Archive for November, 2018

Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty Sermon SlideThis past Sunday, I shared a message based on concepts from the movie ‘Collateral Beauty.’ This movie has many characters, including Howard, a successful businessman. Everything is going great until his family is struck by a tragedy, he loses his daughter to cancer. This sends his world out of control and he doesn’t know how to handle anything, retreating into his own little world. His business partners know the end is coming for the business that they and Howard built, but he won’t sign off on the sale of the company. They must find a way to prove that he is incapable of making decisions, so they can proceed with the sale, securing all of their futures. They hire actors to play Howard’s three abstractions of love, time, and death, unaware of their own issues with these themes. Here’s where connections begin to come to light. We are all connected. I don’t want to give away the ending of the movie, because I recommend it to everyone.

So, we begin with these three abstractions. Time, Love, and Death. Howard’s premise is that we are all connected with these. I am reminded that he could very well be talking about the church. We all seem to have this desire to be loved, a feeling that we always need more time, and a fear of death. At least at some point in our lives, these have held our attention. They may not right now, and I hope that’s the case for at least one of these.

We all long to be loved. We want to feel the affection of another. As we think of God as being love, and through this love, God not only created everything and said that it was good, that he loved it; but when it began to fall apart with the entrance of sin into the world, he spared no expense to redeem it. For God so LOVED the world, that he sent his only Son.

Howard asks that question in the opening, “What is your why?” Why do we do the things we do? Why do we get out of bed every morning? Why do we go to work? Why do we reach out to our neighbors? What is our why? What is your why? ‘Love’ in the movie tells us that she is the only why. Love is why we get up, why we go to work, why we help others, why we are who we are. Love is why. Jesus said the greatest command is to love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the only why, everything begins there.

According to the character who plays ‘time,’ love is the creation of all good things and death is complete destruction, but time is the terrain in-between. He says that time is a gift and that it is abundant. I wonder how many of you feel just the opposite at times. Is time always a gift? Is time always abundant? We all have that one friend, the one who is not controlled by time, ever. You know, the one who is always five to ten minutes late to everything. Time is not always abundant. I know there are many times I feel like there needs to be more time.

For those going through tragedies, like Howard in this film, time becomes a prison sentence. It might feel like there is an overabundance of Time available, but you don’t want to live in it. You don’t want the gift of that time, because it’s not enjoyable, it actually hurts.

In Ecclesiastes, we hear that there is a time for everything, and that includes more than just the good times. This also includes time for mourning, healing, tearing down, even weeping. Time is for all of those things. Time is for you, wherever you are today.

Howard’s view of death is where I disagree with him. His view, from the advertising world, is that we all fear death. And while some of that may be true, we are called to something different. Paul tells the church in Philippi, that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Paul was clearly not afraid of dying, in fact, I think he was looking forward to it, he desired to go and be with Jesus. But he also knew of the good that God would bring from his life.

So, what is death? Why do we fear it so much? Or do we fear it? Clearly, after hearing of what awaits us upon our death, being in the presence of God, we should not fear it. Death is a natural thing and as far as I know, no human has been able to avoid it yet. So, I guess we are all connected by death as well. But I love what the character of death says in this movie. She says, “nothing is ever really dead if you look at it right.”

Love, time, and death. Three abstractions which connect us all. The abundance of them or the absence of them, bring celebrations as well as heartache. How we approach them, either brings us together, or tears us apart. We are all connected by more than just these three things. And there is beauty in that.

Thanksgiving Eve, Ready?

give-thanks1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s Thanksgiving eve and whether you are preparing a large meal for family, or just going to a community dinner with some friends, we always seem to reflect on what we are thankful for. But I want you to think about something a little different today.

Does God ask us to give thanks in our good times, when we realize just how much God has blessed us? Does God ask us to give thanks when we get married, have our first child, go on vacation, get a new job, or maybe even retire from our job? Does God ask us to give thanks for his gift of Jesus Christ, whom he sent to die in our place, for our sins? Yes, yes, all of this! Give thanks!

But that’s not it. That’s not all, there’s more. God wants us to give thanks in all things. Paul writes this letter, telling us that we should give thanks in all circumstances, not just the good things, not just the things we consider blessings. God wants us to give thanks even in the messy things, even when we don’t feel like we should. Have you ever heard the poem “Thankful for Dirty Dishes?” It goes like this.

Thank you for dirty dishes;

They have a tale to tell.

While others may go hungry,

We’re eating very well.

With home, health, and happiness,

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By the stack of evidence,

God’s been very good to us.

We should be thankful for those good things, but also for all the ordinary things. I’m thankful for annoying relatives, for needy brothers and sisters, and for that aunt who always wanted to pinch my cheeks and talk to me like a baby, even if I was thirteen.

I’m thankful for all these messy things because life doesn’t always have to look like the perfection that we used to see all the time in sitcoms, magazines, and now see on social media. Life is messy, there’s no getting around that. And we deceive ourselves when we believe that our life can be that way. I mean really, think about it, do you know anyone who has that perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect house, or even the perfect Thanksgiving Day celebration?

Sure, we all try and there have been years that I’m sure you were disappointed when things didn’t turn out just the way you wanted them. The turkey was dry, the kids were too noisy, someone forgot the corn in the microwave, or the hostess that year forgot to take the neck out of the turkey before cramming all that stuffing into the bird.

Life is not lived in that perfect, utopian world. It is lived out in our everyday lives, and those lives are messy. So why don’t we thank God for the messy things in our lives. So, sometimes it is good to give God thanks for those messy things, those ordinary things, those difficult things. God wants us to give thanks in everything, and that means the messy things. Giving messy thanks!

If you were to give God some messy thanks, what would it be? Remember that God wants you to give thanks in everything, because we need to see that Romans 8:28 is correct in telling us that all things work for the good for those who love God. Where have you seen this good, where have you witnessed God’s power to transform things for the good, where have you witnessed messy thanks?

Seeds of Peace

Seeds-of-PeaceThis week, we celebrated Veteran’s Day. This is a day that we celebrate and remember the sacrifices that many women and men endured for this country. The freedoms we have come at a cost, and sometimes an ultimate cost as those in service lay their lives down for those they will not ever meet. Although many of them seem to have a strong façade, there are many things that they have endured which has had an impact on their lives. Many can tell you of times they have felt afraid, hearing shots ring out, and feeling the fear of what was to come.

The horrors that they have witnessed, the nightmares that don’t seem to go away, the stories that they don’t like to tell. These all have an impact on their lives. My grandfather served in World War II and was part of the army who fought in Italy. He was involved in some intense fighting, but would not talk about those times. I can only imagine what he witnessed during those times. John 15:13 says; “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down their life for their friends.” This is lived out in each and every soldier who faces battle, who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.

I am reminded of a man named Desmond Doss. Desmond was a medic in the army during World War II. He was a conscientious objector, because he didn’t want to pick up a gun, even though he would be on the front lines of battle, performing medical procedures. Through his courageous actions, Desmond was sowing seeds of peace, even in the midst of war. There was a movie produced about his service called “Hacksaw Ridge.” In this film, there is a turning point for Desmond as he discerns the calling he has to this service. Following this moment, Desmond begins carrying his fellow soldiers out of the battle zone and lowering them down the cliff to safety. After delivering another soldier to safety, he would climb back up the cliff to search for another one. Each time he would pray that God would help him save one more.

Desmond Doss saved between 50-100 men from certain death that day, all without a weapon of war. Seeds of peace, sown for the glory of God. He gave a powerful witness to all who saw him running across that battlefield looking for the wounded, all those he saved from certain death, all those whose lives were changed because their loved ones came back from the war.

The world faces many atrocities from evil that runs rampant. On July 28, 1914, war broke out in Europe. One of the most devastating military events this world has ever seen. All coming from the need of power. It is said that once in charge, a man named Ludendorff, wanted to lead the German forces all over the world and conquer everyone. He wanted all the power, and nothing but complete victory was acceptable. So he continued to push, well past the point that he should have retreated. He allowed his arrogance to cloud the reality of what was happening around him.

An eventual agreement would be reached, an armistice. But even while the political leaders were discussing this peace, the fighting waged on. In fact, allowing over a half million people to die during the negotiation period. 2000 on the day the armistice was signed. This agreement all but destroyed Germany, the harsh terms annihilated Germany’s military force. Had this agreement come earlier, maybe the seeds planted, would have been those of peace. As it was, this agreement which brought peace to the war to end all wars, planted seeds of humiliation, anger, and resentment, not peace. This was a flawed peace, it was a seed planted that would soon grow into something far worse.

Germany plummeted into political turmoil, into a revolution. The seeds of humiliation brought an ugliness and strong hatred into this world as Adolf Hitler saw 1918 as a turning point in his life. The way this war ended, sowed seeds of the next greater war. What seeds are we planting today? Do we continue to repeat history with our actions? Do we plant more seeds of hatred, or are we looking to plant those seeds of peace?

There are times I wonder, as we hear about the birth of ISIS and other radicalized groups. Were the actions of many during Desert Storm or other conflicts, seeds of humiliation or hatred planted? How do we change the course? How do we bring a different view into this world?

As we remember this 100th anniversary of the Armistice to end World War 1, and we hear the bells peal of the victory celebration, I ask you to reflect on not only what happened only a few decades after the Armistice was signed, but of what true peace can bring. I also ask you to think of how you can sow seeds of peace in your own life, reaching out to others.

Is This Heaven?

field_of_dreams3What is heaven? Where is heaven? What does heaven look like? What will it be like?

I think it would look a lot like a passage from Mark chapter 12 where a scribe asks Jesus a question about the commandments of God. “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus tells him, it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then, you should love your neighbor as yourself. Two simple, profound, yet incredibly difficult commands to live out. But what if we did?

What if we actually lived out these commands to the fullest. What if we loved God with all that we had? And what if we loved our neighbor as ourselves? What would this world look like? It would look like heaven.

I will guarantee you this, however, it will not look like the world we have witnessed over the past few months. Over these past few months, we have been living in a place so far removed from heaven as we hear about all the hate filled messages. Whether it’s politician’s divisive language within the political ads, the rhetoric that is shared throughout social media which is just multiplying the anger and disgust, or the horrific scenes we are confronted with in the news, we are surrounded by anything but the love of God and our neighbor.

We hear about violence in places of worship, in schools, or even everyday public places. We hear from politicians who are looking for our support, bashing their opponents instead of telling us about themselves and the good they would like to bring to their communities. We hear from people who want to tear people down because of race, gender, orientation, or religious belief. We hear about far too many who have been abused by those in power over them.

The hate must stop. The violence must stop. The abuse must stop. When do we as human beings, stand up and finally and unequivocally say enough is enough! When do we take hold of that line we repeat every Sunday; “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?”

The answer is staring us right in the face. Jesus is calling us today to hear, once again, the greatest commands. Love God, love your neighbor. It’s that simple. When we do that, heaven comes down. The kingdom comes near. We will then see glimpses of heaven right before our eyes. We will see parts of the kingdom being played out for all to see. But we need to play a part in it. We need to be full participants in this kingdom building.

Brothers and sisters, this is wholly possible. With God’s help, we are able to accomplish anything. We can bring the kingdom near by how we act and how we treat those around us. Love conquers all things. Love triumphs over hate. Love hopes all things, endures all things, and believes all things. Love never ends. This is how we bring the kingdom near. Love.

So, if you’re are still thinking that heaven, or the kingdom of God, is something that we wait and hope for after we die, let me tell you something. The kingdom is already, and not yet. Did you catch that? The kingdom is already, and not yet.

The kingdom of God will be coming when the world is recreated. Revelation tells us that the new city will come down and that God is making all things new. The first heaven and first earth had passed away and the new heaven and new earth had come. This is the recreation, when heaven meets earth and all is one. This is the heaven that we talk about so much, even what we imply when we talk about that heavenly feast, when we all join together for the meal. We will celebrate a foretaste of that here this morning.

But the kingdom is also already. Jesus’ message through much of his teaching was that the kingdom was at hand. Wherever Jesus went, he brought the kingdom with him. Wherever people participated in those two commands of loving God and loving their neighbors, the kingdom was at hand. Jesus began his ministry by saying; “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” A proclamation which sets everything into motion.

So, when I hear that quote from Field of Dreams, “Is this heaven?” I am challenged to think, is this really heaven? Could this be heaven? And better yet, am I doing things to help bring heaven here, today? Are you?