Monday, September 26, 2016

How Do You Live a Life Filled with Joyful Contentment and Peace instead of Fear and Anxiety? Here's How.

Ok, I know the odds.   I have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning (especially in South Florida) than to have a terrorist attack me.   But here’s the difference.   I can see the lightning coming.   I can even get out of its way.  But some crazed guy (and it usually is a guy) with a knife or a bomb or a gun, that’s a lot harder to see coming.    So yes I know, I’m more likely to get killed in an accident on 95 than by a killer from ISIS, but the whole thing still rattles me a bit.   I guess that’s why call it terrorism.   That’s what they want to inspire, terror.

And if that doesn’t rattle your cage, take your pick.   You have mosquitoes carrying Zika.   You have the rising tide of climate change that make South Florida one of the most threatened places on the planet.  You have a Presidential election that hardly anyone seems happy about.    

But even so, let’s be honest.  No one is bombing homes or cities like in Syria. Unlike Venezuela, no one is dying because they can’t get basic medications.   You and I still live in the richest nation in the world, a place more stable, peaceful, and well provided for than pretty much anywhere else.    Yet, in the world, no one gets more anxious than Americans.   We are No. 1.   Roughly one in five Americans suffer from serious anxiety, and over a lifetime one in 3 will.   

Why is that?   More importantly, how do you not become part of that statistic?  How do you live at peace in a seriously anxious time?   How do you live content when so many are filled with such discontent?  In these words from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, God shows the way.   Let’s hear what God has to say. 

In a nation where so many get caught up in anxiety and fear, how do you not get caught up?  How do you find peace and keep it, even if your life may seem to be going off the rails?  In these words from the Apostle Paul, God shows the way.    Peace happens when you stop focusing on happiness, and instead rest in joy.    And how does that joy and peace come?   It comes as you ponder truth, as you give thanks, as you rejoice in what cannot change. 

How can a nation with such wealth, so many cool gadgets, so much diversion and entertainment be so unhappy and anxious?    It’s because so many believe that happiness is what they need instead of realizing that joy trumps happiness every time.   Now don’t misunderstand me.   Nothing is wrong with happiness.    But happiness has a problem.   It doesn’t last.  

The Greeks had a lot of wisdom in the words that they created.   And when it came to the word they used for happiness, and the word they used for joy, you can see their wisdom at work.   Their word for happiness, Makarios, they used to describe the rich’s freedom from normal cares and concerns or the luck of someone winning the lottery.   In other words, they connected happiness to circumstances, and circumstances come and go.    But the word they used for joy, chairo, they described as the good mood of the soul, as a fullness of being, in other words, something not affected by circumstance.   If circumstances can take away joy, what can?  The Greeks knew that.  It’s why they made the opposite of joy not sadness, but fear. 

And that’s why Paul almost immediately moves to focus on peace.  Paul knows that joy and peace always go together, and that fear and anxiety stand as their greatest enemies. 

In our culture, we think of peace often as an absence of something, of worry or stress.   But in the Bible peace always describes a fullness; a fullness so complete that it simply leaves no room for fear and anxiety to exist.   Instead, you become filled with joy and peace, a peace so great that it can even defy rational understanding. 

When my family lived in New Orleans, my parents became close friends with the DeZwaan family, a family that seemed so perfect they could have been candidates for a Crest commercial.   But no family, not even the perfect looking ones are immune to awful things.   The DeZwaans moved up to Baton Rouge, and the parents, Ken and Marjorie bought a weekend home on the lake.   One Sunday evening as they were finishing up there, Ken and Marjorie, asked their son, Gary to take his sisters and their friend in his new car to the church youth meeting.  They would follow behind a few minutes later.   And as Ken and Marjorie headed down the highway, they saw an accident.  Ken pulled over to see if he could help.   Then they both realized.  They knew the car.  It was Gary’s car, the one they had just given him as a high school graduation present.   A car driven by a drunk driver had crossed the highway median and hit Gary’s car head on.  No one in Gary’s car survived.   In one awful moment, Ken and Marjorie lost all three of their children.  In her shock and grief, Marjorie cried out. “Oh, Jesus, help me.”   And instantly in the midst of that horrific scene, she felt a peace she could not understand.   That peace carried Ken and Marjorie to the hospital rooms of the men who had killed their children so they could offer them their forgiveness.   It led them on the day when my father showed up for the funeral of their children (3 caskets lined up in the front of the church), for Ken and Marjorie, to ask about one of his, my brother Jes, who was going through serious health issues.    And to this day, that peace has carried them, and led them to tell the story of God’s faithfulness in the midst of their tragedy again and again.  Now how does that peace happen, peace that literally defies understanding? 

It happens when you rigorously ponder the truth, the deepest realities of life.  What do I mean?  I mean what Paul means when he says that whatever is true and pure and honorable, think on those things.   Now that sentence can seem somewhat generic unless you know what those words mean to Paul.   The words he uses here, he uses in other places to describe his core beliefs about God, about God’s love and grace, God’s purpose for the world.    In other words, Paul is telling the Philippians, when worry and fears hit, ponder the deepest truths of life.   Now why does Paul advise them to do that?   He knows.  The more you ponder what is most deeply and profoundly true, the more that truth will free you from worry and fear.  

Ironically many self-help books advise the opposite.  They don’t encourage you to ponder the deep questions of life.  Instead they often advise techniques to avoid those questions or at least to find ways to quiet them.   And that makes sense.  After all, if the only answers to the deep questions of life are that life has no purpose, that no being exists who can bring order out of chaos or good out of evil, that death is simply the end, no more and no less, well that doesn’t do much to foster peace or hope.   Those books actually a void facing the implications of those beliefs, but the Bible tells you when worry and fears hit, that’s when you need to see the implications of what you believe more than ever.   Why?   The truth that Christianity proclaims says.  Life does have purpose. God does have a plan, one that can bring good out of the worst evil.  Nothing will defeat God’s love ever, not even death.    And when you ponder those truths, reflect on them, gain comfort from them, it fills you with a peace and confidence that can withstand anything.  

And how do you best ponder those truths?  You do it by practicing thanksgiving.  I used to think that Paul when he said to make supplication with thanksgiving.   He meant that, before you ask God for something, remember all the things you already have to be grateful for.   That sort of thanking gives you crucial perspective.   But Paul was going further than that.  Paul was saying that when you ask God for an answer, go ahead and thank God for the answer even before you know what the answer is.   Now why would you thank God even before you’ve have any answer to your prayer?   You do so, so that you can remember whatever God’s answer will be, it will be the answer that you would have chosen if you knew what God knew.  

And if you doubt that, look at the cross.   On the day that the Romans killed Jesus, do you think his disciples saw anything good happening?   No, they left in despair.  They thought that God had left the building, when in reality on that cross, in that awful place, God was doing the greatest act of goodness and love ever.   Now if God can do that in the utter evil of the cross, do you think God is going to be stymied by any situation in your life? 

Over a decade ago, I had a dream of where I wanted my next church to be.   I dreamed of serving this church for years.   And guess what, my dream church wasn’t in Hollywood.  It was in Pittsburgh.  And I came close to getting it.  I was in the semi-finals so to speak.  But after my last interview, I knew it.   They didn’t even need to send me a letter.  I was not going to Pittsburgh.  And it bummed me out.  But I look back now, and I wonder.  What was I thinking?   I would have been miserable in Pittsburgh.  If nothing else, it’s one of the cloudiest places on the planet, and I love the sun.   God knew.   You don’t need to be in Pittsburgh.  You need to be in Hollywood, and thank God, God’s answers were wiser than my prayers.   

If God really cares about you, wants the best for you, and can even work that best out for you, than thanking God even as you ask makes perfect sense.    And the more you thank like that, the more you open yourself to a peace and contentment that nothing can shake. Why?  Because it is a peace and contentment rooted in the only thing that cannot change ever.    

In Paul’s day, the philosophers struggled to understand what truly would bring contentment, real peace.  And most of them had come to the same conclusion.   People failed to be content because they looked for the source of contentment in things not ultimately under their control.  So say, they found contentment in family, but family can change.  Divorces, death, divisions wreck families every day.   And the same could be said of success or wealth or popularity.  So what was their solution?  They said.  Don’t look to outward things, which you can’t control or depend upon.   Those things will change.   Look inside to your virtues, your character, which you can control.  There you have something that can remain unchangeable.   But Paul and later the great Christian thinker, Augustine, saw how weak that argument was.   They said.  “Don’t kid yourself.  Your virtue isn’t under your control.   How come you find yourselves driven to do things that you know are wrong, that in your heart of hearts you don’t really want to do. Yet you do it.  You can hardly control your virtues better than your family or success or anything else.   

In the end, only one reality in the universe does not change..  And what is that?  God, and not simply God, but God’s love; God’s unbreakable desire for your good;  for your well-being; for your fulfillment and joy.   In that and only in that will you find the peace and joy you seek, because only in that do you find what will never change

How can you know that?   You can know that because you know Jesus.   A God who loves you no matter what, that’s a nice concept, a comforting one.  But concepts don’t transform your heart.   But when you see that concept lived out in flesh and blood, God dying for you in flesh and blood, well, that will transform you.  

When God in Jesus went to that cross, do you think he had peace?  That he had joy?  No.  He lost his peace in that dark and despairing place.   He cried out.  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?    He had no joy.  The brutality and pain of those hours emptied him of joy.  But he willingly gave up his peace so that you might know a peace that passes understanding   He forsook his joy to open the way to joy for you now and forever.   And God did all that willingly, freely, out of love for you.    At any moment, Jesus could have walked away, could have ended the agony.   But Jesus stayed on that cross, because even there, utterly alone and beset by evil at its worst, God’s love for you did not change.    And if God’s love did not break under that, then it will never break.  Death won’t break it.  Your failings won’t break it.  Your doubts won’t break it.  And the more you realize that unchangeable truth, the more joy will fill you and with it peace, a peace that pushes away fear, a peace that passes all understanding.   

Sunday, September 18, 2016

When Hard Times Hit How Do you Find the Hope to not just Survive but to Overcome even Triumph? Here's How

It makes me wonder.   What was the difference?  They both had the same mom.  They both had tough childhoods.   They both even got involved with drugs when they were young.   Yet one sister struggles with addiction for years and dies at 43 of a drug overdose.  The other goes on to appear on Time Magazine’s most influential list ten times, more than any other person ever.    One sister makes $19,000.00 by selling an ugly story about that sister to the tabloid.   And the other sister goes on to become the richest self-made woman in American history.

Have you guessed who I am talking about?   I am talking about two sisters, one was named Patricia, and the other named Orpah after a character in the Bible.  But since no one could pronounce it, they ended up just calling her Oprah.    How does that happen?   How does one sister never get beyond the demons that plagued her, while the other not only goes beyond them, but beyond them to become an extraordinary success.  

I was thinking about that question because again and again in life, you can find that pattern.  You see two folks encounter similar hardships and setbacks.   Yet one overcomes, even grows stronger through the tough times.  But the other, the other never gets past them.  Instead he falls further and further behind.    How do you become the one who overcomes rather than the one who falls behind?  How do you find the resilience, the strength to make it through the tragedies, the injustices, the losses that life brings you?   As one preacher put it, when hard things happen, you have two choices.   You can become better or you can become bitter.    How do you move towards the better?  In these words, written to followers of Jesus going through their own trials, God shows the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.

Romans 5:1-5      

When hard times hit, how do you overcome?   How do you find the hope to carry on, to even move forward even in the face of tremendous suffering, of heartbreaking loss?   In these words of Paul’s, God shows the way.   God shows us that hope ultimately lies not in what we feel.  It lies in what we know.   And when you know the truth of who you are, of who God is, that truth, that knowledge will bring you through anything.  

But before we look at what that truth is, we need to see clearly what it is not.  You cannot overcome the suffering and setbacks of life by deadening yourself to them.   And you can’t overcome them by celebrating in them either.   What do I mean?  

Many years ago I met the father of a friend.  Bob was his name.  I noticed that one of his fingers was only partially there.   And once I saw it, I couldn’t help but ask.  How did that happen?   Then the story came out.   Bob had been changing a tire with a friend on the side of the road one day when the jack dropped.  And when it did, so did his finger.   And all Bob said to communicate that loss was.  “Oh, it got my finger.”   And then calmly with his friend, they found the missing piece, put it on ice and headed to the hospital.  Needless to say, they didn’t make it in time.  But what struck me was, at least as they told the story, that was pretty much all that Bob had to say about the thing.   Just, “Oh, it got my finger.”    I kind of admired that reaction.   It seemed so tough, so strong, but more and more I wonder if it was.    

A certain school of thought says that you deal with pain by not allowing yourself to feel it, by deadening yourself to it.   You keep the stiff upper lip.   You toughen up and live on to fight another day.    And as tempting as all that sounds, it leads to a seriously disturbing downside.  You can’t deaden yourself to the dark withoutdeadening yourself to the light.   The more you work at finding ways to deny the pain, to numb it, the more you numb the exuberance, the delight, the sheer joy that life can bring.    When Paul talks here about boasting in suffering, he is telling you that in your suffering God can bring good, endurance, character, hope.  But you don’t get that by acting as if the suffering isn’t really suffering, by denying the pain and hurt you actually feel. 

But not denying suffering doesn’t mean you celebrate it either. Paul doesn’t say we boast because of our suffering, as if suffering somehow qualifies you as a Christian.   Yet still many religious folks think it does.   

Have you ever heard that knock on your door, and seen some folks standing there and smiling, holding a copy of the latest edition of the Watchtower?  Do you know what I’m talking about?  How many here have had Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on their door?   Now before I go any further, let me say.   That sort of door knocking takes some guts, and as someone who has done it on occasion, God can use it in neat ways.   I’m might even do a little door knocking around the church in the coming months myself.   But what I’ve learned about the Witnesses is that the hard core ones get almost as excited as when you shut the door on them as when you let them in.  And if you happen to be rude, well, that really rocks their world. Why?  They figure that they’re getting to suffer for Jehovah, and that’s an awesome thing.  Some of them even look forward to the rejection.   And often lots of Christians have had the same attitude. 

Yet, in spite of what many Christians have thought over the centuries, Jesus didn’t celebrate suffering of any sort.   He didn’t avoid suffering, but he never thought it was good or right.   It’s why he spent so much of his ministry easing it, from feeding the hungry to healing the sick to freeing the spiritually tormented.

So if numbing yourself to suffering won’t help you and if celebrating it won’t work either, then what does Paul mean by boasting in it?   Paul is telling you.   You triumph through suffering not by not feeling it nor by welcoming it.  You triumph through suffering by knowing it never will have the last word. 

Many years ago, I read about something called the Stockdale Paradox.   It got its name from Admiral Jim Stockdale.   During the Vietnam War, Admiral Stockdale became the highest ranking officer in the infamous Vietcong prison known as the Hanoi Hilton.   In that role, he created ingenious ways for the prisoners to stand strong, to keep their dignity in the face of humiliating and devastating suffering.   For his efforts, our nation gave him the Medal of Honor.  And Stockdale went on with his wife to write a moving book of the experience called In Love and War, and become a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and for those who might remember even a candidate for Vice President.    

The business writer, Jim Collins, became intrigued by his story.  He wondered.  How did Stockdale and the other not only survive but triumph through years and years of torture and starvation?   Stockdale simply said. “I never lost faith in the end of the story.  I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail to the end and turn the experience into the defining moment of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”  

Then Collins asked.  “Well who didn’t make it out?”    Stockdale said.  “Oh that’s easy.  The optimists.”  Puzzled, Collins asked. Why?   “Well, they’d say, Oh, we’ll be out by Christmas, and then Christmas would come and go.  Then it would be Easter, and Easter would come and go.   Then it would be Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving would come and go.  And eventually, all that optimism led to utter despair.    

And with that Stockdale presented the paradox.   “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you cannot afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your reality, whatever those facts might be.”

What Stockdale was saying is what God is telling us here.   You can boast in your suffering not because it’s easy or even because God is going to get you out of it.   It’s not easy, and you don’t know if God will deliver you out of it or not.    But this you do know.  You know that because of what God has already done for you, your suffering, no matter how severe, can never have the last word.  

That’s why Paul begins what we just read the way he does.  How do you know your suffering will not have the last word?   Because, Jesus in his suffering and death guaranteed it won’t.  That’s what it means when Paul says that you and I are justified.   It means, all our suffering, even the suffering we bring on ourselves, on that cross, God made right.  God rectified it. God resolved it.  God paid for it.    In Jesus, God took on the full force of evil with all the senseless and unjust suffering it brings, and he did it for us.    And did evil get the last word there?  Was Jesus’ death the end of the story?  No, Jesus’ story did not end there.   It didn’t even end at the empty tomb.  It still hasn’t ended.   And it will not end until evil is totally banished and broken.  

You can know that your suffering is not the end of your story, because Jesus’ suffering was not the end of his.   And his story is now your story.   His glory is now your glory.   His love has now been poured into you.   And when you know that, then you know a truth that will empower you not simply to survive suffering, but to triumph in the midst of it, to even boast in it. 

Whatever suffering you face, you can know it will not write the end of your story.  God on that cross in his suffering wrote that.   And the more you know that, the more you will find in your suffering, endurance and character, and a hope that not even death can defeat. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Why Perfectionism will Destroy You but Perfection Will Save You

When I was growing up, I had a bizarre theory about the television.   I figured if I could see them, then they could see me.    And this created a huge problem when it came to the Brady Bunch.    For those who remember it, the Brady Bunch told the story of this blended family, where the house was always put together, the parents never got angry, and the kids had nothing but the nicest problems.   I loved that show, but I was terrified of what the Brady’s might think of my family, the McGowan’s.   So before the show, I’d clean up the area around the TV.  I’d ask my siblings to dress nice and behave well.  I wanted the Brady’s to see us at our best.   But something always went wrong.  My dad would come in his t-shirt on the way to his workshop or my sisters would get in a fight.  Somehow, some way my family would find a way to embarrass me in front of the Brady’s.  

Now you may never had any desire to impress the Brady Bunch, but somewhere along the way, you’ve been worried about impressing somebody.   Have you ever had someone come over to clean your house, but before they came over, you cleaned it first?   Now, I’m not talking a full clean, but you pick up things, maybe do the dishes; stuff like that.   You realize that the house will still be dirty, but at least they won’t think you’re a total slob.   Or maybe it wasn’t a house cleaner, but a neighbor or some worker who came to fix something.   Maybe you said something like, “I apologize for the house.  It’s normally not this way at all (when you knew it was this way all the time).”  

Now, is that so bad?  Who doesn’t want to make a good first impression?   But the deeper question is.  Why do you do that?   Why does it matter so much?   Underneath that drive to impress lies a deeper problem.  And that problem painfully limits your life, your relationships, your sense of joy and peace.    But in these words, Jesus offers a way out, a way that frees you to become who God created you to be.  And in these words, Jesus points to that way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.    

What’s wrong with wanting to make a good first impression?   Shouldn’t that be a worthy goal? It all depends on why you are doing it.  Too often what drives the desire to impress has to do with a deeper problem, one that leads you away from the fullness that God yearns to give.  What is the problem?  You are striving for the appearance of perfection, when what you need is the real thing.   And the real thing, real perfection is something very different from what you might think.    And once you’ve experienced it, it frees you as only true perfection can.  But first, you need to understand the problem that binds you up.   

Here’s the problem.   People mistake perfectionism for perfection.  But the two could not be any more different.   Perfectionism has nothing to do with being perfect, and everything to do with looking perfect.   When you are in perfectionist mode, you know two things.  You know deep inside that you are far from perfect.  And you also know that you can’t let anyone see that.    Why?   You fear that if anyone did see it, what would they think?  What would they think of you?  How would they react?  And a voice tells you that they would react badly.   So to avoid that condemnation and disapproval, to avoid the shame of that exposure, you cover it up with the appearance of perfection.   And then you tell yourself, this is what perfection looks like.   If I look perfect, then I must be perfect, right?

But in the words that came before the ones we just read, Jesus destroys that false belief.    In example after example, Jesus punctures the illusion of perfectionism, one that the religious leaders of his day were promoting.  Jesus said; so you say, you shall not murder, but I say to you if you cherish anger in your heart, then you’ve murdered.    You say, don’t commit adultery, but I say to you if you look at someone with lust in your heart, then you’ve done the deed.  Do you see what Jesus is doing?  He is laying out a painful truth. Perfectionism is not perfection.  Looking perfect ain’t perfect.  It’s just a lie you tell yourself to help you feel better about the mess you know you are.   And that lie destroys the life that God wants you to live.  Why?

In that lie, you can’t spend your life growing into the person God created you to be.  Instead you spend your life constructing an image of the life you think others want to see.    And that life isn’t a life.   It’s a lie, a lie that eats you up from the inside, and wounds you and often others in devastating ways.

When I first came to South Florida, I got to know the pastor of a large church nearby.  We went to lunch pretty regularly.   I began to believe that we had developed a solid relationship.   After the last lunch I ever had with him, he told me that he would email some information I was looking for.  And I waited, and I waited, and the email never came.  So after two weeks or so, I called his assistant to ask her about it.   After a long pause, she said, “Kennedy, you don’t know?  David doesn’t work here anymore.”    It turned out as we shot the breeze at that last lunch his life was falling apart by his own hand.    The ugly truth about a long affair had just come out, and at that lunch, he was only days away from leaving ministry, losing his marriage, and devastating a church that had placed their trust in his leadership and integrity.   But as we sat there at that table, you would never have known it.   Even there, as his life blew up around him, he was still trying to cover, trying to look perfect when he was anything but. 

Now you may not be hiding an affair, but when you get caught in the lie of perfectionism, you are hiding something.  And let’s be honest, aren’t we all hiding a bit like that?  But when you do, you aren’t just hiding some little flaw, you are hiding you.   And that hiding binds you, and it binds others, because we’re all living lies with each other, lies from which we can’t break free.   And nothing good will ever come from that hiding.  It will just bring more hiding, more lies.  It will spawn a life that is so far from what God intended our life to be.     

Yet here’s the question.   How do you break free of the compulsion to cover?  How do you gain the freedom and courage not to hide just how imperfect you are?  You gain that freedom by knowing what true perfection actually is.     

In these words, Jesus shows you.  And he begins by describing it in an unexpected way.   He talks about how God showers rain and sun on everybody from the worst to the best.  Then he says.  That’s the way you need to be.  If you are only nice to the people who are nice to you, then what’s the big deal?  Pretty much, everybody does that.   If you want to be perfect like God, be good to everybody.  Don’t hate your enemies.  Pray for them.   

Now how does that help?   It doesn’t if you think Jesus is just giving you something new to do. If you think Jesus is telling you to smile and be sweet to people who have done you wrong, you’re still stuck.   Because, then you’ll just be living another lie.  You’ll be smiling at folks on the outside, when inside you are not smiling at them at all.      

To get what Jesus is actually telling you, you need to understand what this word translated as perfect here really means.    When we think of perfect, we usually think of something that’s absent of flaws.  But for Jesus perfection didn’t mean an absence of flaws but a fullness, a completeness.   You could actually translate the words that Jesus says more accurately as; be complete, therefore, as your heavenly Father is complete.       

Jesus is saying what makes God perfect is not an absence but a fullness.  God has no lack, nothing missing.   And God showers that completeness on everyone.  Yes, God sees injustice and wrong.   God works to make it right.  But as God does that, he still showers rain and sun on everyone, the just and unjust alike.  Why?   In God’s completeness, God’s fullness, God can offer love to everyone.   God sees no one as unworthy of that love.   And that is the fullness that frees you from the lie of perfectionism.

You see, with all those examples about adultery and murder, Jesus was making it clear.  You are not perfect.  You are not complete.   And to try to live a life that denies that is to live a lie, a lie that will ultimately destroy you.    But if you instead acknowledge your incompleteness then you open the door for the very completion you need.  You can’t cause the sun to rise, so God raises it for you, no matter how good or bad you are.  You can’t bring the rain, so God brings it for you, despite anything you’ve done or not done.  And on your own, you can’t become complete, become whole, so God brings that completion and wholeness to you. 

That’s why God came in Jesus.  That’s why in that agony on the cross, he didn’t hate his enemies.  He prayed for them.  Don’t you see?   In Jesus, God came to make you complete.  He emptied himself so he could fill you.   He became utterly broken to make you whole.   So, yes, you are incomplete.   But in Jesus, all your incompletes are gone.   He, in that ultimate gift, that infinite sacrifice, made you complete, whole, even perfect.    And as you know that, you will find the freedom to be who you really are, warts and all.  Why? Even in your incompleteness, you will know in God’s eyes, you are already complete.  And in that freedom, you will grow.  You will grow past your warts more and more into the perfect creation God made you to be.   So, forget perfectionism.  Forget those lies.   Live into the truth of your incompletion because can you rest in the truth that in God’s eyes you are already complete. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Do You Find the Freedom to Live Into Who You Actually Are? Here is the Truth That Gives You That Freedom

Something I read a week or so ago has been haunting me.   The poet E.E. Cummings said it.  Cummings said.  “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.”

Why does that haunt me? It haunts me because I can’t help wondering how well I’m winning that battle, how well anyone is winning it.  It can be hard simply to be yourself.  What do I mean?  I mean that instead of being real we put up a front.   We create an image.   It’s why a preacher I admire calls Facebook, Fakebook.    You go out with your family to the beach.   On the way you have an argument with your spouse on where to park, and then your kids get into a fight.   By the end of the day, you feel miserable, sun-burned and cranky, but what do you do?  You put everyone together for a smiling family selfie and post it on Facebook with the tagline – awesome family day at the beach!  

Too often people are present to each other in superficial ways.  People have become more interested in ‘connection’ rather than communion.”   But communion is what everyone deeply needs.  You and I need places, relationships where you don’t have to act like you’re happy when you’re sad or cover up your anger or your fear. You need relationships where you can live out the truth of who you actually are, even when that truth isn’t so pretty.   

But instead if you are like most, you hold back from revealing that truth.  You cover up.  You hide behind a smiling face.   But behind that smile you aren’t finding freedom but the opposite.   How do you come out of hiding?  How do you find the freedom to be nobody but who you actually are?   In these words, Jesus shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say. 

You can go through life, and never be who you actually are.   Instead you hide that truth.  You cover it up.   And that hiding and covering binds you.   It even imprisons you.  And it can be so hard to break free.    So how do you find the freedom?   You find freedom by realizing the truth, the truth about you and God.   But before that freedom comes, you will need to face the hard truth of just how bound up you are.  

The famous preacher, Bill Coffin put it well.   He said.  Honesty does not come painlessly; “The truth will make you free.” (Jesus), but first it makes you miserable!   What did he mean?  He meant that a lot of people like to think they are already free or that freedom will come if they just break free of whatever master in their life is holding them back.   But here’s the truth.   Freedom is never about having no master.  Freedom is instead about having the right one.  You see, people can think they are free, when they are not at all.  Why?  

Everyone, whether they are conscious of it or not, is living life with a certain goal in mind.  I’m not talking about goals like getting a better job or losing 20 pounds.  I am talking about a deep, overriding desire that drives your life, whether you realize it or not.    Jesus is telling you that this desire that drives you actually owns you.  It is your master.   

For example you may make the ultimate value of your life to be successful in your career or your marriage or with your family.   You may be unusually focused on gaining the approval of some person or persons or avoiding their disapproval.  Everyone has a desire like this.  Heck, even if you say, that is definitely not me.   I cherish my independence.  I will never let anything control me.  You don’t get it either!  Your desire to not let anything control you actually does control you.  And that desire affects your relationships; your work; everything.   These desires can be and often are good.  But when they become ultimate desires, they enslave you.  Why?  They drive you.  And as they drive you, you live with the underlying fear that if you don’t fulfill this desire, then somehow you will be worthless, that your life will have failed at some deep level. 

These desires can even be religious ones.  In fact, Jesus is talking here to religious people who wanted to follow him.   But Jesus told them that they had a wrong desire that drove them too, that literally made them slaves.   He said.   Look, in a Roman household, a slave and a son can seem in many ways the same.  They live in the same house.  The head of the house provides for them both.   They also work for and obey him.    But they are very different.   If the slave messes up, his status can change like that.  His status depends on what he does, and how well he does it.  And that makes it very uncertain.  But the status of the son doesn’t change.   Whatever mistakes he makes he will always be a son, no matter what. 

Jesus is saying to these folks.   Yes, you follow God.  You even have a relationship with God, but your God actually doesn’t exist.  Your God only accepts you if you’ve done what He expects.   And if you don’t, then you’re cast out so that the desire that drives you is to get this God to accept you. And you live every day with the fear that maybe God doesn’t.   And that binds you up just as much as anyone driven by a desire for approval or success or money or whatever.    That’s how people can grow up in a religious environment, even a Christian one, and instead of finding freedom get guilt and anxiety.   They never experienced the truth that Jesus is talking about here, the only truth that can actually set you free. 

What is that truth?   The master you need is not this false God who comes to you as a boss that will boot you out of the house if you mess up.   No, the God that actually exists comes to you as a father, who loves you period; no matter how badly you mess up.   And the more you grasp that truth, the freer you become.  Why?  You know who you are, a beloved child, one whose place in her parents’ heart is always secure.

How do you know that you have experienced this truth?  You will know it by the degree to which you live your life in hiding.   Every human being has a tendency to hide.  They live with this sense that at some level they’re faking it.  And if others knew the truth about them, oh man, if they only knew, it would blow them away.   But the more you hide, the more alone you become, the more bound up inside.      But the more you realize who God is, who you are, that truth gives you the courage to live into who you truly are, to come out of hiding, to live with an unveiled face.  What do I mean by an unveiled face?  

St. Paul in a letter he wrote to the church in Corinth talked about how when Moses came off the mountain after talking with God, his face shone with such radiance that he had to put on a veil because his face blinded the people.  That’s a pretty impressive image for people to have of you, Moses, the shining one.  But Moses had a problem.  The radiance went away.  But he still wore the veil.   He didn’t want anybody to know.   And what Moses did, every human being does in their own way. 

People put on veils to hide their own inadequacies, their fading radiance.  So your veil might be superficial conversation or humor, and you use it to mask your pain or your hurt or your insecurity.  Or maybe you hide behind your intelligence or your busyness or your phone.  And yes, you can hide yourself behind your religiosity, quoting Bible verses or mouthing religious phrases.  But none of these are real. They are not you.   They are veils you put on to hide behind.  But you don’t have to carry them.  The more you know the truth of who you are, the more you find the freedom to take the veil off.    And who are you?  You are a beloved child of your heavenly Father, and as you realize that then the more you can live in the freedom of that blessed child that you are.   

After all, children haven’t learned to manage their faces, to hide behind them.  I see that with my own son.  When he is not happy, his face tells you.  And when he is full of joy, his face tells you that to.  But we get older, and we learn to manage our faces.  We look confident, when we’re scared, happy, when we’re sad, holy when our hearts are crazy with temptation.  But God didn’t make you that way.   And God doesn’t want you to stay that way.   God wants you to know the truth that will set your free, that will free you to leave the veil behind.  Why?   Because you know at the deepest part of who you are that you are loved and accepted just as you are.  

God didn’t create you to hide,  God came in Jesus to invite you out of hiding, to take the veil off your faces.  In Jesus, you see the unveiled face of a God who went through infinite, incomprehensible suffering just to bring you home, to open you to the truth of who you are.   Jesus invites you to taste and see this God who loves you like that.   So come and taste and see and know the truth of who you are, of who God is, the truth that will set you free.   For if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.  

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What You Need to Know About God that Will Change How You View Yourself, Others, and Everything

It nearly killed me, but it was worth it.   Many years ago, when I visited the Grand Canyon, on a whim, I got the crazy idea to hike into it and back out in one day.    And if not for the help of a very experienced German hiker, I might have come out of that canyon on a gurney rather than my own two feet.    

But beyond learning the importance of carrying enough water in desert conditions, I learned that seeing the Grand Canyon from the top and actually seeing it all the way down are two very different things.   As amazing as I found the view, it could not compare to the awe I felt as I walked through it.   It was one of the most amazing days of my life.   Now, why am I sharing that story?

Because the words we’re about to hear reminded me of that day at the Canyon.  You see, when most folks say or read the Lord’s prayer, it’s a bit like looking at the Grand Canyon from the top.  It can be impressive, but it can’t compare to the power you feel when you hike in, when you dig into the reality of what Jesus is actually saying.   Now most of the time, none of us has the time to take that hike, so to speak but once you do, even once, it changes you.   You never look at anything the same way again.  

Too often, people who are seeking God don’t even really know what they are looking for.   So it’s no wonder that they get disillusioned or cynical about the whole search.  But in the words of this prayer, in one word in particular, Jesus shows us who God is.     

And when you see that, it does far more than give you a nice memory.  It changes your conception of yourself, of God, of everyone and everything for the rest of your life.    How can you know who God is, who you are?   In the words of this prayer, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say. 

The world has many folks, including a fair number who may even be fairly religious, who don’t really get who God is.    And because they don’t know that, they end up not really knowing who they are, or, in a way, who anyone else is either.   But in these words, Jesus not only shows you who God is, but how knowing that changes everything.        

Yet this key reality of who God is, can easily be missed, so much so that even folks who you think would know, the religious, don’t get it either.    And that’s where Jesus goes first.  He warns his followers about two religious mistakes.  He tells them.  First, don’t make your prayers a performance.  And second, don’t make them a technique.    

Now why is Jesus so concerned about the whole performance thing?   Jesus knows.  The real reality of any relationship almost always happens behind the scenes.  The poet Kathleen Norris put it this way.   “…..the mystery of faith”, she said “– it’s like a marriage, in that only the two parties involved really know what’s going on.”   Do you see how true that is?   How many times have you seen a couple you know, let’s call them Bob and Sue, and their kids at some event, and they look so happy, so put together?   You think to yourself.   Wow, what a great family!    Then a few months pass, you’re talking to a mutual friend.  And they mention it.  “Did you hear about Bob and Sue?  They’re getting a divorce”    And, shocked, you say, “But they looked so great together!”  Your friend replies, “Hey you never know.”     On the other hand, you may know of other couples, who have been together for years, and you still can’t figure that out.  Here’s the point.   With any relationship in our lives, we can make it look very different on the outside than it is on the inside.   We can all be great fakers.     And in a relationship with God, it can be the same.  You can attend worship regularly, give generously, pray publicly, carry your Bible wherever you go, but the true reality of your relationship can’t be found there.    It can only be found, when it’s just you and God, where no one else can see, where no one else can hear.  That’s where it gets real.    And if you aren’t living it out there, then Jesus is saying, then all that other stuff doesn’t really matter.   

On the other hand, you can be there in that one on one time, and even then, still not be getting it.   When Jesus talks about the Gentiles and their many words, he is talking about just that.   He is talking about folks who are trying through their words to manipulate God, to win God over.  You know it can be a nice thing if someone you know gets you a gift or says some kind words about you.    But if you begin to realize, that it isn’t real, that he or she is just trying to work you, to get on your good side.  Well, that just can’t work long term.   It sells both of you short.   It sells your friend short, that you don’t value them enough to just like them for them not the words they say or the gifts they bring.  And it sells you short, that you would be that shallow to begin with.  

Yet folks can be exactly that way with God.   If I pray hard enough or long enough, if I say just the right things, then God will finally see it my way.   But it doesn’t work that way.  It doesn’t work that way, because that’s not who God is. 

And that’s why Jesus, when he talks about praying, gives a name to God, that totally changed the reality of who God is forever.    And you’ve heard the name before.  Heck, it’s even in the shorthand we use for the prayer.  We call it the Our Father.   

But the word that Jesus uses here for father isn’t just any word.  It’s the word, Abba.   And every language has a word like it.  Why?   It’s because no matter where you are, when a child first comes up with a word for their parents, it’s something like Abba.  Those are the only vowels they can say.  So it may be Dada or Mama or Papa, but it always has that aah aah sound.   And Jesus uses that word to tell us something profoundly true in how God relates to us.   God really does see you as his child,  and not just any child but a small child, a child who can only say Abba.   

You see, whatever folks call God, often they look to God more as a boss than as a parent.   And the difference between those two images is huge.    You may have an awesome boss.  You may even be good friends with your boss, but here’s the reality.    If you stop doing your job, no matter how awesome your boss is, no matter how deep your friendship, at some point, they’re going to have to let you go.    In the end, your relationship is conditional.  

But with a parent, it’s completely different.   They care about your performance too, maybe more than your boss does.  But if you screw up, do they fire you?     If they’re good parents, they don’t.    If they’re good parents, they don’t push you away.  They draw even closer.

A few years ago, I hit a rough spot in my life.   I was having trouble at my job.  I was struggling in my marriage.   I had a few months where I was even living at La Quinta, if you get what I mean.    But in those times, my mom and dad rallied to my side.  They helped with hotel bills.  They listened to my sad tales.  They didn’t always like the way I had handled things, but they never walked away.   Instead they came closer.   

And Jesus is saying to his disciples, to you.  That’s who God is.    Don’t you get it?  You’re not talking to your boss.  You’re talking to your dad.    And let me just interject a word here on this term father.   Jesus isn’t talking here about the gender of God, as if God even has one.  Jesus is talking about the nature of the relationship between God and you.    So please don’t get hung up on that word.   If you want to use another parental term, you’ll still be talking to God.  But if you had a lousy father, so that word carries some baggage, still try to use it with God.   You might say.  “Well, I had such a terrible father; I don’t really have an image of what a good one is.”  But is that true?   You have to have an image somewhere of what a good father is.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t know your own dad was such a lousy one.  You have to be judging him on the basis of something.    And in God, you have the ultimately good father, one infinitely better than even the best human ones.   So, using that word for God could bring you healing, healing you very much need.     

But whatever the term, the key truth remains.  God doesn’t relate to you as a boss.  God relates to you as a loving parent does with his or her child.   And when you get that, when you really get that, it changes everything, not just about how you view God, but how you view yourself.   You are God’s child.  You are the one whom God loves like that. 

During the Civil War, a certain soldier was injured during battle.  But because of some bureaucratic snafu, he and his family weren’t receiving the benefits due them.  So the soldier went to Washington to appeal his case.  But he had no luck.    Discouraged, he went to Lafayette Park across from the White House to think it through.  As he sat there, he started crying.   A young boy was playing in that park.   He saw the soldier crying.  He asked him.   “What’s wrong?”  The soldier was so discouraged, that he told the boy the whole story.  After he finished, the boy looked at him.  He said, “Come with me.”   They crossed the street.  They went to the White House entrance.   The guards let them walk right through.  They went down the hall to the President’s outer office.  Everyone let them pass.   They walked straight into the oval office.  President Lincoln was meeting with his generals, but when they walked in, Lincoln told his advisors to be quiet.  He knelt down and took the boy in his arms, and asked him. “What’s wrong, Tad?”  And Tad, Lincoln’s beloved son, said “Daddy, this soldier needs your help.”   Do you understand that you’re a Tad?   You are God’s child.   You are the One whom God loves like that.

And once you get that, really get that, do you see how it changes everything?   Do you see how it even changes everything about this prayer?  For example, when you pray, God’s will be done, you can know that whatever that will is, it will be for your best.  Why?  Because, God’s your dad.    
Sometimes, in a busy parking lot, my son gets tired of holding my hand.  I’m cramping his style.  But I tell him.  Little man, you gotta hold daddy’s hand.  Why do I tell him that?  Because I don’t want some big SUV to run him over and kill him.  But, just because he can’t always see the truth of that, doesn’t make it less true.      

And every good parent has to make calls like that every day, not because they hate their child, but they because they love her more than she’ll ever know.   And here’s the humbling truth, with God, we’re those kids. 

A while back, I read this article about the possibility that human beings might develop computers hundreds of time more intelligent than ourselves.   And if that ever happens, well, it will be a huge blow to our self-esteem.    Among human beings, our intelligence lies across a pretty narrow spectrum.   The village idiot has an IQ of say 85, and Albert Einstein had one of 130.   But what if you had a computer with an IQ of 12,000?    We don’t even have a word for that.    As one writer put it, superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can remotely grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics.     And if that’s true of a computer, imagine what it means if you’re talking God, the highest intelligence in existence. Suffice it to say, God really does know better than you, as humbling as that may be.  

But how do you know this is who God is, a God who loves you as only a father or mother could?   Because Jesus not only told you, he showed you.   In Jesus, God not only become the parent, God became the child.    He became a human being, with all its painful limitations.    He became so vulnerable, that like us, he had to pray too.   And right before his awful end, in one final agonizing prayer, he prayed the words we’re about to pray.  He said to God, your will be done, even if that will leads me to the cross, to that utter agony and death. 

And God in Jesus went there for you, because God know only then could he bring you home, could he make the family whole.   So in Jesus, God gave his life for you.  Because his love went even there, you know you are loved no matter what.   You can know you are forgiven, no matter what mess you’ve made of your life.  Even to those nailing him to that cross, Jesus made that his prayer.   “Father, forgive them.”     And that means even as God has forgiven you, you can’t withhold it from others.   Why?   Whatever hurt they caused you, they’re family. If God’s your dad, your mom, then they’re your sisters and brothers.   You are all in this together.  

So as you pray this prayer, don’t just pray it, believe it   Believe that you are God’s child, that God loves you like that, that God forgives you like that.   And as you trust in that profound truth, it will change not only how you look at God.  It will change how you look at yourself, how you look at everyone, how you look at everything.    

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Delusion that Infects us All and How to Become Free of It

Did you know that more Americans believe in the afterlife today than did 40 years ago?   People are looking to have a connection beyond themselves.   But are they finding what they are looking for?   If they were, wouldn’t we see people who are happier, more at peace, more full of love?  But when I look around, I don’t see that.  I see fear, anger; people who don’t seem very happy at all. 

Here we are in the richest society in human history, yet so many seem so unhappy.  Why is that?   It’s because we live in a culture caught in a delusion, a delusion that promises happiness and fulfillment that it can never provide.  In fact, it provides the exact opposite. 
What is this delusion, and more importantly, how do we free ourselves from it.  In this powerful prayer from, David, one of the Bible’s greatest figures, God shows us the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.

No society in human history has had more luxury, more wealth than ours.   Yet people don’t seem to be content.   Lots of folks are more discontented than ever. Why is that?   In this passage, God shows us why.   Our discontent comes because too many trust in what cannot be trusted, rather in the One who can.   And they don’t see how utterly addictive and deadly their false trust is.  But in David’s actions, God shows us the path to freedom, a path out of the delusion that binds up our world. What is that delusion?    To see that, we need to understand first, what David does here, and more importantly, why David does it. 

If you read all the stories about King David in the Bible (and after Jesus himself, no one gets more attention than David.) one thing becomes clear.  David had one overriding desire for the people he led.   He yearned for them to experience the presence of God as intimately as he did.   That’s why the very first thing David does after he becomes king is to bring the Ark home.

Centuries before, God had told Moses to build this container, this Ark of the Covenant, to hold the Ten Commandments that God had given to Moses, to have it as a sign of God’s presence among them.  But by David’s day, the Ark had become more of a divine good luck charm, than anything else.   In fact the ark had ended up in a remote town on the outskirts of Israel.   That geographical distance said everything about the people’s relationship with God.   God had become remote, distant, more a boss or a lifeguard, than a friend or a lover.   You do what God says, sure.  You call upon God when you are in trouble, definitely.    But you’re not all that close. You don’t really have a relationship. 

A few weeks ago, I had a little daddy-cation.  My wife, Chantal, went, with our son, Patrick, to visit her parents in Canada.    And I liked having the time, just to do guy things, to eat food I shouldn’t eat, watch sports and Netflix to late in the night, but very soon it began to wear pretty thin.   I missed the companionship.  I missed my wife’s smile, my son’s exuberant play.   The house felt empty, even lifeless.  I missed them.  I really missed them.  I couldn’t wait for them to come home. But how sad it would have been, if that had not been the case?  It would have been painfully clear that whatever our marriage license said, whatever the names on my son’s birth certificate, the reality of our relationships had become something far different.   

That is exactly where Israel is.  God has been away so to speak, but the people of Israel have hardly missed him.  How can they? They hardly know him.   So, what does David do?  He brings God home, by bringing the ark home, to Jerusalem, the center of the nation.  In that act, David is declaring.   God can’t be somewhere over there.  You’ve got to have God close.  God has got to be personal or he’s nothing at all.    But David didn’t want to stop there.   He wanted God not just to be home.  He dreamed for God to have a home right in the midst of the people, a temple where God could become up close and personal. 

And now, decades later, at the very end of David’s life, it’s finally happening!  God is becoming real and personal.   But it’s not happening because of the temple.  That’s not built yet.  It’s happening because of what David does here to build the temple.

What does David do?   He empties his pockets.   He says, not only is the government going to give, I’m going to give.  In fact, I’m going to give everything, every ounce of gold and silver that I have. Now just to give perspective on what David gave.   A talent represented ten years wages for a worker, and David is giving thousands of talents.  In today’s dollars, he is giving billions and billions.   And David isn’t simply giving to a building. David is giving to a ministry.   The temple not only served as the center of worship, but as the center for care for the poor, for the widow, for the orphan.
And this act of radical generosity so blows away the people, that they start giving like never before.   Their giving, thousands and thousands of talents, means that a good bit of the entire nation’s economy is going to ministry, to worship of God and care for the poor.  

But more than what they give is what the Bible tells us about how they give.   It says that they gave freely and whole-heartedly.   Do you get what that means?  Their giving actually liberated them.  It freed them from some sort of bondage.    And this word whole-heartedly, literally is shalom-heartedly.    Shalom means a sense of utter fulfillment.  These people are giving out of a deep sense of joy, of satisfaction.    What has happened to them? David’s radical gift has broken the delusion that bound them, the same delusion that binds us.  In giving up their wealth, the Israelites had realized.   Wealth did not hold the meaning and security that they thought it did.   In fact, it promised security and meaning, but all it really gave them was the opposite, meaninglessness and insecurity.

The heart of the human problem comes down to this.   We trust in the wrong things to give us significance, and a lot of that wrong trust comes down to money.   Let’s say, you think that people liking you, approving of you gives you significance.  Well, money helps out with that.     Or let’s say, your significance comes from a sense of control, of safety.  Well, having money can seem to help with that too.     Heck, that’s why they call it financial security, right?

But don’t you see that’s actually a delusion.   Money can’t provide love.  Money can’t even provide security.   Can money stop cancer?  Can money stop divorce?    Money can’t really stop anything.   But because we think it can, because we buy into that delusion, money has power over us.   We don’t really have money.  Money has us. 

How much does money have us?  We spend more on our garbage bags, than 90 nations in our world spend on everything. We have twice as many malls as we do high schools.  And parents spend six hours shopping each week, not even counting on-line shopping.  And they spend 40 minutes playing with their kids. 

Our families are smaller today, but our houses are bigger.  So how do we pay for them?  We work more hours than anyone else.  so we get bigger houses, but we don’t spend much time in them, because we are working so hard to pay for them.   And even then, we still don’t have enough room for all our stuff.   So now we have 30,000 self- storage places where 40 years ago we almost had none.   Our households now contain and consume more stuff than every other household in history combined.  

And what has all our stuff gotten us.   More Americans declare bankruptcy every year than graduate from college.   And forget the financial bankruptcies, the family and relationship bankruptcies blow that away.   American couples talk to each other just 12 minutes each day.  And then because a lot of those minutes are fights, often over money, they work longer hours to avoid the drama.    And so the divorce rate has tripled in the last 50 years.   And teen suicide has tripled along with it.  Tens of millions take pills for anxiety or depression.   And with all our gadgets to save time, we have less time than ever.   We even sleep less, 20% less than people did a hundred years ago.

The more people fill their lives with things, the emptier they become.  "More than ever we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale (David Myers). We excel at making a living but we fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but can’t find our purpose. We cherish our freedoms but we can’t find connection. In an age of plenty we are hungrier than ever."
Yet we still don’t get it.   Jesus talked about greed way more than he did adultery? Why?   Because you know if you’re committing adultery.   But if you’re caught up in greed, a lot of times you don’t.  

It’s like no one thinks they’re selfish.   But let me ask, if someone takes a group photo, where do you look first?  And how do you judge if the picture is good?  If you look good, right? In fact, if you look bad, don’t you want to take another?   And so it is with greed.   If you don’t think you’re caught up in greed, it’s guaranteed that you are.  That’s how you can live in the most affluent society in human history, and still complain you don’t have enough. 

But on that day, when David emptied his back account, his radical gift freed his people from that.  Instead of hoarding their money or spending it on themselves, they gave it away to glorify God, to care for the poor.  Money became just money, so God could finally become God.   

But how do you and I become free?   Our wealth makes it even harder.  That’s why the wealthier people become, generally, the stingier and more selfish they get.   That’s how powerfully wealth enslaves you.   So how do you break free?

The answer lies in a question.  Why did David, who dreamed of this temple, even funded it, never build it?   God told him not to.   God said.  You’re a man of war, and I need a man of peace to build this temple.   I need this temple to point to a time when wars will cease, when my peace, my shalom, will fill the entire world.   And so God said to David:  When your days are fulfilled to go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. I will not take my steadfast love from him…but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. (1 Chronicles 17)

Now David thought this had to be Solomon.  And Solomon did build a temple, a house for God.  But Solomon’s kingdom did not last forever.   It lasted a few centuries.  So who is God talking about?  God is talking about a Son to come, who will call God his father, whose kingdom will last forever, who not only will build a temple.  He will become the temple. 

When Jesus was beginning his ministry, he said something strange.  Standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem, he said.   This temple will be destroyed, and in three days, I will raise it up.   And people thought he was crazy.   This temple took decades to build, they said, and you’ll build it again in 3 days?  But Jesus wasn’t talking about that temple.   He was talking about himself.   

What is a temple?   It’s a bridge between God and us.  In the temple, human beings encounter God up close and personal so they can know God not as a boss but as a lover, as a friend.  And, in Jesus, God was giving the ultimate temple, the ultimate bridge.    And to build this temple, God didn’t just empty his bank account, he emptied his life.   He became utterly poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich, rich in security, in peace, in fulfillment.   And as you grasp how radically, how infinitely, God has given everything for you, everything, you’ll realize you don’t need money for security or safety or approval or fulfillment.  You already have all that and more in the God who has radically given it all up for you.    And as you let the reality of that radical gift live in you, it will shatter the delusion that money has.  And you will give to glorify God, to care for the poor.   You will give so radically, so generously that it will stun you.  But you’ll give it freely because you have become free, free so that money can be just be money, and God can finally be God.