Sunday, November 10, 2019

More Is More Dangerous Than You Might Ever Think. How? Here's How

I admit it.  Rich folks can irritate me.   Years ago, I was talking to a well-off friend.   She was complaining that her family’s taxes were going up.   She said to me with total sincerity.  “You know, Kennedy, a quarter million dollars a year.  It’s not a lot.”  I just kind of nodded, mainly because I was so shocked.  But inside I was thinking.  “A quarter mil sounds like a lot to me, a whole lot more than I’m making.”  

At the time, I didn’t have much sympathy for her.  But then a few weeks ago, I read this article about folks in her income bracket.  These folks should be living the American Dream.   They have money.   They have status. Their kids attend the best schools in the best neighborhoods.   Yet even these folks and their kids aren’t living the dream.  No, it’s more like the nightmare.   Just take the kids.  In one elite high school in super-rich Silicon Valley, here are the stats.  80% of their students suffer from moderate to severe anxiety.  80%!  Over half show moderate to severe signs of depression. 

Their parents are living the nightmare too.  Experts talk about what they call a “time famine.”  Workers, especially the most highly paid ones, don’t have enough time for what truly matters.  They have no time for decent relationships with their spouse or children. 

Suddenly I thought back to my friend’s husband, who worked in finance.  I remembered his stress, his 80-hour work weeks, how miserable his job made him.    And I thought.  I get it.  But these are the elite, the one percent.   And if it’s that bad for them, what does it say about everyone else?   

Here we are living in the wealthiest nation on earth.  People have more creature comforts than ever.  Every day brings almost limitless options for entertainment and diversion.  Yet, people have become more anxious, more troubled, more lacking in joy than ever before.   What is going on?      

People have forgotten what these words means, and why we need them more than ever.  In these words, God provides a path back towards fulfillment, towards joy, towards a life that is as it should be, as God created it to be.   In this command, God shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

So, what has happened to make lives so driven, so stress-filled?  People have forgotten how dangerous desires can be.   Don’t get me wrong. God wants you to desire.   Heck, God has placed you in a world full of stuff to be desired.  And God wants you to desire them.  Heck, I’m already working up some desires for that delicious pumpkin soup after worship.   God is not telling you in this commandment to not desire.  But God is warning you.  Your desire can get out of hand more easily than you could ever imagine.    

So, God tells you.  Desires gotta live within boundaries.  Your desires can’t cross boundaries that hurt others, that injure relationships, that negatively impact other folks’ stuff.  That’s what coveting is.  It’s desiring too much.  So basically, God is saying in this commandment.    Your desires can never come at the sacrifice of your relationships, your relationship with God and your relationships with yourself and with others.   

But desires can be tricky.  They can take you over before you even realize it.   Have you ever heard of the fantasy books The Chronicles of Narnia?  Growing up, I loved those books. The books tell the story of four kids, two sisters and two brothers, who have adventures together in the wondrous land of Narnia.  But when the first one of them, Lucy, discovers Narnia through a magical door in the back of a closet, no one believes her.  Can you blame them?  Who has heard of a magical land that you get through the back of a closet? 

But then, her brother, Edmund, wanders into the same closet.  And the magic door opens for him.  But here’s the problem.   For decades Narnia has been under an evil spell.   In Narnia, it’s always winter, but never Christmas, just cold and dreary all the time.   And Edmund runs into the very person who has created the spell, the White Witch. 

But the White Witch doesn’t seem bad.  She takes Edmund into her beautiful sleigh.  She wraps him up in a beautiful fur blanket.  And she gives him this awesome food called Turkish Delight.   Edmund loves it.  He can’t get enough. He tells her all about his family, his two sisters and his brother. When the White Witch hears that, she gets worried.

You see, when she cast the spell, a magical creature delivered this prophecy to her.  The creature said, when two daughters of Eve, and two sons of Adam arrive in Narnia, your spell will be broken, and your power destroyed.   And now, exactly that, two daughters of Eve, and two sons of Adam have arrived.  So, she figures, if she can kill them right when they arrive, she’ll stop the prophecy.  So she asks Edmund to bring them to her, and he will get more Turkish Delight.  And Edmund says.  “Sure, no problem!”    So, get this.  Edmund becomes her willing accomplice to his own death.  And all she had to do was give him something delicious to eat.

Edmund loves that Turkish Delight so much he lies to his siblings again and again.  He betrays them just to get another taste of that wonderful dish.    Do you know, when I read that as a kid, what I thought?   Sure, I thought that Edmund was a jerk.   But do you know what else I thought?   I thought.  “Wow, what must that Turkish Delight taste like?  I’d love to get some of that.”    Even after I knew what that food led Edmund to do, I still wanted a taste.   But of course, I would never do what Edmund did. 

But that’s the problem with your desires.  They lie to you.   They tell you that you’re in control, when you’re not.   And more than that, they tell you if one little taste was good, more will be better.   But it’s not.  

Heck, more is so not better, economists even made that into a law.  They call it the law of diminishingreturns.   Basically, this law states a kind of obvious thing.   Let’s say.  You run a factory with a hundred machines, and a hundred employees, but you want to produce more.  So, you think.   I know what I’ll do.   I’ll hire 1000 more workers and then I’ll make way more stuff.  But you still have only a hundred machines.  And what happens?  Now, you’ve got a thousand employees fighting over one hundred machines.  And that makes for some serious diminishing returns.

But did you need an economist to tell you that?   Anyone who has gone through a buffet line one time too many knows about the law of diminishing returns.   But here’s the problem.  We may know it, but we still get snookered by it.  What do I mean?

Do you see how God includes all these things not to desire too much in this commandment?  He gives you this super long list.  Why?   God is telling you.   You can desire anything too much, including all types of totally wonderful things.  Why does this happen?  It happens because of the lie of more. 

And we live in a world that has bought into that lie hook, line and sinker.  Why are all those rich kids so stressed out?   It’s the lie of more.  Their schools think.  Hey two hours of homework was good, so three hours has gotta be better.   And yes, getting ten kids into Harvard was awesome, but if we get twenty kids that would really rock.   So, these kids get driven and driven by this lie of more, more work, more achievement, more success, and it’s killing them.   

And their parents get caught in it too.   In 1962, top law firms expected their lawyers to bill 1300 hours a year.   Now forty years later, one major law firm said that 2400 should be the number.  Just to help you understand what that means.  It means a lawyer needs to work from 8 am to 8 pm six days a week with no time for vacation and sick days to make that goal.   When I was growing up, we used to joke about “bankers’ hours” as in those folks didn’t work much.  But today, folks in finance joke about “banker 9 to 5.”   That may sound pretty good until you realize it means starting at 9 AM and finishing at 5 AM the next day.   And we’re talking about the folks living the so-called American Dream.   We’re not talking about the folks working at Walmart, then driving Uber or some other internet job just to try to pay the bills.   

But why do people do all these things?  It’s because people buy into the lie of more instead of the truth of enough.   At a certain point, more is not better.  But enough is.  But when you listen to the lie of more, you never have enough.   And all around you, voices are coming at you that say that you don’t have enough.  Your smartphone isn’t smart enough.   Your living arrangements aren’t nice enough.  Your TV isn’t good enough.  Heck, your life isn’t great enough.   Just look at all the fun your friends are having on Fakebook, oops, I mean Facebook.  Have you ever heard that phrase FOMO.   It stands for Fear of Missing Out.  That’s the lie of more. 

And when that lie infects you, it puts your desires on steroids.  And when that happens you suffer.  And everyone else around you suffers too.    But it can be so easy to fall into this desiring too much. 

Do you know we are living in the Golden Age of Television?  You can find more awesome shows on TV or your favorite streaming site than ever before.   I am loving it.   At least I thought I was.   But I couldn’t keep up.    I kept adding to my list of must-see TV, but I couldn’t watch it all.   I tried.  I’d come home at night, and as soon as I could, head to the man-cave to catch up.   But more TV wasn’t better.  It was worse.   My shows became something to check off a list.   When a series ended, I felt not sadness but relief.  I woke up sleep deprived each morning.  And, my wife and I didn’t have time to spend together.   And she noticed.  She said.   Kennedy, you are watching way too much TV.   It’s not good.  You’ve almost addicted.  I disagreed   So, she challenged me.   If you’re not addicted, then stop watching for six weeks.   And so, I did, mainly just to prove her wrong.  But I gotta tell you.  It’s been terrific.   I’ve read more, slept more, hung out with my wife more, and to be honest, I haven’t really missed the TV.  

But why did I watch more and more shows, even when it wasn’t fun anymore.  I watched more, because I wanted to be more.   I wanted to feel like I was in on all the hot shows.  I sense without being up on that, I wasn’t hip enough.  I wasn’t sophisticated enough.    That’s why folks go for more, even when their more is so much less.   They are afraid.   Without that more, I won’t be enough. 

Why do people push their desires to the breaking point?  Why do they go for more and more even when all that more makes them less and less?   They do it.  You do it because inside you fear.  You’re not enough.   But if you had more money, if you had more friends, if you had more good looks, more whatever, then you’d be enough.    And that fear has some truth.   None of us are all we yearn to be.   But pushing your desires, going for more no matter what the cost, that will never bring you the enough you seek.   But in Jesus, that enough does come. 

Why?   Because even when you were at your worst, even when human beings in Jesus nailed God to the cross, God’s love was enough, even for that.   In God’s love, even when you are not enough, even when you are at your worst, God’s love is enough.  It is enough to make up all the difference.  

More than that, that love frees you from ever worrying about being enough ever again.   If in Jesus God died for you, if God did that, then what is more enough than that?   In the security of that radical love, you realize.  You already have more than you could ever have dreamed.  You have enough.  In God, you are enough.   And in that enough, you can enjoy your desires without pushing them to the brink. 

Why? Because you already know.   In Jesus’ love, you are enough, now and forever.   And in that love, you do become more.  You become more at peace.  You become more fulfilled.  You become more you than ever before.   So, where have your desires gone beyond their bounds?  Where is your yearning for more making you less?   Let it go.  Let Jesus show you.   You are enough because of his love right now.  Let that love free you.  Let that love fill you until you want no more.         

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Why Does God Care More About Personal Boundaries than You Might Ever Think?

It’s so sad.  When this whole Jesus thing began, do you know what made us different?  We broke the boundaries.   We broke boundaries between men and women, treating them equally.  We broke boundaries between classes.  The rich and poor worshiped and led together.  We broke the race barriers. Jews and Gentiles served together as one family.  At our best, we’ve kept that record.   Christians like Frances Willard fought for to break the barriers that kept women from the vote.   Dr. King led the boundary breaking that segregated white from black. 

But do you know what’s happened now?   Now, do you know what boundaries Christians get known for breaking?  We get known for breaking the good ones, like breaking the boundaries that protect children from predators   Or every other week or so you hear of some new church leader who has victimized folks by breaking sexual or financial boundaries. 

A lot of boundaries you need.  If you didn’t have a boundary like say, your skin, you’d be in world of hurt.  And those boundaries, we need to honor.  If you don’t, you can end up messing up your life and others’ lives too.   But today, it can be easier than ever to violate those sorts of boundaries, and not even realize it.   

So how do you protect those boundaries?  How do you make sure you don’t cross them with someone else?   How do we make sure we live in a community here that breaks past the wrong boundaries but honors the right ones?  In these words, God shows you the way.

In these words, God is going deeper than simply talking about not stealing a car or a cow.  No, God is warning you to honor the boundaries, not only between things, but between people. 

In all these commands, God isn’t giving rules so much as principles.  If God was giving rules, then God would attach a penalty.  You break this rule, and this happens.  All the other rules in the Bible have penalties, but not these.  In these commands, God is sharing core values to guide your life.  God is showing you what a good, fulfilled life looks like.   And in this command, God is telling you.  A good, fulfilled life means honoring the boundaries.   Why?  Because when you don’t, life gets messy really quick.

When I first went to Haiti to visit our orphanages there, I remember the walls everywhere.   Everyone had these huge walls around their houses.  They lived behind massive metal gates.  I thought at first.   Oh, that must be to protect people from stealing stuff.  But I had been behind some of those gates.   Those homes didn’t have a lot you could steal.   So I asked.  Is that so folks don’t break in?  No, they said.  It’s so they don’t move in.   If you didn’t have walls, you could come home from work, and find a family had moved into your house while you were gone!  So, you had to build walls to keep that from happening. 

People have written millions of words on all the challenges Haiti faces.  But one challenge has to be that.  In Haiti, boundaries you take for granted simply don’t exist.  And that makes Haiti, a very stressful, insecure place. 

You need boundaries.  You need to know you can leave for work, and not stress out that your homes isn’t going to become someone else’s while you’re gone.  You need to know when you go on a green light, that the other cars will honor that red-light boundary and not run into you.    When boundaries like those go, everything starts falling apart.   

And when God talks about not stealing, that’s what God is talking about.  When you steal, you violate a boundary.  You take what is not yours to take.

Take a red light.  When you run a red light, that’s what you do.  It’s not your turn to go, and so you’re stealing someone else’s turn so to speak.  And you need people to honor that boundary.  Otherwise, no one would be safe. 

You need folks to honor boundaries, the ones we place around our traffic intersections; the ones we place around our houses, cars, stuff like that.  But God is concerned with boundaries bigger than those.  God is concerned mainly that we honor the boundaries around ourselves.

When God first shared this commandment, do you know what God’s likely major concern was?  God was concerned not about stealing things but stealing people.  That stealing happened a lot.  Raiders invading a camp or village often seized women and children as slaves.  Heck, if you follow the news, you know those horrors keep happening now, even here in Hollywood.    Any massage parlor you pass could very well have a few slaves behind its doors.     

So, God said.  Honor the boundaries, not just around your things but around each other.  Do you get how far this commandment goes?   You don’t have to steal somebody to break this command.  You can violate it in ways far subtler than that. 

Our son loves trains.  So, last weekend, we got a deal on a special Halloween train ride on the Brightline.  As we were hanging out looking at all the costumed kids, one of the security staff decided to take a picture of Patrick with her personal phone.  But we quickly said.  No, I don’t think so.   Now some parents might not have minded, but what struck me is that she didn’t even ask us.  She just felt that taking a picture was no big deal.  But that picture was not hers to take. After all, in our hyper-connected age, who know where that picture could go.  In 2009, a family in Missouri discovered their family photo was on a billboard in the Czech Republic! Crazy! 

Years ago, I remember traveling near the lands of the Hopi Tribe in New Mexico.  I learned that you are welcome to visit their villages but don’t bring your cameras.   For some Hopi members, taking a picture feels like you’re taking their soul.   If nothing else, you’re taking something that doesn’t belong to you, and that they don’t want you to have.  You are violating a boundary. 

But sometimes, you can ask and still be violating the command.  Many years ago, long before my marriage, I had a relationship where I got nervous about my girlfriend’s past relationships.  I decided I need to know everything.  I didn’t really ask as much as I demanded.  I cloaked it in some malarkey about honesty and sharing.  But here’s the truth.  I was jealous and insecure.  And so, she told me.  But I had pushed her to give what was not mine to ask.  I violated that boundary.  And I hurt her, and fatally wounded that relationship.

Do you see how easily you can break the boundaries?  Do you get how painful that can be?  Or maybe you don’t need me to tell you.  In your life, someone has violated a boundary with you.  And you know how painful that was.  It may even be a violation that leaves you wounded to this day. 

Any time you violate a boundary with another person, you steal something from them.  You could steal some of their trust in others or how they value themselves.   You could steal from them some sense of their security or safety.   But who hasn’t done it?  Maybe you shared news that wasn’t yours to share.  Maybe you unthinkingly made someone physically uncomfortable?

Can any of us, after understanding the depth of this command, say that we haven’t fallen short.   We can violate boundaries in so many ways and with so many folks; even those closest to us, our spouses or children, our friends and co-workers.  So how do you become someone who honors the boundaries?  You let the One who always honors the boundaries do in you what you can’t. 

Have you ever seen this painting? The painter, William Holman Hunt, based it on a sentence in the book of Revelation.  There Jesus says, Behold I stand at the door and knock.  And to anyone who opens, I will come in and eat with them.  But do you notice what Hunt didn’t paint on the door? He didn’t paint a doorknob.  Jesus knocks on the door yes, but he doesn’t barge in.  He wants a relationship with you yes, but he will not demand it.  Jesus will always honor the boundaries.   Why? Because Jesus will always honor you. 

Yet Jesus, freely out of his love, gave up his boundaries.  Jesus gave up even the boundary that protected his very life.  He let his very skin; his very flesh be violated for us.  Yet in that bold act, he shattered the boundaries that divide us, the divide between us and God, the barriers that divide us from each other from even ourselves, even the barrier that stands between life and death.  And as you experience how deeply Jesus loves you, how seriously Jesus honors you, that love and honor will free you to love and honor others in that same way. 

Yes, you will go with Jesus to break the boundaries that oppress, that demean, that hurt.   But in his love, you will grow to honor the boundaries that must never be broken, the one that honor not just things but above all people.  And as that love and honor of Jesus, grows in you and in me, it will shape a world in which everyone feels safe and secure, where every sacred boundary becomes honored and respected.   In the name of the one who created a world of safety and boundaries, in the name of the God who in Jesus sacrificed his boundaries for us, and in the name of the God who is creating a world where everyone feels secure and safe.  Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

How Can Too Much Desire be Dangerous in Marriage, in Life, in Everything? Here's How

It’s a nice scene isn’t it, that title slide?  That beautiful river is the Natchez River in Beaumont, Texas.   And most of the time, in fact, almost all the time, it looks just like that.  But two years ago, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, it didn’t look like that at all.  No, it blew right past those banks, and when it did, what happened to Beaumont and the other areas around that river?    What happened is what you see in the pictures to the right.  In just a few days, those waters wreaked havoc.  The river destroyed homes and businesses. It put family after family in danger.   And I’d imagine even now, a lot of those families are still struggling to recover especially as yet another flood hit only a month or so ago.

But think about it.  This good thing, this beautiful river became this awful thing. Why? The water pushed beyond its natural boundaries, and what happens? Devastation.     That’s what happens when good things go beyond their boundaries.   Yet people can be blind to that truth, to just how awful blowing past the boundaries can be.  But when people don’t see this truth, it brings a similar devastation in families, in relationships, in the world around us.   How do you avoid that devastation in your families, in your relationships, in your life?  In these simple yet powerful words, God shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

In talking about this commandment, we’re obviously talking first of all about sex.  God is saying that people committed in covenant relationship with each other do not go outside that relationship for physical intimacy.  But in these words, God is pointing to something deeper than simply sex.  God is pointing to both the goodness of desire and its danger.  When desire lives within the boundaries, within the banks so to speak, it brings life, vitality, beauty, joy.  But when desire moves past those boundaries, past those banks, it brings devastation and heartbreak. 

But before we get to that deeper message of desire, we need to focus on the first message, the particular goodness and danger of sexual desire.   Now, granted, Christians have too often made way too big a deal of sexual desire, almost treating it as the unforgivable sin.   But the culture in reaction to that has gone in the other direction, almost implying that sexual activity is just a few steps beyond a handshake.  And now with the internet, you can see sex everywhere even when you don’t want to see it.   But ironically, all that sexual liberation hasn’t really worked.  In fact, studies show people are having less physical intimacy with each other than ever.  Our nation’s birthrate is even going down as a result.  So, why didn’t it work?

We’ve been doing some work around our house, and we have a handyman neighbor, Andy, who has been doing some work for us.  When Andy and I talk, he sprinkles the conversation with a certain word, that I’ll just describe as the F-bomb.  And when he does, it kind of rattles me.  That surprises me a bit, because if I’m honest, in moments of frustration, I’ve said the same word.  

But here’s the thing. Folks have done studies that have shown pretty much everyone has a reaction to that word.  That word generates an immediate emotional response.  People have no control over it.  It just happens. 

To give you an idea of what this response feels like, I’ve put together this little exercise that gives the same response.  Do you see these words?  Name the color of ink in which the first set of words are printed. 

red  blue  green  blue green red

Ok.  Now, name the color of ink in the second set. 

red  blue  green blue  green red

Was it harder?  Yeah.  Our mind resists naming those colors.  It makes us feel that we’re getting them wrong, even when we’re not.  It actually has a name, the Stroop effect.  Now that F-bomb word that Andy used creates a similar effect. That word has the power to disturb in ways other words don’t.  But why? What’s the big deal?  It’s because that word talks about something that does have power, that whether we admit it or not cannot be taken lightly.   And so, when we hear someone throw out that word so casually, we feel the disjunction.  It just doesn’t feel right.  And that disjunction tells you, sex matters.  It matters a lot.  Sex can create life where life did not exist before.  What’s more powerful than that? 

So, God designed a place in place where this incredible, awe-inspiring power can reside.  God designed a life-long committed relationship in which this power best gives life and nourishes others.  But marriage will not work unless you respect the power of what it contains.   If folks treat its commitments lightly, if they break the banks, then what is beautiful become destructive.  So, God says here. Don’t do it.  Don’t break those banks.

That’s what adultery does.  Adultery breaks this bond of commitment between two persons, one sealed with the most intimate act that human beings can share. And once those banks are broken, it’s hard to recover from the damage the breaking of those banks will cause. 

But saying all that still doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.  Why do people who are married have affairs to begin with?   What drives that, and believe it or not, it is almost never sex.  More than that, why does God again and again refer in the Bible to the unfaithfulness of God’s people to love and serve God as adultery.   Why does God use that image of all things?  What is going on here? 

For the last 15 years or so, a Belgian psychologist, Esther Perel, has traveled the world studying what makes people cheat.   And she has learned.  Almost never does sexual desire come up as the motivation.   Invariably she will hear one word again and again as people describe their affair.  It made me feel alive.   And that word, alive, says everything about the problem that lies at the heart of not only adultery and marriage in our day and age, but also what lies at the heart of every human problem. 

And to see that, let’s look at how folks view marriage today.   As Esther Perel puts it, in our culture, most folks look to marriage to provide everything.  They want their partner to be their best friend, their never-failing ally, their closest confidant, the most awesome parent, the greatest lover, their emotional companion, their intellectual equal, and the list goes on.   And that’s all great except no human being can be all those things all the time.  People look to marriage to provide what it can never provide.   They look to their partner to provide essentially what only God can, to give them life, to make them alive.  And when their partner disappoints, too often folks walk away, which in its own way is a form of adultery.  Or if they don’t walk away, they may fall into unfaithfulness.  And that way of thinking about marriage, points to the deeper problem that drives all human unfaithfulness not only in marriage but in everything including our relationship with God.  We look to everything else to meet our ultimate desires rather than to the One who created us, who is the One who gave us desires in the first place, and the One in whom every desire is ultimately met.   What does this looking elsewhere look like?

In one of his letters to the early Christian church, Jesus’ disciple John wrote these words:
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

The word John uses here for lust gets to the heart of the problem not only with marriage but with everything.   John uses the Greek word: epithumia   John could have just used, thumia.   That word means desire too.   But epithumia means a huge desire, an epic desire so to speak.  In fact, that’s where we get the word epic from.  

Epic desires can be good desires.  Jesus uses that word, epithumia, when he talks about desiring to eat the Passover with his disciples.   In other words, it describes God’s desire for us.  It’s epic, which is pretty cool!   And if you have an epic desire for God, that’s very cool too.  

But too often, epic desires don’t stay limited to God, they go beyond their banks to go everywhere.  And the result is destruction.   So, if you look to your partner to give you only what God can give you, it’s going to wreck your marriage, and likely mess up your partner.  After all no partner can fill that job description.   And it makes being your partner an impossible task.    

But this problem of epic desire goes beyond marriage.  It impacts pretty much anything.   
For example, it’s fine to eat to live.   But if you live to eat, then your desire has become epic.  It has blown past the boundaries.  And it has taken over your life.   And life is full of all sorts of good desires that when they become epic, when they go past the boundaries, they bring destruction, even death. 

Take the next set of epic desires that John talks about, the epic desire of the eyes.  That’s when you live your life for how you look, how you appear to others.   And again, that same epic desire leads to affairs.   Why did people say their affair made them feel alive?  They said that this person valued them or appreciated them in a way their partner didn’t.   Or maybe their partner in the adulterous relationship offered something that made them see themselves differently as more beautiful, more accomplished, more desirable.  But whatever it was, the same problem lies at the heart of the issue.  What leads to affairs ultimately is this.  You first look to your partner to provide what he or she can’t provide.  And when they disappoint you. as they invariably will, you look elsewhere.  But guess what.  Wherever you look, you’ll never find what you desire there either. 

But again, you don’t need to be married to get caught in an epic desire.  We live in a world that demands you look a certain way or have a certain level of success.   So, people work themselves to death to get the appearance of success or get surgeries to acquire the appearance of beauty and the list goes on.  And why do they do that?  Whatever it is has become an epic desire, the source of their meaning, their worth.  But the devastation of this sort of epic desire doesn’t end there. 

How often have you lied or got defensive about something because you didn’t want to look bad, because you didn’t want to admit you were wrong?   Why was that so important to you, to be right even when you knew or at least suspected you weren’t?  It’s because if you were wrong or rather appeared to be wrong, what did that say about you, your worth, your value?   Do you see how this epic desire of the eyes wrecks you, whether you are married or not?

And that leads to the worst epic desires of all, what John calls the pride of life.   And these epic desires, you’ll find a lot in religious circles.   Have you ever had a martyr fantasy?  You feel someone has done you wrong or hasn’t appreciated me enough.   And you think to yourself.   What if I got some dread disease, or better yet keeled over from a heart attack while doing something nice and selfless for them.  Oh, then they would see, my goodness, my saintliness. How bad they would feel.   And when you do that, you are caught up in this pride of life.    

Pride of life wrecks marriages in two ways.  First, it can wreck it by leading you into an affair because your partner doesn’t appreciate you.   You deserve an affair dadgummit.  Or at least your partner deserves you having one because they’re so bad.  But the wreckage doesn’t stop there.   Marriages can come back from affairs, even become stronger.  But if the wronged partner carries resentment, gets caught up in pride of life, won’t forgive, that healing won’t happen.

What do I mean?   Esther Perel talks about affairs in this way. She says. I don’t wish an affair on anyone.  It would be like wishing cancer on someone.  Yet, she notes.  How often have people shared how their cancer gave them a renewed perspective on their life, even shifted their lives in ways nothing else could have.   She tells couples who come to her after an affair.  You will have two to three marriages in your life, and they could all be with the same person.  With this affair, your first marriage has died.  Are you ready to begin creating the second? 

And that brings us to that question of why God uses adultery to describe our unfaithfulness to God?   God uses it because it fits.   We look to people and things to give us what only God can.   Why?  It’s because we let that epic desire for God that lives within each of us go beyond the banks to speak.  We’ve let it overflow into our relationships, our attachment to things, into everything. That overflow of epic desires leads to addictions that devastate us.  It leads to wrecks in relationships not only between spouses, but between kids and parents, between friends, and even with our selves.   More than that, it wrecks God’s heart.   And yet when we strayed, God didn’t walk away.  God kept reaching out again and again.  And in Jesus, God even offered up his life to bring us his straying beloved home.   And as you see, as you experience, as you open yourself to that desire, to God’s epic desire for you, to how God brings you back into this beautiful marriage again and again, it will free you.  It will free you from looking for those epic desires to be met anywhere but in the one who epically desires you.   And in that love, that infinite, passionate, ever abundant love, than every desire will find its right place in your marriages, in your families, in your appetites, in every place in your life.  And in that love, adultery will not tempt you for you will have found the ultimate love, the one not even death can take away.     

Sunday, October 13, 2019

How Do You Create a Safe Place for Everyone? It Begins With This

There I was cruising down 595, and then I saw it, that state trooper lying in wait.  I looked down at my speedometer.   Then I breathed a sigh of relief.  I’m only going five miles over the speed limit, no problem.  I love that. 

Here I was breaking the law, but it was totally ok.  Why?   They don’t say it, but everyone kinda knows.  With the speed limit, you get a little wiggle room.  As long as you are traveling somewhere in the vicinity of the limit, no trooper is going to pull you over.   Heck, sometimes in South Florida, it seems you can go even 20 miles above the speed limit, and they don’t touch you!    Not that I’ve ever done that.  No, that’s only what I’ve observed about others not me.   I like those sorts of expanded definitions of the law, but the one we’re looking at today that bugs me.  

Here is the command.   You shall not murder.  That’s perfectly clear isn’t it?  The Hebrew language even had a special word God used here, retsack.   Retsack doesn’t mean all killing.  The word doesn’t refer to capital punishment.  It doesn’t refer to war.  It doesn’t even mean accidental killing.  God deals with that type of killing later in Deuteronomy.  No ratsah means the cold-blooded, premeditated killing of someone.   You can’t get more specific than that.  And you don’t need to expand on it either.  That says it all.   

But well, Jesus didn’t think so.  He took this perfectly clear commandment and expanded it all over the place.   If Jesus hadn’t said the words we’re about to hear, I’d have been perfect on this commandment.  I’ve messed up in lot of other areas, but murder.  I am good there.  I haven’t murdered anybody ever.  You’re probably glad to hear that.  It’s a good thing to know about your pastor.  But Jesus did expand it.  Why?  

Jesus knew.  There is more than one way to murder someone.   Sometimes, you can kill someone, and leave them walking around.  They might be breathing.  They might even be smiling.  But in a very real way, they’re already dead.  So, Jesus said those words to save those lives, to protect people from not simply destroying each other’s bodies, but destroying each other’s souls.  And in this hyper-connected world, those murders are running rampant.  How do you stop them?  How do you make sure you don’t fall into the trap of committing them even?  In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

Talk about expansion!  Sheesh!  The commandment gives Jesus an inch, but he takes a mile.  How does he get from bludgeoning someone to death to calling them a fool?  It seems like such a stretch, but is it really?

First, the commandment, You shall not murder, doesn’t just prohibit the act alone.  It also prohibits the thought process that leads to the act.  You don’t have to actually physically murder someone yourself to violate the commandment.

One day, King David, the great King of Israel was hanging out on the roof of his palace.  He happened to look over the side, and see a beautiful woman taking a bath on her roof.   And he thought, “She’s really beautiful, and I want her.   And hey, I’m the King, and what the king wants, the king gets.”   So, David ordered this woman, Bathsheba to sleep with him, even though she was married to Uriah, one of David’s own soldiers, who was out fighting for him while he was sleeping with his wife.  But the unexpected happened.   Bathsheba got pregnant.   But if Uriah was out fighting, where could the baby have come from?   People would ask questions.  It would come out what the king had done.   So, David tried to cover it up.  He called Uriah back from the front.  He got him drunk and tried to get him to sleep with his wife.  But Uriah wouldn’t.  Uriah wouldn’t do that when his buddies were still out fighting the enemy.  So, what did David do?   He told his top general to set Uriah up.   He told him to send Uriah’s company close to the wall of the enemy.  Then when the fighting got bad, pull everybody but Uriah and his men back.  David knew what would happen then.  Uriah would die.  

But David never lifted a hand.   David never even mentioned the word kill to anyone ever.   No Israelite lifted a sword to so much as scratch Uriah.   Yet when Nathan the prophet confronted David, Nathan said these words:

“You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”   Was Nathan wrong?  No, David had killed Uriah just as if he had held the sword himself.   In fact, in God’s eyes, from the moment David created this plan in his mind, he had already violated this commandment. Murder always happens in the mind first.  Now you can’t prosecute it there, but long before the act, you have the thought.  

Still Jesus is going way beyond just prohibiting us planning a murder in our minds.  Jesus says if you even get angry at someone else, in God’s eyes, you’ve violated the commandment.  If you insult someone or speak unkindly to another person, you’ve violated God’s command.   Why does Jesus expand it so drastically? 

Because Jesus understands why God gave the commandment in the first place.  God gave the command to say more than don’t kill your neighbor.  God didn’t mean, “Ok, you can demean your neighbors, humiliate them, destroy their souls, even pummel their bodies, but you can’t kill them. You do that, we’ve got a problem.”   God was saying to the Israelites, “This community I’m forming will be a safe place.  In this family I’m forming, no one is going to worry about getting attacked by their neighbor.  Here, things will be different.”  That is the vision that lies behind the command.  God wants a community that is safe, that is safe in the deepest and most profound sense of that word.

It’s not enough for you to not simply physically kill each other.  God has a much bigger vision than that.  God is calling you to not even start on the road that ends with murder.   Don’t let anger rule your relationships.  Don’t let insults or demeaning words pass your lips.  When you do that, you may not be physically murdering, but you’re on the road.    And your words, your anger, they have power to hurt, to injure, to even kill.  After all, Uriah’s death began with a few words from the king.   But you don’t have to be a king, to kill with your words.

Has someone ever spoken a cruel word to you that still haunts you, years later?   Or maybe, you had someone in your life whose harsh words just wore you down.  You like to think you’re recovered but if you’re honest you know.  The wounds remain.  Are you walking around carrying wounds that nobody may ever see, but they are still so painfully real?  That old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  It’s not true.  Here’s the truth.. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can rip your heart out.”  

Do you get what Jesus is saying here?  It’s not enough to not physically kill someone.  It’s not even enough to not mentally think about killing someone.   You and I have got to stop killing each other with our words and our anger.   When you do that, when you let that sort of abuse happen, do you have a safe community.  No, that’s the farthest thing from what you have.  And you are violating the very vision of community that God’s command is all about. 

Yet how many times has it happened.  How many times have you cherished angry thoughts and then lashed out with those words to people around you, even people you love?   How many times have you demeaned another person or let someone else do it, and yet never lifted a finger?  How many times have you hurt others even as you’ve been hurt?    

How do you and I stop murdering each other, if not in physical action, then with our cherished anger, and our hurtful words?   You can leave here with a renewed commitment to do better, to be better, to use words to heal and not to hurt.  But then a car will pull in front of you on the freeway.   You’ll have a long day, and your tiredness and impatience will come out in words you’ll be shocked you said or maybe texted.  Or maybe someone will come at you with their anger, and you’ll respond in kind.    Or you’ll see something online that enrages you, and lash out with words sometimes at people you don’t even know. 

And even if you don’t respond, inside it still eats away at you.  You tell yourself you’re ok but you’re not.  Then the anger returns.  You realize the resentment and even rage that still lies inside of you, to which you still cling.   You may not be murdering anybody else, but you sure may be murdering yourself.

How do you free yourself from this, from these murderous, angry hearts?  You don’t.  You don’t have to.  In Jesus, God let himself be murdered to destroy the power of such murderous hearts forever.  On that cross, God took your anger and hurtful words, your brutality and your violence, and turned it into your salvation.  In the power of that love, he turned to the very ones who nailed him to a cross and prayed for them.  And what did he pray?  He asked this. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”   And in that love and forgiveness, he showed the hollowness of such violence.   And he defeated its power forever.

And as you let the power of that love live within you, as you experience how deeply Jesus loved you, how profoundly he forgave you, how radically he has freed you, Jesus will free you from your deepest hurts, from the words whose wounds still remain.   He will free you from your rage and fear.  And you’ll discover the freedom to let go of the anger, the resentment.   When others hurt you, you’ll find the boldness not to tear down but to build up, to speak the truth, but to speak it in love. Why? 

You’ll realize, those hurtful words don’t define you.  God’s love does that.  And that love has gone to death and beyond for you.   And as you rest secure in that knowledge of your ultimate value, of your infinite worth, then peace will come not only in you, but with your friends, with your family, and in this community here.  When people come into a community of faith, they need to know.  Here they are safe.  Here they are safe to face their fears.  Here they are safe to share their hurts.  Here they are safe to be themselves and not fear being condemned or shunned.   Here, they will feel invited and welcomed, and above all loved.  And so when followers of Jesus say to them.  God loves you no matter what.  They won’t believe become they simply hear the words. They’ll believe because they’ve seen the love, they’ve felt it in the people around them.  In the name of the God who loved you first, who in Jesus gave his life for you, and who can do more in you than you could ever ask or imagine. Amen.