A little while ago, I was reading the book, People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster. In it, he lists what he calls “The Five Condemnments”:
1. “I don’t deserve a second chance.” 2. “I am my shame. I am my secrets.” 3. “I will always feel and be this way.” 4. “I am defined by my worst moments.” 5. “My life, my dreams, my hopes no longer matter.”
As I interact with people, I see so many who live under these condemnments. That somehow a second chance is for others, not for them. That somehow what defines them most is their shame, failure and worst moments. They feel trapped in a cycle of no hope because yesterday was bad, so tomorrow will be bad, and they feel they deserve it. In essence, they start listening to the lies other people say about them, rather than what the Gospel says about them.
But, Jesus has a radically different promise and pronouncement for all of us. Here’s what He has to say about you:
1. “You do deserve a second chance, because I died to secure that for everyone.” (John 3:16)
2. “You aren’t your shame and secrets. You are forgiven and free.” (John 8:1-11, when Jesus encounters the woman caught in adultery).
3. “Your future isn’t full of darkness and repeats of defeat. If you believe in Me, you will have full and abundant life today.” (John 10:10)
4. “You are not defined by your worst moments, but rather by My calling on your life.” (John 21, when Jesus restores Peter after his worst moment).
5. “Your dreams do matter, because I, the Good Shepherd, know you and all that you need.” (John 10:14) – In fact, the first words of Jesus in the book of John are, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). So, your wants, dreams and desires do matter to God.
I write all this to remind you of something: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is freeing, transforming and totally life giving. The condemnments we so often live under aren’t part of living under God’s reign, love and grace.
So, today I want to remind you that if you feel like you don’t deserve a second chance – that shame owns you, that your past failures define you, that life can’t change, that your wants and desires don’t matter – than, well, Jesus begs to differ. Come and experience Him, and find that difference in your life.
Everybody worships something. Everybody moves toward something. Everybody has a goal that, for them, is ultimate and to which they are subservient. Even people who say, “No, I don’t worship. I’m totally independent.” In that case, what you worship is your independence. This is just the reality of life.
David Foster Wallace makes a startling claim about this in his famous commencement address at Kenyon College. And he says this not as a Christian, but as an observer of humanity…
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
That’s just what I said, but now read what Wallace continues to say…
“An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is thatpretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start to show, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. … Worship power andyou will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect – being seen as smart – andyou will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
I couldn’t agree more. If you worship anything other than God, ultimately your desires and wants will eat you alive.
Wallace ends with this…
“The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious.”
And, this is the difficulty.
We all know living after these things aren’t healthy, but we still do it. We live a life that is unexamined and suffer the consequences. We slip into this kind of worship without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
So, what is the solution? Well, it’s simple…
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)
Guard your heart, examine your heart, challenge what you worship and put your trust in God. Because our desires lead us.
Where is your heart leading? Set it on God and follow that. And, most of all, guard your heart against these other desires that slip in silently and set you up for difficulty. Don’t let your heart go unexamined and unguarded because that will never lead you into life.
So, what do we do? We sit and really reflect on the question, what do I worship? Don’t answer it too quickly, but do answer it. Because your life, and experiencing life, might just depend on it.
Today’s blog post might seem a bit funny at first. It’s not only completely orthodox, but also absolutely needed.
Jesus is not only the Son of God (and fully divine), He is also the Son of Man and fully human.This means that Jesus not only came to earth to demonstrate and reveal who God fully is, but also to reveal who we are to fully be as humans. Jesus demonstrates what true humanity actually looks like, feels like and, most importantly, lives like.
Marilynne Robinson writes, “It is a truism that humanity is deficient in humanity.” And, that is absolutely, unequivocally true.
When you look around the world and see evil, hurt, violence, racism, destruction and a whole host of other evils, the problem is not with “humanity” per say, but rather our lack of “humanity.” The problem is that we are not living as we actually should; that we are missing the mark (the Biblicial term for sin), and it is having disastrous consequences.
To put it positively, true humanity is seen whenever love, generosity, grace and justice flourish. Anything short of this is actually anti-human. Which brings us back to Jesus and why we need Him.
As a Christian, I fully affirm that Jesus is divine, but also that He is fully human. I believe that Jesus reveals to us the path we are to take as human beings. He reveals to us how we are called to live in this broken world. He models a life of forgiveness, grace and justice in the presence of oppressing powers. We need Jesus to not only make us more Christ-like, but also more human, not less.
So, what does this all mean practically? It means that if you want to be part of changing the world, it means embracing your humanity and especially embracing Jesus to guide you into it. Because it’s the path of Jesus that will bring healing to this world. Not just us denouncing evil, but us living differently. Us living into our full humanity. In essence, living like Jesus in and through Jesus.
“The spirit of our times is joyless urgency…”– Marilynne Robinson
Read that line again, and if you don’t have time, well there is the irony right there. The spirit of our times is joyless urgency.
Doesn’t that capture where we are at as a society, as a culture, as a people, even? Aren’t we rushing from one thing to the next, always busy, always hurried, unable to even enjoy all the things that rush past us?
Marilynne Robinson is known to be an astute observer of our times and she resonates with me. Sometimes that’s exactly how I feel – a joyless urgency to continue rushing forward to the next thing and the next thing after that.
But, when you live like that, chasing one thing after another, you quickly end up just feeling like a “thing.” Because to be human isn’t to rush from one thing to the next; it’s to appreciate life in all of its complexities and nuances. Being human is to have space to experience joy and grief.
So, if you are rushing from one joyless experience to the next, I have a remedy. It’s old, and it’s often admired and untried. It’s called Sabbath.
Take one day this week to rest. To relax. To unplug. To cease the endless rushing and to live in whatever space you may be in – good or bad. Stop the joyless urgency and running, and slow down for one day. You may feel bored, you may feel purposeless or even inefficient (that’s almost a synonym for sin in our culture), but my promise is if you do it consistently, you will feel healthy.
The spirit of our age is joyless urgency, but that doesn’t need to be your spirit. Sabbath.
“If there is any truth in relevant statistics – I doubt them all – perhaps health and longevity are not the effect of diet, of fish, vegetables, and olive oil, but having a little time to oneself, with family and friends.” – Marilynne Robinson
On Sunday we continued our series looking at the different gospels, why they were written and what are some of the “big themes” we can get from them. And on Sunday we looked at the gospel of Mark and the reality of darkness. Because in many ways if you read the book of Mark what you realize is this: it’s face, it’s punchy, and it’s actually pretty dark.
We normally think of the gospels as all light, and nice – but Mark has a dark undercurrent to it. And I think this is because Mark was writing to a very dark and difficult context.
Many scholars agree that Mark was most likely written to the church in Rome. A church that was going through deep persecution. A church that was suffering and having friends ripped from their arms, dragged into the coliseum to be ripped apart by wild dogs, or lit up as torches for garden parties for the Emperor Nero (Google Tactius to read his account of it). So it’s into this setting that Mark writes and seeks to bring hope.
What I think you’ll notice if you read is that Mark doesn’t shy away from the darkness that is a reality in the life of faith. We actually find Peter saying to Jesus in Mark 8, that since Jesus is the Messiah he will not struggle, experience death, or any seeming defeat. But Jesus turns around and tells Peter that – that view is satanic. Jesus is implicitly teaching that sometimes a necessary part of faith and following him will be to encounter and go through times of difficulty, darkness, and even death. The life of faith doesn’t preserve you from experiencing those things, the life of faith gets you through those things.
So on Sunday we looked at how Mark doesn’t deny the difficulty we face in life, but he also doesn’t ever say that difficulty, death, or darkness get the last word. Mark walks this fine line between accepting the reality of difficulty, but not the ultimacy of difficulty. And this is something that I believe is really helpful for any of us who grow through tough times. That yes we will face darkness, but we can get through it.
That was actually our main point on Sunday: that yes we will encounter darkness, difficulty, and death but we can get through it. That darkness and difficulty even when seemingly invincible and powerful, don’t get the last word. That’s the teaching of Mark. That we need not deny the reality we are facing, but also we don’t need to give into it as all-powerful either.
So on Sunday we moved to applying this to our lives in a few specific ways. If you are in a good place, then our calling is to remember the message of Mark because life has a habit of taking us into difficult places. And if we are in a tough place to follow the example of Jesus in Mark 8 where we name the darkness we are facing, we bring others into it (widen the circle) for support, and hold onto hope in the midst of it. That’s part of what I think the message of Mark is about – hope in the dark.
So we closed with this well known quote from Vaclav Havel that I appreciate and I think Mark would as well:
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world. Hope is not a prognostication—it’s an orientation of the spirit. Hope is definitely NOT the same as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is hope, above all, that gives us strength to live even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
Big Idea: We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
Mark has an urgent message.
There is darkness in the life of faith.
We will encounter darkness, but we can get through it.
Faith isn’t about preserving you from difficulty, darkness, or death; faith is what gets you through it.
In the end nothing you go through will be wasted.
Life has a habit of becoming difficult when we least expect it, and are least prepared for it.
Remember the message of Mark.
To name and accept the darkness you’re facing.
Jesus widens the circle.
Hope is a state of mind, not a state of the world – Vaclav Havel
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you ever thought about the gospels being different before? How does knowing some of the context change things? Would you say you are more likely to deny difficulty, or obsess about it? How does knowing that a gospel really acknowledges the difficult parts of life encourage you? Are you in any difficulty right now? What do you need to name? Who can support you? How can you hold onto hope?
Challenge for the Week: Name the darkness, share your struggle with another person, hold onto hope in the midst of it.
On Sunday we are opening up a really really important discussion. We are discussing mental health.
This seems to be a discussion that the church is a little unwilling, or unsure about opening up, but it is an absolutely needed one. Because if we ignore this conversation we end up ignoring and excluding people who are struggling with mental health issues. And one thing Jesus never did – was ignore, exclude, or isolate people needing help, healing, and hope. And this is what we as a church need to be doing as well – giving people healing, help, and hope.
And even though the area of mental health is incredibly complex, it does mean there are areas where we as the church body can help.
John Swinton and Jean Vanier write this:
The church has a history of pioneering in health and social care and I believe it is time for us to step up to the challenge of working in the area of mental health. The beginning point for the church’s ministry alongside people with mental illness is the recognition of the power of graceful love. In a special way people with mental illnesses need to hear, see and feel the message of the love, acceptance and graceful forgiveness of Jesus.
I believe this is true, and this is what we are going to seek to do over the next few weeks. On Sunday I’m going to be sharing about mental health, and specifically some of the myths found in Christian circles. Then on the following Sunday we are going to have a panel of experts in the field share with how we can address some of the issues, and more importantly what we can do to help.
So I hope you join with us, because this is one conversation everyone needs to be part of.
On Sunday we are looking at a really important topic but one that’s sidelined in our world: friendship.
I know right away the word sounds a little…well my little pony with rainbows and stuff. It sounds kind of weak, or something you’d hear on a children’s show talking about the “power of friendship”.
And while I have those initial reactions and resonances I also know that they are untrue. There is power in friendship. In fact, it’s probably the one thing in our culture that we need to regain more than anything else. We have so many connections, but not that many deep friendships. We know lots of people, and know how to network, but not how to cultivate decade long journeying with others. And this is something I want to address on Sunday.
Why are relationships and friendships so important?
What makes them unique?
How do we invest in them?
And why do we need them?
And to do that we are going to look at Solomon who says some pretty shocking things about friendships. That friendship will determine the quality of your life and the direction, more than finances, or even your family. That friendships are more important than family and are closer than family. That having good friendships is the key to a good life.
So that’s where we are going on Sunday. I hope you can join us, to learn about the “power of friendship” even though I know that sounds lame, but it is anything but that.
I think parenting is an exercise in trust and hope. I mean you spend hours and hours with your kids, coaching, guiding, and if you’re at all like us – disciplining your kids.
Sometimes if I’m honest you wonder if it’s all worth it.
Like you know it’s all worth it, but after a giant fight at bath time, when your soaking, and kids are crying doubt creeps in. I think that’s why parenting is hard, because you are really playing the long-game in parenting. You are hoping that what you do today, pays off in decades. And it’s hard sometimes to keep motivated or to even know if all your effort is having an impact when the results are years and years away.
But then every now and then you see some glimmer, you see a glimpse, you see some of the fruit.
As many of you know Krista and I accepted a new position, so we’ll be moving and changing churches in the next few months. This was an incredibly hard decision, but one we feel certain about. A tough point though came when we came to tell our kids.
We sat down with Hudson, told him about the move. He asked great questions, he processed it all, and in the end he asked to pray. This is what he prayed,
“Dear God help daddy to trust you with this move, find us the best house, best new friends, and help daddy with his new job to do really really great. Help mom and dad not to be sad, but excited. Amen”
And sometimes after hours and hours of wondering if anything sinks in, to little ears that don’t always seem to listen, you have a moment like this. You have a moment when you realize that your kids aren’t just kids, but people God speaks to. People who can pray better than you, and say the things you struggle to say, and people who remind you God is always working.
So all of this is to say that if you’ve had a long week with your kids, don’t forget all that’s growing underneath. Because when God reveals their little hearts, you realize all the effort is worth it. It’s always worth it.
On Sunday we are opening up a bit of a difficult topic. We are actually going to talk about grief. I know not a normal “Christmas” topic. But here is the truth, Christmas can be really difficult for some people. And Christmas is also about hospitality, and welcoming others.
So on Sunday I want to talk about how to welcome, include, and gather those who are hurting. A few weeks ago I talked about fully entering into the joy of Christmas. On Sunday I want to take the flip-side and look at welcoming those who are struggling. And to do this I want to watch one of my favorite movies. Well not the whole thing, but a significant portion of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
So that’s where we are going on Sunday, but before we get there, why not spend sometime thinking if there are those who are hurting who you can reach out to this Christmas. Because one of the biggest things we will learn from the movie, is the power of noticing a need.
Earlier last summer I spoke at this young adult group. I was invited to speak on whatever I picked, at a church I had never been to before. And so of course I picked talking about Jesus, which if given the chance is what I will always pick.
But this amazing thing happened when I went into the room. I knew a huge number of the young adults. In fact everyone on the leadership team other than one or two people had been a part of my youth group at some point.
And what was so amazing to me was to see them continuing to step up into leadership, and creating and giving God space to move. All these youth were there; many of them whom I’d spent hours and hours with and were now discipling others. It was just beautiful.
Now certainly I don’t get to own their decisions to step forward and lead young adults deeper into a relationship with Jesus. But in some ways God did remind me in that moment that we never know what the seeds we plant in others will grow into. That we can never discount the hours we give and pour into others.
The truth is that as human beings, we have a short horizon for time. We do things and expect results, in weeks and months. Sometimes I think God thinks in decades, or centuries. Some of the seeds planted by me, other youth leaders, parents, and friends are now years later bearing fruit. People are being changed, because people years ago poured into this youth who are now young adults. That’s the beauty of God, community, and investing in others.
For me that night to speak, was a reminder that pouring into others is never wasted. I don’t get to own the results. I also can’t own whether or not someone else gets filled up. What I can own and be responsible for is pouring out my life, and letting God do the rest.
And so while I spoke, hoping that God would use my words, God had already spoken so clearly to me. The moment I walked into the room, it was like God was just reminding me, “investing in others is never wasted”. So while I came to bless them, they blessed me and I think that’s how God works.