Sunday, March 31, 2019

The One Question That Tells you Everything and That Changes Everything

52, 55, 56, 57, 61, – wow, that’s not good.   Do you know what those numbers are?   That’s the percentage of Americans who see the nation on the wrong track. And what’s the percentage who see it on the right track?  That percentage never gets out of the 30s.  That’s five different polls all done in the last three weeks, all saying about the same thing.   

This past week, I was listening to an interview with the writer and priest, Richard Rohr.  He said never in his life, and he’s now in his 70s, has he run into so many, as he described them, “eccentric, unstable, mentally unhealthy people.”   Do you know what he’s talking about?  Have you run into a few of those? 

Two weeks ago, I read about a mom with a hugely successful You Tube show, 250 million view successful.  She shared all the funny antics of her 7 adopted kids.  But that ended pretty abruptly. The police discovered when the kids messed up their lines, she pepper-sprayed them.  And if they still didn’t get with the program, she locked them in a closet and starved them until they did.   

It took me only a few minutes to remember those examples.  If you thought about it, you could come up with your own.   What is wrong with this world, with people?  What’s wrong with us?   The answer to those questions lies in just one question you’re about to hear.    In that one question lies both the root of brokenness and the way out.   What is that question?  Here God tells you.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

Do you see the first question God asks Adam and Eve?   In that one question, God is giving you the key to the brokenness and also the path back.   In case you missed the question.  Here it is.  God’s asks Adam and Eve simply this.   “Where are you?”    How can that question tell you so much?  To get that, you need to understand how Adam and Eve’s answer show how broken things have become.
Now, Adam does come out and give a somewhat honest answer.   He tells God he was afraid because he was naked.  But is that really why he was afraid?  Ok, maybe on the surface.   So, God digs deeper.   And Adam answers by blaming Eve and God at the same time.   Then Eve blames the serpent.  And in those answers, God shows you how badly things have gone.  Do you see why?  
This week, I got a random e-mail from someone trying to sell me something.  But his pitch shared an observation that hit me hard. 

He wrote.  Imagine someone is driving home, a little drunk, from a party.  He nearly runs off the road.   After the close call, he realizes.  He shouldn’t have had that last drink.   That was foolish.   He decides. He’ll be more careful next time.    That’s nice.  But do you think he’ll follow through, that there actually won’t be a next time?  I kinda doubt it.  Do you know why?

This guy might have self-awareness, but he sure isn’t seeking self-knowledge.  If he had that, he’d be asking questions like: Why did I have that last drink?  Why do I feel the need to dull my senses that much?  What is really going on with me?

Do you see the difference?  Adam and Eve are self-aware, painfully so.  It’s why they cover themselves up.  But they’re not willing to risk self-knowledge, to face up to why they did eat from that tree.  They don’t really want to know where they are.   In fact, their blaming shows they’ll do anything to avoid facing that.    

And why?  It’s because self-knowledge makes you really vulnerable.  It requires way too much risk-taking, even with God.  And it hurts.   So, Adam and Eve chicken out.   They use blame and avoidance instead.  And ever since, human beings have been making that same choice.  And that choice only leads to more brokenness, more hurt, more alienation. 

Only when you risk self-knowledge with yourself and others is the cycle broken. 

The preacher Richard Exley tells about the first time, Todd, his future son-in-law visited he and his wife.   And what did he do?  He humiliated his daughter.   She was fixing coffee for the family.  To hold the handle of the pot, she grabbed a kitchen towel that then caught on fire in the burner.  Richard freaked.  He ripped into his daughter.  “How could you be that careless?  You’re lucky you didn’t burn the house down.”  And it went on from there.  She fled in tears up the stairs with her mother.  Richard started cleaning up the mess.  Then he decided to face the real mess.  He went upstairs to his daughter. He said to her.  “There was absolutely no excuse for what I did.  Please forgive me. If you’ll come back downstairs, I will apologize to Todd as well.”   And do you know what scares me about that story?   It’s at some point, I could hurt my son like that with my anger.  Heck, I already have, but they’re more forgiving at 4.   But ten years from now or twenty and my anger hurts him, will I have the gut to face my fault and seek forgiveness.  Will he have the courage to show me grace, as Richard’s daughter and future son-in-law did do that day? 

The gutsiest thing you can be is vulnerable.  In fact, the psychologist BrenĂ© Brown asked that very question of special forces troops.  She asked.  Could they think of an example of courage that they had done or seen others do that did not require vulnerability.   None of them could come up with even one example.  And if anyone should know courage, it’s special forces. 

But you don’t need to look at those folks.  No, just look at God.  Do you see how God protects the tree of life?  He places an angel wielding a sword to guard that tree in every direction.   Yet in Jesus, God opened the way to that tree.  How did God do it?  God fell on the sword.  God died on that sword, so the tree of life might be yours again. And in God’s ultimate act of vulnerability, God freed you from the fear that held Adam and Eve.   

After all, why did Adam and Eve eat from the tree?  They doubted God’s love for them, that God wanted the best for them.  But when you see how God in Jesus gave up everything to bring you home, that frees you to be brave, to be vulnerable.  It gives you with the courage to face the pain of knowing yourself warts and all.  It gives you the guts to be vulnerable to others: to listen, to seek grace, to give it, to love even as you have been loved.   And in that love, you finally know where you are.  You live in the enveloping, never ending love of God for you.   This is where you are, where you always have been.  Do you know that?  Do you?    

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Why You Need to Get Naked More Than You Might Have Ever Realized

Decades have passed, but I still remember it, the horror, the shock!   I was at school getting a drink from the water fountain.   Everything seemed fine until I looked down.   I had forgotten my pants.  Somehow, I had come to school without my pants.   It didn’t seem anyone noticed, but I couldn’t hide the no pants things forever, could I?  What was I going to do?   How was I going to find pants?  How was I going to find some way to cover myself? 
Have you ever had a dream like that?   It might have been your pants missing or heck, it might be the whole kit and kaboodle.   You stood at a party or a bus stop naked or close to it!  Now, if you’ve had a dream like that, you’re not alone.   Sigmund Freud, when he categorized common dreams, put naked in public right at the top.

But I gotta admit.  When I had that dream, it freaked me out.  But now I realize.  That dream was telling something I needed to hear, that everyone needs to hear.   It’s ok to be naked.  In fact, only when you become ok with naked, do you become free, truly free.   It’s not the sort of naked that happens in the shower.  No, this naked goes deeper than that.  You see.  You can be walking around all day in your birthday suit, and not be naked at all.  How can this be?   Here, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

We live in a world where people work so hard to avoid getting naked, even with themselves.  And when you avoid that, it not only limits your life, it can end it.  What do I mean?  I’m not talking about physical nakedness.   I’m talking about the deeper meaning of that word.  I’m talking about what that word means in the story we just heard.   But to understand how crucial that naked is, you need to understand how you and I lost it in the first place. 

Right before you have the story of the tree.  You have this strange description of Adam and Eve.   And the man and the woman were naked and not ashamed.  Why in the world do you need to know that?   It’s because God is telling you something crucial, something crucial about their relationship.

God is telling you.  God is telling you that they were totally exposed to one another, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually, and they felt no shame or insecurity.  These two human-beings had nothing to hide.  Heck, they didn’t know what that word even meant.

But then when it came to the tree it all changed, instantly.  They started hiding all over the place.  Why did just eating from that tree do that?  What happened?

Well, keep in mind, that this story has nothing to do with the tree.   God could have made it not picking a marigold.  This story has everything to do with the trust.   The serpent told them that they couldn’t trust God.  God didn’t really love them.  God didn’t intend the best for them.  That was the lie.   And when Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they showed that they believed that lie. They showed. They didn’t trust God.  They believed the lie that God was hiding something from them, something good.

And once they believed that lie, it infected them.   It infected them with fear.  Before they ate from the tree, fear had not appeared in the world.   But once that trust was broken, fear spread.   And the more it spread, the more Adam and Eve hid.  Fearful and distrustful of each another, they find the fig leaves.   Then fearful of God’s reaction, they hide in the bushes.  And their hiding shows how deadly this lie has become.  For nothing destroys human beings like hiding. 

Have you ever heard of Theranos?  It’s the name of a company that supposedly discovered a revolutionary way to do blood testing.  The company claimed that they could with one prick, they could put a little of your blood in this magic, high tech box, and test you for as many as 200 things.  But last year, after ten years and a billion dollars, it turned out that Theranos had discovered nothing, except how to deceive some of the most prominent investors in the world.   But it didn’t start out that way.  The folks at Theranos started out believing it could be done.

That’s why they hired the brilliant biochemist, Ian Gibbons.  Ian had pioneered innovations in blood testing technology.  And he believed the Theranos revolution could happen too.  But it became clear soon that something was wrong, very wrong.  But the leaders at the top kept hiding the problems, ignoring Gibbons’ warnings.  Then a lawsuit happened.  Gibbons knew.  He’d have to testify, and the truth would come out.  So, what did Ian Gibbons do?  He killed himself rather than come out of hiding.

Now you don’t have to go that far for hiding to destroy you.  Every day, people hide.  They hide their emotions.  They hide their pain.  They cover up their problems.  And all it does is let all that junk eat them away from the inside. 

But hiding goes deeper than that.  For when God comes and tries to draw Adam and Eve out.  They still keep hiding.   Adam blames both God and Eve, and then Eve blames the serpent.  And what is blaming but just another form of hiding.  And who knows?  When they blamed, maybe each of them had convinced themselves it was true.   But when you hide, you don’t just hide from others, you hide from yourself.  You avoid the truths you’d rather not face.  You ignore the pain thinking hiding it will somehow make it go away.   And that hiding from yourself can be the most destructive of all.

And why do people hide?  Why do you hide?  You fear what coming out of hiding would mean.  What if people saw you as you are, flawed, insecure, broken?   Would they love you still?  Would they even accept you?  More profoundly, would God love you?  Would God accept you? In the end, it all goes back to the original lie, to your doubting of God’s love. 

And even religion won’t save you from that hiding.  For even Moses, the great lawgiver hid.   St. Paul wrote about it to the believers in Corinth.  You see.  When Moses talked with God on the mountain, his face shone with such radiance that afterwards he had to wear a veil.  That way his shining face wouldn’t blind the people.  But the radiance went away.  In fact, it went away pretty quickly.  But Moses still wore the veil.   He didn’t want anyone to know.

And today that hiding continues.  In fact, religious people can be some of the best hiders. The molestation and misconduct scandals in church after church show you that. 

But in Jesus, God frees you from hiding forever.  In fact, after Paul talks about Moses, he says this.  In Jesus, you can live with an unveiled face.   Why? 

In Jesus, you see the unveiled face of God, a God who out of love went to death and beyond for you.   And when you know that God loves you like that, you know.  You know no failing, no fault, no matter how shameful or bad can ever take God’s love away from you. God really does love you no matter what.   In fact, because of that love, in Jesus, all God sees is your beauty.  Jesus’ love has taken all your ugliness on himself.   You are free. 

And as you know more that love, the more it frees you.  It frees you from hiding; hiding from God, hiding from others, hiding from yourself.   The more you become free to live with an unveiled face.
In fact, that’s what God has called churches here to do, to let Jesus create communities, a sanctuary where in Jesus, people come out of hiding, where people experience the joy of being naked and unashamed.    That is what God's love in Jesus does.  That love frees you.  It finds you.  As the preacher John Ortberg put it.  "Your life depends on getting found.  There is never any healing in hiding."  So let that God love, let in Jesus, this God call you out of hiding into the beauty and joy of his infinite love.      

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What is the One Thing That Gets Everyone Off-Track?

Did you see them?  Did you see the two big stories of the week?  In one, you saw rich people behaving badly, doing pay-offs and bribes to get their kids in the right schools.  But as bad as that was, it only got worse didn’t it.   For in the other, you saw a white man behaving horrifically, slaughtering 50 innocent people while they were simply praying to God.

But do you realize what both these stories have in common?  The same lie lies at the heart of them both.   In fact, that lie lies at the heart of all human brokenness.    Now, what is this lie?   More crucially, how does this one lie mess everything up?   In this story, God shows you the way?   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say?

Why do you get up every morning?  Beyond all the stuff you do, you have a larger purpose over it all, something that you believe will give you ultimate value, that will make your life worthwhile.  Everyone has a why, something that you are aiming for either consciously or unconsciously that you believe gives you value and worse.  That personal mission can be all sorts of things.   But whatever it might be, your mission is likely a false one.  It will never be able to bear the weight of what you’re asking of it.   But before you can even figure out what your false mission might be, you’ve got to see first why you have one in the first place.

That false mission began because a lie has captured everyone in this room today, everyone.   It’s the same lie that captured Adam and Eve.   As we talked about last week, this story has almost nothing to do with the tree.   It has everything to do with the trust. 

And that’s the lie that lies at the heart of the story.   It’s what the serpent gets Adam and Eve to believe.   The serpent gets them to believe simply this.  God doesn’t really love them.  And if God doesn’t love them then how can they trust God about the tree?   When God tells you not to eat from this tree, God isn’t trying to keep you safe.   No, God is holding back the good stuff.   God is holding you back from the greatness you’re destined to have.

And when Adam and Eve eat from the tree, the lie has taken hold.   By eating from the tree, they basically say to God.   I don’t trust you.   I don’t trust that you love me, that you intend the best for me.   I don’t trust you at all.   And whether you realize it or not, you’re caught in that same lie.   And because of that lie, you tend to think way too highly of yourself, and not so highly about God. 
You already begin to see that even before Adam and Eve eat.  Do you see what happens right before?  This happens. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

Now you may think, ok.  What’s so interesting about that?  In these words, God is showing you that Eve and by implication Adam (who, by eating, shows his agreement) have made a crucial change in how they see themselves.   They basically see themselves as way smarter than God.   They look at the fruit.  They evaluate it on how good it looks to eat, how pretty it is, and on what this random serpent has told them, and they take a bite.   But think about this a bit.  That’s not exactly the best rationale for a decision.

If you go out in the woods looking for mushrooms with that logic, it will not go well with you.   Hmm that mushroom looks and smells good, and this random stranger said it’s awesome, so let me take a bite.  With that rationale, you’ll be dead or on your way to the hospital pretty quickly.

Yet human beings make these sort of bad judgment calls all the time.   In fact, shocking us with those bad judgment calls is how the Nobel winning Economist, Daniel Kahneman sold a million and a half copies of his book.    In 2011, Kahnemann published his bestseller,Thinking, Fast and Slow.   And to grossly summarize a 500-page book, basically Kahnemann wrote that whether you are thinking, fast or slow, you have a good chance of thinking wrong. 

And he gave example after example of experiments that proved his point.   For example, he and his fellow economist, Amos Tversky, asked people whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died.  Of course, they said no.  That would be ridiculous.   

But then then they asked a different group whether Gandhi was more or less than 35 years old when he died.     And again, folks answered more.  They knew that. But then they asked each group this question.  So, when did Gandhi die?  Guess which group guessed an older age at death and which guessed a younger?   Any guesses. Let’s just say.   You and I are really influenced just like Adam and Eve by the last thing we heard whether it is true or not.

Let me give you another of these experiments.  One group was asked whether they would opt for surgery if the “survival” rate is 90%.   And another group was asked whether they would opt for surgery if the “death” rate is 10%.   It’s the same information, just framed differently.  But did it change the way folks answered the question.  You bet it did.  It turns out just framing the very same information differently makes you think differently.    

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Basically, Kahneman said, human beings are way too overconfident in our thinking because of one false concept that he called WYSIATI.  It stands for What You See is All There Is.   Yet of course what you see isn’t all there is, by a humongous amount.   Yet you and I make judgments based on that fallacy all the time.   

Human beings do that with God.  When somebody says, “I could never believe in God because of all the terrible things in the world,” do you see what is going on?  That person is assuming they know better than God, are more moral and compassionate than God, have a better grasp of reality than God.   And on all those points, well, let’s just say the record of human beings is pretty spotty.   Yet, people do that sort of judging of God all the time.  Why?  They think they know better, even are better.

Heck, if you are anxious or worried about something, the same thing is going on.  You think you know better.  You think you really know how whatever it is has to go, and if it doesn’t go that way, that’s bad.  But you don’t know.   You really, really don’t know. 

And this faulty thinking leads you to not only a false perception of yourself and of God, it leads you to a false focus for your life, one that can never bear the weight of what you ask of it. 

And let me be clear, your false focus can be a good thing.  It just can’t be the mission of your life, your ultimate source of value and meaning.  

Let’s say you make the focus of your life, having an awesome spouse or outstanding kids.   Now, those are good things.   But if you make that the focus of your life, your source of value and meaning, it will mess it up.   No spouse however good he or she is can survive being their partner’s source of value and meaning.  Why?  They’re not perfect.  They’re going to mess up.  And if they think their partner is going to collapse when they fail as they surely will, that marriage will have hard days, days it likely will not survive. 

And with kids it’s even worse.  What was going on with those rich parents making pay-offs and bribes to get their kids into top schools?   They might have told themselves.  I’m doing this for junior, for my daughter or son.  But they weren’t.  They were doing it for themselves.  They were doing it to fulfill a false personal mission.  They were believing things like this.   I won’t have value as a person, as a parent, unless my kids are successful going to the best schools, so I gotta do whatever, whatever it takes to make that happen, even if it hurts them.   Or maybe it was.  I won’t truly have value unless I am successful everywhere, at work, at home, and with my kids.  And nothing can get in the way of that success.  And if that means breaking the law or messing up my kids so they meet my personal mission of success, then so be it. 

I could go on and on with these examples.  There are so many of these false missions.  Heck, even religion can be one.   People can think like this.  If I don’t abide by the rules the church sets out or the Bible, then I have no value.  And so, they become rigid, terrified of failure, willing to do anything to protect their image of goodness, of righteousness.

And of course, you can have a mission that’s not good at all.  Those missions lead to horrific things.   Some people have as their meaning in life, an enemy, a group of people they must defeat or destroy.   In its milder forms, this personal mission leads to rigid political divisions.  One side demonizes the other, the sort of thing that infects our nation right now.  In its more virulent forms, it leads to war, to genocide.  It leads to the horror that visited those mosques in New Zealand.

Do you see how devastating these false missions are?   And in the end, they don’t make you larger, they make you smaller.   After all, if your mission is simply about you, some way you’re finding fulfillment for you, then that diminishes the world to just you ultimately.  And that’s a very small universe in which to live.  

But a larger mission awaits you, a true mission.  In the last sentence we read, God tells you what it is.  God says to the serpent.   I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” In these words, do you see what God is doing?  God isn’t talking about people being scared of snakes.  God is declaring war against the lie, against the evil that spreads the lie throughout the world.  More than that, God, in these words on the offspring, is sharing how God will call others to join God in the fight against the lie, against the brokenness the lie creates in the world.   

That’s why every Sunday at the church I serve we say those words to one another: God loves you no matter what every Sunday.  We’re not simply saying some words to help everyone feel good.  We are fighting the lie.  We are fighting the lie by proclaiming the truth of the love.   But we don’t fight that battle alone.  We have a champion.  And in the final sentence, God points you to his coming.   The first part of this sentence is plural, but then it changes to singular.  “He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Why?

It’s because God is saying.  A champion will come, an offspring of Eve, who will crush the lie.  But in that battle, he will suffer.   The lie will wound him.  But it cannot destroy him.  And in that wounding, he will destroy the lie forever.  

In Jesus, these words come true.  For in Jesus, you see the love of God like never before, you see the love that crushes the lie once and for all.    And when you know that love, when you know the truth of that love, it starts crushing the lie in you.  More than that, it gives you your true value and your true mission.  You grow to love others even as Jesus has loved you.   And in that love, you discover the only mission that truly fulfills.  You discover the mission that transforms you and by God’s grace working in you and so many others is even now transforming the world.  So,  live in the love.  Live in the truth.  Live in the mission until that day when God’s love will vanquish the lie forever.   

Sunday, March 10, 2019

What is the One Lie That Sabotages Everything?

Every week at the church I serve, I put a sheet with all sorts of quotes on it.   I love quotes.   But this week, one I was thinking of I didn’t include there.   St. Augustine said it, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time.   He said. 

“When you sing, you pray twice.”   

I remembered it because of a 1300- year-old prayer by Alcuin of York that we were praying that Sunday.  And it turns out someone set that prayer to music.  And a version of that song you can see below.

But what kills me about the prayer whether your say it or sing it, is how much it doesn’t happen, at least the way you wish it would.   The Eternal light doesn’t shine as deep as you wish.  The eternal Good hasn’t totally delivered you from evil.  If you are like me, you look too often not to eternal power for support but other stuff that doesn’t support you much at all.   As much as you pray this prayer, doesn’t the darkness still come?  So, what’s wrong?  Why no matter what you and I do, do we still struggle with the darkness.  It’s because a lie holds you.  What is it?   In these words, God shows you.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

In these words, part of one of the most powerful stories ever told, God shows you the lie that traps you.   And here’s the problem.  This lie doesn’t seem all that clever, but it traps you nonetheless, just like it trapped Adam and Eve.   So, what does the lie do?  It tells you to not trust the love.   And that lie, as simple as it is, lies at the root of every human brokenness. 

So many folks get this story wrong.   This story has little to do with the tree.  It has everything to do with the trust.   And right at the beginning that’s what the serpent breaks down. 

Do you see the first lie that the snake tells?   He asks it as a question.  “Did God say, ‘That you shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’   The snake knows he’s saying something so ridiculous that Eve will immediately shoot it down.  That doesn’t matter.   He’s planting the seed, the seed of doubt.

Look the internet did not invent fake news.   This snake did.   He tells Eve something that he knows, and she knows is wrong.  But still it leads her to wonder.  Why does God not want us to eat from this tree?  And as she wonders, it has its effect.  She gets God’s words wrong too.   She tells the serpent.  “No, it’s only this tree in the middle of the garden. But this tree we can’t even touch or we’ll die.”  But God didn’t say anything about touching and dying.  What is going on here?

You are getting the first forms of the lie.   You have them around today.   It goes something like this.  This God doesn’t want you to have any fun, any enjoyment.   This God is holding you back, trying to control you.   This God will not let you do anything! But is that what God is doing?

When my son gets out of the car at the store, he wants to run.  Heck, when he gets out anywhere, he wants to run.   That boy hardly seems to want to walk anywhere.  But I have to tell him. Slow down a bit.  Look both ways.  Cross with me at the busiest spots.  But am I trying to hold my son back?  No, I’m trying to keep him alive, to keep him safe.  

And in this story, as we’ll find out, God is doing the same thing.  God doesn’t want to hold you back from life.  But God sure wants to keep you from death.   But the lie of the snake leads you to think differently.  You start questioning God’s motives.  You start wondering if you can trust this God at all. 

But the lie can mess you up the other way too.  It can lead you to, like Eve, go beyond God’s words.  It can lead you to be so fearful of displeasing God, of doing the wrong thing, that it gets ridiculous.    “That tree, we can’t even touch or we’ll die!” 

When I was growing up, my parents put my sisters for a few years in an independent Baptist school.  The folks there worked hard to give these kids a decent education.   But they had their own way of getting caught in the lie.  One day, I was looking through my sister’s textbooks.    As I flipped the pages, I saw a picture that looked like this. 

My sisters had reached an age where they knew what lay behind the censored section.  But God forbid they see it!   
But the censoring didn’t stop them from looking, it only led them to want to look more.  But more than that, it led them to believe in a God terrified of God’s own creation.  

But that’s not the lie.  No, the lie includes these things, but it goes deeper.

And as you reach the pinnacle of the story, the serpent delivers the big lie.   The snake tells Adam and Eve.  “You won’t die.  For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”    But here’s the stunner.   On the surface, the snake tells Eve mostly the truth.   “The tree did open their eyes.  The tree did lead them to know good and evil, but not as God does.”    But beneath all the seeming truth, the serpent had hidden the biggest lie of all.

He was telling them in these somewhat truthful words.  You can’t trust this God.   This God doesn’t want you to eat from the tree because if you do, you’ll be like God.   God doesn’t care about you.  This God doesn’t want the best for you.  This God does not love you.   And you’re a sucker, if you think God does.  That’s the lie, and it will kill you. 

So, Adam and Eve eat.  But it’s not about the tree.  It’s about the trust.  When Adam and Eve pick the fruit, they are saying to God.   I don’t trust you.   I don’t trust that you love me at all. And so, I’m not trusting you about this tree.  And the moment they do, they do know good and evil, but not the way God does.   They know evil because they’ve done evil.   They’ve stopped trusting in the love.   And as they stop trusting, they start fearing.  And out of that fear, they fall.

From that moment forward, the lie seeps into the world, poisoning us all.   How does it poison?   Let’s take two extreme examples.   Let’s say, you have two people that come to South Florida.    One has come to indulge in all the wild and decadent living that South Florida has to offer.   At work, they cut corners.  They do whatever it takes to get ahead.  They want it all.   And God hardly shows up on the radar.  They think of religion as a twisted philosophy to hold you back from success and fulfillment.   They want to get as far away from that junk as possible. 

But the other person, they do the opposite.  They find a church to attend.   They get involved, join a Bible study, serve in a ministry.   They don’t drink or smoke.  They avoid even associating with those who do.   They live as best they can the life they believe God wants them to.   And when this person does mess up, oh, the guilt they feel, the remorse, the shame.   And they promise to God they’ll do better.  They will not fail God again. 

Do you see that both these people are trapped in the same lie?    Now, one reacts to the lie by rebelling, by distrusting anything that this God might say to them.   The other goes in the direction of being so intensely good that God won’t have to say anything to them.   But don’t you see?  Both believe the same lie.  They don’t trust that God really loves them, without limit, without condition, that this God only wants the very best for them.   They don’t trust the love.   So, they hide.   One hides in rebellion.  The other hides in religion.   But the same lie lives in them both.

And of course, hiding began in the garden too.   Adam and Eve first hide from each other. They cover themselves up.   They don’t trust each other anymore.  When God comes, they hide too. 

But what does God do?   God seeks them out.   God looks for them.  Why?  Because God knows the truth.   God does love them, even as God knows they’ve betrayed the love.  The love still remains.   The love will always remain.   That love will never go away.  

So, God’s love seeks them out again and again.   In fact, this whole book tells the story of that seeking, until it ends as it began at a tree.    But at this tree, the only thing that hangs there is God himself.   And at this tree, in Jesus, God does die.    And God dies to kill the lie that traps you.  God dies to give you truth that sets you free.   God dies to show you that nothing, not even the death of God, will take God’s love away from you.   God will go even to death and beyond to bring his beloved children home.

And that love, stronger than death itself, will free you from the lie.   It frees you to live, the abundant, beautiful, wondrous life that God lovingly wants you to have.   So, trust in the love.  Believe in the love.   It’s not only true.  It’s the truest thing that exists.    And it’s the only truth that truly sets you free.  

Sunday, March 3, 2019

What Are the Five Questions that Open You to Abundance Like No Other?

It happens almost every day now.  Sometimes it comes from the backseat.  Other times, it hits me in the bathroom or right before he goes to bed.    Most of the time, I handle it fine. 
But it’s gotten tougher.   He fires ones that flummox me.  I have no idea how to answer.  

This week, it happened at Target.  I was picking out a pouf, you know one of those bathy sponge things and out it came.   Daddy, why do they call it a pouf?  I didn’t know.  I had no clue.  (By the way, I googled it – Pouf means puff in French, because I guess that sponge looks puffy in a French sort of way.) 

But sometimes, those questions I can’t google.  I have to struggle with them or simply admit I don’t know.   And all his questions have made me ask.  Do I ask enough questions?   And as I look at the words we’re about to hear.  I realize.   These questions at least, I don’t ask enough.  But when I did this week, they changed not only the way I look at my life. They changed the way I look at this church.  And if you ask them, they will change you too.  What are these questions?   Here God shows the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.   

In these questions you just heard, God offers you a new perspective, a perspective that changes everything.  What is God telling you?  God is telling you just how much God is for you.  In fact, that’s the first question, Paul gives you. 

If God is for us, who can be against us?  Think about it.  That’s a great question.  If God is for you, who can be against you?   Can anything, anyone, stand against you if you have God standing with you?  Sheesh.  Talk about an ally. 

But too often, we don’t believe God is really for us.  So, we try to do things that we think will get God’s favor.   But do you get what God is telling you here?  You don’t have to do anything special to get God’s favor for you.  You already have God’s favor right now.  

Now, God is not for everything you might be doing.   When it comes to my son, certain things he does I am definitely not for, like his ploys to extend his bed time as long as possible.  But do you know why I’m not for that?  I’m not for that because I am for him.  I want him to wake up refreshed and renewed, to get the sleep he needs.   And I will always be for him.  I will always be in his corner.  I will always want the very best for his life.   And if I, a limited, flawed guy, can be that way, how much more is God for you, for me?

Actually, you don’t even have to answer that question, Paul goes on to tell you the answer in question 2.   “God, who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with Jesus, graciously give us all things?”   How much is God for you? God gave you God’s very life in Jesus.   Nothing can top that.  So, if God gave you that, do you really think God’s going to withhold anything for your life.  And remember Paul is writing to a church going through terrible times, persecution, suffering, but still Paul says this.  Why?  Paul knows what God did in Jesus.   He knows.  If God didn’t walk away there, then God will never walk away.  And in the end, God’s generosity always wins.  In the end, God’s generosity will give you everything.   

But God won’t just be there to make provision.  God will be there to defend you.  Do you see that question? “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?”   Not only does God not ever accuse you, God defends you.   And that’s important, because you have an accuser.  That’s what the Bible calls Satan, the accuser.   When you hear a voice accusing you, you are not hearing the voice of God.  No, God stands as the one defending you.  And who do you think is going to win that case?   When the accuser hits you, just say.  Talk to Jesus.  He’s my defense.  Deal with that.   

But Jesus not only defends you, Jesus prays for you.  Every moment, Jesus lifts up words on your behalf, praying the best for you.  Sometimes, I get nervous when I hear people are talking about me.  But here God tells me, in the Trinity, God is talking about me all the time, talking about you all the time, how to see you blossom and how you can become all we created you to be. 

And all those questions lead you to the big Kahuna, the best question of all.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”   Then God goes on to tell you all the things that you think do separate you.  But God says.  Don’t you get it?   None of that will take away my love.   CorrieTen Boom, the Nazi death camp survivor put it well.  There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still.   God’s love is always there for you, in every moment, even the hardest moments.   It is true.  There is no pit so deep that Jesus’ love for you is not deeper still. 

But sadly, we live in a world where too many people don’t know that, that God is for them, always giving, always defending, always plotting how to bless them, that nothing will ever take that love away.  Nothing.     The church I serve, First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, gets that.    Long before I came, it was telling people how God is for them.

That’s why decades ago, this church started feeding the homeless on the corner.  The city didn’t like it, but we knew Jesus did.  Jesus wanted these homeless to know he was for them. His love had not left them behind.  And that feeding forced this city to do more to provide for those folks in need.  It led to the growth of Jubilee, to the coming of Broward Outreach, to the ministry of Share A Meal.

And when over 40 years ago, Ginny Gray discovered young families couldn’t afford a decent place to care for their children, to give them the early education they needed, she led this church to be for them and to start a preschool.  Who would have thought that little ministry with not even 30 kids would grow to be over 5 times that size?

It’s why 12 years ago we stepped up with our synagogue neighbors to care for HIV orphans in Haiti.  Few folks were willing to deal with those kids. The care seemed too complicated, the risks too great.  But we knew God was for those kids, and we needed to be there too.

Last year when 12 seniors died during Irma at Hollywood Hills, we discovered with our partners at Bold Justice that nobody, nobody was doing spot checks on nursing homes in our county.   We stepped up and said to our public leaders.  That has to stop.  God is for those seniors, and we are for them too.  And because we stepped up those spot checks are happening, making sure seniors get the protection they need.

And over a decade ago when Jeannie and Gayle asked us to baptize their daughter, we said yes.  We wanted them to know we were for them.  We didn’t see a label.  We saw a loving couple with a newborn child.   And when we elected Jeannie as a deacon, and Brian and Carlos and most recently Jason as elders, we didn’t see labels then either.  We saw people gifted and called by God to serve.   And because too many people didn’t know that God is for everyone, gay and straight alike, flew a rainbow flag.
This church because long before I came was proclaiming in word and deed these words.   If God is for you, who can be against you?   Who will separate you from the love of God?  And may this church never stop proclaiming that good news.  And know that good news is there for you.  Let those questions root themselves in your heart.   So, in your darkest days, you can remember God is for you.  There is no pit so deep, that Jesus’ love for you is not deeper still.