Sunday, August 27, 2017

The One Lie That Will Mess Up Your Life Like No Other

I gotta admit.  It shocked me.   It’s not like I haven’t heard stuff like this.  I’ve heard it my whole life.   But it bothered me.  It made me feel a little self-conscious.   Still, I didn’t say anything.   I mean.  What would she think of me?  

It all began because I was talking with some other Christians about a big event our church and a bunch of others are doing on November 4th at the Arts Park, Hope4Hollywood.  And this woman said something like.   What a great date!   It will counter that awful event the week before.
And for a moment, I didn’t get it.   What is she talking about?   Then I got it.  She was talking about Boo Bash, the Halloween party in the Park. Now, what made that event awful?   It celebrated Halloween.  And Christianity and Halloween, they can’t mix.

Now, we raise money for our Learning Centers each October through a Pumpkin patch, so that view doesn’t fly here.  In my house, we love Halloween. We put decorations out.   We buy our pumpkins (from the patch, of course).  Our son goes trick or treating in the neighborhood.  We put out a lot of candy.  

But was she right?  In just a moment, you’ll hear words from the Bible that tell you not to love the world or the things in it.   Should that include Halloween?   What else should it include? 
Some Christians think it includes alcohol.  Do you know the three religious truths?   Number one is Jews don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.   Number two is Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the head of the church.   And number three is Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor stores.    

Other Christians think it means you can’t wear makeup or you need to avoid certain movies or types of music.  Heck, when I was a kid, I trashed a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack because somebody told me it was evil.  I regret that.  I really liked that album.  What can I say?  I had disco fever.  
So, was this woman right?  No, she wasn’t.   But she had a point.  If you love the world, at least the way the Bible talks about loving the world, it will mess you up.  It might blow up your life.  So, what does it mean to love the world like that?  How can you make sure it doesn’t mess up your life?  In these words you’re about to hear, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

It doesn’t make any sense.   Right here at the beginning of what we just read, John says, as clear as day. “Do not love the world…”    But does anyone remember one of the most famous sentences in the entire Bible.  If you went to church as a kid, you might have even memorized it.  It goes like this…

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.
John 3:16

What?   Here the Bible says that God not only loved the world.  Loving the world led God to come to earth, to create Christianity.    Yet here, the Bible tells Christians to not love the world.   And to make it even more confusing, the same guy, John, wrote both sentences.   

So, which is it, John?    Do you love the world?   God does.   Shouldn’t we love it too?   Or are you supposed to hate the world like you tell us here?   Here’s the answer.   Yes, yes to both questions.  

How can you love the world and yet not love the world?   It’s because in John 3:16, God is talking about the world in a far different way than God is talking about the world here.  What’s the difference?

Look at the focus in John 3:16.   God focuses on people, on saving them, on rescuing them, on loving them.   But in these words in I John, God isn’t talking about people.  God is talking about desires, desires for things.  

You see, in John 3:16, God makes something utterly clear.   God loves people.  God loves people, you and me, so much that God says.  I will give up everything, even my life, to bring you home, to heal you, to rescue you.   When God talks about the world here.  God is talking about the world God created, a world full of people, full of all sorts of wondrous living things.  

But in I John God is talking about a way that others see this world.    This way doesn’t focus on people, at least as people.  No, in this world, people become means to an end.    And what is the end?  The end is acquiring something. Nothing matters more than the things you get.    It’s the message behind this bumper sticker.  The One who Dies with the Most Toys Wins.  And that way of seeing the world, God hates.   Why?

It devalues people.   And for God, nothing matters more than people.  That’s why we have a value here that goes like this.   All people matter to God, and therefore they need to matter to us.  If you are a follower of Jesus, nothing should matter more to you than people.   That means when people are demeaned or disrespected, Christians should be the first to stand up, and say no. 

But this world in which you and I live, it often goes by different values, values that are lies.     

For the first three years I lived here, a day did not pass without me seeing one.   Every day, I saw at least one car that cost as much as my house.   Every day, I saw something that cost about 300 grand to drive.    And I started getting a subtle message.  This is where life lies.  Life in South Florida can do that.  You see multi-million-dollar mansions.   You see boats so big they have other boats inside them.     And even if you don’t have that stuff, it can start to twist you up.   It can lead you to value all the wrong things. 

My wife is a psycho-therapist, and when she sees kids do you know what they want the most?  They want time with their parents. But the parents seem to be working all the time, and when they’re not working, they’re stressed about working    But when she talks to the parents, and asks them about cutting back on work.   They won’t do it.  It’s not because the family would starve if they did.   It’s that they would have to sell their boat or move to a smaller place.   And that they just can’t do.   Why?  It’s not because they don’t love their kids.  Of course, they love their kids. But they’ve bought the lie.   Somewhere inside them, they hear this voice.  If you don’t have these things, if you don’t live in this place, in this neighborhood, then something is wrong with you.  You have failed. 

Do you know the joke?  In America, what do you call a multi-millionaire who has been married three times, and who has terrible relationships with his kids    You call him a success.

That’s how love of the world will mess you up.   It’s when you start basing your value on things that don’t have any ultimate value.   And it doesn’t have to be money or stuff.   You can base your value on how you look or how someone looks at you.  You can base your value on other’s approval, how well people like you.  You can even base your value in some sort of religious thing.   

So instead of acquiring things, you start acquiring a sort of moral report card.  I do these things and therefore I am good.  And usually that means, you start thinking those who don’t do those things are bad or definitely not as good as you are.     But if you’re doing even good things to gain some sort of value for yourself, then you’ve missed the whole point.  You’re as trapped in this twisted way of seeing the world as anyone. You’re still acquiring toys, things to give yourself worth.  

But these things never give you the worth you seek.   They never give you ultimate value because they’re not ultimate.   They don’t last.  As John puts it….the world and its desire are passing away.   Or to take a riff off the bumper sticker….the one who dies with the most toys..still dies.

But you don’t have to find your value there, as if you could.   Why?  You already have value.   You have infinite value simply because you are.  That’s the point of John 3:16.    You have such infinite value that the creator of the universe, the creator of all reality, came to you, became someone like you.    And as that person, as Jesus, that God gave up everything for you.    And when you know God loves you like that, that frees you.  It frees you to love, to love people, to love the world, to value it, to value others as God does.  And as you experience that love, as you live in it, you see the world for what it is, an amazing place where God’s love is playing in ten thousand places. 

That’s why Christians should love Halloween.  Think about it.  When do you see more of your neighbors and their kids than at Halloween?    Halloween gives you a chance to get to know people, to give to people, to share with people, to love people.   And that’s what this world needs.  It needs to know that love, a love not based on what you own or who you know or what you do, a love based in who you are, a person infinitely, immeasurably, incredibly loved by God.  

And if you want to be part of a community that is working to live into that love, to share that love with others, then this family called First Church; it’s a great place to be.   And if you got nothing else from today, get this.  You are loved.  You are loved.   You are loved.   And nothing can ever take that love away.  All you have to do is say yes to it.     

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What Are the Two Things You Need to Become Who God Created You to Be?

It happens more than you’d think.   And every time it does, it takes me by surprise.  It happened again this past week.

I was talking with a man I have known for years.  He has been a member of a church for decades.   But as we talked that day, I began to realize something.   This man, despite his dedication to his church, may not be a Christian.  He may never have gotten the gospel.    Now, let me make it clear.   This man outshines me in his righteousness.  In his medical practice, he was extraordinarily generous and compassionate.   He’s gone above and beyond for his family.   He’s done amazing things to support the community.   Yet, I sensed that he might never have grasped what the Christian message actually means for him, for everyone.  Now, I could be wrong.   We had never talked this deeply.   But I will keep talking with him, so that if I am right I can share with this remarkably good and faithful man the full measure of what God has given him.        

But, I don’t know why I’m surprised.   As simple as the Christian message is, lots of people still miss it.   I have known people who didn’t get it until they went to seminary!  Heck, my own father may not have really gotten it until after years as a pastor himself.  

Now how is it possible to serve in a church, even be a pastor of one, and still not be a Christian?   More crucially, how do you know that you that you have grasped the gospel, that you have become a Christian?   In these words from I John, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

How can you be involved in a church for years, decades even, and still not get it?  How can you even be a pastor, and miss it?   How can you be sure that’s not you?    You can be sure, when you realize that the truth doesn’t matter unless you’ve experienced the love.  If the truth has not led you to the love, then you haven’t yet experienced the gospel.

This past week, I read this description of what it felt like to experience the gospel.  This young woman from Cambodia said this. “I didn’t know what I was missing. I was like the frog in the well.”    What was she talking about?  You see. 

Cambodian culture has this parable of a frog, who, living in a well, can look up and see the sky.  The frog knows that a world exists beyond the well, but the frog has no idea how big or amazing that world is unless it gets out of that well. 

And if you know the truth of the gospel, but haven’t experienced the love, you are a bit like that frog.  

Or think about it the way the preacher Tim Keller does.   Let’s say you go to your doctor for this illness you have, and she gives you these pills to take.   Well, you take the pills home.  You even do research on how effective the pills are.   When others have the same problem, you tell them.   “You should really get this pill.”   But when it comes to you actually taking the pill that never happens. 
In the same way, you can know the message of the gospel, yet never experience it.    That’s what John means when he says, “Whoever says “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.”   

When the person John is talking about says that they are in the light, they truly believe they are in the light.   After all, they know what the light is.   They can see it clearly even.   But just because you know the light, doesn’t mean you are living in it.   And what is the key test of that living?  It’s whether you’ve experienced the love, the love that takes away your hate, the love that fills you with love for others. 

Now, how can that be?   How can you know the truth, and yet not be actually living in it?
Sometimes, it happens because you fell in love with the comfort.  You grew up learning all the stories.  You adopted all the beliefs.   But the church doesn’t bring you change as much as it brings you comfort.   You like the familiarity of it all.  When so much is changing, you like coming each week to a place that reminds you of home.   Now, of course, you can feel those things, and still be a Christian.  But if that’s all you feel, then you haven’t gotten it.

Or maybe you fell in love with the answers.  Christianity gives a lot of answers.  And maybe you fell in love with all that, how Christian answers gave you structure to a chaotic world.  But if that’s all you have, you don’t have the gospel.   And if all you have are the answers, and not Jesus, then you are in trouble.  

This past week, I was listening to an interview with the journalist, Bill Moyers.   At one point, he mentioned that he had no idea where he had come from or where he was going.   And the interviewer, who knew Moyers had gone to seminary, had even been ordained a Baptist minister, probed further.   Moyers said this.   “I went to seminary and got answers to all my questions, and then I want out in life and got all my answers questioned.”   The answers won’t sustain you.  Only the love will.

Or you can fall in love with a leader.   You encounter a great teacher, not even necessarily a famous one.  But he or she speaks with such certainty about faith.   And that attracts you.  You want what they have.  So you join up.  Christianity becomes your team.   And you really love being part of that team, that team that has this teacher you’ve come to love.       

Now, if you love the comfort of Christianity, see it as part of your family heritage, your culture, then you won’t like anyone to question it.   Oh no, you’ll resist that, maybe even be offended.   It’s like someone is attacking your family.

On the other hand, if you fell in love with the answers, you crave the questions. You want someone to question you.  That way you can drub them into submission with your answers.    And you may win some arguments, even as you lose a lot of relationships. 

And if you fell in love with the person, with their team, then God forbid that person fail you or the team fall short.   And if they do, you will either become bitter and angry or you will scramble to do whatever you can to rationalize the failure, so that you don’t lose that leader or your team.  

But in every case, you have fallen in love with the light around Jesus, but you haven’t actually fallen in love with Jesus.   You’ve put your trust in the truth about Jesus, but you haven’t experienced the love of Jesus.

Oscar Romero, the Catholic bishop, put it well.  Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, of laws to be obeyed, of prohibitions.  That makes it very distasteful. Christianity is a person, one who loved us so much, one who calls for our love. Christianity is Christ.”  

So how do you get Christ?  How do you get Jesus?       
First, you face up to your own darkness.   Folks, who have seen the light but not experienced it have not actually done that.   Yes, you see the world around you as dark.  You see the darkness in others.   But you haven’t really faced up to your darkness. You’ve let the light shine on others.  But you haven’t allowed that light to shine into you.    

When I first came here, a leader called me for help with a particular issue.  And at one point, he said, “You know, Kennedy, I’m pretty f----ed up.”   And I said, “Of course you are.   So am I.  That’s why we’re here.”  

When you really see your darkness, your pettiness, your anxieties, your self-centeredness, all the stuff you hide, even from yourself, then you are getting close to Jesus.  As the preacher, Bill Coffin said, “Jesus said, the truth shall set you free.”  But first it makes you miserable.”   If you haven’t felt that misery, then you’re missing Jesus.   Why do you need to feel the misery?   Only then, will you realize how much you need Jesus, how lost you actually are.

But when you realize it, it does free you.  Why?  You realize.  Jesus sees you just as you are, with all that ugliness you work so hard to hide.   And Jesus loves you.   I mean, he really, really loves you.  And that frees you.   A Benedictine nun put it well, “There is no freedom like seeing myself as I am and not losing hope.”   And that’s what the gospel brings. That’s why it’s good news.

But that good news may be so good, you find it hard to believe, that Jesus loves you like that.    Heck, you may not even love yourself that much after seeing all your ugliness.  But Jesus does love you, and has given up everything to take your ugliness away.   And you don’t need to do anything for Jesus to get that.  You simply need to believe Jesus has.  All you need is need.   That’s the beauty of it.  And in the beauty of that truth, you experience the love.   

And in that love, things change in you.  You start to look at everyone, I mean everyone with a sense of hope for what God can do.  You can look at a terrorist and see that, a murderer, a war criminal, anyone.   Why?   You are thinking.  If God can save me, God can save anybody.   Why not him?  Why not her?   You start seeing all the beauty in them that God sees.  And they sense that from you.  They sense that you see in them even more than they can see in themselves.  

And when you encounter people who aren’t Christians, but who are way morally better than you, you aren’t surprised or bothered by it.  After all, you’re not a Christian, because you’re better than others.   Heck, becoming a Christian means admitting that you are a moral failure.  That’s what makes you a Christian.  You know it’s not about your goodness.  It’s all about God’s grace. 

So, when people meet you, they don’t see you trying to put on a pose or hold up a mask.  No, they see a person who lives with no reason to hide at all.    They see someone who sees the very best in them, and who accepts them utterly and without condition.   They see you loving even the most unlovable, but not making a big deal out of it.              

And when you’re not living like that, then you are forgetting the gospel.  You are forgetting who you are by God’s grace, and who they are.  You have forgotten the beauty and wonder of God’s love and grace.   So, if you’ve been forgetting the love or maybe never even experienced it, then open yourself to the bounty of God’s love for you, a God who has given everything for you.  All you need to bring is nothing.  All you need is need.