Monday, October 30, 2017

Lots of Loves Bind You, But Here is the Only One That Sets You Free

Has it ever happened to you?   You are going along through your life, minding your own business.  And out of the blue, it comes, without warning.   But once it does, it doesn’t go away.  No, it stays, tormenting you for hours, days even.   Has a song ever done that to you?  No matter what you do, the tune sticks with you, rambling around in your head, whether you like it or not.

That happened this week, but here’s the strange part.   I didn’t hear the song.  No, I just heard the words.  As I thought about the words we’re about to hear, the words of this song kept popping into my head.   It’s fairly old, but most folks know it.  In fact, the movie, Boss Baby, used it this year.  It goes like this. 

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that’s there just too little of…..

The song goes on from there.  Now, why did those words pop into my head?   It’s because, I began to think.    The world doesn’t have too little of love.    The world has way too much.  That’s the problem.   Too much of the love in the world doesn’t bring you life.  It brings you the opposite. 

I’m not saying that the world doesn’t need more love. The world does need love, at least the kind of love, that song proclaims.   But do you know what stops that kind of love?   It’s other kinds of love.   And those other kinds of love, if you let them take root in your life will twist you up. 

They twist up your relationships.   They twist up your health.   They certainly twist up the world.  But these loves have such power that they can trap you, and you don’t even notice it.  How do you become free of that power?  How do you find the way out?  How do you find the only love that truly frees you, that truly enables you to become who you most deeply yearn to be?  In these words, God points the way.   Let’s hear what God has to say.

Love, the wrong kind of love, never brings you what it promises.  It never brings you life, at least for any length of time.  In the end, it brings you discouragement, emptiness, even death.  But this love can bind you up before you even realize it.  But here, God offers the way out.  God opens the door to the only love that gives you life.  But here’s the twist.  Before you get the life, you gotta have the death first.    

But before we get there, let’s talk about this wrong kind of love or rather wrong kinds of love.  You see.  You can’t stop loving.  If you are human, you’re going to love.  Over 1500 years ago, the writer of the very first memoir in human history, Augustine put it well.   To be human is to love…We are cast into love.  We are born and destined to love.  It is our nature to love.  We can choose what to love; we cannot choose whether to love.

You’re going to love.  That’s not the question.  The question you gotta ask is this.  What are you loving, really? 

That question prompted the writer David Foster Wallace to give my favorite commencement speech of all time.   Wallace said this to the graduates of Kenyon College:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such things as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will up feeling weak and unafraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.  Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…. they’re unconscious.  They are default settings.

When Wallace uses the word worship he is pointing to the same thing Augustine was talking about with love.  In life, the human problem isn’t that we love.  It’s often not even that we love bad stuff.   It’s that you can love even good stuff way too much, so much that you could even say you worship it.   And when you do, that love will eat you alive.  And it will take you away from the very love that you most need.

That’s why John brings up the ancient story of Cain and Abel.   In that story, Cain took care of the garden.  He grew awesome fruits and vegetables.  His brother, Abel, took care of the animals, the sheep and the goats.   All seemed to be working out well, until, one day, God made a request.  God said to Cain and Abel.  “I’d like you to bring me a gift, some animals would be nice.”  But Cain felt disrespected.  What was so wrong with his fruits and vegetables?.  So, Cain ignored God’s request, and brought a nice fruit and veggie basket instead.   And what did God say?  God said, “No thanks.  Please go get the animal like I asked.”    But Cain still didn’t listen.  In fact, he became so angry, so hurt by God’s rejection, that he actually killed his brother, Abel. 

What was going on?  Cain loved what he made in that garden.  He loved it so much that made it the source of his value.   So, when God asked for something different than that, Cain couldn’t do it.  To turn his back on what he produced would be like turning his back on himself.   And when God rejected that produce, in his hurt and pain, he lashed out and murdered his own brother.   Do you see the insanity of it?   Cain loved what he produced so much he valued it above his relationship with God.  He even valued it above the life of his own brother.    Yet the whole time, he had no clue how much that love bound him, how much it had captured him. 

And it hasn’t stopped.  People still sacrifice their families and relationships for what they produce.   And the out of control loves don’t stop there.   People get addicted to relationships, to substances, to sensations, to appetites, to stuff. 

Human beings are idol making machines.  We’re always getting trapped in the wrong kinds of loves. And those loves twist everything up.   They are what, as John puts it, makes too many human beings children of the Devil.   After all, the Devil loves.  That’s not the problem, it’s what the Devil loves, and how much the Devil loves it.  The Devil is the source of twisted love, and Through that twisted love, evil enters the world and binds up people left and right.

But John offers a different way, a way out from that twisted love, a way that leads you to love as God created love to be.   This true love frees you.  It frees you to love yourself without condition, to love others that same way.   This love frees you to live so intimately with God that you become God’s very child.  But for that true love to come, the twisted loves have to go.  They have to die.   And that can be very hard. 

You could hear this talk, and resolve to do better.  You could say.  I will love the people around me more.  I want to become that child of God.  But you will still be placing your trust in what you can produce.   You’ll be no better off than Cain.  It’s just instead of producing fruits and vegetables, you’ll be producing good deeds, loving acts.  Even religion becomes a twisted love. 

 So how does the love come?  It comes when you realize that this love has already come. to you.  In Jesus, this love has come.   This love has come and offered up everything to free you.   And when God in Jesus did that, he shattered the power of every twisted love forever.   Why?  God showed you.   You don’t need them.  You don’t need them to give you value, to give you worth.  You already have it.   All you need to do is believe it, is to let that love in.   And as you do, Jesus will wither away the twisted loves that bound you.   Jesus will free you to love, to love yourself, to love others, to love this world like never before. 

Christianity should not have survived, much less become a movement that transformed the world.   It had no powerful patrons, no entrĂ©e to the inner circles.  What did it have?  It had a love that the world had never seen before.  This love shattered every social barrier. This love included everyone, rich and poor, male and female, no matter their race or culture.   This love sacrificed for everyone, whether they believed in the love or not.  And this love changed the world.  This love continues to change it. 

It’s why next Saturday, guys at the church I serve will gather to make sandwiches for the homeless in our community.  It’s why that same day, folks from all sorts of different churches including ours will come together to bring hope to our city.   It’s why folks will gather next Sunday to celebrate pumpkins and the community they bring about.  It’s why the following day, many of those folks will show up at a Methodist church in Fort Lauderdale to see justice happen in our community with our sister churches in Bold Justice.  And as the church I serve lives the love that God has given to us in such places and times, God will work in ways we cannot even imagine.    And if you let that love live in you, this love will work and change you too, in ways you could not even imagine.   Are you letting that love live in you?   If not, will you let that love live in you today?  Let us pray.   

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What Is the One Key to the Growth that Truly Changes You For the Better?

Have you seen these images from California lately?   That sort of destruction, it’s hard to comprehend, how fast it all happened.   One day everything seems fine.  Then before you know it, someone is knocking on your door in the middle of the night.  They’re telling you fire is bearing down on your house, and you gotta get out.   And you come back a few days later to this. 
Seeing that destruction reminded me of something.   In life, some things you don’t want to ever grow.  You want your kids to grow.   You’d like it if your income grew.  You want to grow better in areas of your life.   But when it comes to fires like those, you want them to die away not grow into the awful force they became.   You want that little tropical depression in the ocean to stay just that, to not become a storm or God forbid a hurricane. 

Lots of people talk as if growth is an awesome thing.   And lots of times, it is.   We’d like to see our economy grow.  We’d like to see our church grow.  But not everything that grows is good.   Cancers grow great.  That’s part of what makes them scary.   In life, lots of things can grow in your life that don’t bring you life.   Instead they destroy you.   Desires grow that sabotage your marriage or your bank account.   Resentments grow that turn you hard and bitter.    Fears grow that paralyze you, that hold you back from living the life God intended for you. 

Yet, even so, God wants you to grow.   In the words, we’re about to hear, God makes it clear how seriously God wants that.   Yet, you can think you are growing in your life the things God wants, when you are doing the opposite.   Instead what is growing in you won’t bring you or others life, it will bring the opposite.    How do you grow in your life those things that will bring you the life you deeply need?   How do you grow into the abundant beautiful life God wants you to have?      In these words, God points the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say. 

Does God want you to be perfect?  More than that, does God expect it?    Does God expect you to never make a mistake once you become a Christian?    If you take literally the words that we just heard, you can think that.    But God isn’t telling you that.  So, what is God telling you?   God is telling you that while God does not expect perfection, God does expect progress.   But the progress God expects looks quite different than what many people think, including many Christians.    
Still, you can think that God wants perfection.   Look at what God through John says here: “No one who abides in God sins; no one who sins has either seen God or known God.   That seems pretty clear.   And just in case, you wondered if you had it right, a few sentences later, you read this.  “Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them.”

But that doesn’t make sense.   Right at the beginning of the letter, John wrote this:  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.    Then a few paragraphs later, he says “Don’t worry when you sin, because in Jesus, God himself will be your advocate.”   Has John changed his mind?   Did someone take over the letter, maybe John’s older, more uptight brother?   No, the same guy wrote both things.  That’s not the problem.  

The problem is that John wrote this letter in Greek, and in Greek what John says sounds much different.   Greek has a way of saying things that language experts call the present progressive.   So basically, what John is saying, comes down to this.  Those who have been born of God do not keep on sinning or as the pastor/translator Eugene Peterson puts it: they do not make a practice of sin.  

In other words, if you experience God’s love in Jesus, it starts to change you.   God plants a new seed within you, God’s seed.   And that seed starts growing.  It starts developing in you a new way of life, a new way of seeing things.    But what does that growth look like?   What does the seed of God grow in you?    Too often, people have gotten the wrong idea about that seed, including Christians. 

For years, when I was growing up, I had a certain idea of what that seed grew.   It meant.  I didn’t drink, smoke or chew or associate with those who do.   And lots of folks still have a version of that idea.   They think.   That seed means you have to have certain external markers.  Certain behaviors set you apart.   So, if you read the Bible regularly, go to church, avoid certain “bad things.” (the list can differ), then that seed is growing.   And they’re not entirely wrong.   But they’re only picking up on one part of the seed.  And if that is all you have, then you won’t grow any God fruit so to speak.   All you’ll grow is weeds.  

Think about any relationship you have, if that’s all you have, a set of right behaviors, that relationship is not growing into what it needs to be.   If in my relationship with my wife, all I do are my duties, if I just do the right chores, run the right errands, avoid being unfaithful, sure, it may be hard to find fault with me.    But will it feel like a relationship, like what a marriage should be?   But what if I don’t do those duties, that won’t be good either.    

And it’s the same with any relationship in your life, with friends, children, family members.   Every relationship has to be more than simply the things you do or don’t do.  Something more has to be there.     And that’s even more true with God.

So, what does this full seed look like?  John tells us.   He doesn’t tell us here.  But in his account of Jesus’ life, the Gospel of John, he does.     John writes about Jesus.  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

In those last five words, John gives you a picture of the seed that God plants.   God plants a seed full of grace and truth.   If all you have are the duties, then all you have is the truth part of the seed.   And half a seed won’t grow anything, at least anything good.  It may grow self-righteousness, judgment, legalism, guilt.   But it sure won’t grow what God desires. 

No for the seed of God, the grace has to go with the truth.  But what does grace even mean?  It gave us some good songs, like Amazing Grace, but what’s so amazing about grace really?

If you’ve paid any attention to the car I drive, you’ll notice my red mini convertible has disappeared.  I’m driving a beige car with a license plate from Quebec.  How did that happen?   Several months ago, I totaled my mini cooper in an accident.   To make it worse, that was my second accident in three months.  And in both I was at fault.    But when I called my wife to tell her what had happened, she did something amazing.   She commiserated with my loss.  She got her parents from Quebec to loan us their car.  She offered me support and compassion.  And let’s be honest, after my screw ups, I didn’t really merit that.  Do you know what my wife gave me.  She gave my grace.  She gave me unmerited favor.

That’s what grace is.  It’s unmerited favor.   It’s those times, when someone gave you far, far more than you deserved.   And when you experience that, you know how amazing that can be, how powerful, how life-changing.   That’s the power that God plants in you.  Why?  Because in Jesus, that’s what God has given you.  God has given you unmerited favor like no one else could. 

In the most random moments, my son will say to me, with the heartfelt-ness of an almost 4-year old “I love you.”  What is going on in those I love you moments?  He’s sensing the wonder of what he has received, two people who regularly extend to him blessings he doesn’t merit at all.   I recently heard a comment from a parent that a child is both overwhelming and under-stimulating at the same time.  That parent was right.  Parents, good parents, give favor to their children not because of what they can give back.  No, they simply extend that favor because they love them, and they are theirs.   

And when you know God loves you like that, and even beyond that, when you know that God gave up everything to bring you home.    When you know that you have received that level of unmerited favor, so much so that you have become God’s very offspring, it plants a seed within you, a seed full of grace and truth.   And as that seed grows, your capacity to give grace to others and to yourself grows.   And out of that grace, the desire to live the truth, to do the right thing grows as well.   But it begins with the grace.   In that grace, you do change. You become free of the broken places that bound you in the past, the out of control desires that dragged you down, the long-held resentments that held you back.   You become more and more like this One who has graciously adopted you, who has joyfully and at infinite cost brought you home.   You become more and more the offspring of God, not in name alone, but in reality.   And, you know, it is not your own doing.  It is the beautiful, wondrous, amazing gift of God.

Do you want to know that grace?  Do you want to experience that truth?   Here’s all you need to do.   You simply need to believe it.  You need to believe that grace, that God’s grace is true and real for you.  Why.  Because it is.          

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What is the One Practice That Will Bring You Wholeness Like Nothing Else?

I honestly thought.  I had heard it all.  After all, even with the best of them, I don’t get shocked by a little hypocrisy.   After all, politicians, like all of us, they’re only human.   But a few weeks ago, what one politician did, shocked me.

Since coming to Congress in 2003, Christian politician, Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, spoke forcefully against abortion.  He had led fight after fight against it in Congress.  Every pro-life group had given him a 100% approval rating.

But last month, a text message became public, one from Murphy’s mistress.  She wrote the following.   “You have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options,”  

This anti-abortion congressman was not only having an affair.  He actually asked his mistress to have an abortion.    Now I’ve seen my share of hypocrisy, but that has to rank in my top ten.
Still, when I came down from my high horse, I asked myself some hard questions.  If Christians have been transformed by God’s love, what do examples like Murphy’s say about how real that transformation is?     The atheist philosopher Nietzche said it this way.  “I might believe in the Redeemer, he said, if his followers looked more redeemed.” That critique has a painful truth.  I have to ask myself.  Am I really letting Jesus transform me?   By God’s grace, I haven’t fallen into the sort of mess that Murphy did, but I can’t cast any stones either.   I have my own supply of hidden stuff, failings that I’d don’t want to see in the light of day.   I imagine you might too.  

Are there places in your life where you are stuck, bad habits you cannot break, ugly attitudes that keep coming back.  Do you have things that that you regret doing or saying or thinking yet even so, those regretful things rise up in your life again and again?   How do you become whole there, in those broken places?   How do you become more and more the person that God actually intended you to be?  In these words, God points the way.    Let’s hear what God has to say.

Did you just hear what John said?  He said, “No one who sins has either seen or known Jesus.”  Wow.  If you take John literally, then how could anyone meet that standard?   Only a chapter before, John admitted Christians did sin, saying that if anyone does sin, they have Jesus as their defender.  So clearly, John isn’t being literal here.   But while you don’t need to take John literally, you do need to take him seriously.  

If the presence of Christ has come to live in you, it should redeem you.   It should change you.  But how does that happen?  How do you become transformed?   How does God change you not only on the surface, but all the way through?   In these words, God tells you.   You can’t try your way into transformation.  But you can train your way into it.  The more you train yourself to apply more and more God’s reality to your day to day life, the more transformation will come.

What does it mean to apply God’s reality to your life?  Well, before we go there, let’s unpack why trying doesn’t work.  Trying doesn’t work because trying doesn’t really work anywhere, at least in the long run.  

Several times a week, I do a short run on the treadmill at the gym.   But with those short runs, I can’t run a marathon.   Now, I could try to run a marathon.  But no matter how much I tried, that marathon won’t happen.    Why?  My trying wouldn’t change this simply reality.   My mile and a half runs a few times a week have in no way prepared me for a race that goes over 26 miles.  And no amount of trying on my part will change that fact.  

In pretty much every area of life, trying just won’t get you very far.  Trying has to move into training, into some regular habits that help you get better at whatever it is you’re trying to do.

And religion is no different.  Every religion has certain practices that they expect folks to do.  And every religion says that the more you do these practices, the more transformed you will become.    So, do you want change?   Well, one religion would say meditate more.  Another says keep bowing to Mecca 5 times a day.  Another says eat these things or do these rituals.       

And Christianity has practices too.   And here in what we just read, John points to the central one.   He lays it right out in the third verse when he says.   “And all who have this hope in God, purify themselves just as he (God), is pure.”  

John says.   Do you want to clear out the junk in your life, the stuff that blocks you from becoming who God created you to be?  Well, have this hope in God, and that’ll do it.   It will clear out the junk.  It will purify you just as God is pure.   It will change you utterly from the inside out.  
But how can having this hope in God do that?  Heck, what does that even mean?  It means this.

God brings transformation into your life through the transforming power of truth.  When you hear the truth of the gospel, when you see the reality of what God has done for you, that changes you.  It changes you as nothing else can.

So how does change happen.   It happens as you regularly apply the truth of the gospel to your day to day life.    You see.   Christianity doesn’t just give you things to do.   It actually tells you why you do these things in the first place.

For example, Jesus says forgive.  Forgive not just a few times.  No forgive again and again and again.   But Jesus doesn’t say do this because it’s good or become I told you to.  No Jesus actually tells you why; why you need to forgive.

In one story, Jesus explained it this way.   A certain king had a servant who owed him an astronomical amount of money.  This servant owed so much, that if he worked for 10,000 years, he couldn’t even begin to pay it off.    But the king forgives that debt.   The king writes the whole thing off.  But then as soon as this happens, this same servant goes out and runs into a fellow servant who owes him a hundred bucks.   And do you know what he does, he throws this fellow servant into prison until he can pay the debt.    When the king hears of this, he goes ballistic.   He tells his soldiers.   Find this guy who owed me all this money, and throw him into prison.  I tell you.  He won’t get out until he has paid every last penny.

Do you what Jesus is telling you?   Jesus is saying.   Why do you forgive again and again?   You forgive because God has forgiven you for far, far more than whatever wrong anyone has ever done to you.   And whatever you think your lack of forgiveness does to the one who wronged you, it actually does far worse to you.   That person doesn’t become the prisoner.  You become the prisoner.  That’s why the writer Malachy McCourt once said.   Holding a resentment (in other words not forgiving someone.) is like you drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die. 

So, when you struggle to forgive, what do you do?  You apply the truth of the gospel, the reality of what God had done for you, to your life.   Then you think.   How can I not forgive, after all the forgiveness God has showered on me?

Do you see how this works?      

In my life, I can get tripped up by a certain attitude that leads me to all sorts of bad places.  You could sum up my attitude in this one phrase: I do and I do for you, and this is the thanks I get?  When this attitude takes hold of me, it makes me self-righteous and resentful.   And it will lead me into some bad behaviors of my own, because it makes me think I have an excuse.   After all I do all these good things, shouldn’t I get a little something too, shouldn’t I get cut a little slack?

But when I think about the reality of the gospel, this attitude gets blown away.  Yes, I’ve done for others sure.   But I have not come close to doing what God has done for me.   God has given me in Jesus his very life.   And I’m copping an attitude over a few good deeds.  Gi’me a break.                     
The more you apply the truth of the gospel to your life, the more through that truth, God will change your life.    And if you don’t apply that truth, it opens you up to the sort of ugliness that Congressman Murphy finds himself in now. 

Years ago, I heard a preacher talk about a colleague of his in ministry who had crashed and burned.  He had been caught out in some actions that had destroyed his ministry and deeply wounded his family.   So, this preacher sat down, and asked him.   How did this happen?   It looked like your ministry was going great. 

The colleague just looked at him, opened his Bible and said this.   I used to preach like this. And the colleague put his hand from the Bible to his heart and then out like he was giving something out.   But then I started to preach like this.   And this time, his hand went to the Bible, but it didn’t go near his heart.  No, it just went out.   When this pastor stopped applying the truth to his own heart, it opened the door for his own fall.   

And here’s the truth.   By God’s grace, you hopefully will not end up where that pastor or Tim Murphy did.   But at some point, you will likely face something you regret.  You will find yourself caught up in your own painful place.   What do you do then?  You apply the reality of the gospel to your life, the reality that John so powerfully lays out here.

Lately our son, Patrick, has begun testing the boundaries a bit, seeing just how far he can push his mom and dad.   And yes, he has found out, that his actions have consequences, and those consequences aren’t always good.   But more crucially, he has found out this.   No matter how much he tries our patience or pushes our boundaries, we will always love him.   He will always, always be our child.  

And John tells you that same thing about God.   If Congressman Murphy came across my path that would be the truth that I would apply to him, that first verse that we read.  “See what love that the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.”   That’s the love that God has given Tim Murphy, has given you; has given me.   God has called you his child.   And that means, no matter how far you fall, you will never fall so far that God’s love cannot reach you.

The writer Corrie Ten Boom survived the Nazi death camps, but her sister Betsie did not, but before she died Betsie said something that Corrie has shared again and again, something I have never forgotten.  Betsie was talking about the evil of others done to her, but it applies as well to the evil we might author ourselves, the pits we put ourselves in.  Ten Boom said.   “There is no pit so deep, that God is not deeper still.”  

And when you know that truth, it changes you.  It frees you from getting paralyzed by your own failings.  It frees you to freely give grace when others fail you.    And it leads you to become more and more that child of God that God has destined you to be, a being purified inside and out; someone made holy, or what that word truly means, someone made completely whole, a wholeness that will one day be so complete that you cannot even conceive of how wondrous it will be. 

Do you want that change?   Do you want to not only be called a child of God but to actually become one inside and out?  Then let the truth of the gospel live in your heart.   Let Jesus change you as only Jesus can.         

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What Is the One Eureka Moment in Life That Changes Everything?

Eureka!  Ever heard that word before?  Even if you haven’t, you’ve definitely had a Eureka moment, probably lots of them.    What’s a Eureka moment?   

To understand that, you’ve gotta go back over 2000 years to this guy, Hiero, who was the king of Sicily.   Hiero ordered this new solid gold crown.  He even gave the gold to the goldsmith to make it.  But when he got the crown, he got suspicious.   He thought. This gold smith has put some silver in the thing.   So, he asked his child scientist, Archimedes, to test the crown and find out the truth.

But Archimedes had no idea how to do that.   But then he went and took a bath.   He sat down in the water and he noticed.  As his body went in, the water rose.   Instantly he realized.  If his body did that to the water, the crown would do that too.   And since gold is denser than silver, if the crown did have silver in it, then it would displace a little more water than pure gold would.   And when he got that insight, he immediately screamed, “I found it.”   Except he said the Greek word for that, which is Eureka!   He got so excited, he jumped out of the bath, and ran naked down the street to tell the king. 

Now hopefully, when you’ve had your Eureka moments, it didn’t involve running naked in the street, but you’ve definitely had some.   It’s those moments when you suddenly figure something out.  You’re trying to fix something in your house, and suddenly you get how to do it.  You’re having a problem at work, then, boom, you see the solution.   When I first had a kid, I had a sort of eureka moment.  I was crawling exhausted into bed late one night, and suddenly I got it.  I realized why when I was single, all my friends with kids used to roll their eyes, when I complained to them that I had no time.   I thought.  Oh, now I get it.       

Most of the time, those moments don’t mean too much.   But sometimes those moments change your life. 

In 1977, this guy, Peter Lynch, took over this small mutual fund called Magellan.  It had 18 million dollars back then.  13 years later, in 1990, it had 14 billion.  Lynch had, over those years given his investors over a 2500% return. He had made Magellan, the biggest mutual fund in the world.   And get this, Lynch was only 46 years old.    But do you know what he did next?  He quit.  Yes, he had become a Wall Street legend.  But he was working six, sometime seven days a week.   His three daughters were growing up without him.   And Lynch had his Eureka moment.  He realized.  “I don’t know anyone who said on their deathbed, “Gee, I wished I’d spent more time in the office.”    So, Lynch walked away from it all.  

In your life, you may have had those sort of eureka moments, ones that shifted your whole life.    In the words we’re about to read, you’ll hear the greatest Eureka moment in human history, the one that changed everything.   And if you let it, this insight will change everything for you too.  What is it?   In these words, God shows you.  Let’s hear what God has to say. 

What is the greatest Eureka moment in human history?   What is the insight that changes everything?   It’s this.   You’re not good enough, not nearly.  But you don’t need to be.
Now you may be thinking.   That’s it?   That’s the greatest insight in human history? Really? 

Let me explain.  I recently heard another preacher, Nadia Bolz Weber, admit this.   Sometimes, she gets on a flight, and someone asks.  “What do you do?”    And she doesn’t lie, but she doesn’t tell the whole truth either.   She says, “I work for a non-profit.”    Now, she isn’t embarrassed about what she does, not at all.  She’s just tired of hearing this same sort of conversation over and over again.

Well, you know, pastor, I believe that if we’re just good enough, then God will be ok with that. And she listens, politely even.   But inside she is thinking.   Does this person realize?   That’s not even really a thing, this whole good enough deal. 

Now, in case you object, let’s unpack this whole good enough thing a little bit.  Who actually defines good enough?   Do the Muslims define it?   Well, if you’re not praying 5 times a day, then you’re screwed.   Do the Hindus define it?  Well, if you’re eating meat, you’re screwed there too.   Every religion has a different definition of what good is.  Heck, everyone in the world does.   In fact, everyone has one definition of good enough for themselves and another definition for everyone else. 

That’s why when you’re texting on your phone on the freeway, it’s good, because you’ve really got to send this text.   But when that bozo in the other lane is doing it, it’s not good at all.

Yet still I hear people talk as if there is some undefinable good out there that you’re supposed to shoot for.  But you if don’t know what it is, how can you shoot for it?  More importantly, how do you know if you’ve even done it, made the grade so to speak?  It doesn’t make any sense.

But I don’t have to tell you this.  If you’re honest, you know.  More than that, you kind of suspect that even if this good enough existed, you probably wouldn’t make the mark anyway.   How do I know that?  Well, if I could put on this screen, every thought that you had, everything you’ve done, every word you said, just this week, would you want that?   Would you be like, “Yeah, that is me.  I am so good!”   I don’t think so.  

But still you probably try to be good enough.   Maybe you think, if I do enough good deeds, that will do it.   If others like me, that’ll do it.  If I’m really an awesome mom (whatever that is), that’ll do it.  If I have some success at work or in my relationships or finances, that’ll do it.   If I…. well, you fill in the blank.   Where do you get your good enough?  What do you really believe makes you worthy?  

By the way, if you come to worship each Sunday or get super-involved involved in serving here, I’d love that.    But that won’t make you good enough, won’t make you worthy, not even close.  

Here’s the truth.  You are not good enough.  No one is.  But that’s not the Eureka moment.  This is.  You don’t need to be good enough.   That’s the Eureka moment that the Apostle John is having again in the words we just read. 

It happens right at the beginning but you can miss it.   The King James translation makes it clearer.   There that first sentence reads, “Behold, the manner of love that the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.”           

John is saying.  Do you see the manner of love that God has bestowed on you?   God calls you his children.  

When it comes to your kids, do you have a good enough standard?   Yes, you want them to be successful, do well.   I’m not talking about that.   Do you ever sit down, and think, “Well, junior hasn’t been performing up to expectations this quarter, I think it’s time to let him go.”   Of course not.    But that doesn’t mean that they’re doing awesome either.   At times, they drive you nuts, even deeply disappoint you.  But you take the cost of that, because that’s what parents do.   And since no parent is perfect, our kids take the burden of our mistakes too.       

When it comes to God, God has to take on everyone’s screw ups, on how those mistakes, those failings screw up others, screw up this entire world.   Now God doesn’t let all that pass.  God can’t.  That would hardly be right, good even   Ultimately, somebody has to bear that cost.  So, God said.  I will.    And in Jesus, God came and did just that.  God got arrested and executed by the forces of religion and politics.  And, in that execution, God took on the infinite and awful agony of everything that had ever gone wrong in this world.   And why did God do that?  God did that because God loved you.  God loved you more than anything, even God’s very life.    God took everything on for you.    

So yes, you are not good enough.   But you don’t ever need to be.  Out of God’s love, God’s infinite sacrifice, God has made you good enough forever.   That’s what that last verse means.  “And all who have this hope in God purify themselves, just as God is pure.”    And how does this purity come?   It comes when you believe it has, when you believe what John is saying here is real and is true, when you believe it is in fact the realest and truest thing in the entire universe.    And when you do, it frees you.  It frees you from the bondage of trying to be good enough, as if that’s even a thing.   It frees you to be loved without condition, without limit.  It frees you to become a child, free and unashamed.    So, believe it.   Come to this God who loves you just as you are. Behold the manner of love that the Father has bestowed upon you, that you should be called the children of God.