Monday, May 27, 2019

You Were Made for More. Here's How You Experience It.

It amazes me how many of these they have, and I gotta say that I love them all.  I love the one where they approach you at Home Depot, and then in three days they totally transform your living room or your bathroom or even your backyard.  Or how about that the one they call FixerUpper, where this Texan couple, Chip and Joanna, take some home that looks beyond hope, and create something amazing.  Then there’s all the Property Brother shows or the Flip or Flop ones, and then Love it or List it.   Does anyone know what these shows are?  They all appear on this network HGTV.   This network has literally over a hundredshows like these, and do you know what they all promise?

They all promise change.  And they do deliver.   They create these amazing transformations, breathtaking bathrooms, awesome backyards, incredible living spaces.  But why do millions watch these shows.  Sure, they do show you beautiful design and all.  But so what?  It’s not like they’re doing these amazing designs in your house.   

It’s because everyone craves change.   Somehow, you imagine.  Wow, if I had a home transformed like that one, my life would be so much more amazing, so much better.  Somehow, you can think a transformed home means a transformed life, a happier, more fulfilled one.  But, as nice as an incredibly beautiful home is, can it transform your life?  No.  If you were miserable before your awesome new home, you’ll still be miserable after.   You’ll just have a nicer setting to be miserable in. 

But those shows do point to a deeper truth.  People do yearn for more, more beauty, more joy, more fulfillment and that’s good.  God created you for that more, to yearn for it and to receive it.    But how does it come?  How do you begin experiencing the more you yearn to have?  In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

God did create you for more, a more so wondrous, so amazing, it’s beyond what you could ever even imagine.  It’s that big.   And that more happens now, not simply when you die.  But how does it happen?  It happens when you turn yourself in the right direction. 

What does that mean?  To figure that out you need see where that right direction begins, where it went wrong, and where God made it right again.  And God points you to all of that in these words about Adam.   In the beginning, the more existed.   Human beings lived in perfect communion with each other, God, the creation around them.   Then it all went wrong. 

Now in this what went wrong story, everyone talks about the tree.  They ate from that darned tree.  But the story has nothing to do with the tree.  It could have been a marigold they picked.   It has everything to do with the trust.   God said.  “Trust me about the tree.”  Then the serpent comes along and says.  “You can’t trust this God.”  And when Adam and Eve eat from that tree, they show that they believe the lie. They show. They don’t trust God.  They believe the lie that God is hiding something from them, something good, that this God didn’t really love them at all.   They turn to the lie and in that turning everything goes wrong. 

But in Jesus something amazing happens.  God makes what went wrong in the garden, right.   That’s why Paul calls Jesus the second Adam.    In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the beginnings, the first fruits of a transformation that will change everything. 

When I was growing up, my dad had this huge garden. To be honest, I didn’t care about most of it.  But one part, I cared about a lot.   Have you ever eaten a home-grown tomato?  If you have, you know why I cared.   Those things are good!  So, each day after school, during the beginning of tomato season, I’d check the plants.  I’d look for the flowers, then the first green fruits, then as they began to turn red.   Then one day, I’d find what I had been looking for, one or two beautifully red, beautifully ripe tomatoes, the first fruits.  And from that moment, I knew.  Every day would bring more of that bounty.

Jesus’ resurrection was only the beginning, the first fruits of a bounty that would change everything, including you.  But how does it change you?  

God points you to that change in that last sentence we read, about bearing the image.  In the beginning, God talks about human beings bearing the image of God.   But what does that even mean?   A preacher named Tim Keller helped me see what it means, by thinking about what exists around us every day that bears images, mirrors.  

A mirror has one essential quality.  Whatever you turn it towards, it fills with.   So, you turn the mirror to a monster, the mirror gets filled with the monster.  You turn the mirror to something breathtaking and beautiful, that beauty fills the mirror.  That’s how mirrors work. What it turns toward, it fills with. 

And human beings have a nature like that.  We are image bearers.  If we turn towards God, we fill with God. Whatever we turn toward, we are filled with.   If you turn to your career, you are filled with your career.   If you’re turned toward money, you’re filled with money.   If you’re turned toward other people, then those other people, their opinions, expectations fill you up.   You get the idea. Whatever you are turned towards, you are filled with.     

And when Adam and Eve ate from that tree, what did they turn to?  They turned to a lie that God did not really love them.  And that lie filled them up with suspicion and fear and broke their relationship with everything.   And that same lies infects every human being even to this day.

So, what are you turned towards?   What do you worry about?  What makes you anxious?  That will give you some ideas of what is really filling up your mirror.   But whatever it is, you turn towards it because you think it will bring you fulfillment, value, worth, that more you are seeking.  Whatever it is, it’s just another version of that first lie. 

But in Jesus, the lie dies.  Why?  You see a God, whose love is always turned towards you, even when you are killing him on the cross.   You see a God, whose love for you is so powerful that not even death can defeat it.  Instead that love destroys even death.  And that love, if you turn toward it, will destroy the lie in you.  It will fill you with God.  And in God, there is no fear.  In God, there is only love.  And as that love fills you, it it creates in you that more that you’ve been yearning for your whole life.  You experience who God created you to be in all its fullness and beauty, someone bearing the very image of God.  So where are you turning today?     

Monday, May 20, 2019

How Do You Find Courage on Even the Scariest of Days? Here's How

Do you ever get tired of listening to the news?   It’s important.  I know.  I still try to keep up.  But between school shootings and conflicts in Washington, I need a break.   And do you know what helps me?  Podcasts     

I’ve gotten old enough that it takes me a while to get with these new ways of listening like podcasts.   But I gotta say.  I love them.   I get leadership tips, preaching insights, even some theological education.  But this week I got hit by a podcast that I still haven’t really fully recovered from.

I heard about it one of those days I was listening to the news.  These two reporters had solved a 50-year-old mystery, the murder of the pastor Jim Reeb in Selma during the height of the Civil Rights movement.  I love mysteries.  I read one or two a month even.   So, I thought.   This could be pretty cool.

But then I listened to the first episode.  I didn’t know much about Jim Reeb.  Now I know a lot.   He started out as a Presbyterian pastor then switched to the Unitarians.  But I don’t hold that against him.  And when police beat civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettis bridge, the call went out for clergy to come to Selma to stand with the marchers.  And Reeb went, leaving behind his wife and four kids.  But he wasn’t interested in doing anything crazy.  The night he died all he had done was go out to eat.  But as he walked down the block after dinner with two other pastors, four men attacked them.  One of them took what looked like a pipe and slammed against it against Reeb’s head.    Two days later, he died in a Birmingham hospital because the white hospital in Selma had refused to help. 
I heard that story, including interviews with the two other pastors attacked that night.  And I wondered.  Would I have gone?  Would I have had the courage to risk that?   I’d like to think I would but who knows?   And as I thought about that, I came across this quote from Gary Haugen, who along with his co-workers risk their lives to stop slavery and human trafficking around the world.  Haugen wrote.  There are two things that are always the will of God and almost always dangerous: telling the truth and loving needy people.  I realized.   You don’t need to go to Selma in the sixties to do those things.  And those things can be risky.  Heck, just living your life well takes courage. The great saint, Teresa of Avila, put it well. “To have courage for whatever comes in life, everything lies in that.” 

And let’s be honest, lots of things come in life.  Three months ago, a 53-year-old mom, my church's beloved bookkeeper, Nathalia, was dealing with back pain.  That pain turned out to be cancer, cancer that took her life just this week.   In life, lots of things come at you.  Every day, you have moments that require courage, sometimes a lot of courage.  How do you find that courage to face what comes, to do what is right especially when that is hard?  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.  

Hopefully you’ll never need the courage to face wild animals like Paul talks about.  But you don’t need to face wild animals to need courage.  Life can hit you with pretty scary things without anything wild entering the picture at all.   Heck, just every-day life gives you times that call for courage.  But when those times hit, does your courage come?  Too often, in those moments, fear takes hold.   We hold back.   We hesitate.   We don’t enter the danger, even when we know we need to. 

How do you find the courage to confront what you need to confront, do what you need to do, live the life you’re meant to live?  In these words, God tells you.  You can find that courage because Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t just change things when you die.   It changes everything right now.

After all, you don’t only experience death when you die, do you?  Every day, death finds a way to hit you.   Dreams die. People you love pass away. Relationships disappear.  The preacher, Eugene Peterson put it well.  “…dead ends, rejections, bewilderments, snubs, abandonments, unanswered questions, wrong turns –…each in turn a shadow of the final death.  We die ten thousand deaths before we” [die].

When I was about eight years old, I had decided I was going to be an astronaut.  But when I told, Hal Turner, one of my friends, he looked at me and simply said.  “You can’t be an astronaut.  You wear glasses.  Astronauts can’t wear glasses.”   I protested, but I had a sinking feeling he was right.   That day,my dream began to die.  And almost fifty years later, I still remember how painful that felt. (By the way that rule has changed, and withcontacts, you can go to space, so take that, Hal Turner!) 

And as you grow older, those little deaths keep happening.   Two years ago, I was going into Walgreens with my three- year-old son, Patrick, to pick up some photos.  As we waited for the cashier to locate them, she turned to Patrick and smiled.  “Hey, little guy, spending a way with your grandpa, aren’t you?”  Let me tell you that was a little death.  But do you know, in that moment, I didn’t have the courage to correct her either.   I said it was because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.   But that wasn’t it.   I didn’t want to deal with my discomfort at correcting her, a correction that might have prevented her from making that assumption again.

In fact, looking back at that eight-year-old moment when my astronaut dream died, I can’t help but wonder.  Why did I let Hal Turner derail that dream?  Could I have thought?  Well, if that rule exists, then I’ll simply need to change the rule.  But even if I had hope that the rule could be changed, it still would have been a pretty human hope. 

Life brings you far deeper deaths than the demise of my astronaut dream, deaths that can seem impossible to come back from.   And that’s where the resurrection changes everything.  If Jesus had simply died, a good man brutally executed on a cross, where’s the change in that?   Good people get brutally and unjustly killed all the time.  What makes Jesus different is Jesus came back.  Jesus defeated death.  And if Jesus can do that, then, anything, anything becomes possible.  That’s why Paul hammers home that point to this church he is writing to.   If in Jesus, God has defeated death, anything is possible.  If the ultimate death is defeated, no death you face now can defeat you either.   God can always make a way even where there seems to be no way.

And when you know that’s true, it gives you courage no matter what death you face.  Why?  You know death is never the last word, ever.    It’s why Paul can face wild animals in the coliseum.   He knows.   If the animals kill him, he’s still good.  And if they don’t, he gets more time to share the love of Jesus who has changed everything. 

Do you get what that means?   No failure exists that God cannot redeem.  No loss happens that God cannot work for good.  No wound cuts so deep that Jesus cannot heal.   It doesn’t mean death won’t happen. Jesus died.  But the resurrection tells you that whatever death it is, it is never the last word.  As a famous actor once said, “In a world where the dead have returned to life, the word “trouble” loses much of its meaning.”  And when you know that, it gives you courage.  It gives you courage to move past whatever death to the new life God has in store. 

This past week, I read the story of Montlure Camp, a Presbyterian camp in Arizona.  Seven years ago, a forest fire shut down their camp.  And since that fire seven years ago, the forest service has refused to let them back.  So, how do you have camp when you no longer even have a camp.  How do you do that for seven years with still no idea when you can return to your original land?   For Montlure, they found private ranches where they could do a few weeks of camp every summer.   But their number of campers kept declining, a decline that had begun years before the fire.   Then they realized.  Why are we trying to bring kids to camp?  We can bring the camp to them.  So, Montlure launched traveling day camps, helping churches do summer programs right on their church campuses.  And now camp attendance is increasing for the first time in 12 years.  Churches are having summer programs where before they had none.  And kids are hearing the news of God’s love that never would have before.   And none of it would have happened without that fire. 

Oh, and as for Jim Reeb, who died in Selma.  His death mobilized the nation’s leaders to adopt the Voting Rights Actof 1965.   He did not die in vain. Death comes, but in resurrection time, death never ever has the last word.  Resurrection does.

But moving towards this resurrection doesn’t simply happen.  It takes courage.  It takes risk.  It takes trying new things, thinking new ways.    It takes trusting that Jesus will make a new way and trusting him enough to take the risks so that way can happen.  In the church I serve, we, like Montlure Camp, face our own deaths, our own dead-ends, our own challenges.   In the face of that, we simply need to remember who we are.  We are children of the resurrection.   

 In your life, whatever deaths you face, whatever failures, whose burden you still carry, the resurrection is there for you.   God will make a way where there seems to be no way, if you just have the courage to trust.  

As DorothyThompson, the great journalist and preacher’s kid, the first journalist to get kicked out of Nazi Germany, said well.  Courage… nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow. No matter what deaths you face, know that Jesus has conquered them all.   For Jesus has risen.  And death has lost its sting forever.   So, live in faith. Abound in hope.  And go forth with courage.  For the Risen One goes before you this day and always.  And before his love, not even death can stand. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Guilt Drives You More Than You Think. Here's How, and How You Can be Free of it

Have you ever had some random scene from a TV show stick in your mind?  Maybe it has a great line you can’t forget.   Something like, No soup for you! From Seinfeld.  Or a little further back.  “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”  Does anyone remember that one? 

But I remember this random scene that doesn’t have any great lines.  It doesn’t even come from that great a sitcom, one called Just Shoot Me.   Do you remember that one with David Spade?  I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a full episode.  But as flipping the channels years ago, one scene on that show grabbed my attention. 

David Spade was trying to find out who had stolen something of his from the lunch room.   But he did it in a peculiar way.  He asked about it, and then just stayed silent.   The silence got so uncomfortable that the guilty person always fessed up.  “I’m sorry.  It was me.  I was hungry, and the pastry looked so good!”   And the whole silent technique begins to spread.  Folks are fessing up to all sorts of crazy mistakes and failings.   Why did that scene stay with me?   Well, first it was kind of funny.  But beyond that, it reminded me.  Folks move through life carrying around that baggage.  They hold on to regrets, guilt, shame, even.   They may even think they’re supposed to.   But they’re not.   That stuff never helps you.   It never even helps you to get better.

So, if it doesn’t work, why do people do it?  Why does guilt carry such power? More crucially, how do you free yourself from it?  In these words from the Apostle Paul, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Too often, even more than you realize, you are trapped in a guilt-based life.  Now how can this be?  In these words, God shows you.  More crucially, God shows you the way to get free.   God shows you that Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t just free you from death when you die.  Jesus frees you from the thousands of deaths that hit you right now.

What do I mean?  In everyone’s life, you have regrets, failures, disappointments, little deaths so to speak.  But the most painful are those where you feel your own responsibility, where your flaws, your failings created the situation.  In those moments, your image of you dies just a bit. 

Heck, sometimes, you can dread that little death even before it happens.    I try to be the best parent I can be, but I got my stuff.   In some way or another, I will mess this parenting thing up, but get this.  It’s likely in ways I may not even see yet, ways that one day my son will tell me, like I told my dad.  I don’t look forward to that day. 

But here’s the deal.  You can feel the weight of guilt, of responsibility even when whatever happened had little or maybe nothing to do with you.  It’s the double bind.  When something bad happens, even when you don’t bear any responsibility for it, you still feel bad about it.   You not only get the bad thing.  You get the guilt, whether it belongs to you or not.   And it drives your life more than you even realize it. 

Every morning in our house, we have the challenge of getting our five-year-old son off to school on time.  And some days, we don’t meet the challenge, and we run late.   Every time that happens, one question rises up in my son’s mind immediately.   He asks. “Was it my fault?”   He worries about that, even when I tell him, no, it was a bunch of things that that put us behind.   Why does he stress about that?

It’s because this guilt thing comes naturally to us.   If your career isn’t where you want it to be, often you think.  What did I do wrong?   Is there something wrong with me?   If you have a health crisis, you wonder?   What’s wrong with me that this is happening?  How did I mess up?  As a parent, it happens.   That kid seems to be reading faster than mine.  What am I doing wrong?   If your kid has an issue at school, that crushes you.  Why is my child having problems?  How did I mess up?   Guilt is everywhere.   

At the bottom of your anxieties, you’ll find guilt, at the bottom of your anger too.  That’s why Paul talks about the sting of death being sin.   It’s that sense of failure that captures you, and it is deadly.  It stings you, killing you a bit more every time you feel it. 

It does that, because it has power.   And human beings do everything to avoid that power.  They try to shift the blame on others.   Or they numb themselves with things or alcohol or TV or the internet to avoid it.  But no matter what, it still gets in.  Why is that?  It’s because the power of sin is the law. 

Do you know what that word sin literally means?  It comes from archery.  A sin in archery happens when you miss the mark.    And that’s the problem.   We all sense deep within there is a mark, a target we’re supposed to hit.   We don’t always know what it is, but we know that it exists.   The Bible calls that the law.   And at its heart, the law isn’t just arbitrary rules that you’re supposed to abide by.  No, the law is a way to help you understand reality at its deepest level, how things are really supposed to be.   The filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille put it well.   You don’t break the law so much as break yourself against the law.

That’s why guilt has power.  It is pointing you to a deeper reality.  It’s not simply in your head.  It’s pointing to something deeply real.  And in your heart, you know it’s something real you’re not in alignment with.  In some deep way, your guilt is telling you the truth.  Something is wrong.   But guilt will never get you back to where you need to be.   What will?   Love will.  

The Bible at the very beginning, in the story of Adam and Eve shows you the root of the problem.  Why did Adam and Eve not trust God when he told them not to eat from that one tree in the garden?   They didn’t trust the love.  They didn’t believe that God loved them, that all they ultimately needed was in that love.   And so, they ate, and ever since then human beings have made the same mistake.   We don’t trust the love.  We trust power or being right or looking good or any number of false measures of value.  And because we don’t trust the love, we make a mess of our lives, our relationships, our world.  

But in Jesus, God shows you the love like never before.  In Jesus, God gives up God’s life to show you that love, to give you that love.  And in his resurrection, God shows you that nothing, not even death will defeat that love.   You can’t save yourself from the guilt.  You can’t do it through success or some self-improvement plan or even religion.  But trusting the love, that will free you.   For in the love, you will have the courage to face your broken places, your guilt and regret because you know God’s love for you swallows them all up.   And in that love, you will find the grace not only to accept your failing, but by that same grace to rise above to, to become the very people you yearn to be, the very person that God created you to be.  That’s the victory Jesus brings, a victory that defeats guilt, regret, even death, everything that separates you from God.