Sunday, February 23, 2020

What Leads You to a Truly Full Life, In the Best Sense of that Word? This Does

Do you like cars?   I’m not talking just any cars, but the exotic ones, the ones few folks can even afford.   Living in South Florida, I see cars like that a lot, cars that cost as much as a house!  It’s crazy.  But one day, I saw the most amazing collection of just such cars, but it didn’t happen in South Florida.  It happened in Finland. 

I had gone to Finland mainly because it was close to Russia and Estonia.  That way, I could check three countries off my bucket list in one trip.  But that day, I was having the hardest time.  I was looking for one of Helsinki’s most famous sites, one about a million people visit each year.    But I couldn’t find it.   That’s when he saw me. 

He was sitting at an outdoor café drinking a beer.  He noticed me staring at my guidebook and looking befuddled.  He asked.  What are you looking for?   I told him.  He said.  I know where that is.  I’ll take you there.   I told him not to bother.  Just point me in the right direction, and I’m sure I’ll find it. But he insisted.  As we walked, he talked a bit about his life.  He had had significant success in his life.  So, he had retired at an early age.    But I gotta admit.  He didn’t seem to be enjoying it.   He seemed sad, lonely even.  That’s when he mentioned that he collected cars, that his collection was on the way.  Would I like to see it?   I thought.  What the heck?  I got time.   Let’s see what this guy has.

That’s when he turned into what looked like an entrance to a parking garage, one built right into this huge mound of rock.   But the garage was closed, at least it was, until he punched a code into a pad next to the massive door.  Suddenly the door slowly moved up, and I realized. This whole garage belonged to him.   I can’t remember how many classic cars I saw that day.   But I do remember there were a whole lot of them, millions of dollars worth.   But again, even as he showed them to me, he didn’t seem all that excited. 

And as we left, he said, just go around the corner, and you’ll see what you’re looking for.  And what I saw was amazing. I can see why a million folks visit it each year.  But I couldn’t shake my encounter with that guy.   Here was a man, who had wealth, success, an extraordinary car collection.  But none of it seemed to fulfill him.   None of it seemed to bring him any sense of joy and contentment.   He remains one of the saddest people I have ever met.  And his sadness scares me. 

How would it feel to get to a point in your life, where you’ve accomplished everything you’ve wanted, and you still feel empty?   And now you don’t have any idea of what can fill that emptiness.    What you thought would mean something, you find doesn’t mean much of anything at all.  What if you climb the ladder of success only to find that it was learning against the wrong wall?    How do you make sure that doesn’t happen?  How do you live a life that truly fills you?   In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say. 

Matthew 5:9 – Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

In these few words, Jesus gives a profound key to a life that is fulfilled, to one that will never be empty ever.    And what is that?  It is simply this.   Live your life doing what your life was created for.  And what is that.  It is bringing fullness into the world.

You see that’s what peace means here.  It means fullness.  In the Bible, that’s what peace or shalom means.   It doesn’t mean an absence, like an absence of conflict.   It means the opposite.  Shalom means wholeness.  Shalom means a world full of all that is good. It means a world healed and restored.  It means a world that has become everything God intended this world to be.  So, Jesus is saying fulfilled are the shalom-makers, those who join with God in making this broken world whole, in seeing every person in it, filled with the love and beauty for which God intended everything and everyone. 

And when you join in that work, in shalom-making, something beautiful happens.  You discover just how abundant, how fulfilled a life can be.  And why?  You are discovering what God created you for, what God created everyone for.   After all, the Bible tells us.  God created us in God’s image.   And what does God do?  God makes the broken whole.  God fills every empty, forlorn place with the love and beauty of God.   And God gives us the opportunity to join in that work. 

Doesn’t it feel good when you share an affirming word with a friend?  Haven’t you ever had that awesome feeling when you see someone move forward in their life, and you know you helped them take those steps?   Have you ever experienced that little burst of fulfillment that happens when you comfort a child after he’s fallen down?  Have you felt that sense of satisfaction when you help a child or anyone discover her potential?   Why does that feel good?   It’s because you are living into who God created you to be.  God created you to join with God to fill this world with love, to make what is broken whole.    And as you do that, God takes what is broken in you, and makes it whole too.  God helps you discover who you are, God’s very child. 

Do you know what gets my son out of the bed excited each Friday morning?  It’s taking out the garbage.   My son loves to take out the garbage.  No, that’s not exactly right.  He loves getting invited to work with Dad in something important.  He loves feeling part of the family team.  It fills him up. 
And Jesus is saying.   God is inviting you to join the work of God’s family team.  Why? Because God wants you as part of that family.  God wants you because God values you.  God welcomes you because God loves you.  And as you live into the love, you discover how fulfilling living out that love can be.   It’s why God led us to that vision of invited, welcomed and loved.  That’s what God is reaching out and doing with everyone, every day

And it gets even better.  You get to come together not only with Jesus, but with each other.  And when we come together, it’s amazing what God can do.   And together at the church I serve, God has given us a vision for shalom making called invited, welcomed, loved, that in everything we do people experience those three things.

I was looking last week at this stranded family that we helped get back to Brooklyn last month.  I was remembering how all that happened.   This family just knocked on our doors.  They had come down to bury the mom’s brother and unexpectedly had to spend all they had and more for his funeral.  And that left them nothing with which to get home.    It just happened that the elders were meeting that night, and together they gave over a hundred dollars to help them out.  Then Judy Gensel, one of our elders, suggested letting them sleep in the chapel.  The next morning, Bianca, our custodian, got them breakfast.  Our partners at Jubilee fed them lunch, got them a suitcase and some clothes and affirmed that this was a valid need.   Then two of our leaders, Daniel and Yezi Williams got them dinner.  And together the church through my travel fund and the Deacons’ fund got them on a bus back to Brooklyn that very night.    And together we got to work with God to bring some wholeness into a tragic and broken situation.  We got to invite, welcome and love.

That’s why a bunch of folks walked and ran in January too on the beach for the kids our church cares for in Haiti.  It’s why Luann Myers worked with our friends and partners at Temple Beth El to put that race on.   And it’s why so many Hollywood businesses sponsored it.   Together we were bringing a little healing to a deeply wounded nation.  We were working with our partner in Haiti, John Dieubon, and all those kids we care for, some of whom are in college now, to fill this world with a bit more love and beauty.   And together we raised $12,000.00 in one morning!  And we invited and welcomed our community to hel p us share the love and boy how they showed up!

It’s why folks gather one Saturday a month to feed the hungry of Hollywood, why our church host our Souper Bowl Sunday.   And it’s why 25 folks gathered last Sunday in our chapel to help invite our neighbors to help us bring changes that will help some of our community’s most vulnerable, seniors, young people, those struggling with mental illness.  And we get to do that with 20 other churches from Baptist to Catholic to 7th Day Adventist through an organization called Bold Justice    And together we'll invite enough folks to fill a church that seats 2000!  Together, we'll move our local county leaders to take significant steps to make our county a healthier, less broken place then it was before.     

It’s why our church did some inviting, welcoming and loving with our first 3 Sons Sunday, where we invited folks to join us on a Sunday afternoon at 3 Sons Brewing Company and then we bought the first drink.  I It’s why we’re hosting a Wine and Unwind event in March so we could invite, welcome and share the love with women in our church and community.   And we get to do all this together! 

By the way, do you know what tourist attraction I was looking for in Helsinki that day.  It was this church, one they built right into a rock.   At the time, it seemed a huge risk.   But not only is it beautiful, it has wondrous acoustics.  So, they host amazing concerts for the city there.   And each year a million folks walk through their doors just to experience the wonder of the place.  Their risk has created a welcoming space that invites millions from around the world.

Sadly, the man I met that day on the street wasn’t yet one of them.   But it’s for just such folks that that church, that our church exists.   We exist so that God’s love and beauty can fill every empty space, especially those in the lives of others.   That why God gave our church this vision of being a place where everyone feels invited, welcomed and loved.     

But God lived into that vision first.  In Jesus, God came to us.   He invited and welcomed us and loved us.   And then he died for us.  He emptied himself even of life.  Why?  So, he might fill us up.  So, he might make us God’s beloved children.    So, we might get to join with God in sharing that same love, that same joy with everyone we meet.   And as we do that, God works.  And we find a life more fulfilling, more abundant, more whole than we could ever have imagined.  Or maybe we don’t find it so much as that life finds us.   

Where do you yearn for something more?   Where is God calling you to invite and welcome and love?  If you answer the call, God will work.  God will work in you, in in, in this world, in ways more wondrous, more beautiful than you could never imagine.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

In a Distracted and Anxious Age, What Can Bring You Peace? This Can

When you’re in school, you find all sorts of ways to make money.  I washed dishes.  I worked as a security guard.  And my good buddy Ted became a guinea pig.  Our school happened to be close to some big drug companies.  And those companies paid you a couple grand just to hang out and live in a nice dormitory on their research campus.  All you had to do was take a pill and let them watch what the pill did…to you.  They assured you, of course, that the side-effects would be minimal, as in you almost certainly wouldn’t die.   And Ted didn’t.  He remains alive and well, none the worse for his guinea pig days.  Still, when he said to me.  “Kennedy, you should try it out.  It’s easy money.”  I told him.  “No, I don’t think so.” 
But this week, I realized.  I’ve become a guinea pig right now, and nobody is paying but me.  I am paying to be the guinea pig, and probably so are you.   What do I mean?  Look at this prank video from about six years ago.   In it, a man walks by random folks, and as he does so, he triggers a familiar noise.  Look at what happens as he walks by. 
These phones are acting as one article put it, as “the world’s largest slot machine.”   When you pull that lever or click that link, you never know what you’re going to get.  And that whole surprise gives you a little dopamine rush, the brain chemical that makes you feel good.   So, you keep clicking or tapping or whatever to get the rush.  That’s why you get so tempted to look at your phone like all the time.  It doesn’t even matter what you are looking at.   It’s the unpredictability of the deal that gives the rush.
And when it beeps, it gets worse.  Then your brain goes,” ooh what’s that, something new!”   Boom goes the dopamine, and you just gotta look.   You now own the world’s smallest slot machine.  And you carry it around literally everywhere.   That’s why all those folks picked up their phone even when they really knew it wasn’t even their phone beeping! 
These phones have created a human experiment that now encompasses most of the planet.  And it’s not working out well.   People are becoming more anxious, more over-stimulated, more attention impaired.    And becoming happier? No way! People have become more depressed and distracted than ever.  But as bad as those phones can be, our distracted ways didn’t begin there.  Before the phones we had the TV, and before the TV, the radio and before that we found other ways to distract ourselves. Heck, hundreds of years ago, the philosopher and mathematician Pascal put it well.  He said.  The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.
And because those words carry more truth now than ever, we need to hear these words of Jesus more than ever.  How do you free yourself from the bondage of this beeping, interconnected, stressed out world, from your own distracted ways? How do you return to focusing on what truly matters? In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.
Matthew 5:8 - Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God. 
In these words, Jesus is giving you the key to a life that frees you from distraction, from anxiety, frees you for a life that is truly fulfilled.    After all, that’s what blessed means.  It means happy, fulfilled.   So, what is Jesus telling you in these words about happiness, about fulfillment?   Jesus is saying.  Fulfillment comes when you have a clear enough mind to see the God who is already right there.  What do I mean by that?
When I first came to Florida, lots of things about this part of the world blew me away; seeing the exotic birds, the egrets walking on the lawns or how fast everything grew or just the palm trees everywhere.   But do you know what stunned me the most?  The water. 
I grew up swimming in muddy lakes.   Once you stuck your foot in the water, it seemed like it disappeared.  You couldn’t see a thing underwater ever.   And then when I did live near the ocean in New York, it didn’t get any better.   You walk in the water there.  You don’t see squat.  But here you can walk out into the water, and you see everything.  You see your feet right below you.  You see fishes and other creatures just swimming around.   It’s amazing!
But I also discovered you can make that all go away.  You kick your feet up, and the sand billows out, and you see nothing, at least until the sand settles.   All that stuff gets in the way of what is really there.
Do you see where I’m going here?  When Jesus talks about the pure in heart, he isn’t talking about people being super good or having some sort of naïve innocence.    No, Jesus is talking about an unclouded heart, a mind, a heart that isn’t all clouded up so to speak.
And Jesus is saying the more your mind becomes like that, the more unclouded it becomes, the more you see things as they really are.  And when you do, you will see that God is moving in your life, in the world in ways that before you could never see.   You will see God.   And in that seeing, you will experience a freedom, a peace that you might never have thought possible.
So how do you get this purity of heart?  It begins by simply learning this: to sit still.  And in a few minutes, I’m going to actually have you all practice this sitting still.  It’s a group participation sermon.  Yea!   
But let me tell you, this sitting still stuff sounds easier than it is.  It’s not hard to do it really.  In fact, it’s super easy.   In fact, there is only one way that you can mess it up.   And what is that way?  By just not doing it.   That’s where the tough part comes.  It’s so easy not to do it. 
In fact, that’s why we’re going to do it here.  It’s because I know.  If I tell you about sitting still, give you a few tips on doing it, and then tell you to go forth and sit still, if you’re anything like me, you won’t.   I know that because too many days I don’t do it.   I tell myself that I don’t have time.  What a lie.  I have time to check my alerts and text messages.  I have time to watch Netflix or graze over Facebook or Instagram.   No, I resist going there, because I don’t want the dust to settle.   I don’t want things in my heart and mind to clear up.   And do you know why?  I don’t know if I really want to see God, to have God get that close, to be that present. 
But when I move past my fears, when I go there, well, I don’t how else to say it.  It works.  You’ll probably not get a blinding vision or a stunning revelation.  But you will find your heart settle, if only for a few minutes, maybe just a few moments.  But those moments will overflow into your day.  They will start to reshape your heart, even heal wounds.  One wise Christian, a monk, called it a type of divine therapy.   It is more powerful than I can possibly explain. 
And in a few moments, I invite you to experience it, to sit in quietness for five minutes, no more.   Here’s how it works. 
First, you pick a sacred word or phrase to focus on, to simply repeat to yourself.  It could be Jesus or Love or Lord Have Mercy or whatever.  What sacred word doesn’t matter all that much.  The word just gives an intention, that you desire to spend time in the presence of God.   
Then, in the quiet, you begin repeating the word silently to yourself, and as you feel comfortable, letting the word fade away until you are in the silence.
So, let’s say you’ve got your word.  You close your eyes, and the quiet begins.  All of a sudden peaceful bliss and surrender will surround you.  Not!    No. Your mind is likely going to get more active than ever.  All sorts of stuff will pop up.   Don’t stress.  Don’t try to stop it.  Just let it go, like balloons floating up in the air or boats passing by on a river.   Come back to repeating your sacred word to center you.    And don’t come to this time with an agenda.  Be willing to let God do whatever God wants for you in those five minutes, even if it means a couple minute nap!   Remember the only way to mess it up is to not do it.   So, let’s do it.  
Pick your sacred word.  Set your phone (here the phone can be helpful) to ring five minutes from now so it’ll ring to alert you when the five minutes are done.  
Enter into your 5 minutes of silence.........
Now whatever you sense happened or didn’t happen in those five minutes doesn’t matter.  You gave, as best you could, those five minutes to God and God used them.   Now what about doing this for the next ten days?  Set your phone alarm or some other alarm for five minutes each day for ten days at whatever time works.  And do what you did here and if you want a little more guidance, click here for a good site to help you or just google centering prayer.  
But whatever the case, try this for five minutes for 10 days.  And just see what God does.  Don’t stress if you skip a day, just get back to the sitting still the next day.   See how God will work, how God settles your mind, how God will show up.   
And why do this?  Because you have a God who is never distracted from you.  No, this God is always focused on you, on loving you, on giving you life in all its abundance and beauty.   How focused?  In Jesus, this God became one of you.  And in Jesus, he ate with you and laughed with you and healed you. He focused on you.    And even as we rejected and killed him, he never stopped focusing on you, on me, on loving you, on saving you from yourself, from all our mad and distracted ways.    
And as you let go, and open yourself to that focus, to that love for just five minutes a day, see how Jesus will work.  So, will you do it, ten days, five minutes, sitting still with God?    The only way you can mess it up is to not do it.   So, will you?   For as Jesus said, blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What Can Bridge the Deep Divisions of Our Nation. Remembering this Can.

I admit.  I didn’t watch it.  I had more important things to do.   And to be honest, even if my schedule had allowed it, I still wouldn’t have watched.  People think preachers get long-winded?  What about Presidents?   All of them go on for at least an hour, usually longer.  It seems. You could let me know about the state of the union in 45 minutes or less.  Still I did hear about it.  Or at least I heard about the beginning and the end.

At the beginning the President visibly snubbed the speaker, refused her hand.   Then at the end the speaker dramatically tore up the President’s speech.  And hearing all of that, I felt sad, embarrassed even.  What has happened to us?  Has it really gotten this bad? 

But before I got myself too stirred up about the dire state of our nation, some TV commentator quoted words that gave me a little perspective.   He quoted words from a time far, far darker than this.  Back in those days, Americans didn’t just refuse handshakes or tear up speeches.  In those days, they extended their hands to kill each other by the millions.   They didn’t tear up a speech.  They ripped apart a nation.   And they did this so that some Americans could keep owning a lot of other Americans.  They did so to defend the indefensible.  And after all that awfulness, all that violence and bloodshed, the victorious President gave a speech for the ages.  It lasted less than five minutes I might add.   And he ended with these words, some of which that commentator recited.

President Lincoln said these words: 

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

With malice toward none, with charity, with love for all (that’s what charity means here), love for north, south, slave, free, Republican, Democrat, with love for all…and that after the bloodiest war in our history….wow.  It’s likely the greatest speech any American President has ever given.  And Lincoln could give it because he understood the words we are about to hear.   In these words, Jesus gives the key to not only heal the divisions of a nation, but every division, division in marriages, in families, in every relationship.  In these words, Jesus even gives the key to seeing our church grow and connect to those who have walked away from church, if not from God.  In these words, Jesus shows us the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.  

Matthew 5:7 – Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.

It’s so obvious that you almost can’t see it.   But as you think about those words, as shocking as they are.  You realize.  In those words lie the whole key to why mercy brings fulfillment, why it brings happiness in the deepest sense of that word.     Do you see what I’m seeing?   I didn’t see it at first so let me lay it out for you.   Isn’t it kind of weird how Jesus end this little sentence.   He could have said Blessed are the merciful for they shall please God.   Or Blessed are the merciful for they bring peace.   Those ending actually kind of sound good.  But no, Jesus says. Blessed are the merciful, for what?  For they shall receive mercy.  

Jesus is saying what too often all of us can miss.  Jesus is saying.  Don’t you get it.   Be merciful.  Why?  Because everyone, including you, needs mercy.    But that’s the very thing that’s hardest for people to see. 

This past week, I was catching up on an old HawaiiFive-0 episode with my wife.   She loves those kind of shows.  You know the ones, where not only do the good guys always win but the star has twenty people firing machine guns at him, and never gets a scratch.   It’s amazing!  

So, the show opened with Dan-O and McGarrett, the two stars meeting up with Dan-O’s kid’s principal.  It turned out that some kid was badly bullying Dan-O’s son, Charlie.   And get this.  The principal even invited the parents of the bully to come and meet, but they had cancelled.  And you’re thinking. Uh-oh.  These bully’s parents gotta be jerks.   They didn’t even show up!  

And you know what’s going to happen.  McGarrett and Dan O are going to chase those parents down. Because on a TV show, the cop heroes can do that.  It’s ok.    So, they track the dad’s car.  They stop it, their cop lights blazing.  And they pull that weasel right out.  Boy, does Dan-O lay into him.   Your son is bullying my kid, and you don’t even show up!  What’s up with that!  

But then the plot thickens.  Turns out the weasel isn’t a weasel.  He even apologizes for not showing up.  He admits. He didn’t realize it was that serious.  Then more comes out.  He and his wife are going through an ugly divorce.  They’ve tried to keep their son out of it, but it’s affecting him.  And hearing that stops Dan-O in his tracks.  Why?  He went through an ugly divorce too.   He knows how bad it can be, how it affected his son, how it still affects him.   And these dads start understanding each other.  Then McGarrett says.  “Hey if you guys can do this.  Maybe the boys can too.”   
Now I assume that the boys do that, and everything turns out awesome.  It always does in Hawaii Five-O.   But I don’t know for sure.  You see. We’re parents of a six-year-old and we’re old.  So, we got sleepy and went to bed.

But do you get what happens?  Dan-O is full of righteous anger until he realizes.  This bully’s dad isn’t much different from him.  They both have flaws. They both have shattered relationships that have wounded their kids   They both need mercy.   Only when Dan-O remembers that can he show the same mercy to this dad.

Years ago, a great preacher named Bill Coffin said wise words.  He said: 

God knows it is emotionally satisfying to be righteous with that righteousness that nourishes itself in the blood of sinners.  But God also knows.  What is emotionally satisfying can also be spiritually devastating.

I’m no different than anyone else. Something morally outrages me, and righteous anger rises up.  But even as I savor that righteous anger surging through me, I sense it.  My heart is growing harder.  My spirit is getting smaller.  I realize.  This righteous anger isn’t helping me.  It’s destroying me. 

And what saves me?  Realizing what Jesus says here.  I need mercy, as much, if not more, as whatever person has turned my moral outrage machine on.    Now, let’s make it clear.   Being merciful doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for what is right or speak truth as you see it. 

Lincoln, who said with malice for none, with charity for all, had been willing to sacrifice millions of lives to defend the nation, to stop slavery.  But he knew, and in that speech, he made it clear.   He and everyone in the victorious North needed mercy too. Both the South and the north had profited from slavery.   Everyone had awful moral failings to face.

Why?  Because everyone, everyone needs mercy, including you.   And the more you realize that, the more your own mercy grows, and with it, peace, fulfillment, happiness in that word’s deepest sense.   And not realizing that not only devastates nations, it devastates everything.  You know I used to think.  I was pretty close to perfect.   Then I got married.   I jest, but only a little. 

Because since getting married, I’ve faced flaws I didn’t even realize I had.    And painfully it usually took a while for me to see them.   But you know what?   I’ve always been able to see my partner’s failures so much more clearly.   Go figure.  And more than a few times, my blindness to my failings, and my clear perception of my wife’s has nearly wrecked our marriage.   Only as I saw my need for mercy could I do my part to turn that ship around. 

The Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said this about marriage. He said:  In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive.”    Did you get those last words?  “Without this, without mercy, no human fellowship, no human relationship can survive.”  And the man who wrote those words was no wilting violet.  He gave his life fighting against the horrors of Nazi Germany.  But even there, he knew this.   Everyone needs mercy.  And only as everyone realizes that, as I realize that, as you realize that, does true mercy come. 

It bothers me.  No, it grieves me.  So many people have walked away from churches.   Thoughtful minds have even argued that such walking away has made our nation’s divisions worse.   After all.  Churches don’t protect you from those with whom you disagree.   Here, you gotta sit beside them.  You’ve gotta sing the same songs, work in the same ministries, believe in a lot of the same things.   Here, you’ve gotta even admit every week that you need as much mercy as they do, if not more. 

But you know if we get so frustrated, so vexed by those who don’t see the value, the beauty of experiencing God’s love here then we will have forgotten these very words on mercy.  After all, churches have not always shown the beauty of God’s love. And that includes ours.   We’ve failed.  We’ve failed, just like every other church that has ever existed has failed. 

And only as you and I realize that, as we realize our deep need for mercy as a church will we be able to really invite and welcome and love those who see little or no reason to enter our doors.   In that mercy, we’ll become more ready to listen rather than maybe lecture.  We’ll get better at befriending and less driven toward recruiting.  And we’ll grow into a place where everyone, everyone always feels invited, always feels welcomed, always feels loved no matter what.  And in that, Jesus will work.   For, in a world where so little mercy seems to live, a place that overflows with it becomes a pretty amazing place to be.   

In fact, that very mercy has saved us.   When God came to us in Jesus, he came carrying mercy.   He came on a mission of mercy.  Jesus came to show us what the Bible tells us again and again.   God mercy endures forever.  God’s mercies never come to an end.

Yet when Jesus came, the only human being that needed no mercy, what did we do?  We showed him no mercy.  We tortured him.  We rejected him.  We killed him.  Yet even there, God’s mercies never came to an end.   Even there on the cross, Jesus said.  Father forgive them for they know not what they do.   And there Jesus showed us how far God’s mercy goes, a mercy so great that not death can defeat it.   

In this time of deep division, remember the mercy that saved you.   And when someone morally outrages you, pray for them, and if God calls you to, stand up to them too.  But never forget your need for mercy.   Never forget your own flaws and frailties.  Always remember that you, like them, still fall so short of who God dreams for you to be.   And in that merciful light, you may even see them differently, see their own brokenness and pain, even come to love them as Jesus loves you, even as you stand against what they might believe or choose to do.    

And as a church, may we be known as a place that overflows with that mercy, as a family that loves each person no matter what, a community where everyone is invited and welcomed and loved.   For blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  

Sunday, February 2, 2020

What is the Fastest Growing Public Health Crisis? More Importantly, How Do You Avoid It? Here's How

At my church's Learning Center, we have a whole bunch of international exchange students from China working at the school this month.   And it didn’t take long before a parent texted one of our staff this past weekend.  Hey about those Chinese students?  I know it’s silly but with that whole coronavirus going on, is it safe?   Now we were able to assure her that our exchange students are indeed healthy and come from nowhere near Wuhan.   But still I get it.   She was just asking what a lot of other parents were probably thinking.   You hear about some strange new virus from some other part of the world, and you get nervous. It’s a little scary.

Still, whatever the potential issues with coronavirus, your more run of the mill flu virus still holds a lot more danger by a long shot.  Just look at the numbers. As of when I posted this, about 300 had died from Corona Virus in China so far,and in the rest of world only one. Granted, 300 plus deaths isn’t great.  But how many died as a result of the regular old flu last year?  How about 57,000 andthat’s just in the U.S.  So maybe getting a flu shot isn’t a bad idea.

But forget the flu, do you know the public health crisis that is growing faster than any other?  And this one is scary.  It can shorten your life by 15 years.  It’s as much a killer as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having obesity.  And a year ago one out of two Americans reported struggling with this problem.  Now, in just one year, it’s gone up to 3 outof 5.  And if you use social media a lot, it’s worse.   Seven out of ten of those folks struggle with this serious health issue. 

Ok, so what’s this issue that affects over half our nation, including many severely? It’s living a lonely life.  Loneliness has become the fastest growing public health crisis in America, heck not just America, all over the Western world.   Do you know the British government has even appointed a minister in charge of alleviating loneliness?  I kid you not.   And it makes sense. Loneliness is literally killing people.

But how can that be?  How can you experience loneliness when you’re surrounded by millions of people, when you can have a thousand Facebook friends?    You can experience it because we are living in a world that lacks connection.   Think about the HOV lane?  Do you know what qualifies you to get in the HOV lane? You just need to have someone besides you in the car. That’s what makes a High Occupancy Vehicle, more than one person in your car.  That’s it.  And yet most of the time, how many of us don’t qualify? 

And what’s scary is you can get disconnected, and not even realize it. All those Facebook friends and Instagram posts and Netflix binges blind you to just how bad it is.  But then a crisis hits, and you realize you don’t have that many folks to call, if any.   Or you look at your spouse and ask yourself, when did we last really talk or you catch yourself looking at your phone when your child or your friend desperately wants your attention?   You are disconnected, and if you let it continue, it will blindside you as badly as that poor quarterback up on the screen.  But in this world of mass distraction and disconnection, how do you have true connection?  How does that happen?  In these famous words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.   

Matthew 5:6 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

In these few words, Jesus tells you a key truth.   Do you want happiness, fulfillment?  That’s what blessed means after all.  It’s means happy, fulfilled.  That’s fulfillment comes when you hunger and thirst for righteousness.    But how does righteousness fulfill?  What does that word even mean?   I am filled up with righteousness, and I am feeling awesome.   Does that sound all that fulfilling?  It may even sound a little scary.  

But that’s because too often, folks confuse righteousness with rules.  But righteousness doesn’t mean keeping the right rules.  It means pursuing the right relationships.  Jesus is saying fulfillment comes when you hunger and thirst for real relationship, for true intimacy with God and with others. 

In fact, this whole book, the Bible is focused on just that, relationships. Why?  Because nothing in the universe matters more than relationships.   That’s why Christians came up with this idea of God as Trinity, one God in three persons.   It’s not like Christians were just thinking.  Ok, here’s Jesus, and oh, then there’s God, and what about that Holy Spriit thingy.  We’ll just squeeze them all together, and call that one God. 

No, God as Trinity means that relationship lies at the heart of everything including God.  Even God is a living relationship.  And that means, if you don’t have relationship, real relationship in your life, then you are missing the most important thing in the universe.  You are built for relationship, yet in this day and age, too few have it.

Do you know what’s the most private part of any home, what few folks outside the family get to check out?   And don’t say the medicine cabinet.   Because, anyone at a party can check that out when they go to the bathroom.  And come on, you know you’ve done it.   No, the one place that few folks get to check out is the refrigerator.  But how many refrigerator friends do you have?   How many friends do you have that you would feel comfortable having them saunter over to the fridge and checking out what’s there?  But everyone needs a refrigerator friend.

Do you have a friend or two with whom you can share your most embarrassing secrets, confess your deepest regrets? Do you have someone that you can call in the middle of the night in the midst of a crisis, and know they’ll come.   Do you have someone that you trust like that?  Too many folks don’t.  Too many folks are living in a world with relationships that stretch a mile wide but go an inch deep.    
And to be honest, a lot of us are kind of ok with that.  After all, it’s a little scary to trust someone like that.  But when you have, when you have risked that sort of vulnerability, you realize how beautiful and powerful it is. 

After all, God became that vulnerable and more for you?  In Jesus, God came for one reason, and one reason alone, to bring you back into relationship, to bring you back into the love.   And God came knowing that when he reached out, rejection would come, even death.  But he knew that only by becoming that vulnerable, only by taking that huge a risk, by making that profound a sacrifice, could God break past the walls that we had built up, and bring us home.   So, in Jesus God did that.  And that love, that risk changed everything, even death itself. 

It’s what we celebrate in the Christian experience of communion, a God who did that for us, who loves us like that.   And because in Jesus, God did that for you and me, you can know.  No matter what mistakes you’ve made, what doubts you carry, at that table, everyone is always invited, always welcomed, always loved.

But Jesus didn’t only die to break down the barriers that keep you from God. Jesus came to free you too, to go deeper in your relationships with each other. God came to create a community where you can be real and known, where you know you’re always invited, welcomed and loved.  

And we want to give you an opportunity to explore experiencing just that right now.   In the coming weeks, we’re going to be launching what we’re calling a new life group at  And that’s exactly what it is, it’s a group of folks with whom you do life. You get together for a few hours during the week, share, talk about a spiritual insight to help you grow in your relationships with God and others, and pray together.  That’s it.  And all you need to do to explore that further is text this word, welcomed, to this number 555888.   That’s it.  Then we’ll follow up from there.  

What do you have to lose?   You can just come, check it out, and see what a life group is about, and go from there.  And what if when you do, you discover connection, real connection.  What if it opens you to friendships that last you a lifetime, support that carries you through tough times? What if in that community you discover a deeper relationship with God and others than you might have ever thought possible?    So just take out the phone and text the word.
You need relationship.  I need it. Everyone needs it. God created you for it, to hunger and thirst for it even.   And God did everything, even giving up his life, so that you might have it now and forever.  Don’t live a disconnected life, one a mile wide and an inch deep.   And if you know or even suspect that you might be disconnected, then don’t let another day go by without taking a step to change that.  God built you for that relationship.  And God even died for you to have it.   So, reach out and connect, even type and text that word welcomed to 555888; be willing to know and be known.  For blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for right relationship, for they shall be filled.