Monday, January 30, 2017

The Three Lies That Create Your Fatal Flaw and the Truth that Frees You from It

It doesn’t matter where you live.  It doesn’t matter what type of government you have.   Every language, every culture, even every religion, can’t avoid it.  It’s literally everywhere. Wherever you find human beings, bad things happen.   You’ll find human beings doing awful things to themselves; doing awful things to others, and doing awful things to the world.  Now in some places the level of awfulness rises higher, but wherever you go, you’ll find awful things happening. 

And yes, I know awful things happen in nature generally.  Animals eat each other.  They fight.  But human beings do things other animals simply don’t.  They murder.  They go to war.  And deep within, human beings feel an alienation from themselves, from each other, from even the world around them that no other creature does.  Is this the way it’s supposed to be?  Or has something gone wrong with the human race?   Because if something has gone wrong, then that means, it can be corrected.  It can be made right again.

But if so, how did it go wrong to begin with?   How can it be made right?  In this story, one of the most tragic and famous in human history, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Human beings have a big problem, a fatal flaw.   And it clearly has nothing to do with environment or upbringing, because the flaw exists everywhere in everyone.   Yet if that’s the case, where did it come from?   Is it simply naturally who you are, the product of evolution?    If so, how do you overcome that?   How can you overcome something ingrained in you over millions of years?   

Yet if it’s natural, why do human beings fight against it so much?  Why does every human being have this urge to become something better than who they actually are?  It’s because, human beings know.  This is not the way it’s supposed to be.   You were created for something more, something better.  But if so, how did it go wrong?   How does it keep going wrong?  In the words you just heard, God gives you the answers.      

This story doesn’t simply tell the tale of how two people lost the life God intended for them.  It tells how every human being loses that life; how the same three lies that trapped Adam and Eve continue to trap us.    But in those lies also lies the truth, the truth that if you let it, will set you free.  
So what are these lies?   You find the first one right at the beginning in the half-truth of the serpent’s question.   The serpent asks, “Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?”    Now, why would the serpent ask that?   It’s obviously not true, and Eve calls the serpent on it immediately.   So why ask it?  It’s because the question creates an atmosphere.

You see. The Serpent asks this question as a sort of sarcastic joke.  Did God really say that you can’t eat from the trees of your own garden?   The serpent is making a joke at God’s expense, but why?   It’s not that the Serpent wants to needle God.   No, the Serpent wants to needle Eve, to lead her to doubt herself, to doubt what she knows to be true.   That’s what irony and sarcasm does.  They poke holes in things everyone assumes to be true.   And that can be a good thing.  That’s why the prophets used sarcasm. It’s why Jesus used it.   But it’s one thing to use sarcasm as a tool.  It’s entirely something else to make it how you live your life, to make it the air that you breathe so to speak. 
And that’s what the serpent is trying to do, to literally create an atmosphere of sarcasm to choke out the truth.  And that sort of lie continues to live to this day. 

For example, if you tell certain folks about your beliefs in the gospel or God or Jesus, they may respond something like this.  “Oh you really believe that, huh?  Ok, great, if that works for ya.”   But what are they really telling you with their polite sarcasm?   Sheesh, I thought that you were smarter than that, but if you’ve gotta have a superstitious crutch to get through life, cool.”    And what do you do?  You begin to doubt yourself, to feel the fool even.   But here’s the irony.  Their sarcasm isn’t an argument.   It’s an attitude.  “Surely, nobody with any intelligence could believe that.”   Even so that attitude with its knowingness, its false authority will shake your belief in ways no argument could.   Yet almost always, behind the attitude, no argument even exists.  There’s nothing at all but an attitude. 

That’s where the spirit of sarcasm always leads.  It leads to nothing.  What do I mean?   Well, what’s the point of seeing through something?   You see through it in order to see what’s on the other side.   I see through this window in order to see the patio, right?  But what if you see through everything?  What is there left to see?    Nothing.  It’s what Oscar Wilde meant when he said cynicism knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.   When you breathe this air, it leads to a hollowed out life.  Your sophistication just covers the fact that inside you there’s hardly anything real to be found.   Others can often see that, but you can’t.  Why?  Well, here’s the ultimate irony.  So focused you are on seeing through all the purported falseness around you, you miss the very thing you need to see the most.  You miss seeing yourself.  

And that lie just prepares the opening for the next one, which is more deadly still.   What belief does the serpent attack?  Does the serpent question God’s existence?  No   Does the serpent even question God’s power?  No.  The Serpent questions God’s goodness.   He tells Eve.  This God is holding out on you.  This God doesn’t want the best for you.  You can’t trust this God.    

And in this lie, lies the taproot of the human flaw, the fear that God can’t be trusted.   It’s the lie that afflicts everyone from the most rigidly religious to those who detest religion completely.  How is that?  Let’s say that you have some incredibly religious person, who strives desperately to live the most exemplary life possible.  And on the other hand, you have someone that runs away from belief in God, sees it as something that limits their life; that holds them back.  These two types usually hate each other.  But they both believe the same lie.  They both believe that God can’t be trusted.   They just respond to that lie in different ways.    One strives to run away from God, believing that nothing God says leads to anything good or fulfilling.   But the other tries to win God over with righteousness, so that when the time comes, God will have no excuse but to let him in.  So yes that person believes in God, but trust God?  No way.

And this is the lie that undermines everything.   Erik Erickson, the famous child psychologist once said that the main thing a child needs is not to be dropped.   He wasn’t simply talking about a physical danger.   He was talking about an existential one.   Children need to be able to trust the dominant figures if their lives.  If that trust isn’t there, it will undermine their entire life, every relationship they have. 

And that’s why the serpent attacks Eve there.   If the serpent can undermine her trust in God, everything else will follow.  

After all, what do you do when you no longer trust God?   You look to something or someone you think you can trust.   You turn to the final lie, to the lie of the tree.   Oh, you can’t trust God, but this tree, God created, the Serpent says.  That you can trust.  That will give you what you really need. 
Why did God make a tree the big danger in the garden?   Why didn’t God say?  If you lie or cheat or kill, then you die.  Wouldn’t that make more sense?  No.  Because then you would think that the essence of your brokenness is breaking a rule, doing bad things.  But the essence of your brokenness isn’t a broken rule.  It’s a broken belief.

God picks a tree because a tree, well, a tree is so innocent.  And ultimately, it’s not the tree that destroys what Adam and Eve have.   It’s what they believe about the tree, what they believe it can do for them.   And that’s the essence of everyone’s brokenness, of the evil that infects the human race. 
What draws you away from God usually isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing that you make into an ultimate thing.  And when that happens, it opens you and this world to all sorts of awfulness.   For example, having pride in your ethnic heritage can be a good thing.  But when it becomes the source of all your meaning, where you put your ultimate trust, You get racism.  You get genocide.    

Is there anything wrong with making money?  No.  But if you make making money your source of security and meaning, ll sorts of ugliness happens.   Is there anything wrong with loving your spouse or your kids? No.  But if you say that if my spouse doesn’t love me, or my kids fail, then I am nothing, then that is a prescription for pain and heartbreak for you and the people you love.    Most of the pain and devastation in your life in the end doesn’t come from you doing bad things.  It comes from the false beliefs you have about your good things, from looking to them to give you what only God can. 

And what do these lies do for Adam and Eve?   They certainly don’t make them more.  No, instead they become so much less.   They don’t only become alienated from God.  They become alienated from themselves and from each other.  The first thing that Adam and Eve do after the tree is they cover themselves.  They move from being naked and unashamed to being the exact opposite.   And when they hear God coming, they hide.   And when God asks them why, Adam says that they were afraid.   That is the first time that word appears in the Bible, and that it appears here tells you everything.   And out of that fear, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the Serpent.  And what is blaming but just another way to hide from yourself, from others, from God.    And from that day on, 
human beings have been hiding ever since.

But how do you escape?  How do you break free of the lies?  You look to the truth the lies tried to cover.  And to see that truth, God hasn’t just left you with this tree. God has given you another tree.  The stanza of a poem by the great poet, George Herbert, shows you that tree.   In his work called the Sacrifice, Herbert wrote these words.

O all ye who pass by, behold and see:
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, but only me:
                                             Was ever grief like mine?

Who is saying these words?  Jesus is. 

O all ye who pass by, behold and see:
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, but only me:
                                             Was ever grief like mine?

What breaks the hold of the serpent’s lies?  It’s that tree.  It’s seeing God in Jesus hanging on that tree at Golgotha.  In the face of that brutal reality, God nailed to a tree, sarcasm loses its voice.  At that tree, all doubts about God’s goodness and trustworthiness fall away.   After all, if Jesus didn’t walk away from you in the agony of the cross, then he never will.     In the face of that goodness, of that life given over for you, the lies get stripped away.    And in the truth of what that tree shows you, you will see the painful truth of your wrongness, but then you will see the beautiful truth of the dying yet undying love that has made you right.  And in that truth, you will see God’s goodness and God’s love.  You see the truth, the only truth that sets you free.   In the name of the God who loved you, who died for you, and who can do more in even the broken places of your life than you could ever ask or dream or imagine.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

What is the One Thing You Need Most to Live, and How Can You Receive it in All its Fullness?

It’s haunted me ever since I heard the story.   It happened about 800 years ago. The Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick the Second wanted to discover what language Adam and Eve spoke, in other words, what was the original human tongue.  So he created a cruel experiment to find out.   

He took babies from their mothers at birth, and gave them to nurses who could not speak in their hearing.  But he did more than that.  Beyond suckling and washing, these nurses could not give any affection either.    And what happened?   The monk Salimbene de Adam, who made a record of the experiment tells us.   “But he (King Frederick) labored in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments."   What happened is that all the children died.  

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.”   But do you grasp what it means?  Human beings simply cannot live without love.    The medical doctor, Dean Ornish even wrote a book, Love and Survival, detailing all the studies that confirm this.   As he put it there: 
"I am not aware of any other factor in medicine that has a greater impact on our survival than the healing power of love and intimacy. Not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery."

In other words, the most powerful determinant to your health is relationships, is love and intimacy.  And none of the researchers know why.   Yet, here we are, beings who thrive on love; who cannot even live without it.

Why is that?  More crucially, what do you need in your relationships not simply to survive, but to live the full and vibrant life God created you for?  In the words you’re about to hear God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Why do you need love?  Why does every human being need it?   God tells you.  You need love, because love created you.   Love created everything.   And without love not only with God but with others, you can never be you.   And that you can never fully exist, until you grasp how far God went to love you.   What do I mean by love created everything?

Well, when you look at the Bible’s creation story, something weird happens.  At first, it has the same rhythms, God created this and God created that.   But when it comes to human beings, God says this instead.  “Let us create human beings in our image.”   And in those words, God is telling you something crucial about God.  God is not an I.   God is a we. 

For Christians God is one God created out of the loving communion of three persons.   What does that tell you?  It tells you. At the heart of everything, at the heart of reality itself, lies relationship.  Physics even confirms it.    Just look at this table.  When you look at it, you are not just seeing a table.  You are seeing billions of particles all relating to each other in such a way as to create a table.  Everything you see has billions, even trillions of these relationships.   And when it comes to you, this relational reality, this living love goes to a whole new level.   The story says that God created you in God’s image.   That means, if God can’t be God without relationship, neither can you be you.  You cannot be human without other humans.  It’s impossible. That’s why a baby who has everything else but relationship cannot live.

And when God talks about the relationships inside God, let’s make it clear.  God isn’t talking about some functional thing, like a team at work or how you know the person who delivers your mail.    This God was living together in intimate communion..    To get what that means, look at the other creation story, the one you find in the first chapter of John.   

It begins with these words:
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.   He was in the beginning with God.   All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being…..
But it ends with these words: 
It is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father’s bosom, who has made God known.
Do you get how intimate that is, close to the Father’s bosom?   You don’t let just anybody rest on your bosom, do you?    Your spouse or significant other can rest there, your child can, maybe even a close friend but that’s it.    Yet that’s how the Bible describes the intimacy within God.

Too often you can think that God created everything like some solitary artist throwing paint on a canvas.  

But that’s not what the Bible tells you.   No, the Bible tells you. Creation looked far more like this - a joyful dance. 

As one writer put it, You were created out of the laughter of the Trinity.   That’s the intimacy God has, and that’s the intimacy God created you not only with God, but also with others. 

It can never just be you and God.  It always has to be you and God and others.   Look at what the story tells us.   God says, “It is not good that the Man should be alone.”    But didn’t the Man have God?  Wasn’t Adam intimately connected there?  Yes.  And that’s not all.   This human being also had deep connection with nature, power, beauty, the richness of paradise, the list could go on.  And God is saying here.  That’s not enough.   This human being needs more.   This human being needs other human beings.  God is saying.  Not even paradise will satisfy you, not even God will satisfy you, if you don’t have relationships, if you don’t have friends.   In fact you can’t become who God created you to be without them   If God is an us, then you need an us too.   You can’t do this alone.  It’s impossible. Without relationships, you can’t even know yourself.   

Have you ever listened to yourself on some recording, and said?  “That doesn’t sound like me,” only to have a friend say to you.  “Yes, it does.”    And why is she right?  She knows what you sound like, and you don’t.  You can’t tell from inside.    It’s the same reason, when you look at a picture of yourself, and you say.  “That looks nothing like me.”   But your friends, they just get kinda quiet.  Why?  They know.  It does look like you.   Even when you look in the mirror, you don’t really look.  You look like this….

So if you come here and listen to the message without being in relationship with others hearing the same things, then you’re not really getting the message.  You need others who can speak into your life what you are not seeing or hearing.  On your own, you just won’t get it. 

The writer C.S. Lewis had two close friends, Charles and Ronald.    And when Charles died, Lewis was very sad, but he consoled himself by saying.  “Well, at least I’ll have more of Ronald.”    But he didn’t.  He had less of Ronald.   Why?   Because certain parts of Ronald only Charles brought out, and without Charles, Lewis couldn’t pull those parts out on his own.   No one person, he realized, can pull out the entire person.   So when he lost Charles, he lost not only Charles.  He lost a part of Ronald.    Then Lewis asked himself.  If that’s true of Ronald, how much more true is it of Jesus?  And he realized.  “I can never come close to knowing Jesus on my own.  I need others to show me Jesus in ways I can never see, that I could never bring out myself.”

You can’t know God.  You can’t even know yourself without serious relationship.  And without those relationships, your relationship with God will never be what it needs to be. 

A new follower of Christ came to visit an old friend who had been a Christian for years.  He shared how his connection to God had grown less and less, and he wondered why.  The old friend asked.   How deeply connected are you to a Christian community?  The man hemmed and hawed, but basically admitted, he really didn’t have time for that.   The old friend didn’t say another word.   He simply looked to the fire roaring before them, and pulled out an ember.   At first the ember glowed with fire, but fairly quickly, the fire faded.   And soon it became a cold piece of coal.  And then the old friend put it back in the fire, and it flamed forth again. His visitor got the message.

You are that ember.  But here’s the truth.   Many of you come here each week, to hear a nice talk, listen to some great music, get some helpful inspiration and insight.  But you don’t want to get involved.   That’s too complicated.  But this church only exists in order for you to get involved, to be in relationship with others.   Coming to worship like that is like an ember wanting to be near the fire but not in it.   If you want to glow, you gotta go in.   But this passage has more to say to us than simply go in.   It tells us some disturbing news about what we will meet there once we do.  

When God sees that Adam is lonely, what does God do?  God creates a suitable companion.  And who is that suitable companion?  It’s a woman.    Now lots of folks over the years have read many things into that choice.   But almost always those interpretations ignore the obvious.  

In creating woman, God is creating someone like Adam, yet not like Adam at all.   And when the Bible describe Eve as a helper, the Bible isn’t saying that God created an errand runner for Adam.   No, this word, helper often describes God, as in for example, God, our help and our salvation.   So God creates someone equal to Adam, yet at the same time, profoundly different from Adam.   And that tells you a lot about the kind of relationships you need. 

You don’t need relationships just with people who think like you, who act like you, who agree with you on everything.   You need people different from you, even perplexingly different.   For example, this past Friday, Inauguration Day, there are people here, who were elated, and there are people here, who were depressed.  And guess what.  If you were depressed, you need to get to know someone who was elated, and if you were elated, you need to get to know someone who was depressed.    After all, why do we call the church a family?  It’s because you don’t get to pick your family.   And you will find here people who are different from you in their thoughts, in their personalities, in their attitudes, and you need them more than you would like to admit.  Their difference will stretch you.  It will grow you.  It will help you to become the you God created you to be.

Yet, let’s be honest.   That may be the ideal, but it’s usually not the reality.   Even here, folks often stick with their own.  And even there, they likely hide behind facades of niceness, rather than get up the courage to lay those defenses down.    They have friendships yes, but do they go deep? Do they get intimate in the way God describes here?  Probably not.   And why is that?   It’s because of two words here that describe the relationship that Adam and Eve had.

The Bible tells us that they were naked and unashamed.   What that means is that Adam and Eve were utterly exposed and vulnerable with each other in every way.   And they had no shame about that, no discomfort, no fear at all.   But as you’ll see next week, a tragic fall occurred that changed all that.   And when it did, the first thing Adam and Eve did was hide.  They hid from each other, and they hid from God.   And human beings have been hiding ever since.   We almost never get naked with others so to speak, and yet even so, we often still find ourselves trapped in fear and shame.  But God didn’t intend you to be that way at all.  God made you for intimacy, even the liberating intimacy that God has with God.

How do you get that there?  How do you find the freedom to have that sort of intimacy? You look to the one who was stripped naked for you.  When Jesus went on that cross, he went naked.   And to be exhibited naked like that was utterly humiliating and shaming.   And in his nakedness, Jesus had no intimacy.  He lost in that dark place all relationship, all love, all connection even with God.   And why did Jesus do all that?  He loved you.  He did it to bring you back in the dance.    He did it to free you to be once again naked and unashamed.   And the more you let that love, his love grasp you, the more Jesus will free you.  And in his embrace, your fears and insecurities will fade.  In the fearlessness of his love, you will find the courage to come out of hiding.  In the power of his love, you will lay your defenses down, and you will discover the wondrous freedom that comes with being naked and unashamed.        

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Here is the One Key to Making Your Work a Gift instead of a Burden, Fulfilling instead of Frustrating

It’s amazing really.  Do you realize how much it changed everything?  Without it, Florida wouldn’t have happened.   The computer revolution would have stopped dead in its tracks. 

Do you know what I’m talking about?  You’re probably feeling it right now or will in a few minutes.    Do you get how much air conditioning changed things?   First, it improved worker productivity more than anything else in the 20th century.   Don’t take my work for it.  That’s what businesses said.   By 1957, 90% of businesses reported that nothing impacted worker productivity more than air conditioning.

And heck, it didn’t just change the workplace, it changed the nation.   Do you think you’d have the Sunbelt without air conditioning? Do you think millions would have moved to South Florida without it?   And those computers that have changed everything, well they don’t work so well without AC.  
One invention changed kind of everything, how we work, where we live.  It even brought in the computer age.   And the story you’re about to hear brought just such a world changing revolution.   It changed people’s perceptions about the one thing that people spend most of their lives doing.  It changed people’s ideas about work.  But the story does more than that.  It shows you how your work can bring the life-giving fulfillment God intended work for.   Sadly a lot of people never really get that part of the story.  But when you do, it changes not only how you work.  It changes how you do everything, how you live even.   How do you find the way to this change?  In this story, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

In this story, God shows you.   God didn’t give work as a burden.  God gave work as a gift.   But for it to be the gift that God intended it to be, you need to see the work that God did for you, the work that gives you rest even as you work. 

You can miss it here.   After all, we largely take this way of thinking for granted.   We live in a world that values work; that wants work that is life-giving and fulfilling.  Heck, if anything we value it too much, with all our e-mailing and multi-tasking. But before this story, no one saw work as anything good, much less something God did.

In the big creation story of that day, called the Enuma Elish, the head god Marduk makes the world.  But the other gods aren’t happy.  They’re like, who is going to take care of all this stuff.   We don’t wanna work.   And Marduk said.  No worries.  That’s why I created these creatures called humans, they’ll do all the work for you so you don’t have to.   

And later in the Greek myths, work didn’t have a great reputation there either.  In those myths, when this thing called Pandora’s Box opens and unleashes all the bad stuff on the earth, do you know what gets included in all that bad stuff?  Work gets included. 

But in this story, something revolutionary occurs.  God becomes a worker. The story talks about how God finished his work.   And God was not only working. God was enjoying it.    And God wasn’t just doing high level executive work, telling the angels what to do.   No, God was getting his hands dirty, shaping human beings out of the earth. 

And then when God made these human beings, and put them in this beautiful garden, in paradise really, what did he give them?   Well, God certainly gave them incredible food, astounding beauty, physical intimacy. But do you see what else God gave them?  God gave them jobs.    God made work part of paradise.

But why?   Why was work part of paradise? 

Recently, I heard a story about when John F. Kennedy was running for President.   In 1960, in one of his first races, he went down to meet with coal miners in West Virginia, who were working in slave-like conditions in those days.     Outside a coalmine in Slab For one of those miners asked him, “Is this true Senator Kennedy that you’ve never worked a day in your life?” Kennedy laughed and replied “Well I guess there’s some truth to that.”  Do you know what that miner said?   He said, “Well you haven’t missed a goddamn thing.

And that miner had a point.   Work can be demeaning, exhausting, even life destroying.  So why does God make it part of paradise?

Because God created human beings in God’s image.   And God works.   But let’s think about it. What sort of work does God do? 

God creates, and God made you with that same impulse.  God created you to create, to bring order and beauty and life into the world.    And when work is what God created work to be, that’s what it does, it creates.  And creating isn’t something that just artists do.  Everyone can do that. 

For example, that miner might have been overworked and treat unfairly in his job, but in that hard and brutal work, he was creating something.  He was bringing a mineral out of the ground that got transformed into energy that would light a city.  And that’s creative.    And John F. Kennedy might not have been digging in a mine, but he was creating too, working to make the world a better place for that miner and others like him. 

When teachers shape young lives, they are creating.  When police officers and firefighters bring safety and security, they are creating something.   When a person in a store, finds you the shirt or dress you exactly need, that is creative work.    And when parents do the hard work of parenting that is some of the most creative work there is.  The list could go on and on.   Every job has creative potential.   And God created you for that.   Whether you realize it or not, you need it.

Growing up, I had a friend, Matthew, whose father made a fortune in the poultry business.  But Matthew never found his niche.    When I visit my parents, I ask about him.  What’s up with Matthew?   They tell me that he lives in a big house in a subdivision near where he grew up.  And most of the day, he spends watching television.   He doesn’t even go outside much.  And when I hear about it, I feel so sad.    Matthew may have millions, but he has no real work.  And that is tragic. 
You need work.  You need to create.  But let’s be clear.   God made you not simply to create, but to create good in the world, to bring life, to bring order and beauty.   The owners who ran those mines back in 1960 were creating too, but what they were creating wasn’t bringing life.   No, their exploitation of those miners was creating misery and despair, even death.  

In whatever work you do, you need to ask, is this work bringing good to the world, not just to me.   God didn’t just create you to create.   God created you to work good for the world, to bring more value and life and good to others. 

But in the work, God created you for, you can’t simply work for yourself; or even for others, you have got to have a higher purpose than even that.   You have got to sense that in your work, you are working ultimately for God, that you are living out of a divine purpose.  

I love the story of Eric Liddell, the Scottish sprinter, who won the gold in the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympics.   Liddell, a devout Christian, didn’t run for fame or wealth.  In fact, he almost didn’t run at all in that Olympics because he was scheduled to race on Sunday, and doing that would violate his faith.   In the end, he did run, but in a completely different event where he won his gold medal.  And afterwards, he spend the rest of his life in China as a missionary.   So why did Liddell run at all?  In a conversation with his sister, he put it this way, “Yes, God made me for a purpose, to go to China, but he also made me fast.  And when I run I feel his pleasure.”    Liddell ran passionately, intensely, with world class excellence.  But ultimately he didn’t run for himself, for others, not even for his country.  He ran for God.     

John Coltrane found that same freedom.   Do you know that name?   In the last hundred years, likely no greater saxophonist has lived than John Coltrane.  Yet even as Coltrane created some of the greatest Jazz in history, he was addicted to heroin.  Only a profound experience of God’s grace enabled him to break that addiction.   And out of that experience, he composed an amazing album, A Love Supreme.  But more than that, he found a new purpose.  In the liner notes of that album, he put it this way.   "I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music."        

And Coltrane went on to do just that.  Still when it came to the music from A Love Supreme, he only performed it live once.   And after that legendary performance, as Coltrane sat down, people heard him say just this, Nunc Dimittis.   Those Latin words simply mean, Now Dismiss.  What was Coltrane says,  He was quoting from the Song of Simeon, the prayer of a man who waited his whole life for Jesus.  And when Simeon finally saw him, he prayed this.   “Now dismiss your servant in peace, for my own eyes have seen your salvation.”   In quoting that prayer, Coltrane was basically saying that I no longer work for fame or wealth or anything.  I work simply to honor God.  Saying those words simply said that, that night he came closer to living that purpose than ever before.    John Coltrane was working that night, working harder than ever, but not for himself, not even for others.  He was working for God.   And that purpose freed him to work with a greater fulfillment than ever before.

How does that happen?   How do you find that fulfillment in your work, that joy?  You realize what stands in the way of receiving it, the work that lies underneath your work.         

What makes people miserable in their jobs?  It’s because underneath their work, lies a deeper work, one that drives them whether they realize it or not.  What do I mean?   Well, if you’re honest what drives your work?  Is it the approval of others?  Is it some deep seated insecurity?  Is it a fear of not having enough?  Is it a hunger for stuff you don’t need or some idea of success?   I could go on.  What is your work under the work?    Whatever work you do, another work likely lies beneath it that truly drives you.  And the more power that work under the work has, the more it drains the fulfillment and joy God created your work to have.  

What was different in the work of an Eric Liddell or a John Coltrane?  Beneath their work, laid a rest, a Sabbath so to speak.   There was rest under their work.  And that rest didn’t slow their work down.  That rest, that resting in God, freed their work to be greater than ever. 

But how does that rest come?  How do you find rest beneath your work?  You see the great work that God did for you.    God did more than just create you.   When you fell away, when you lost touch with God, God worked to reach you.   God worked so intensely to reach you that he became one of you.    In Jesus, God worked for you.  He brought healing, and wisdom, and acceptance and above all love.   And then Jesus did the greatest work of all.  He laid down everything, his life, his very being, to bring you home.   Why did God in Jesus do that?  Because God never ever stopped loving you.    And nothing would stop that love from rescuing you, from working until you who had been lost were found. 

And the more you grasp that work of love Jesus has done for you, the more it frees you from your work beneath the work.   You realize.  There is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate security that your work can give you that you don’t already have.   So even as you work, you can be at rest, because you know whose you are, and what he did to bring you home.    And in that rest, you will work, maybe even more intensely than before.  But your work will not be driven by a lack you are trying to fill.  No it will flow out of an abundance that has filled you.  And in that abundance, your work will bring you and the world more joy, more fulfillment, more peace even, than you could ever have imagined.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

What Is The One Reality That Lies at the Heart of Everything?

When my son opened his presents on Christmas, what question was he asking?   When he looked at his new toys, did he care about how they got made?     No.    The only question he wanted answered was this.  What do all these cool toys do?   What’s their purpose?   How do I play with them? 

And aren’t those the questions that really matter?   If I’m sick and a doctor gives me a drug, I don’t really care about how the manufacturer put it together.   I want to know?   Will the drug make me better?   Will it heal me? 

The mechanics of how something got made may interest you.   But what really matters is why it was made.   What is its purpose?  What is it designed to do?    

And God gave the song you’re about to hear to answer those questions, the questions that truly matter about you, about everything.     Why did everything get made?   Why did you get made?  Why do you really exist?  What is the purpose behind you, behind everything?
In this song, God gives you the answer.  So, let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

For too long, people have been looking to the words you just heard to answer questions God never intended these words to answer.   After all, no one writes instruction manuals in poetry.  And the words are that.  They are poetry.   The repetition tells you that.   And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.   That line repeats 5 more times.  Why?

That’s what songs do.  They repeat.   “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.”  You know that song?   Do you realize that line repeats 12 times?    Why?  It’s because songs do that.   They repeat things, words, phrases; choruses.  

God has no interest in telling you anything here about how the universe was created.    God has a far bigger agenda.   God wants you to know why.  God wants you to know what all this means, what purpose it has, why you and everything were made. 

The first clue to that answer comes into how this creation happens.   God speaks it into existence.   All God has to do is say the words.  “Let there be light.”   And by saying it, it happens.   The words themselves have the power to make it real, to bring it into existence.  

How can a word do that?   How can a word actually create light, earth, stars?   The answer to that question comes in another poem written thousands of years later in the Gospel of John.   “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him, all things were made;…

How can the word create everything?   Because the word is a person, a living being.  
But even before God speaks, God gives another clue.  Genesis tells us the “Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”   This word hovering, in Hebrew, only ever describes one thing, a mother bird hovering over her nest, fluttering her wings to keep her babies safe.   When Genesis describes the Spirit, it is talking not about some-thing, some entity.  It is talking about a living being, a being like a mother even. 

The final clue comes, in a verse we didn’t read, verse 26.  “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image….”    Who is God even talking to?  Some have said.  Well, maybe God is talking to the angels.   But God didn’t create human beings in the image of angels.  God created human beings in the image of God.   

So who is God talking to?  Who is us?  Us is God.  Because God isn’t one.  God is three.  God is three beings bound together forever in one loving communion.  That’s why Christians describe God with three words, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Now, why is that important?  

Because when you know who God is, you know what the purpose of everything is, why everything, including you were made.          

Think about it this way.   If everything just happened, then the universe doesn’t really have any purpose at all.   You don’t have any purpose.   Now, you can create a purpose, but you’re just making it up.   Concepts like justice and love really don’t mean much of anything.  You can make them mean something, but that’s just you making them significant for you.  But they don’t really matter.     

On the other hand, if a divine being did create everything, but this God was one solitary being, all alone, then love didn’t exist, relationship didn’t exist until this solitary being made the universe.  So the ultimate basis of reality isn’t love.  It’s power.  

But if this God was always living in love, if out of that love God created everything including you, then that makes relationship, that makes love the ultimate basis of reality.  It means. When God created the universe, God was simply expanding a circle of love that had always existed.     Love lies behind everything, why you exist, why all of this exists.   Like the song says; love does make the world go round. 

Look at how God describes everything God makes.   You can feel the love.  God says.  It is good.   And God isn’t giving a Good Housekeeping sign of approval.    God isn’t placing one of those little inspection tags you see when you buy a shirt, inspected by No. 13.  

No, God is saying good the way I said it after I ate way too much of the bread pudding my wife made from a Paula Deen recipe.    Man, that was good.   God is saying it like that.  God is savoring his creation.  God is enjoying its beauty, rejoicing in the wonder of it all.   And the Bible tells us creation rejoices right back.  Every moment of every day, creation is singing, rejoicing in communion with this God who created it. 

That’s why when you go to the ocean, when you hear the roar of the waves, when you see that endless blue expanse you feel moved and inspired.  It’s why when you see any beauty in nature, you can feel your heart leap.   You are sensing this song.   You are catching a glimpse of the living love song that sustains everything.    

But you’re only catching a glimpse.   Because, don’t you sense that too?  Don’t you sense as much as nature inspires you or fascinates you, that you are somehow locked out?  You can’t really get in.  No matter how much you try, you find yourself on the outside.    This is the tragic news.  You, I, every human being have lost touch with the song.  We have walked away from it, and we can’t find our way back.   The great 18th century preacher George Whitefield put it this way.   “Why do the animals flee or growl when you approach?   They know. You have a quarrel with their master.”          

So this song goes on, but we have lost the tune.  We have lost touch with the love that made us.  How do you get back?  How do you find your way back to the circle of love for which you were made?   How do you find your way home?  

You look to the love song that lies at the heart of the cross.  For, God, when you walked away, reached out to rescue you.   And in Jesus this God came to you, and this gave gave up everything to bring you home.   On that cross, Jesus lost the song so that you might know it again.   He became utterly alone, so that you would never be alone ever.    Jesus was unmade there, so he could remake you into a new creation.   Why did God do this?  Because, no matter how much you turned away, how far you ran from the song, God never stopped loving you.   And God joyfully, lovingly paid the ultimate price to bring you back. 

And the more you look to that love song, this love poured out for you, the more Jesus will free you to live into this love song all creation sings.   And in that song, your insecurities and anxieties fall more and more away.  And your heart becomes more and more full and your fear less and less.   And you will know more and more that love lies at the heart of everything that lies at the heart of you.  You will know this.   You are loved.   You are loved.   Everything is loved.   And that will change everything now and forever.