Third in series: 40 Days of Faith 2018
So we’re in the middle of this “40 Days of Faith” Prayer Experiment as our way to mark Lent (the 40 days leading up to Good Friday & Easter Sunday) Here’s hoping it’s been a good experience for you so far praying For your Big Ask For six people in your everyday life And for this church I had a really nice time sharing Big Asks with my men’s group the other Friday. Mine is for a full-time salary from this church. I highly recommend sharing you Big Ask with some friends here. It’s a great way to be in each others’ lives
One fun thing I’ll share before jumping in this morning is this video we got of our friend Ben Munro from the Carbon Arc here, who gave us a tour of what the Brown Line Ball will look like in their space
It’s March now! We’re only three weeks out! Get excited! Buy tickets!
So our theme for our Sunday talks during Lent has been looking at different pictures in the Bible of the Early Church -- We’re looking at how when people in the first century invested in those early churches, they were, more than that, investing in the wider communities and cities those churches were in And then we’re applying that same idea to us today -- when we invest in BLV, we are, more than that, investing in Lincoln Square, and in the wider Brown Line area, and in our city. Our topic today: whole-hearted service of our neighbors and neighborhoods and how that relates to one of St. Paul’s most famous statements about faith in Jesus
You may know St. Paul started many of the earliest churches, and was one of their biggest shapers Once a church was started, he’d pass off leadership of that church to a new group of leaders, and then he’d move to another city to start a new church, but he’d write letters back to the leaders he’d left counseling them These letters make up a good deal of the Bible’s New Testament One of his main messages throughout all of them is most concisely delivered in his letter to the Galatians. We can find pieces of this in all of his letters, but for the sake of time today we’ll just look at this really concise couple of sentences in Galatians Fair warning: for those of us who didn’t grow up churchgoing, this might sound like a lot of religious jargon at first And for those of us who did grow up churchgoing, this might make your eyes glaze over because it is an often-preached-on passage Bear with me though, because I think Paul is actually saying something super insightful here 16 Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
Actually, the thing that’s helped me understand this the most is Modern Psychology, which asks us to consider our innate human need to feel worthy of being loved Paul was nearly 2000 years pre-Psychology, but in some ways he was barking up this same tree when he talked about “Justification by Works"
Think of it this way: What works do we do to try to prove ourselves worthy or special or love-able? What works do we do to try to feel okay when we don’t live up to our ideals? Whatever those works are, they aren’t necessarily bad (some might actually be really good), but they will inevitably become a checklist to us, a legalistic-rulebook that will seem to hold the key to our worthiness, our special-ness, our okayness. We will try to justify ourselves by those works. And that will exhaust us. We may be able to live up to it for a time, but over time it will oppress us. If we don’t escape that, we will spin our wheels forever, hurting ourselves and hurting others.
For Jews, who Paul was writing to, the thing was "the Law” of their Ancestors - it had good things in it and had done good things for the Ancient Jewish people, but by Paul’s time it had been turned on its side into a checklist for worthiness / specialness to many. It was hurting them. And it had become something many used to exclude non-Jews from community, so it was hurting others.
So, assume for a minute with me, this is true of all people. If that’s so, what do you think justification by works is for you?
For me, I think of The other week at one of Kyle’s and my weekly meetings for the church, I found myself saying something to him that was trying to prove to him how hard I’m working for the church - it showed me that deep down there is a place in me that doesn’t trust that he loves and accepts me as a co-pastor. I wonder if you ever notice yourself saying something that is trying to prove to a co-worker or spouse how hard you’re working? Or I often realize I’m trying to prove myself to myself - like I am my own worst enemy in this way a lot You can do all of the things, Vince. Sure your calendar is loaded, but they’re all things you really should be doing. And it doesn’t hit me until after the fact that really what was driving me was this internal sense that I’m not a good person or a good friend if I’m not saying yes to as much as possible Overtime, small compulsions like these to prove myself use up a lot of my energy.
So Paul says, instead of trying to justify yourself by works try to justify yourself “by faith” - basically, don’t live to prove yourself; because that’s exhausting live trying to trust that God (or anyone else) doesn’t need you to prove yourself to love you, care for you, or see you as worthy This sort of love and care and acceptance is what Jesus was all about if you can build that sort of trust, you’ll find yourself so full of gratitude that good works will just flow out of you as a result, but without needing those to be proof of your character
This is again where psychology helps me so much - some of the most well known research out there today is by Dr Brene Brown, famous for her books and Ted talks After researching the effects of shame and vulnerability on human behavior, she described what she called “whole-hearted people” - people who from a knee-jerk place deep inside them believe themselves to be worthy of love and acceptance from others. These are the healthiest, most high-capacity people on earth - Not because they’re perfect or particularly excellent. Just the opposite -- they’re well acquainted with their flaws and shortcomings, and they’re vulnerable about that And that means they’re not endlessly spinning their wheels trying to prove themselves. They’ve made friends with their weaknesses To use Paul’s language, they believe “by faith” that they are ok nonetheless - in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God. And that leaves them with huge emotional and spiritual reserves to spend on what they are meant to do or called to do Whole-hearted people might do exactly the same good works in exactly the same amount as someone else, but they are not wasting energy trying to prove themselves by those works. So they don’t get burnt out by them
The fact is: this is one of the great tasks of life - to learn to live whole-hearted to learn to pursue justification by faith rather than by works. This is why, for Paul, it came down to an ongoing and interactive Faith in Jesus — This is not something we achieve once and then everything is better from then on This is something we need help to do each day, each moment…
I pray about this all the time. Lately, my most consistent prayer times about this have been early Sunday mornings, before the rest of my house is awake. I make a cup of coffee, and then I review the week Jesus, I used a lot of energy this week trying to prove myself to myself that I’m a good person and a good friend. Would you be with me now and show me how you feel about me? And then I wait. A back-n-forth with Jesus in prayer takes time, just like back-n-forths in all our relationships And after being quiet for a couple minutes I feel that start to happen. I feel like I am able to perceive Jesus with me while I’m drinking coffee in my living room, And then I get distracted because a car drives by or my phone goes off But I’ve been helped by a tip I got from BLV’s resident Spiritual Director, Nader, he said so many people feel like they should apologize to Jesus when they get distracted in prayer, but he prefers making the first thing he says back in prayer after being distracted to be “thank you”, like “oh, thank you, Jesus, for bringing me back here with you -- yes I was distracted, that’s okay, I’m back now. thanks!” And then, sitting in that prayerful space for a while, I start to feel gratitude -- because it starts to feel true to me that Jesus does love me, that I’m okay, and that my worthiness does not rest on what I’m able to accomplish or how good I am The weeks I start this way, I just have more energy for my life For one thing, intense feelings of gratitude give you a great boost that can last a day or two But then, second, if I keep up this line of conversation with Jesus throughout the week as needed, I don’t end up wasting energy trying to prove myself For each of us, the details of such prayers are going to be different of course, but this is an example of the kind of regular help God wants to give us. I wonder if prayer like that feels like it could serve you
One side note: if you’re someone who grew up in a highly-religious environment, perhaps you recognize you’ve spent years of your life trying to justify yourself by Works of “the Christian lifestyle”. It’s a shame that that is the case, because shouldn’t a lifestyle that claims to be all about the Bible have Paul’s justification by faith thing figured out? We would think so, yes. But, in reality, throughout history, the church has struggled to embrace this message from Paul to the early church. Basically because justification by faith is more uncomfortable and risky. With justification by works, you can point to things to help you feel safe. I’m okay because of this thing I did. I’m going to heaven because I’m not doing that thing. With justification by faith, you have to trust stuff you can’t see - What’s going on inside someone - it’s "by faith”. And that is always messier and less controllable than checklists. So, if you feel like you’ve been sold a religious package labeled “justification by faith” on the outside but on the inside was actually just the “Christian Lifestyle” version of “justification by works”, you’re not alone. That’s happened to many. But, in my experience, there is an actual justification by faith we can experience
So, as we have been each week during Lent here, consider with me how this can impact our wider Lincoln Square community. You know the most consistent thing I hear when I ask people how they’re doing? -- anyone, friends, the guy I buy coffee from, neighbors, anyone... “I’m tired.” It’s the most consistent answer I give too. And sometimes that’s our answer because it’s easier than going into detail. Or maybe sometimes people just don’t want to talk to me. But I think it is the case that, in general, people are tired. Life places so many demands on us, and if you’re like me, we place so many demands on ourselves, and we are just exhausted trying to meet them all.
This is why, I think, churches that help people become more whole-hearted are so important I think our exhaustion is not just the sum of our commitments, I think there is this spiritual component to it That more often than not, most of us, most people in general, are trying to justify ourselves by works -- without even realizing it Maybe we are overly committed too, that might be, but the energy things take out of us when our worth and okay-ness are tied to them too, it’s gotta be exponentially higher
The way Jesus has treated me, like this regular Sunday prayer I described, has shown me there is another way to do my life, a less exhausting way
So what if BLV became known as THE place to go on the Northside of Chicago when people feel done with spinning their wheels?
What if our church was filled with people learning to live whole-hearted and justified by faith? On one hand, we could have an impact here by just welcoming as many people as we can and helping them to learn to feel the same
But, also, I think we could have an impact because the more whole-hearted we all are, the more energy reserves built up we have to do good work for Lincoln Square & our wider community
We have only just scratched the surface as a church of what we believe we can accomplish through our partnerships helping local neighbors experiencing homelessness, and helping nearby before & after school programs
The more whole-hearted our service, the less our service is a flash in the pan or just for a weekend
Instead it’s a prolonged, sustained presence in our community, enduring even in the face of challenges
And Chicago has its systemic challenges!
The more whole-hearted our service, the less we are worn down by the largeness of those challenges, or feel defeated when we experience setbacks.
We’ll be able to stay in it for the long haul because whole-hearted people are not depending solely on their own efforts, rather we’re depending on a God who is larger, and stronger than us to keep loving us and resourcing us every step of the way, as we need. That is impact I believe we can have on Lincoln Square as a church that is about whole-hearted service
Pursuing this vision of impact on our community is what our "40 Days of Faith” Experiment is all about. This is why we’re asking you to pray every day of Lent for this church, in addition to something for yourself and for people in your everyday life This is why we’re throwing the Brown Line Ball and the Community Easter Egg Hunt here at the Davis & Carbon Arc And this is why our Church Board during Lent has been asking everyone who calls themselves a Stakeholder here to step back and do some whole-life financial planning so you can pledge to BLV what you can give for the rest of the year Because it takes those of us who care for this church and for its vision planning together to make that vision a reality
Now, to close today, I’d like to pray for us For our church in general, and the dreams we’ve been laying out here each Sunday of Lent And for the ways any of us feel drawn to this idea of being whole-hearted and being people who can serve our community with longevity but maybe we feel miles away from that. Perhaps we recognize we’re spinning our wheels to prove ourselves a lot, and we’re ready to be done with that. Or perhaps we just can tell we don’t feel a knee-jerk belief inside us that we’re worthy of being loved by others or by God Would you stand with me, and I’ll pray for us...