’s actually quite insulting, when you think about it – and that’s what makes me angry. I know how awesome you guys are. I know how creative and amazing you guys are and it makes me angry that they treat you like animals and not people.

But here’s the thing that makes me even more mad… most of the time they’re right! We do act like animals! – I’m including myself in this because I get sucked in too. Too often we live up to (or more like live down to) their expectations.

You are a Special Creation

So, I want to yell something at you today. The same thing that the Animal Man shouted: YOU ARE NOT AN ANIMAL! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU ARE A PERSON! You are special. You have been created in the image of God with dignity, worth and purpose. You are a being unlike anything else in the universe, someone that the angels look upon and marvel. You are the perfect unity of body, mind and soul. Though you are part animal, you are so much more. You have the ability to love, create, choose, and rule this world.

Every part of you – from the way you look, to the parents you have, to the skills you possess, to the weaknesses you struggle with – was designed specially by God, each part carefully chosen, “knitted together” in your mother’s womb, to make you unique among everyone else – there is no one like you.

At the very beginning of the world, when there was nothing, God said, “Let there be Light!” and from there created everything with order and beauty – the sun, moon, stars, water, fish, birds, animals, plants, everything. And then He paused.

He paused and God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit said to each other, “Let us create man in our image”. That’s a huge statement! We are not animals. We are beings who bear the image of God. That’s why the 2st commandment says we shouldn’t make “graven images” – because we already have an image – us! Looking at other people reminds us of the presence, the person, the image of God.

In Psalm 8 David sings about how we can see how amazing God is by looking at His creation, and how amazing it is to be one of His creations. He says,

“O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens….  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him….  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet… the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea….  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

David is overwhelmed as he thinks of what it means to be one of God’s creations. How carefully we are made, “crowned with glory and honour”. We are His image, His creation, His choice, His design, His idea, His artwork, His child, His beloved…

Then in Psalm 24 David sings again about how since God is the Creator of all things, everything we see is all His – He owns it – including every single human being – including you and me. He says:

“The earth and everything in it belong to the Lord. The world and all its people belong to him.”

But in the next verses, after looking at God’s power, holiness and perfection, He realizes that He has a problem. That’s probably happened to you too, right? You look at the 10 Commandments, the stories about Jesus, the expectations that God has of you, and even listen to the conscience that God put inside you, and you realize there’s a problem. People don’t live up to who God created us to be. He says, “Who may go up on the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy Temple?” What he means is, “You’re amazing, God and I’m one of your creatures… but I’m so different than you! How can I possibly live with you?” That’s a problem.

But then, in the next sentence he says, “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts…”. What David is building to is the realization that the only way we can be who we have been created to be, which includes living in harmony with God, is by an act of God changing our hearts.  But how do we become people “with clean hands a pure hearts”?

Salvation

God has no problem understanding right and wrong. He invented it. Yes, He’s angry and disappointed at how much sin we have in our lives… but He doesn’t want to leave us that way. He knows we are weak, that we’ve killed our souls with sin, that we often live like animals and not His special creations. But that didn’t stop Him from coming to save us.

Let me read to you from Romans 5:6-10 which talks about who we were before Jesus came to earth, what He did, and who we are after. It says:

“Christ died for us while we were still weak. We were living against God, but at the right time, Christ died for us…. In this way God shows his great love for us. We have been made right with God by the blood of Christ’s death. So through Christ we will surely be saved from God’s anger. I mean that while we were God’s enemies, God made us his friends through the death of his Son.”

That’s how salvation works. That’s what Christians mean when we say that we are “Saved by Jesus Christ.” God treated his Son Jesus like an enemy so we wouldn’t have to be.

He saw that we, through our disobedience and by living like animals, were killing our souls and making ourselves into enemies. That sin required punishment – the punishment of death – and Jesus took that punishment for everyone who would be willing to believe it and accept Him as the one who saved them. Jesus died, so that God could declare us to be people with “clean hands and pure hearts”.

Why would God do that? Because God has a personal interest in making sure that you are as amazing as possible! You bear His image! You are one of His! Therefore He wants to save you, heal you, fix you, restore you to Him, and make you into the best image of Himself as possible. That means He gets more glory, and you get to be the person He created you to be. It’s an incredible arrangement.

“A New Creation”

But it doesn’t end there. God doesn’t leave us in our sin, but pulls us out of the muck, cleans us up, and changes us into different people. This is why Christians talk about being “Born again”. The change is so dramatic that it’s as though they have been reborn into a different person!

Let me read from 1 Corinthians 5:15-19:

“Christ died for all so that those who live would not continue to live for themselves. He died for them and was raised from death so that they would live for him. From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we no longer think of him in that way. If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself. And God gave us the work of bringing everyone into peace with him. I mean that God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace.”

It says “we no longer think of anyone as the world does”? Another translation says, “We regard no one according to the flesh.” In other words, what he means is that Christians don’t see people as animals. We don’t believe that people are stuck in their sin, that they have no choice, that they can’t help it. We believe every person is someone special that God loves, that God can change, and who can make the choice to say “yes” or “no” to what is right and wrong.

That’s the invitation I give to you tonight. I don’t address you as animals without a choice, but as God’s amazing creatures, made in His image, able to choose for yourself. Will you accept what Jesus has done for you? Will you believe that he died on the cross on your behalf? If you haven’t, now is the time.

And if you already have, then let me ask you to believe that you are at peace with God. He’s not punishing you – He already punished Jesus so you wouldn’t have to be. If you believe in Him, then God has made you new. From the moment you put your faith in Him He began the process of destroying the parts of you that were stuck in the muck of sin, fear, anger, addiction, and lies. He gives us all we need to live as Divine Creations and not mere animals.

Every day, as we read His word and talk to Him, hang out with His people and tell others about Him, God continues the process of making us more and more like Him – more and more into who God created us to be.

In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin [that’s Jesus], so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the gift of a relationship with God. Step back into what humans were created to be, not animals who live out their fleshly desires, but special creations of God that live lives of righteousness, beauty, peace, love, hope, courage, joy, freedom, holiness and light.

So I ask you to remember that you are not an animal, and to connect with the one who made you into a creature with a body, mind and soul.

Tonight I want you to spend some time thinking about your life, your actions, decisions and your motivations – if you’ve been living as an animal – from instinct believing you have no choice – or as a person know knows they are much more – someone with a conscience, a heart, who knows right and wrong, and who listens to the creator.

I invite you to consider who you really are, and to talk to God about who you are on the inside. Ask Him to forgive your sins and to change your heart so you can live as a human being as you give your life to Jesus Christ.