Well it’s been an exciting week. Aren’t you glad 2020 is over and now we can just all get along and love each other and live at peace. It’s going great so far.
There are already way too many words being hurled like grenades over the wall, so I don’t want to add any more noise than necessary but I do have just a quick thought on all of it.
This past week I’ve been thinking about the power of ideas. And how a bad idea when believed, can cause people who appear to be perfectly rational human beings to commit horrible atrocities. And it all starts with an idea.
I’d like to read something that Paul tells us that I think is very pertinent to the season we’re in, and he reminds us of the reality of the real battle that we’re fighting.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. (2 Corinthians 10:3)
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. (Now what do you think those are? The ‘Weapons of the World’? Well it’s obvious, they’re things like Coercion, Violence, Hatred, Sarcasm, Disrespect. Paul says we don’t fight with the weapons of the world) On the contrary, (our weapons) have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
This word ‘pretension’ is a fancy bible word for a bad idea. An idea that sounds good, but is actually ‘anti-Christ’. And so we, as Christ followers, fight against those bad ideas.
Allow me to share with you a few bad ideas:
- Storming the capital is a bad idea
- Attacking police is a bad idea. No matter what side you’re on.
- Burning down businesses in an effort to somehow promote justice is a bad idea.
Now here’s another bad idea: Fighting fire with fire. That because someone has done something to you, that that somehow justifies you treating them that way in return. That’s a bad idea. And not just a bad idea, it is antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus.
Think about the climax of the entire bible – Which is Jesus being tortured and hanging there on the cross and praying ‘Father Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing’.
So that’s our prayer as well. We pray for the victims, but we also pray for the perpetrators. That their eyes would be opened and God’s grace would reach them just like it reaches you.
New Series: Christian Certainties in Uncertain Times
Certainty / Mystery
STORY – When I thought there was a mouse in the attic, turns out it was a birds nest outside. Turns out again that it was our gas meter squeaking. – Years ago, Jordan and I had a bit of a mouse issue at our house. We have an attic, and what would happen is in the morning, we would hear this squeak squeak squeak coming from somewhere. And we didn’t know what it was, and I being very committed to not hurting animals, I like to eat them, I just don’t like to hurt them. But not wanting to harm the little fella, I did what most people would do: Ignored it and hoped that it just went away on it’s own. Well it did not. Like clockwork, every morning we would hear the same squeak squeak squeak and we didn’t know what to do. Well one of our friends, told us that we need to figure it out because it’s actually possible for a mouse in the attic to cause a house fire if they chew through certain lines up there. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but even the possibility meant I had to do something about it. So I went to Lowes and bought mouse traps, and put peanut butter on them, set them all over the attic, read the mouse his last rites, and went to bed. Well the next morning, we hear the same squeak, over and over and we don’t know what to do. Well one morning I was outside, in the backyard and I heard the squeak and it was louder than it was in the house. And there was a big tree right there, and I had the realization, “Oh my gosh, there’s a birds nest up there. It wasn’t a mouse, it was a baby bird in the tree.” So I get a ladder to look up at the tree and it’s not any louder in the tree and so I’m still looking around, and I start following the sound like a blood hound on the scent. I go around the house, and it keeps getting louder. Well what is WAS was our gas meter squeaking. There was no mouse, there was no bird. Just an old gas meter.
But even when I tell you that true and quite embarrassing story, I bet you can admit, that almost everybody loves a good mystery. Don’t you?
The Christian faith is filled with mystery
- Trinity – So we serve a God who is 3 in 1. So there’s 3 of them, but there’s really 1, but there’s really 3, but they’re all one. There’s been LOTS of people trying to speculate on exactly how this works, there’s some illustrations that can be some helpful – Water can be a solid, a liquid and a gas, that’s not a great illustration, but it’s better than nothing. But at the end of the day, what it really is is a great mystery.
- Hypostatic Union – Jesus was Half God, Half man. — Or take Jesus, being half God, half man. It’s what we nerds call the ‘Hypostatic Union’ – That Jesus was fully God. So 100% God, and he was also fully man, so 100% man. That doesn’t make logical sense. There can never be more than 100% of something. “I gave 110 percent” – No you didn’t. That’s impossible. So how can Jesus be 100% God and 100% man? It’s a great mystery.
I believe that we as pastors need to get better at pointing people to the mystery. And to let you sit in the mystery. And to sometimes, not solve the mystery.
But the Christian faith is not ONLY a mystery. It’s also a…
So there are things that we DON’T understand, they are mysteries. But there are other things that we DO understand, and they are not mysteries, they are certainties.
And it’s important to have both.
What do I mean?
Well if your whole Christian faith is built upon certainty, and there’s no mystery, well then you faith becomes predictable, boring, and uninspiring.
And on the other hand, if you’re whole Christian faith is built on mystery and there’s no certainty, then your faith becomes unstable, wishy-washy, and ultimately unhelpful. To you and to other people. If all you have is question marks, and no actual beliefs or convictions, how does that help anybody? Including you. It doesn’t.
Too much certainty – life is boring. Too much UNCERTAINTY, life becomes unstable, and scary. Really. And I think all of us have learned a thing or two about uncertainty because of this little thing called “the year 2020.” And just how much UNCERTAINTY we were exposed to.
Here’s a few examples:
- We became uncertain about our ability to procure toilet paper. – We all envisioned ourselves cleaning ourselves on the grass like cavemen.
- We became uncertain when it came to our financial security. People in this room lost their jobs because of covid, or your hours got cut, or you were afraid of getting laid off.
- Business owners became uncertain of their businesses being able to stay open.
- We became uncertain about the health of our loves ones.
- We became uncertain about our own health. Overanalyzing every cough and sneeze. “Oh my God. Covid.”
- We became uncertain about our ability to gather together as a church. Would they let us meet this week, or not?
- We became uncertain about our children’s education. What does school look like?
But you know, it’s not just Covid in 2020. Think about the tragedy of 9/11. One of the things that was lost, besides the tragic loss of life, was the loss of our feeling of certainty when it came to us being safe from terrorists. Now we’re uncertain when we get on an airplane. Or go to public places if we’ll be safe.
Of think of more common uncertainties:
- We buy a car and we’re uncertain if it will break down so we buy the warranty. – If you go to the appliance store to buy an appliance and they salesperson immediately tells you that you need the 36 month warranty, what they’re really telling you is it’s a terrible product. – If you think about it, warranties are a way to protect ourselves from uncertainty.
- Same with insurance. You pay unspeakable amounts of money not because of something that will happen, but for something that MIGHT happen. And you’re uncertain if it will or not.
- Think about life insurance. There’s lots of us that would make far more money if we would just die.
- Mariah Carey has a 35 million dollar insurance policy on her voice. If she ever loses her ability sing, she’ll get 35 million bucks.
- We’re even uncertain about the person we’re gonna marry so we get a prenuptial agreement.
If we really thought about it. A huge amount of our money goes to protecting ourselves from potential contingencies.
Or think of all the money that is paid to fortune tellers, mediums, astrologers, horoscopes, all in an effort to protect ourselves from uncertainties.
And I suppose a good question to ask a non-Christian would be “What are you certain of?” You know the answer right: “Death and taxes” But the average person, when it comes right down to it, is certain of very little.
But did you know that the scripture, while certainly being full of mystery, is also full of certainty.
- Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” That’s a certainty.
- Psalm 19:7, “The testimony of the Lord, Scripture, is sure.” The Bible is certain.
- Proverbs 11:18, “To him that sows righteousness, assure reward.”
- Job 34:12, “God will not do wickedly.” That is certain.
- Isaiah 53:4, “Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” It is a surety that Jesus has done that.
- John 6:69, Peter said, “We are certain that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- John 16:30, “We are sure that You know all things.”
- John 17:8, “They have known surely … says Jesus … that I came from You.”
- Romans 2:2, “We are certain that the judgment of God is according to truth.”
- Romans 4:16, “The promise of salvation is sure.”
- 2 Timothy 2:19, “The foundation of God is sure.”
- Hebrews 6:19, “Christ is a sure anchor in the presence of God.”
- 2 Peter 1:19, “Scripture is a sure word of prophecy.”
- Revelation 22:20 Jesus said, “Surely I come quickly.”
Page after page, there are things, that if the Bible is be believed, are certainties. We are certain about God’s promises, certain about His Son, the Savior. Certain about His substitutionary death, His literal resurrection, certain about His Second Coming. We are certain about all these things, absolutely certain.
So what I wanted to do for at least the next couple weeks, is to each week, talk about one thing that we can be absolutely certain of. We live in an uncertain world, there’s no denying that, but if you follow Jesus there are things that are absolute certainties.
So in 1 John, which is a short book. It’s 5 chapters, I did a whole series on it called ‘Only Love is Real’ which you can listen to online. But one thing that John really emphasizes in this letter is being certain of the thing we know. In fact the “know” appears 39 times in those 5 chapters. And as he closes his letter, he writes about some things that he wants us to be certain of. Let’s read it. 1 John chapter 5, beginning in verse 13.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:15)
So here’s my big certainty of the morning:
“God hears me”
Story – You know one thing that’s amazing about having a child, is that you develop this almost super-human ability to tune out loud noises. Our daughter grace loves to sing. It’s quite beautiful, and quite loud. Sometimes we’ll be in the car trying to discuss something. My wife and I need to have important conversations about helping lead this church or some decisions we’re going to make regarding our family, so we’ll both be sitting in the front seats of the car with Grace in the her seat in the back. And sometimes we’ll be talking and without noticing, Grace will start chiming in with these off the top of her head songs, and we don’t even notice, instead we just keep talking louder and louder to each other. And then eventually some sort of alarm will go off in one of ours heads and we’ll say “Oh my gosh! We are screaming at each other right now” And I’m sure if someone without kids were to see it, it would be the most hysterical thing, to hear this kid scream/singing in the back seat and the parents screaming in the front to try to hear themselves over the child. Well I think sometimes we can all feel like that when it comes to prayer. That we’re kinda talking to ourselves in the back seat while God is in the front seat dealing with more important issues.
I want you to be crystal clear about something: God hears each and every one of your prayers. And even more than that, he DELIGHTS to hear your prayers. Unlike humans, God is not preoccupied with other things. He has all the time in the world for you.
How much he LONGS to be with us. He much he desires to be in our presence. How much he desires to hear our voice, and for us to listen as he talks back. He’s eager to do all of that.
For a lot of people, you struggle to pray because you misunderstand what God thinks about you.
Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory Boyle
I wonder how many of you if any of you have read the book “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle who is priest in LA. He writes about working with these inner city gangs in LA. And in the book he talks about the image we have of God and how important it is for your bedrock image of God is the right one.
And he tells this story that comes from his friend Bill Cain who was in the situation I know many of you have been in where you finally end up having to care for your adult parents in the same way they cared for you when you were a child. So Bill Cain’s father was dying of cancer and every night Bill, after work, would go home to his father and put him to bed and read a novel to him every night before he went to sleep. And bill would describe this frustration because he would work a full day and then come to put his father to bed and it wouldn’t go the way he wanted it to.
Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, “Look, here’s the idea. I read to you. You fall asleep.” Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long. Soon enough, Bill’s father would pop one eye open and smile at his son. Bill would catch him and whine, “Now, come on.” The father would, again, oblige, until he couldn’t anymore, and the other eye would open to catch a glimpse of his son. This went on and on, and (listen to this) after his father’s death, what Bill realized about this evening ritual was that it was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God? Anthony De Mello writes, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.” What’s true of Jesus is true for us, and so this voice breaks through the clouds and comes straight at us. “You are my Beloved, in whom I am wonderfully pleased.”
You have to understand how much the father loves to look at you, to hear you, to be with you. And I think that if you begin to understand that, then prayer will be much easier for you. Because it becomes less about you reciting the perfect mantra, and more about you coming boldly to the throne of God who desperately wants you there.
You know everything that is true and beautiful about human relationships is but an imperfect reflection of our relationship with God. And so I want you to understand that when a child (you), comes to a loving parent (God), it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about talking perfect, it’s not about having all your points lined up in this nice presentation, it’s not about you having all your issues sorted out first. It’s a child, coming to a Father who loves you more than you could ever realize.
Grandparents Both Jordan and I have a single grandparent that is still living. I still have my moms mom Granny, and Jordan still has Cindi’s dad – Grandmimi. Both amazing people, both a joy to be around. Neither one are able to really participate in the conversation the way they used to. But what’s amazing is how much joy they get just by being around their family. Just to have the great-grandkids running around and laughing and playing. Just being together.
Skiing with my dad My dad when I was growing up was an excellent skier. And one thing that my dad always wanted to do with both my sister and me was to take us skiing. Now I’m sure you’ve all probably seen those 5 years old on the skis without any poles. And I think some of those kids are just freakishly good. You click those skis on, and they just zoom down the hill. I assure you that was not the case with me. I was never a particularly coordinated kid, and so my early days of skiing were mostly filled with falling off while getting off the ski lift, and then every 5 to 10 feet all the way down the hill. And so my dad who was capable of flying down the hill at incredible speed, his day of skiing was mostly picking me up and wiping the snow off my goggles. So in a very straightforward way, you might think that that would not be an enjoyable time for my dad. But now that I’m a father, I understand. It wasn’t about the skiing, it was about being together with your child.
I need you to understand, some of you don’t hardly ever pray, because you hate the way you pray. You listen to Pastor Marshall, or Cindi, or Shirley, or Gail, or Deb, and you think “My prayer is just so bad compared to that.” No it’s not. And so long as you use that as a reason for why you DON’T pray, you’re cutting yourself off from deep meaningful relationship with God for no good reason.
God loves the way you pray even if you don’t. You know what I mean?
You don’t annoy him, you don’t aggravate him when you pray something too big. You don’t aggravate him when you pray something too small. I don’t know if any of you struggle with that too. “I don’t want to bother God about a headache” – He loves to hear you talk about stuff.
Eli Purple Dragon That’s one of the ways you know you’re in love with someone by the way, you just like to hear them talk about stuff. This past week I went over to my sisters house and one of their children is 3 year old Eli. Well for some reason, Eli all night was just about telling us these dramatic stories about a purple dragon. “And then the dragon went ‘Roar!!!’ And then he flew to the store and then he was angry. Then there was a train.” Like he’s 3. The story made zero sense. And there were continuity errors everywhere. That wasn’t the point for us, we were all just so inthralled listening to him talk. It wasn’t about the quality of the story, it wasn’t about him using all the words right, there was just a simple joy in hearing him talk.
My generation – Cynical about everything You know I think my generation in particular, has become so cynical about everything. Perhaps you’ve noticed that. And I can say that even as a pastor, I need to guard against my own cynicism ruining this very basic, very simple thing which is talking to God. Let’s not forget that when we enter into his presence, we have to do it as little kids. So you can’t be all self-aware, and cynical, and snarky, and still expect yourself to want to pray. No you have to just come, open, vulnerable, imperfect, but to come with confidence nonetheless knowing that your Dad is just thrilled to death about you coming to him.
5 practical tips for people who struggle to pray
1. Begin your prayer with thanksgiving
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalm 100:4)
Thanksgiving is a bible word for saying that you’re thankful.
So if you’re ever thinking “Hmmm…. I don’t know what to say.” Just start thanking him. So that might be “God, you are so good, you are so faithful. You’re so kind, you’re so generous. Thank you for always being patient with me. Thank you for watching out for my family. Thank you for my amazing job. Thank you for loving me.”
2. Tell him what you feel
So for me, after I give thanks, I tell God how I feel. Maybe that’s positive “God I’m just so honored to be up on this pulpit and to have the opportunity to speak into peoples lives. That is such a deep honor for me. And I’m so happy, and I’m so grateful.” Other times it’s negative “God I feel so I angry that my boss talked to me like that. I feel like my blood is just pumping through my veins a million miles an hour. I want to go and just punch him right in the ear.”
But whatever the case, just take a second to know how you’re feeling and express it to him. Does he already know? OF COURSE. He already knows everything. It’s not about giving him more information, it’s about inviting him into your life.
3. Tell him what you need
James 4 – You have not because you ask not
That’s not God punishing us, but I think God just has this unobtrusive way about him. That if he’s not invited into something, he’s not going to just force himself in. He wants to be asked. He wants to be invited in.
4. Pray with Faith
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Isn’t that amazing. That the faith he’s talking about, is confidence in God, not in yourself. So when we pray, we turn our attention to God’s faithfulness, and his ability.
Now I know there’s this whole thing about ‘Prayer doesn’t change the world, it changes you’, but now listen, it’s true that prayer changes you, but it also changes the world. And it’s not about you being so amazing and perfect. It’s about you having the faith to actually come and ask, and believe that God is EAGER to help us. We’re not convincing him, he’s EAGER to help.
5. Pray according to his will
I hope you’ll take that seriously, but not let that be paralyzing to you. Because I gotta tell you, I used to be the kind of person that was so concerned about praying the will of God, that I couldn’t pray anything. And I’m sure you’ve heard someone pray who’s just always adding in all these disclaimers. So much ‘If it be your will’ kind of stuff. That after a minute, it becomes obvious that you’re not praying much of anything, just giving God a bunch of ‘outs’ if he doesn’t want to do anything. “Hey I’d love if you could do this, but if you don’t want to, that’s totally cool, I just thought I’d bring it up, but what do I know, I’m just a worm, who doesn’t know anything.” – Hey look, God loves the sound of your voice, and you’re not gonna get it right all the time. Let ‘getting it right’ be the target, but don’t ever let that be a reason that you DON’T come. That would be a mistake.
Adam Naming Animals This past week when I was preparing for this sermon, for some reason I flipped to Genesis 2 where Adam was given the responsibility by God to name the animals. And I thought about how that would have felt to be Adam, to wake up in the morning and see this world of possibility – to partner with God to create and name the world around them. And I very much want to enter into that wonder where I’m living in the world God has given me the opportunity by prayer (it’s of course not just by prayer) to make a difference in the world around me. To see a world of possibility, anything can change, impossible things become possible again. Where outcomes become different because you prayed. Prayer creates new opportunities.
Jesus Which of course brings us to Jesus. In Hebrews 4 it says that the reason we’re able to come boldly to the throne of God is because of Jesus. Who came and was humiliated, and tortured, and stripped naked, and killed, and rose again, and through all of that, he still offers grace and forgiveness to all who would call on his name.