Gods At War, Week 4 — The “Good god” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s sermon ….

  • Was related though different at our Moss and Zoar Campuses, as Chris Thayer preached live at Moss and I preached live at Zoar. We used different scriptures and different pathways to get to the same bottom line (see below);
  • In my version, jumped from Mark 10:18 to James 2:10 before settling in at Romans 5:15-19
  • Compared our “goodness” to ice cream sprinkled with dog droppings and ice tea with a dash of sewage. Really.
  • Landed at this bottom line: Why trust your goodness, which is flawed, when you can trust Jesus’, which is perfect?

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So we’ve been talking about Gods At War at GS and over the last few weeks, we’ve looked at God’s jealousy, we’ve look at the gods of pleasure and even at the god of romance. But today, I think, is the most dangerous and insidious and harmless-sounding god of them all, which is the Good god. (Note what is capitalized and what is not.) This is not the God is great, God is good. Nope, that’s the real God. It’s instead the god we make out of being good. The god we make out of doing good. The god we make out of trusting our own sense of goodness for making life here and for gaining life in the hereafter. It’s the Good … god.
Think about it, moms and dads. This subject governs so much of your conversation with your kids … you want them to “be good.” Gosh, it’s the motivation behind a lot of Santa Claus talk … you KNOW you want your young uns to be on the “nice” side and not the “naughty”! It’s why a lot of parents bring their kids to church or to scouts or to both: Just teach em to be good, please! It’s even why when people get older it’s a great honor to be known as a “Good Egg”! It’s even why at my son’s rehearsal dinner awhile back, I lost it – LOST. IT.! – when one of his groomsmen toasted with “he’s a good man.” What more could you want? Yep, it’s good, we applaud, and we TRUST good. And sometimes we love our goodness so much it even becomes a god.
Because here’s the thing. It’s so harmless, so pleasant, so GOOD SOUNDING that many of us, consciously or not, trust that our goodness will earn God’s forgiveness, both in the here and now and the there and then. It’s sort of the mindset of good people go to heaven. Like, for a lot of you, if you were asked last night Where will you go after you die and why?, a lot of your answers would have included things like “Well, I always …” or “Because I never …´or even “I’m not perfect but I am better than most.” Now: some of you may not even believe there is an afterlife and if that’s you, I’m glad you’re here & hope today both helps & challenges you.
But it’s almost as if EVERYBODY knows that good people go to heaven and that’s even why God set up heaven & hell – to encourage the kind of goodness that makes this world a better place and then ensure you GO TO the even better place after you die. It’s interesting: a few years ago there was a poll on the afterlife and the kind of people respondents expected to go to heaven. Some of the results: (AV) Mother Teresa 79% (what about the other 21??!!), Oprah 66%, Michael Jordan 65% (before ownership of the Hornets), and Colin Powell 61%. But do you know who topped the list? The person taking the survey! IOW most of us believe that good people go to heaven and most us count ourselves as good people? Whose bad? Anyone worse than me. Yeah, I think we believe that most people end up in heaven because most people are good, and most people are certainly better than most people.
Now; the little logical quibbles? Who decides what’s good? Or HOW good do you have to be? Top half? Or at least a C (70)? Even a B? (80?) How good is good enough? And even though we don’t quite know the answer to that or other questions, we still cling to the believe that good people go and I’m not perfect but pretty good and I’m going to trust that my goodness will gain me his heaven. It just makes sense; it simply seems fair.
And then Jesus. Then Jesus, in an apparently INCIDENTAL line that turns out to be MONUMENTAL says this in response to a young man’s question about inheriting eternal life in Mark 10:18: read more

Preacher’s Delight

The best part of the Gods At War series for me as been the focus on Psalm 37:4:

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

We usually skip the first phrase and jump right to the “desires of your heart” part. Nope. “B” there comes after and not before “A.” All of which has prompted me to consider seriously what it means to “delight in the Lord” and how it is that you do so. read more

They’re Always Listening

On Tuesday morning, I received this text message from a fine young man who is a senior in one of our area high schools:

After I answered, “Limerence,” I asked if he had it or if a girl at his school had it for him.

“Neither,” came his reply. “It’s for a school project about a book where the main character is lovesick and [we] were trying to remember the word.” read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Things I Learned From Football

This is the 150th year of college football, which is kind of ironic since my most vivid earliest memories of the game surround its 100th anniversary.

That year, Texas won the National Championship during a season in which its most epic game was a 15-14 come-from-behind win at Arkansas with President Richard Nixon in attendance. Note the “100” logo over the Longhorn in this Sports Illustrated cover — most schools had those on their helmets that year (though, apparently, not Arkansas). read more

Gods At War, Week 3 — The “Lovesick” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Began dictionarily and ended Christologically;
  • Referenced the sickness of an elevator music song with the lyrics “it’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along”;
  • Had ANOTHER shoutout to “you complete me” PLUS a wardrobe demonstration;
  • Zeroed in on this bottom line: God has already done IN you what you want a mate to do FOR you.

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If I am just a little bit excited today it’s because we get to start with a QUICK Vocab lesson and you should be excited, too, because the vocab lesson is NOT about a religious word. The word? Limerence. (AV) And what is that? Ah, it’s when you’re 14. And you catch this enormous break and your parents take you on a cruise ship, at a time before cruise ships were even that big a deal. On on the cruise you meet a girl named Delys (AV) and because you’re from Dallas and those two words sound alike, she pays you attention. And your palms sweat and your heart races and your eyes dilate and you get a pit in your stomach. You wake up thinking hoping you’ll see Delys soon and you go to bed at night planning on how you’ll run into her. And then the time when she makes sure everyone else has to move down the row but you get to stay next to her because of the Delys/Dallas thing, you’re done. You. Are. Smitten.
But there’s a shadow side. It’s the fear of rejection … the fear she’ll realize you’re a scrawny tennis player and not a buff footballer, that she won’t write back when the cruise is over, that she’ll realize how far out of your league she really is. And that fear of rejection is actually stronger than the lure of attraction which is why the dopamine in your brain giving you the rush is oft followed by serotonin which can cause a crash. All of this is why limerence is better translated as lovesick.
And I suspect more than a few of you have had it. At 14. Or 44. Or 64. Maybe even have it now. Some of you remember it as the one who got away in high school and part of the reason you’re on social media now is to reconnect that person from then. Others remember it as the one you never had or, even, for an elite few of you, you know that someone was lovesick, limerence-filled towards YOU. For a lot of you, that lovesickness led to matrimony and even if your brain isn’t on a constant dopamine trip today, the marriage is alive. And then, I KNOW, some of you ARE married and yet the lovesickness hit and hit hard – at 30 or 40 ot 60 — & the old song is just a little too close for comfort: “Yes it’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.” (Play clip) Turns out a vocab lesson is a life lesson & you’re learning it. And it’s a god.
It’s also a lesson learned and a god worshipped by an unnamed woman who meets Jesus in John 4. In some Xn circles, this is a well known story, famous for one verse taken out of context and turned into a music-y mantra, but today is a much different look at it. Today, I am glad to have at long last seen for myself the connection between the two key elements of TRIPS TO THE WELL and A BATCH OF HUSBANDS. Huh? Here’s the situation. It’s John 4 so Jesus is early in his ministry & John tells us in 4:4 that he had to go through Samaria which is NOT true in terms of geography but WAS true when you think of his assignment: Now he had to go through Samaria. Samaria was outcast, out there, sketch.
And while going through his assignment field, Jesus stops by a well – a watering hole – at around noon. A woman shows up, by herself, John’s way of saying “this one? She’s got no friends. Respectable women come TOGETHER and IN THE MORNING; the one’s who’ve been around come by themselves in the middle of the day.” In our day, it’s almost like saying she shows up at a bar, by herself, after midnight. Yet there is an added element of drudgery to it: she has to make this solitary, almost humiliating trip every day. Back and forth. Getting that heavy water on the walk of shame. Get up the next day and do it again.
And what happens next is that Jesus & this sketchy, burdened woman have a dialog that just misses on almost every level, as Jesus uses words in one way and she hears them in another. Look at 4:9-10: read more

The Irony Of Christ-Likeness

One of the most oft-repeated phrases in evangelicalism is “Christ-likeness.”

As in, “the goal of discipleship is to grow us in Christ-likeness.”

Or: “we mature in faith as we become more Christ-like.”

Or even at a memorial service: “she (or he) was one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever known.” read more

Exhort? Or Evoke?

Several years ago, I was speaking with a friend on the difference between exhortational preaching and evocative preaching.

Exhortational preaching challenges. Urges. Implores. It is filled with phrases like “you should” and “we ought” and “do this” and “consider that.” It implores people to change beliefs and behaviors based on the propositions included in the sermon. read more

Top Five Tuesday — Top Five Things Heard And Overheard At The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s “Large Church” Pastors Gathering

I spent three days last week in rainy Orlando, Florida at the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Large Church Pastor’s Gathering. It was three days of worship, education, information, and encouragement. On Day One of the gathering, I even got to present a slice of the forthcoming Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact book as I spoke to a group of preachers on how to improve their … preaching. My talk ranged from Jason Isbell lyrics to syllable symmetry to the power & clarity of a one point sermon, all in an effort to encourage all us preachers to preach vividly instead of blandly. read more

Gods At War, Week 2 — The “Pleasure Center” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was one of those drawing from a number of places in Scripture rather than a concentrated focus on one section;
  • Was one with which I wrestled all week trying to get the internalizing and the timing down;
  • Was one of the rare ones that was OK at 8:30, good at 10, and then a train wreck at 11:30;
  • Landed at this bottom line: You will only remove the gods of pleasure when you replace them with the pleasure of God.

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This is your brain at rest (AV).
And this is your brain, not on drugs, but in the midst of pleasure. It LIGHTS UP. When something is enjoyable to you – something like laughter or chocolate or music (I think this is what my brain does literally every time I hear the opening of The Boys Of Summer) or when you’re first getting to know that special someone and your eyes dilate as a result (mind did), that’s what your brain does. It does the same with more intense and even dangerous pleasures involving sky diving and alcohol and drugs and sexuality. Talk about giving you a RUSH. That’s exactly what your brain does in those moments, shuts down those areas related to logic and thinking while drenching those related to emotion, sensation, and Dr. Feelgood. And it creates circuity in your brain that makes you crave a repeat of that pleasure. It’s why none of you can eat just one potato chip! I would LOVE to see a picture of your brain while … sermon listening at GS! Is it at rest or in pleasure or something else altogether?!
One other very interesting piece from all this lesson in brain chemistry and anatomy. The pleasure center, governing from the light to the heavy, the innocent to the dangerous – is adjacent to pain. It’s why some people have what to OTHERS is an inexplicable PLEASURE from painful things like cutting or bingeing & purging. So yeah, this is your brain on pleasure, in its Pleasure Center and it has this incredible ability to be tremendous or toxic in your life.
And so, since we are having a frank conversation about Gods At War, complete with the realization that there is plenty of IDOLATRY around even if very few of us have little idols in our home, do I even need to point out the obvious? Every one of these pleasures I’ve talked about – food, comfort, sex, approval, success – starts out as GOOD and each one has potential to become A GOD. Food? Good. Laughter? Good. Music? (Except: ) Good. Chill, peace? Good. Approval? Good. Sex? Good. You realize, don’t you that every one of us, no exception is here as the result of sex? God invented it so that it could create you. It’s good. And yet each one of those that LIGHT UP the Pleasure Center of the brain have the ability to turn from a good thing to the only thing; from a created blessing to a contending god. I guess you could summarize a lot of what I’m saying with this ad for chocolate (Good!): WORSHIP THE DEVIL’S FOOD. Gulp.
And when the good thing becomes a God thing, that which at first FEELS GOOD ends up FOULING UP. It ensnares. I enslaves. You know this. You live this. You live with someone who lives this. The gods of pleasure take their place on the mantle of your life, adjacent to and often victorious over the God & Father of our Lord Jesus, and once in place they are very difficult to remove. As you ponder if I’m talking about your, or someone you know, or both, ponder two questions: 1) WERE DO YOU GO TO CHILL? Oh! Food! Amazon … such sublime peace in pointing and clicking and it will be here tomorrow! Internet images. A drink just helps me … relax. And 2) WHERE DO YOU GO TO CELEBRATE? Oh, let’s eat! Let’s drink to that! Hey, I haven’t shopped online so I’ll reward myself with … click! Here tomorrow! Let me fish for this compliment cuz you can never have enough approval! Let me treat myself to some digital sexual intimacy, some that requires nothing of me in return. No messy relationship, just pleasure. Or even, that cocaine or opioid. It’s why no high is ever as intense as the first.
There’s pleasure and there’s pain and there’s isolation and financial problems and as the cycle grows the pain increases while the pleasure decreases and what used to feel good now feels awful and the gods of pleasure have you and refuse to let you go. From habit to sadness to outright addiction and it’s all around us. Ultimately, we have BIG DESIRES for small things and small desires for BIG THINGS. It’s our world and it starts here (point to brain).
At least we’ve got some company. Check Psalm 106:19-20: read more

Burying The Lede

Well, not really.

But keep reading long enough and you’ll find me.

Check it here.