Life FROM God [Luke 15:11-24]
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Life FROM God – 10.02.2022
Have you ever wondered – what is the big deal with Adam and Eve in the bible? Like, is it really so terrible to have a bite of an apple? I mean, I dunno sometimes it just seems like God is being really unreasonable. Banishing them from the garden forever – over a first time offense. And what is it that’s SO terrible about eating the fruit from that tree? It’s not hurting anybody. The apple’s not racist. I didn’t steal it from a starving family or whatever. And I know the answer – people say, “well – God told them not to.” That’s what was so bad, God told them not to and they didn’t listen to God. [pause] Do you have any idea how many times I tell my children to do something – and they don’t do it? If I took this method – the garden of Eden method, if I took that home with me I finish up the work day, and I get home a little after 5 o’clock…I bet I could get all four kids banished by dinner. Now we all know – it’s nothing about the fruit, we don’t even know for sure it was an apple. That’s not the point, and the obedience piece is key – but even that just doesn’t quite.. it still feels like not following a rule isn’t the big deal. So what was the big deal with Adam and Eve in the bible? Why did they get in so much trouble when they chose to disobey and eat the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden? The rebellion in the garden, the original, original sin – it was idolatry. Now, if you don’t know – idolatry is that thing where we take something that is not God, and try to make it God. God said, “don’t eat the fruit on this tree” – but it’s not about the fruit on the tree, God was saying, “Choose me. Choose my instruction. My guidance. Choose what I have told you is best, because I love you and I want what is best for you.” But Eve, and then later her buddy Adam – chose themselves. God said, “let me be the one to make the rules. You be the created, I’ll be the creator. I will guide you.” But they chose to make their own rules. To follow their own heart. To replace God with… themselves. The rebellion of Eden is not eating fruit – it’s trying to be God. And from that moment humanity has come up with more and more clever ways to try and be our own God.
Today is part three in our series called WITH. We have been working through a brilliant book by author Skye Jethani – and every week we review a way Christians have tried to approach God and we go over the weaknesses, and our goal at the end of the day – our goal is to figure out how to live life WITH God. So today we’re going to look at the Life FROM God posture.
Now, to understand Life FROM God mentality – we need to look at our consumer culture. And to understand that we need to talk about advertisements. Back with the industrial revolution, humanity suddenly became incredibly productive. We created so many products that suddenly manufacturers had to create a way to increase demand – and advertising was born. The way Skye puts it, “Ads became the prophets of capitalism – turning the hearts of the people toward the goods they didn’t know they needed.” (p.65) Fast forward and in today’s society there are studies that say we are exposed to roughly three thousand five hundred desire inducing advertisements every single day. We have been taught by consumer culture that our lives are nothing but a series of unmet needs – and we can appease that discontent in our heart with commodified goods and super fun experiences. Think about it this way – if we, as a people, began suppressing our desires and consuming only what we need – our economy would collapse. Satisfying personal desires has become a sacred value of our culture.
Here’s an example of this shift. Back in World War II after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked citizens to ration goods that were needed for the war effort. During that conflict, sacrifice instead of consumption was honored as a core American value. But if we fast forward to September 11, 2001 – after that attack, Americans were told that if you stop buying or traveling or consuming whatever materialistic life you want – then that would be “letting the terrorists win.” Consuming is a core value in America – and it didn’t always used to be that way. The modern world is not primarily drive by ancient superstition, or even natural science (like we talked about last week) – but our modern world is driven by economics of constant consumption. I think it was Madonna who said it best, “we live in a material world, and we are material girls.”
And all of that changes how we look at and approach God! When you do surveys of the modern world and ask people how they understand God – most people look at God like a combination of a divine butler or a cosmic therapist. The most common prayers are “God help me feel better, and God help me get something I want.” We see God as, in Skye’s words, “a holy vending machine who dispenses the wares and wisdom they desire.” (p63) Life FROM God is a posture that believes God is out there to supply what we want. The whole point of God is to take care of me. In that type of consumer relationship – it’s not God we love, it’s the gifts he gives us that we like. In a consumer worldview God’s value is determined by his usefulness. Religion becomes a spiritual method of achieving our desires. And we love that – because it doesn’t ask us to change. What we desire, what we seek, what we do, how we live – none of that has to be disrupted. Life FROM God is just modern consumerism with a Jesus sticker slapped on the bumper.
Now, this is tricky – because all along, this whole sermon series is ways we approach God that have good things, there’s merit to it – but it gets twisted up someone. I mean, if you think about it – YES, God IS our provider. And God invites us to ask him for things – there’s nothing wrong with those prayers. But when we love God’s gifts more than we love God himself – we’ve lost the plot somewhere. With Life FROM God, God has no inherent value – his value comes from how useful He is to us. I think a good example is grandparents at Christmas. Parents and grandparents LOVE providing gifts for grandkids. It’s the BEST – watching their little eyeballs pop out of their head when they see the wrapping paper and then they get to reveal the toy that they have wanted for months. It is so wonderful to give gifts, that’s a divine feeling, grandparents get a taste for what God feels when he provides for his children. It feels so wonderful. But there’s always that moment, right? Before the kid rips into the paper, we try to slow them down and get them to read the tag. We ask, who is it from? Because the kid doesn’t care! We have to teach them – to try and connect the gift and the giver so they can appreciate the relationship. Read the card, see that this gift comes from that person who loves you. Or after they’ve opened the gift we try to get them to walk over and “okay, now go say thank you to grandma for that awesome lego set” or whatever it is. As parents we want to instill gratitude and connect the gift and the giver. Because otherwise our kids would value the gift MORE than the giver, and that’s wrong. Because grandma is more valuable than that lego set – but that’s a hard lesson for a kid to learn in this modern consumer culture.
And I know, we can make jokes about it – kids are so laser focused on the thing they want. A more relevant example would be apple orchards. My family we have this tradition where we get together with extended family and we go and pick apples. It’s a whole event, and it’s awesome. We go pick out a giant pile of apples, the boys go nuts on the playground for a little while, the adults get some hot apple cider and we finish up with a pile of donuts. It’s like the perfect day. And we know that the point of the day is the spend time as a family. Cousins, Uncles and Aunts, Oma and Papa all hanging out together. But if you ask my kids – the point of the day is the donuts. Duh. And the donuts are wonderful – it’s my favorite part too. But we’ve lost the plot if we settle for loving the gift and not treasuring the giver. God is our provider, that’s true and that’s beautiful – but God himself is the treasure.
All throughout this series we have been talking about the cycle of fear and control that happens in our lives. There is danger in the world, and that leads us to fear, and the way we cope with fear directly relates to how we approach God. Most of the time when we respond to danger and we are afraid, we grab for control. We try to find the methods, tips, and tricks to figure out the world – regain control and not be so afraid anymore. But with Life FROM God, we’re not grabbing for control – we’re grabbing for distractions. According to Neil Postman in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” the word “amusement” literally means “to not think.” Rather than removing fear or pain, consumerism tries to distract us from it. God, and sometimes the church, exists to distract people from their problems. Skye writes, “but distraction is not the same as deliverance. Consumerism and Life FROM God may numb our fears and pains, but it does not remove them.” (p70)
This is what we see in our scripture lesson for today – with the first half of the prodigal son story. Now this is a classic tale, you’ve probably heard a hundred times. Younger son wakes up one day and says to his dad, “give me my inheritance right now.” He takes the money and blows it all on a lavish lifestyle full of doing whatever he wants. Tells his dad, “I wish you were dead, because I want all your money.” We have a word for that in the modern world – he’s a jerk! There are probably some more colorful words we could use, but this is a family friendly worship service. The audacity, the sheer selfishness to look at the provider of your entire life and say, “I just want the money.” This is a perfect example of Life FROM God. Valuing the GIFTS of God instead of God himself. This mentality of the prodigal son is still around in the modern world.
Jean Twenge who is a psychologist from San Diego State University analyzed mental health records collected between 1938 and 2007 from more than 63 thousand young adults. This a quote from their findings, “The researchers found that students today feel much more isolated, misunderstood and emotionally sensitive or unstable than in previous decades…In addition, teens today are more likely to be narcissistic, have poor self-control and to say they’re worried, sad and dissatisfied with life.” Twenge concluded, “We have become a culture that focuses on material things, and less on relationships.” (p75) I’m not just waxing eloquent about biblical principles from thousands of years ago. This is quantifiable, scientific data from the real world. A Life FROM God mentality where we value gifts over relationship is destroying our mental health. Skye writes, “…so much of contemporary religion is focused on God’s gifts rather than on God. We use God as a means of building or repairing our families; we use him as a sex therapist; he is our political advisor and our financial planner. From God’s hand we seek family, sex, power and wealth – but do we actually want God himself?”
The good news for us this morning is that God’s love is unconsumable. God’s love is not a consumer good to be used and then thrown away. God’s love is eternal, steadfast, overflowing. God’s love cannot be consumed or used. God’s love is un-consumable. God IS the treasure. God created you and walks with you in this life. God is all around you all the time, wrapping you in his presence. Knowing God and being known by God is the greatest treasure this life has to offer. The all powerful creator of the universe – maker of the heavens and earth loves you. Comes close to you. He sits with you in your moments of pain and heartbreak. He celebrates and cheers with you in your moments of triumph and joy. To be in his presence is awe-inspiring, and when you grab on to that realization – it changes your spiritual life forever. Like, when you pray – the one who knit together every molecule of your body, and holds you together with the laws of this crazy universe that he created – that one turns and pays attention to what you are saying. In all his infinite glory and incredible power – he pours out his presence and his love on you and that realization is more than we can handle. God’s love cannot be consumed. Henry Nouwen puts it like this, “Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone…? It’s important because its’ the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.” (p161)
The key to living life WITH God today is really simple. We need to treasure God, not just his gifts. What we need to work on in our spiritual walk is making God the focus, the treasure we seek – and not just the gifts we get from him. I have two steps to this. First, we need to learn more about God. Before we can really desire him, we have to have a clear picture of who and what God is. In the book Skye tells this story about his six year old who has a sugar addiction. As a father, I can relate. One time he took his son to a minor league baseball game, and some of the powdered sugar from the funnel cake fell on the concrete in the stadium. The toddler dropped to his knees and proceeded to lick the concrete in the baseball stadium. This kid loves sugar. And yet – if you were to ask him, “hey buddy, would you like some Crème Brulee?” he would turn it down. Probably because if you’ve never heard of it – Crème Brulee sounds like a French vegetable, like a sneaky brussel sprout or something. But if you were to phrase it differently, explain what you’re offering – hey would you like some vanilla pudding covered in sugar and then you get to play with a blowtorch to carmelize it? There’s no sweet-toothed six year old who would not be stoked to get some of that. For a lot of people – when they think about God, they have an incomplete or flawed picture and so they don’t desire him. Seeing God as nothing but a gift giver – like a divine Santa Claus, is not enough to get us to treasure him. “But if our vision of God was enlarged and corrected,” Skye writes, “if [we] could see his unrivaled beauty, grasp his unconditional love, perceive his radiant glory and experience his untainted goodness, then it would become obvious that he is much more than a diety to simply tolerate or a device to employ.” To truly make God your treasure you may need to learn more about how good and infinite and perfect and awesome God is. You might be imagining powdered sugar on the concrete floor, but God is actually more like the crème brulee – a lot of us just didn’t know what it meant.
So the first step is you’ve got to learn about God if you’re going to treasure him. The second step is something I’m going to call the Haha Cycle. There is a pattern that grows out of quiet time with God. In the book Skye credits a guy named Jerome Berryman who studied spiritual development in children – but it works for adults too. The HaHa Cycle goes like this (and I think we’ve got a picture of it). Start with silence, then you move to Ahh, then Aha! and then HaHa! Start with silence. Give yourself quiet time, every single day. Put away the phone, turn off the TV. Just sit in God’s presence. In my life, just in the last couple of weeks I used to wake up, grab some coffee and turn on the TV with my cell phone. I scroll and watch Tv in the mornings while I’m waking up. But a couple weeks ago, I gave myself a goal. No tv at all, no phone until after I’ve spent some time in the quiet with God. Silence is incredibly powerful and moves you to the Ahh phase. The first exclamation is a sense of wonder and awe. It’s almost like a sigh – Ahhhhh. We start with silence, then we move into a sigh of wonder. Ahhhh, God is so awesome and overwhelming and nourishing and incredible. Ahhh. Then as our minds are able to catch up to the experience that came out of silence, the second phase is Aha! This exclamation is discovery. We see something about God, we learn something about God, we realize something about God. Silence leads us to a sigh which leads us to discovery. And then the final step is that discovery leads us to joy. It’s the exclamation of “haha!” Our discovery of who God is, when you let it sink in – leads us to incredible joy. It’s like finding out you won the lottery, but even better. When the creator God is your treasure, it moves you to joy. Our dreary and frightening vision of the world is replaced with a joy beyond understanding. And then that joy will lead us back to a place of silence, almost like anticipation – where we are eagerly waiting the next discovery about God. Silence, Sigh, Discovery and Joy – it’s so much better than the cycle of danger, fear and control that we use to try and make ourselves feel better. If you spend time trying to intentionally treasure God, you become bullet proof. Your circumstances can’t take away your hope, your fear can’t take away your security – and no amount of consumer distractions could pull your gaze away from the thing you love the most. God is our treasure.
With Adam and Eve in the Garden, they saw that the fruit was good – like powdered sugar on the concrete. They didn’t treasure their relationship with God above all, even though it was so much more valuable than that fruit. Instead of choosing God, they chose themselves. But ever since that moment, God has never stopped reaching out for his people. God’s love is un-consumable. Not a distraction from the pain of this world, but a solution. God is the greatest treasure you could ever imagine and the only thing you truly need to heal what is broken inside each of us. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember the value of the gift giver, over and above the value of the gifts. May you treasure God with silence and wonder and discovery and joy. And finally May you live your life WITH God. Amen.