Monday, November 24, 2014

Freedom From Anxiety - Making the One Thing the One Thing

I knew it was bad but I didn’t realize how bad.   It’s one in five?   One in five people really?  But that’s what the study shows.   One in five people in our nation are takingsome psychiatric drug.   Now some of those are for things like ADHD or schizophrenia.  But most folks are taking them because they are either depressed or anxious or both.    40 million Americans alone have some form of anxiety problem.    And lots of them aren’t even doing anything about it. 

What about those that are?  Well, more and more we’re finding out that the medications don’t work so great.   Now, yes, a fair number of folks do need medications.  But for a lot of folks the drugs aren’t doing much of anything.  In fact, they may even be making them worse. Yet since 1985, the sales of just those drugs haveincreased by 5,000%.  That’s a lot! 

And let’s be honest, whether we have a diagnosed problem or not, who doesn’t get anxious?  Terrorists are out to kill us.   Who knows what the next test at the doctor’s office might show?   And it seems all too easy to lose a job these days, and all too hard to find a new one.   And heck, what about the day to day worries of life, running late for an appointment, getting stuck on 95, dealing with our kids or grandkids or our parents or spouse?   Heck, how many of us are a little worried about Thanksgiving, anxious getting everything ready or wondering if so and so will make a scene?  

So what do we do with all that?  How do we find peace in a world of anxiety?  How do we live lives more free of worry and all that comes with it?  In the words of this psalm, God shows us the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.

What’s up with this song?  The writer, David, ignores one of the basic rules of eliminating anxiety.  What is that?  Well, think about it.  What often makes you and me anxious?  We are thinking the worst.  We are catastrophizing.  We are creating in our heads disasters that haven’t happened and probably won’t.  Yet we’re creating them, and worrying about them too.

But what does David do.  He thinks the worst.   Though an army encamp against me, though my mother and father forsake me.   Sheesh!  Why does David imagine the worst, awful scenarios that haven’t even happened?  Why?  David wants to have a strategy against fear and anxiety that can stand against anything the world can throw at him.    He wants to know that if even the worst he can imagine happens to him, he will still be okay.   And let’s get real, David did have some real problems, including folks who wanted to kill him.  That’s probably more stress than any of us are dealing with.  So what is the strategy that David develops?

Well, he lays it all out in verse 4.  He says.  “One thing I asked of the Lord that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”  What?  That’s the secret?    Going to church 24 hours a day?  Really? 

But David isn’t asking that at all.   David is telling us.   I want to experience the presence of God, every moment of my life.  I want to behold the face of God.   If I have that, I know, even if an army camps against me, I won’t fear. But what does it mean to be in the presence of God?   I mean.  Isn’t God everywhere?  Aren’t we always in the presence of God?

Well, yes and no.   Right now, as you heard Robert play and the choir sing, you were in their presence.   But do you really know them?   Well, you only know them if you’ve come up and met them, if you’ve been face to face with them.  That’s how we really know folks, only when we see them face to face. 

And that’s what David wants from God.   David wants to know God personally and intimately.   Sure, you can experience God looking at a sunrise, but will you know God personally?  No.   Look, Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.    And if I look at a light bulb, sure I’ll experience the genius of Thomas Edison.   But if I go, Thomas, are you there?  Hello, Thomas!  I won’t get much.   The only way I will know Thomas Edison personally is if I meet him face to face.

But why does knowing God personally and intimately give us the key to a fearless life?   David gives us the answer right at the beginning of verse 3. He tells us “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after…”   David knows.   If I make God my one thing, then I need never fear anything ever again.  Why? 

Well, where does anxiety come from?  It comes when we make anything else our one thing.  And that anything else could even be a good thing.    For example family is a good thing.  Financial security is a good thing.  Health is a good thing.   But these good things can’t be ultimate things.  They can’t be the one thing.   They can’t be the one thing that we depend upon to make us happy, to keep us secure.   We can’t live in that house so to speak.  Why?  Well, that house can collapse.   And if it does, where is our security then?  

Now I’m not talking here about every day anxieties.   A certain low level of anxiety just shows we care about things.   I’m talking about when our fears paralyze us, when our anxieties threaten to overwhelm us.  When that happens, we know. A good thing has become an ultimate thing.  And we sense how insecure that thing is.   And that insecurity leads us to fear and worry. 

Don’t you see?  Our anxieties are only the smoke.   And if we follow the smoke, it will lead us to the fire.   They will show us what has become too important, what good things have started to become ultimate things, the central things; the little idols of our lives.  Don’t you see, our worries help us.  They help us see what are the things that are starting to enslave us, the good things that are becoming ultimate things.

But if God is the one thing, then David knows that he has nothing to fear.  After all, David knows that nothing can take away God’s presence.   God is the one unshakeable reality of life. 

So what happens, even if his father and mother forsake him, what does he say?  The Lord will take me up.   And let’s be honest.   In all of our cases, our mother and father will forsake us.  It could happen while they are alive, if we have parents that are not faithful to us.   But even the most faithful parent dies.   All parents eventually forsake their kids in that way.   Yet, have you ever run across someone who can’t get over the wounds of his childhood, who can’t let go of the bitterness to a parent who injured them.  Those folks will never have peace.  In their bitterness, they have made their parents’ failings an ultimate thing, and it is destroying them. 

Don’t you see these words can be true of everything we have?  If my money forsakes me, if my spouse forsakes me, if my health forsakes me, the Lord will take me up.   If God is my one thing, that one thing can never be taken away.   And if I have that one thing, then nothing, nothing will ever be able to shake me. 

Ok, so now, here’s the question.  How do we make God the one thing?  How does that happen?  How do we live in the house of the Lord?   David tells us that we do two things.  We behold the beauty of the Lord, and we inquire in his temple.    And he splits the rest of the psalm to talk about those two things.  In verse 8, he says,  “Come, my heart says, seek his face!”   That’s beholding.   Then in verse 11 he says.  Teach me your way, O Lord.” That’s inquiring. 

So how do we seek God’s face?    Well let’s take that first image in the psalm.  The Lord is my light.   Take a moment, and think about what light means to you.   How comforting it is.  How warm it can be.  How it pushes back the darkness.   Ponder for a few moments the light of God’s love pushing back every dark place, every dark thought, every dark emotion you have.  Imagine that light of God just filling you up.       

Now before you think, woah, that seems a bit deep, just realize you’re probably already doing it, just not with God.  Let’s say you see a new car that you really like or a beautiful piece of clothing or a person you’d like to meet.     What do you do?  You fill your mind with dreams about that thing or that relationship.  You fantasize about it.  How awesome driving that car would be.  How terrific that piece of clothing would feel.  How wonderful a relationship with that person would be.  Don’t you see, it’s the same process?  It’s just that none of that stuff will ever give what you imagine they will.  But God will actually give you more than you could ever imagine.  God will lavish upon you a beauty, a peace in your life that you could never have dreamed on your own.       

So do that with God.  Take images like God is my light or God is my refuge.  Fill your mind with what that means.   Contemplate the wonder of it.   When you do that, you will be beholding the beauty of the Lord.  You will be living in the House of the Lord. 

Now what about inquiring of the Lord, what does that mean?  The word here actually simply means seeking advice.   You ask God.  God what do you want me to do?   What’s your will for my life?
Now to live in the House of the Lord, you need both these things.  If you just seek God’s will for your life, but don’t gaze on his beauty, you’ll just be uptight and legalistic.   But if you only gaze at God’s beauty and never seek what God wills for your life, that won’t work either.  Why?  Well, it never works in any other relationship, why should it work here?

Think about it with marriage.   When you fall in love with someone, sure, you gaze upon their beauty.   And if a marriage is to stay strong, you’ve gotta have some of that beholding the beauty going on.  But if that’s all you got, then that marriage will head south fast.  In marriage, much of what you do is learn how to please your partner.  You do what gives them joy, what best serves them.   If you enter marriage thinking, oh, sure, I’ll behold your beauty but you want me to do stuff for you, find out what your desires are and meet them? Sheesh, I can’t do that.    That’s way too inconvenient.   Will that marriage be a good one?   If you want to keep gazing on the beauty, then you better find out what gives your partner joy, what meets his or her needs and then give it.
If you want to gaze upon God’s beauty, then you gotta find what will give God joy, what God’s will is for you.   And the more you do that, the more you’ll experience God’s beauty.  

Several weeks ago, we looked at these lepers that wanted to be healed by Jesus.   What did they do?  They heard what road Jesus was coming down, and they hung out there.   What road do you hang out on to see Jesus?  You hang out on the road to obedience.   Jesus will meet you on that road every time.  

That’s why I ask you to read the Bible, to pray, to live a simple lifestyle, to forgive others.  That’s the road to obedience.  And the more you hang out there, the more the beauty of Jesus you’ll see.  And what is the beauty of Jesus?   Well, it said David inquired in the temple.  What did David see when he inquired at the temple.  He saw a bloody mess.   He saw animals slaughtered and sacrificed.  But David grasped what that meant.  He saw a God who could not look the other way when it came to the wrongs people did.   To clean up that mess, then another mess had to be made to make it right.   But David saw a God willing to make that mess, to find a way to forgive, to love, to draw people back into intimacy with him.   In that bloody mess, David saw the love and beauty of God.

Now if David could see that in a lamb slaughtered on an altar, how much more can we see it in Jesus, the lamb of God hung on a cross?  How much more can we see God’s beauty in the face of Jesus, who to clean up our mess, literally became a bloody mess for us.   How beautiful is a God who goes that far to love us, to forgive us, to draw us back to him.    

When you get caught in worry, when you feel paralyzed by fear, ask yourself.  What good thing am I making the ultimate thing?   Then let it go.  And start gazing at the beauty of the One who is the One and the Only, the bright and morning star, our light and salvation.  Ask God what do you want me to do?  What will give you joy?   And as you do so, you will find your love and peace becoming more and more, and your anxieties and fear less and less.   You will discover the peace of God, a peace that surpasses all understanding.  And in Jesus, that peace will guard your heart and mind, so that if even an army encamp against you, you will not fear.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Freeing Ourselves from Money Sickness

When I saw it for the first time, I knew.   People are going to remember this speech for a long time.   I certainly remembered it. Or at least I remembered its three key words.   No great figure of history made this speech.   In fact, the person who made it doesn’t even exist.  Gordon Gekko is a character in a movie called Wall Street.  Does anyone remember that movie, that speech?   Gekko’s famous words were: Greed is good!  

Is Gekko right?   The Bible says no.  The Bible tells us.  Greed is a cancer that eats away at you from the inside out.   Greed blinds you to what really matters in life.  But why does the Bible think this?  Why does greed have to be so bad?   Couldn’t greed motivate you?   Couldn’t it lead you to success?    Why does the Bible see it as deadly?  

And if it is so deadly, how can we make sure we don’t get it?  How can we avoid coming down with a deadly case of greed.   In these words, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s hear what Jesus has to say.   

Why is greed so deadly?    First, greed is a silent killer, and second, we don’t have to have a lot of money for it to kill us.  Greed, money-sickness, has nothing to do with how much money we have.  But it has everything to do with how we view it. It’s when we look to money to give us only what God can. So how do we view money rightly? How do we avoid the sickness?   We let what God has already given us hold us more and more.  As we do, the hold of money-sickness on our lives will become less and less.  

When I was a teenager, I competed as a distance runner. One of my running heroes was a guy named Jim Fixx.   Jim had written a huge bestseller called The Complete Book of Running.  It had made him America’s running guru.   Yet only seven years after writing the book, at age 52, Fixx died of a massive heartattack.   How could that happen to someone so physically fit?  For the same reason, folks call heart disease the silent killer.  It can take you down before you even know it’s there.
Greed works the same way.  That’s why Jesus tells the crowd.  Be on watch against all kinds of greed.  Why do you have to be on watch?  Because greed can capture you without you even realizing it.   A lot of things that get us in trouble, we know when we’re caught up in them.  If you’re stealing something, you know you’re doing it.   The same with lying or adultery.   But with greed, you can be caught up in it, and not even realize it.   It’s sneaky like that.

The Harvard economist Juliet Shor discovered that only one third of American households making over a hundred thousand dollars a year thought they could afford everything they needed.    Do you realize what that means?  It means 2/3s of the wealthiest people in the wealthiest nation on the planet don’t think they can afford everything they need.   Do you see how sick that is?  Can you imagine what folks from Latin America or Africa would say to that, heck even folks from Europe or folks right here in the U.S.?    Yet, I bet that very few of those folks would see themselves as greedy, as money-sick.  That’s what greed does.  It blinds us to our own money-sickness, to our own materialism.         

Let me make it clear.  Greed and wealth don’t always go together.  In the Bible, Abraham was wealthy, but he wasn’t greedy.  On the other hand, even with a little money, greed can capture your life.  Greed has little to do with how much money you have.  It has everything to do with how you view it.   So what are the warning signs that we might have money-sickness?  How can we catch this sickness sneaking into our lives before it does great harm?  In what we just heard, Jesus shares six warning signs that we have to watch out for.

First Jesus asks.   Does your money make you gloat?   That’s what the prosperous farmer does.  He says.  Look at me!  I am rich!   I can build bigger barns!  That will impress my neighbors.   So when our wealth leads us to gloat, to feel superior because of our nice car or the bigness of our house, it’s a warning sign.    Now that one seems obvious, but Jesus doesn’t stop there. 

Jesus gives us another warning sign.   Jesus cautions us against worry.   Now why does Jesus start talking about worry after the story of the rich fool?  Because Jesus is warning us against all kinds of greed, and if you are worrying about your money, about your lifestyle, about your stuff, then you have set your heart on money just as much as the gloating farmer.   After all, when do we worry?   We don’t worry if we have all the stuff we desire.   We might gloat, but we won’t worry.   We worry only when we don’t have it.   Do you see what Jesus is telling us?   You can have a lot of money and not have money sickness.   And you can have only a little money and be eaten up with it.   That’s why Jesus says, don’t worry about that stuff.   Doing that will make you just as money-sick, just as blind to spiritual reality as that rich fool of a farmer.   You see, we can look at one type of greed, and come against that, but not realize how another kind of greed, of money-sickness is infecting us.

That’s why Jesus talks about ravens and lilies.  Jesus isn’t pulling these examples randomly.  He is pointing out two other kinds of greed, two other types of money sickness. With the ravens, Jesus shares how the ravens have neither storehouses nor barns, yet God makes them secure.  And with the lilies, Jesus talks about how God arrays them in beauty.  What is Jesus trying to tell us?  He is pointing out two other types of greed.   In one, we look to money for our security, to make us safe.   And in the other, we look to money to make us attractive.

When it comes to the security sickness, Jesus gives a powerful example in the rich farmer.  What does the farmer say?   He says, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat drink and be merry.”   He is telling himself.  “Aaaah, now I am safe.  In an uncontrollable world, I have control.”   But how secure is he really?  Not at all.   Why?  Because money can’t give you security.  It can’t even make you safe.  

It’s been almost twenty years, but I haven’t forgotten that call.   Gerry, one of my classmates from school called me one morning and asked.  “Did you hear the news? Giovanni died.”   I was shocked.  Giovanni?  How could that be?   He was only thirty-three years old.  I asked.  How did you find out?   He said, “I saw it in the Wall Street Journal.”   So I looked up the story.   Our classmate had come down with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and even while he had gone to the best doctors in the world, it had still claimed his life.  As tragic as all that was, what shook me wasn’t just his death, but that it was Giovanni who had died.   Giovanni’s last name was Agnelli.  His family owned Fiat.  They were one of the richest families in the world, and Giovanni was their anointed heir.  But all that money had not saved his life.  You see.  When it comes to life, we are tenants, and tenants with a limited lease and subject to immediate eviction.  That’s what that rich farmer tragically found out. 

Think about it.   The truly difficult things in life are accidents, death, sickness, broken relationships.  Money can’t save you from that.  In fact, money might even contribute to broken relationships.  Money can’t make you safe, and if you hold on to it because you think it can, then we’re infected.   Ultimately, only in God are we truly safe, even from death. 

On the other hand, you can look to money as your beauty.   You can look to money to make you beautiful, worthy, attractive to others.   That’s why Jesus talks about the lilies.  Jesus is saying only God can truly give you worth.  But folks who have this sickness look to money for that.   The ones who look to money for safety may not spend much at all, but these folks spend a lot.  The researcher Thomas Stanley has even given these folks a name.  He calls them the Aspirationals.   They often make a lot of money, but they spend it all.  Why?  They want to look like the glittering rich.   So they buy houses in rich neighborhoods, drive high end cars, drink expensive liquors, all to show themselves and others they’ve made it.  But in reality, they’re in debt to their eyeballs.   They do this because money is their way of making themselves attractive and desirable.   But the irony is they’ll never know.  Do people like me for me or because of the car I drive and the money I spend?    And secondly, when you look to money like that, it’ll probably turn you into the sort of arrogant person that nobody really likes.        

But here’s the funny thing.  Those with saving sickness, look at these folks and go, “Spend-thrifts!”   And the spenders look at those with saving sickness, and go, “Misers!”   But both are sick.   They are both looking to money for something only God can do.  

Jesus then shares two final warming signs.    Jesus says:  “Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and to drink….it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things”   If you find yourself, running after money, striving to make more of it, working yourself to death for it, then you’re infected.   But it’s not only running after money that makes us sick.   It’s storing it up.  All through this passage, Jesus warns again and again about it. 

That’s why Jesus tells people to sell their possessions and give to the poor.  We can misread this because we don’t grasp how possessions worked in Jesus’ day.   Banks didn’t exist nor did the stock market.  So how did people save wealth?  They bought stuff, houses, furnishings, land, etc.   Jesus is asking folks.  Don’t just give out of your income.  Give from your wealth, from your savings.   Put your treasure in heaven and not on earth.  And if you have difficulty lowering your net worth to give to God, then you’re infected.

Do you get what Jesus is telling us?  Do you worry about money?  Do you resent people who have it?  Do you spend too much of it?   Are you working yourself to the bone to get it?     Do you have trouble giving it away, including from your savings?  Then Jesus says.  You’re infected.  You have money-sickness.  You are looking to money to give you what only God can.   Do you see how pervasive greed can be, how it can get us before we realize it?   And if you see one of these warning signs, you’re probably minimizing its effect.  You’re not seeing how bad it is.  It’s like when we have a weight issue.  We often don’t see how bad it is.  Why?  We’re looking at the other guy.  I’m not as heavy as he is.  That guy has a problem not me.  We do the same with money sickness.   So how do we get free?

We grasp what God has already given.  We lay hold of the grace that is already ours.   Does Jesus say to us?   If you sell your possessions and give to the poor, then God will give you the kingdom.  No.  Jesus says.  God has already given it to you.  It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Only when you see, you have already been given the kingdom, will you become free of money-sickness.   That’s what Jesus means when he talks about being rich towards God.   When you realize the inner wealth you already have, then the outer wealth will lose its power. 

What is this inner wealth?   It is what Paul told the Christians in Corinth.  “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”   Do you see what God in Jesus has done for you?  God bankrupted himself for you.   He not only gave up the riches of heaven, he even gave up his own life, to make you rich in grace, rich in mercy, rich in love.   He paid everything for you.   If you knew, really knew how much God treasures you, your money wouldn’t be your security or your beauty or whatever.  It would just be money.    

Every one of us has something at our center that we are tempted to make our ultimate treasure, what we look too to give us value and meaning.   But every treasure except Jesus will demand that you die to purchase it.  It will drive you.  It will say. You have to run after me.   You have to do anything to get me.   Every treasure except Jesus will demand that you die to purchase it.  Only Jesus is the treasure that has died to purchase you.  (Tim Keller).   Jesus is the only one who could.    Only when you see Jesus as the only treasure that matters will your money-sickness be cured.   This is the treasure of God given at infinite cost for you.   Let it free you from the false treasures that can never deliver what they promise so you can fully receive the only treasure that can.