Monday, January 28, 2013

January 27, 2013 The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get: Catching Up On Our Relationships

I Corinthians 13:1-13

I have been following the story about Beyonce and her lip-synching at the inaugural with great interest, and it has prompted me to make a confession this morning – on occasion I have lip-synched my sermons.

Our Scripture passage for this morning is one I make a practice of using a few times a year.  We should probably read it every week – I Corinthians 13.

Last week I began with a disclaimer and I will add another one this week.  When speaking about relationships I have to confess that I have some fractured relationships in my life.  I have some relationships that could use some work.  I’m going to assume that I’m not the only one here this morning that needs to work on some relationships.

Relationships are at the very heart of our lives, and I can’t think of anything that affects us as much as our relationships.  When our relationships are healthy, life is good and we are happy; when our relationships are unhealthy, life is not so good we are unhappy.

The reality is that at any given time most of us have a mixture of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Hopefully, most of our relationships are healthy, but I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t have a few relationships that could use some improvement.  If all of your relationships are fine you are truly fortunate, or perhaps you’re not being honest with yourself.

This morning, reminding you again that I am not an expert in relationships, I will offer some things to consider about keeping your relationships healthy – 

1.  Relationships must be nurtured by time.  To put it in the language of finances, if relationships were a bank, and time was the currency, how healthy would be your balance?  In today’s hyper-busy world, time is a very precious commodity, but relationships starved of time become very difficult to keep healthy.  Next week, we’ll talk in more detail about time.

2.  It’s never too late to say I’m sorry.  They are not easy words to say, but we must learn how to say them.  I know those words are hard to get out, but most of us probably have someone in our lives who need to hear us say I’m sorry.  There are some people who have waited years to hear those words.  Yesterday, Tanya convinced me to go to the movie Quartet.  I have got to convince her to see more movies with aliens!  It was okay, but one scene was particularly interesting, and really, the most interesting part was not on the screen, but in the audience.  One character confessed to the other that the way she treated someone was the biggest mistake of her life.  The person she had treated badly overheard her make that confession.  What was interesting was the stillness in the theater.  It’s rarely still and quiet in a movie theater these days.  Someone is always messing with their popcorn or slurping their drink, but during that scene it was completely still throughout the theater.  It was the kind of stillness where you know something has touched a deep nerve.  I wondered how many people in that theater needed to hear, or to say, the words I’m sorry.

3.  Communication must remain open.  Far too often I see couples, in particular, who fail to keep communication open and healthy.  Over time, they close off parts their relationship from healthy communication.  As time passes there are some areas of the relationship where conflict exists, and as they become weary of conflict they close off those areas as a way of avoiding further conflict.  While it is certainly understandable why people would want to avoid conflict, this does not bring health to a relationship.  When areas of conflict are pushed to the margins and not discussed, there is the danger of bitterness creeping into the relationship.

4.  Differences between people are a gift, not a problem.  The old phrase that opposites attract is very accurate to all kinds of relationships.  Tanya and I are very different people.  We have different points of view.  We don’t always agree on everything.  But none of this is a negative.  In fact, the differences in a relationship – be it a marriage or a friendship – is positive.  The differences between spouses, for instance, can be very healthy.  One person may be very structured while the other is very spontaneous.  We need structure in our lives, but a measure of spontaneity is wonderful as well.  The difference between those two perspectives can bring a healthy balance in a relationship.

5.  Compromise is not a negative.  Every relationship needs a measure of compromise.  If one person insists on having their way all the time, the result is going to be an unhealthy relationship.

6.  Love is the basis of relationships.  Love is a great gift.  Most of us, while we may have many acquaintances, will have only a few deep, loving relationships.  To love, and be loved, is God’s great gift.  Appreciate the love you receive.  Appreciate the gift of loving another person.  When Paul penned the words to I Corinthians 13 he was tremendously inspired by God.  He prefaces the chapter with the final words of chapter 12 as he writes and now I will show you a more excellent way.  He had just finished writing about variety within the church and how those differences can sometimes bring division.  That spurred him to write of how love is the most important foundation for our relationships.  It is the absolute foundation, and trumps everything else, and if you really want to build a great foundation read, and live verses 4 – 8, where Paul writes Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rue, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered.  It keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  If you can live those verses you will transform all your relationships.

7.  Don’t live with guilt and regret.  Some people live for years with guilt and regret because of struggles in relationships.  Don’t allow guilt and regret to bring pain to you life.  If necessary, go back and read #2 (It’s never too late to say I’m sorry).

8.  Encourage people to be who God wants them to be, not who you want them to be. 

My parents did not push my siblings and I in any particular vocational direction.  What we did with our lives was our decision.  They didn’t try to tell us how we should live our lives and let us make the major decisions about our lives.  They would offer advice when we asked, of course, but they did not try to shape our lives for us.

Some people don’t have that good fortune.  Some people feel a great deal of pressure from family and friends to be what the family and friends believe they should be.  But we are created in God’s image, and we must encourage others to reflect that image, and not ours.  We don’t need to be in the business of trying to make someone reflect our image.

9.  Love is the one only thing we can multiply by giving away.  Share your love freely.  Give it away.  You can run out of time and money, but you cannot run out of love.  Love is a great gift because we actually gain more as we give it away.

I don’t always express my gratitude and love as I should to the people I love, and who love me.  But I am exceedingly grateful for the relationships in my life.  My life has been so enriched by my relationships.  And it’s especially interesting to me how relationships come to us.  One relationship leads to another, that leads to another, and on and on.

When I met Tanya, I never saw it coming.  We met in January of 1978.  My good friend, Kim Frazier, and I stopped in Hardin Hall after leaving the fieldhouse one evening.  Tanya was there with a friend, and Kim introduced us.  Tanya was actually interested in Kim, and decided that if she got to know me better it would help her get his attention.  I haven’t seen him in years and would love to find him (not that I have a score to settle with him) and I often wonder where he is and how he is doing.  I’ve searched Facebook and on the internet for him but I can’t find him.  I would love to find him and tell him I am grateful to know you, and I am very grateful for how our relationship led me to Tanya.

Meeting Tanya meant that I also eventually met her parents.  I was really nervous about meeting them, and I’m sure I didn’t make a great impression on them, and that says more about me than it does them.   Some of you know what that’s like when someone knocks on your door because they are interested in your child – that’s a big moment, isn’t it?  Before you get too worked up about who is coming to see your child, don’t forget when you knocked on someone’s door and that you may have created some anxiety. 

Tanya's parents have been kind of saints to me, because they were very nice to me, even though I gave very little evidence of how providing much of a life for her.  They grew to love me because their daughter loved me.  And that opened up another family to me, and it brought the great gift of our children into my life.

Tell someone I love you.  Today.  Thank God for the relationships you have.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

January 20, 2013 - The Harder I Go, The Behinder I Get: Catching Up On Our Faith

John 11:7-16; 20:24-29

Because life moves at such an incredibly fast pace these days it is easy to feel as if we fall further and further behind in some of the most important aspects of our lives.  The pace of life makes it difficult to find time to nourish our faith and to nourish our relationships.  The cost of living makes us wonder if we can ever catch up financially.  We would like to save and invest for the future, but today’s bills knock so loudly on our door that it’s hard to think beyond today.  And the incredible stress on our time feeds into the stress of every part of life.

So this morning we begin a new series of messages titled The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get.  Over the course of the series we will consider how we “catch up” in four areas of our lives – faith, relationships, time, and finances. 

I will add a disclaimer at the beginning – a big disclaimer – I am not an expert in any of these categories and I often feel far behind in each of them.  The suggestions I will make are ones I struggle to incorporate into my own life.

Today our message deals with the first of our four topics –Catching Up On Our Faith.

Last week National Public Radio ran a series of reports called Losing Our Religion.  It was another in a seemingly unending series of news stories about the changing – and some would say, diminishing – role of faith in today’s society.  I listened to some of it, with some interest, but I have to confess I am a bit worn out with the stories about the demise of faith.

But those reports do remind us that as we live in an era when it appears that many people are not only struggling to catch up with, or strengthen their faith, some are struggling to continue to have faith.

So I want to begin by saying something I believe is very important – there is nothing wrong with either doubt or struggle when it comes to our faith. Do you ever feel that way?  Do you ever struggle with doubt?  It’s okay if you do.  Sometimes our faith is not as strong as we wish it were, and that’s okay.

Doubt, and its subsequent struggle with faith, is nothing new.  One of Jesus’ own disciples struggled with doubt. 

John’s gospel relates the famous story of doubting Thomas, where Thomas declares that unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe (John 20:25).  Certainly, Thomas struggled with doubt, but we often overlook another story about Thomas.  In John’s gospel, chapter 11, Jesus was planning to return to Judea, because Lazarus had died.  The disciples were alarmed at his plan, because they were afraid Jesus would be killed.  But Thomas was the only disciple willing to go with Jesus, even if it meant losing his life.  In fact, Thomas even declares “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).  There certainly was no doubt at that moment in the heart and mind of Thomas. 

But Thomas does serve as an example of our own struggle with faith – there are days when we feel as though nothing can cause our faith to waver and there are other days when we can’t escape this nagging sense of doubt.  There are days when I feel like the father who brings his son to Jesus in order to find healing.  The father exclaims, I do believe, help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24).

There are many examples of the great Biblical characters struggling with their faith.  Peter also doubted the first news of the resurrection (John 24:11), but we don’t call him doubting Peter. Peter, also, when invited by Jesus to get out of the boat and go to him on the water, finds that his faith fails him (Matthew 14:22-33).  Jesus asks Peter, You of little faith…why did you doubt? It isn’t the only time Jesus expresses the difficulty we have in expressing faith.  In Matthew 6:30 Jesus, as he talks about the worries of life, addresses his audience with the words O you of little faith.

The fact that we sometimes have doubts or struggles with faith does not in any way mean there is anything wrong with our faith; it simply means we are human.  At some point, everyone has some measure of doubt and struggle with faith, but that does not mean their faith is lacking in any way.  In fact, I would say that the occasional doubt and struggle is a sign of healthy faith.  Any faith that is afraid of doubt and struggle is one that has too much insecurity to be healthy.

What we want to avoid is unhealthy faith.  Unhealthy faith is a faith that leaves no room for doubt or for questioning. 

Unhealthy faith also leaves no room for understanding that life brings struggle.

Many people struggle with faith when they encounter difficulties in life.  In fact, some people point to a tragedy or difficulty in life as the reason why they abandon faith.  They believe that God failed them in that moment so they decide a God who fails them in a time of need is not worthy to believe in.

I am very, very sympathetic to the sufferings and struggles of people, but faith never guarantees that life will be easy, and it is only unhealthy faith that makes such a claim.  Faith is not a transactional relationship; that is, we don’t do something for God, such as believe in him, and then get something from him in return.  In fact, the Scriptures are very, very clear that life is not going to be easy, even if you have faith.  What faith does is provide strength and hope to help us navigate life’s difficulties.  A faith that believes we will never struggle or suffer in life is an unhealthy and shallow faith, and one that is likely to fail us when we do encounter life’s difficulties.

Unhealthy faith also steers us into a false sense of what is important.  I have great sympathy for people who give up on church.  Any church that has existed for very long has experienced some kind of struggle or conflict over some small, goofy matter.  And I say goofy as a way referring to a nonessential matter when it comes to the purpose of the church.

I was in a meeting recently of ministers, and it is a group that I love.  I love and appreciate my colleagues and I enjoy minister’s meetings because of the encouragement and camaraderie that we share.  But some of the discussions we have are perfect examples of the goofiness that takes place in churches.  A discussion came up about a bit of conflict in one of the churches, and I was asked what I would do.  In my head I was thinking I couldn’t care less about such an argument, because it was over something that was absolutely inconsequential, but I tried to be pastoral and formulate some kind of nice answer, before finally saying, you know what, I think you should just say you don’t care and let it go.

There are some things that simply should not get us worked up.  They just don’t matter.  And tragically, churches can crush the faith of some people by drawing them into endless and meaningless debates about issues that in the grand scheme of things really don’t amount to anything of importance.  They just don’t.

The older I get the less I care about a lot of “church issues.”  I know that it is easier to worry about those matters than some of the big issues we face in this day and age, but there are people living under terrible oppression, there are people trying to survive crushing violence, and there are people watching their children starve to death so it’s hard for me to get excited about many of the “church issues” that congregations sometimes face.

And I get even less interested in another expression of unhealthy faith that lives in a lot of churches, and it comes under several names – guilt, legalism, and duty.  It is a lifeless faith that robs people of any real sense of joy or enthusiasm. 

Over the years I’ve sometimes had people pull me aside and say something like this – Dave, you need to get after us more.  You need to step on our toes.  You need to really lay it on us.  If anyone here wants that from me I’m sorry to say but you are going to be disappointed.  To step on anyone’s toes or dump a load of guilt on them or tell them their faith is little more than a sense of duty seems to me to be redundant.  I would guess that many of you feel rather beaten up at the end of the week so why should I beat you up some more when you come to church?  I don’t come to church to get beat up or to beat up anyone else.  I don’t come to have a load of guilt dumped on me.  I don’t want to leave church feeling as though I’ve gone fifteen rounds in a boxing ring.  I want to lift you up, I want to encourage you, and I want to remind you that God loves you and has called you to a life that is rich in purpose and meaning.  I want you to discover the sense of joy that faith can bring to life.  I don’t want to load you down with a sense of guilt or burden you with a long list of regulations.  There are enough churches already offering that kind of faith.

Healthy faith brings life, it brings hope, it brings joy, and it brings enthusiasm!

Back in the fall Tanya and I bought an elliptical machine, because we don’t like walking outside on cold mornings.  It’s a truly terrible machine.  It was actually invented by a guy named Torquemada and was first used as a torture device back in the Dark Ages.

I tried different ways of occupying my mind while exercising, trying to make it through those workout times.  I would prop a book on top of the elliptical, but that didn’t really work.  I set up a TV but that didn’t work.  But I’ll tell you what does work – music.  I put some really good music on my iPod and it works.  The other morning I went down to the garage and got on that elliptical and wondered why I was putting myself through that punishment.  I started listening to a beautiful version of Great Is Thy Faithfulness and it went into the song, Another Halleluiah.  Wow.  Music just touches the soul.  It’s as though it becomes a conduit for the spirit to flow into us and through us.  A time I dreaded became a time of worship.  When doubt and struggle threaten to get you down, keep the faith.  When you feel as though you don’t have the faith to continue, keep on believing.  Always remember that the spirit of God brings life!  Wherever the spirit is, there is life!  Even death itself cannot overcome!  The spirit brings life!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 2013 - Think Again: Let There Be Peace On Earth

Genesis 4:2a-9; Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 5:43-48

The movie All Quiet On the Western Front was released in 1930.  The movie, set in World War I, contains a scene between two American soldiers.  One soldier asks the other, Where do wars come from anyway?  The other soldier replied, Well, one country gets mad at another country, and they start fighting.  The first soldier picks up his rifle and started walking away.  Asked where he was going, he said, I’m going home.  I’m not mad at anybody.  I wish the reality of war was that simple.

Today ends our series Think Again, and this morning we consider what has shaped our world and our lives in ways more powerful than almost any other event or events in human history – war.

One of the earliest stories of the Bible is that of Cain and Abel, which serves as a template for human history and man’s inability to live in peace.

Every person in this room has lived through a time of war.  My first memories of war date to my youngest years.  One of my mother’s brothers was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, during World War II.  He had trouble with his leg because of his wound and I remember my curiosity about it led me to ask my mom what had happened.  She told me about the battle and went on to tell me about when families in her neighborhood received casualty notices.  I remember as an older child, in the early years of the Vietnam War, when we made prayer books in Vacation Bible School.  Each one of us wrote a prayer that was copied so the prayer books contained a copy of each child’s prayer.  Though it was a long time ago I remember that every one of our prayers included the plea that God would bring an end to the war.

War is a difficult topic for us as followers of Jesus, because we are citizens of two kingdoms – and earthly kingdom and a spiritual kingdom, and sometimes the goals and actions of those two kingdoms conflict with one another.  Because we are citizens of both kingdoms it is hard for us to know when we are thinking as citizens of the earthly kingdom and when we are thinking as citizens of the heavenly kingdom.  Some of our beliefs and thoughts about war come from our political beliefs while others come from our faith and our reading of Scripture.  These two realms – the realm of faith and the realm of politics – do not always harmonize very well.  My reading of the Bible, for instance, leads me to believe that Jesus was a pacifist, but I am not a pacifist.  The first statement – that Jesus was a pacifist – comes from my faith and my reading of Scripture, while the second is more of a political statement. 

The issue of war is complicated for us because the early church did not have to face this question.  The early church had no influence over the military and Christians were generally not welcome in the Roman army.  No Christian was in the position of declaring war or conducting a military campaign.  But when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian, everything changed.  With his conversion the church went from being persecuted by the emperor to being favored by the emperor, who was now a Christian.  The end of persecution was a great blessing to the church, but the church was now in a position it had never before known.  Now Christianity was championed by the most powerful person on the face of the earth, the Roman Emperor, who controlled the greatest army in the world, and who wielded the sword that controlled a vast empire. From that moment, war became a different question to the church because of one Christian’s power to wage war.

This led to the necessity of the church formulating a theology of war and that theology was most famously devised by a bishop named Augustine, who gave us the Just War Theory.  Under the Just War Theory war must meet the following guidelines to be considered permissible theologically –

1.  There must be a just cause.  Though the nature of a just cause can be a hotly debated matter, Augustine sought to frame what constituted a just cause in a clear and concise manner.  A just cause, for instance, would not be to recapture land lost to an enemy or retaliation for an attack.  To Augustine, a just cause was one that guarded against a grave danger or offense, such as the threat of force against innocent people.

2.  There must be a just intention.  War cannot be waged to expand an empire, to capture resources beneficial to a country or kingdom, for revenge, conquest, economics, or supremacy. 

3.  There must be comparative justice.  In other words, the act of war cannot inflict more harm than the offense that led to the military response.  A kingdom could not, for example, kill more people in its response that it suffered in an attack.  This prevents the never-ending escalation of violence that comes as people, in seeking revenge, strike back with a damage far exceeding the original harm.

4.  There must be a legitimate authority.  Only a proper and just government may declare a war.

5.  There must be discrimination.  All attempts must be made to guard against harm to civilians, and civilians must never be targeted.

6.  War must be waged only as a last resort.  All other options must be exhausted before going to war and repentance should be practiced beforehand.

Is war that easy to categorize?  While those are very helpful guidelines, I don’t believe they completely solve the tension between war and what Jesus asks of us, so I want to add some further thoughts.  All of these, I would add, are my beliefs and not everyone will agree, and they are offered with profound gratitude for the sacrifices made by the scores of soldiers who have risked or given of their lives.

I think Augustine’s conditions are helpful, but I would suggest there are other matters to consider.

1.  Recognize that the purposes of the state and the church are not the same.
What is the purpose of the state?  One of the primary purposes of the state is to ensure the safety of its citizens.  What is the purpose of the church?  One of the primary purposes of the church is to bring the love of God and his kingdom to all people, regardless of their nationality, their economics, their social status, their politics, or any other manmade distinctions.  This means that while the state may collide with other states over borders and political ideology the church transcends borders and political ideology, because there are no borders in God’s kingdom.  It also means that while the state relentlessly pursues and battles its enemies, those who are followers of Jesus are called to love their enemies.

War is a political action, not a spiritual one.  Our responsibility as members of a spiritual kingdom is to remind political powers that all options should be explored before using force, and if force is engaged, that all proper safeguards are exercised.

One of the Biblical characters who is a symbol of this conflict of purposes is David.  One of the great kings of Israel, David was hailed for his military prowess.  His skill as a military leader was a source of great tension between himself and Saul.  Though Saul was king, the people had great admiration for David by cheering Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands (I Samuel 18:7).  While David was admired for his military skill, it was his military success that cost him one of his great wishes.  David passionately desired to build a temple to honor God, but God would not allow David to do so.  In I Chronicles 28:3 David tells the people, God said to me, “You shall not build a house for My name because you are a man of war and have shed blood.  It would fall to David’s son Solomon to build the Temple.

2.  Study the question of war thoroughly and with careful attention to what the Scriptures have to say.
Whatever your thoughts about war, make sure that as a person of faith they are well informed by Scripture.  Study the Biblical passages for yourself and think about them and pray about them.  And, most importantly, balance all of the passages together and interpret them through the lens of Jesus.

3.  Recognize that God’s desire is for peace.
At the birth of Jesus the angels sang Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men (Luke 2:14).  In the Sermon On the Mount Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).  In Romans 14:19 Paul writes So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  The writer of Hebrews tells us to Pursue peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14).

4.  Remember that war is primarily a sign of the sinfulness and brokenness of humanity.
War is a large-scale reproduction of the conflict between Cain and Abel; it is the sad and tragic truth that some are not willing to live peacefully with others.  This is why wars never end, because the problem that leads to war – the problem of sinfulness and brokenness – is always with us.  This truth led Augustine to write that the fact is that the power to reach domination by war is not the same as the power to remain in perpetual control (City of God, page 327).  No human kingdom can ever dominate to the point of ending war because the sin that led to war in the first place leads to a never-ending cycle of violence that guarantees war is ever with us.

One of the tragedies of war is that while war may solve some problems, it does not solve all problems and it often creates more problems.  The great answer to war is the love of God that can transform the human heart from hatred and conflict into love and grace.

5.  War should never be waged in the name of Jesus.
We should pray for our leaders and the members of our military; we should pray for the family members of the military; we should pray for the civilians in war zones; and we should offer these prayers regularly and fervently.  We might even recognize that war may sometimes be politically inevitable but we should not attaché the name of Christ to war.

Gregory Boyd writes that The kingdom of God is not a Christian version of the kingdom of the world.  It is, rather, a holy alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, and everything hangs on kingdom people appreciating the uniqueness and preserving this holiness – (The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory A. Boyd, page85).

The kingdom of God is very unique and very different from any earthly kingdom.  We cannot attach, then, the name of Jesus to what represents in such a tragic manner the sinfulness and brokenness of humanity.  We must instead always lift the name of Jesus higher as the goal for who and what we should be.

On a visit to Washington, D.C., I visited two memorials one afternoon.  The first was the Holocaust Museum, which is such a difficult place to visit.  To see the horror and evil of what man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man is tragic beyond words.  From the Holocaust Museum I went to the Vietnam War Memorial to look up the name of a friend.  If you have been to that memorial you are well aware of the powerful sight of that long wall etched with so many names, and the overwhelming sight of the incredibly thick book that gives directions to each name on the wall.  I did what most everyone does at that memorial; when I found the name of my friend – Robert “Moose” Mosgrove – I ran my fingers over his name and thought about the kid who used to hang out at our house.

He died doing what was asked of him and his loss was a great sacrifice.  My prayer at the memorial that day was the prayer of so many through the ages – that there will be a day when wars will cease, when young people will not have to give up their lives, and peace will rule, and those immortal words of the prophet Isaiah will ring true – And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war (Isaiah 2:4).

Monday, January 07, 2013

January 6, 2013 - Think Again: With Apologies to Mr. Spock

I Corinthians 2:6-16

I am a science fiction fan, but Tanya is not.  Tonight at our house she will be pleased to watch the return of Downton Abby.  I told her I would watch it if it featured a few aliens.

How many of you remember this guy?

Because I am a fan of science fiction, I was a Star Trek fan.  But I was more a fan of Captain Kirk rather than Mr. Spock, because William Shatner’s acting was absolutely some of the finest acting in the history of acting, and because I never really cared much for Spock’s approach of absolute logic.

Interestingly, the character of Spock reflected the views of Gene Rodenberry, who created Star Trek.  Rodenberry’s family was active in church but he abandoned his faith, in large part because, in his opinion, faith wasn’t logical.

His attitude was reflected in this statement he once made – For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain. If people need religion, ignore them and maybe they will ignore you, and you can go on with your life.

As we have studied historical events and how they shape our thinking, this morning we come to a time in history that has influenced us tremendously.  Our culture was profoundly shaped by this event, even Star Trek. 

It began around 1650 and lasted until approximately 1800, but its legacy is still very much with us.  The event is known as The Enlightenment, and we are children of the Enlightenment. 

The Enlightenment is best expressed in the words of the philosopher Immanuel Kant – Aude SapereDare to Think.  It was a time in history when people were told to measure everything by logic and reason.  People were encouraged to cast aside the traditional thinking of the day and to challenge long-held beliefs.  It was a time when science began to make great advances and people were encouraged to question their faith and their beliefs in light of scientific advances.

In this way, the Enlightenment set the stage for the rise of the “new atheist” movement of our time, led most famously by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens.  Logic and reason, in fact, are the primary ways that atheists argue against religious faith.  In their opinion it is neither logical nor reasonable to believe in God, although many of their arguments are neither logical or reasonable.

Our heritage as Disciples was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment.  Alexander Campbell, in particular, was very rational in his approach.  For much of our history, we have sought to appeal primarily to people’s minds.

But are we really rational beings?  Do we make our best decisions when we use only logic and reason?  I would argue that we do not.  I believe we are at our best when we are guided by faith, by love, and by the spirit.  I believe that we are at our best when we recognize there is something deeper and greater in life than just what we can see and touch and measure in a laboratory.

When I was younger, and did something that was not very smart, my mom or dad would often respond with the admonition use the good sense God gave you!  We ought to use the good sense that is given to us by God and we ought to use our minds, but we must also remember that we need much more than logic and reason in life.

Logic and reason can certainly be effective tools as we make decisions, but we must recognize that logic and reason alone are not always the best lens to use as we look at life.

Imagine using logic and reason only when it comes to our relationships.  Imagine telling your spouse that you did not buy them a Christmas or birthday present because it does not make rational sense.  Would they appreciate that you instead took that money and invested it, saying that is the logical thing to do?  Probably not.  In such a case, logic would most likely get you into trouble.  Imagine getting a card from someone you love.  Imagine that card read To my equal in intellect, I am pleased that our minds have brought us together, and also pleased that we took a battery of tests to guarantee we are mutually compatible in the ways we look at the world and in the way we think.  I hope we share many years together of a relationship based on reason and logic.  Wouldn’t you just love a card like that?  When you love someone do you speak to their mind?  No, you speak to their heart.  Love is many things, but logical is not one of them, thankfully, and we accept that about love.  We don’t really want love to be logical.  If love were logical, Tanya probably wouldn’t have married me!

I would concede that faith does not at all seem logical, but that’s not a negative.  In our Scripture passage for today this is the exact point that Paul makes.  He says the things that comes from the Spirit of God…are foolishness.  Put in a laboratory or examined by the scientific method, faith does not make logical sense.

But faith is what inspires us.  Logic doesn’t inspire us.  Reason doesn’t inspire us.  Was it logic that inspired Bach or Beethoven as they wrote their beautiful symphonies?  No.  It was faith.  Was it logic that inspired Michelangelo as he painted his great masterpieces?  No.  It was faith.  Is it logic that inspires people to make great sacrifices on behalf of others?  No.  It is faith.

Can you comfort people with reason and logic?  No.  For all of our logic, where do people turn in times of tragedy?  Most often, they turn to faith.  The New York Times published a fascinating OpEd the other day.  The title is In A Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent, and it notes that every funeral related to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a religious funeral service.  It wasn’t picking at those who are unbelievers, and I’m not picking at them either, but the OpEd simply notes that when people face a crisis they need something much deeper than reason or logic, and faith is where people most often find what they need to get through a crisis.

I saw this at work years ago, when I was a Student Minister, and the mother of one of our youth never attended church or expressed interest in faith.  The idea of faith just didn’t make “sense” to her as a way to use her time.  But things changed when one of her children was involved in a very serious accident.  For a number of days it was questionable whether or not her son would survive his injuries.  Where do you turn in such a time?  She turned to prayer and faith.  Her son did recover, thankfully, and her attitude about faith totally changed and she began to attend worship on a regular basis.  For her, she discovered that life brings experiences that are outside the realm of logic and reason.  Logic and reason would not bring her a sense of comfort or assurance, but faith did.

There are times to use our minds, but live is really directed from the heart.  Allow God to speak to your heart today, and all days.