Lenny tells the psychiatrist, “Every time I get into bed, I think there’s somebody under it.” “Come to me two times a week for six months, and I’ll cure your fears,” says the shrink. “And I’ll charge you only $200 a visit.” Lenny says he’ll think about it. Several months later, he runs into the doctor, who asks why he never came back. “For $200 a visit?” says Lenny. “A bartender cured me for $10.” “Is that so! How?” the incredulous doctor asks. “He told me to cut the legs off the bed.”
Did you hear about a Dr. Smith who asked his patient, “Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?” The patient replied, “Give me the good news.” And Dr. Smith says, “You’re about to have a disease named after you.”
With doctors like these, who needs enemies?
I want to talk to you about how too many people are getting too comfortable for their own good. And the thing we are getting the most comfortable with is the idea that there is no God. Of course this isn’t exactly a recent problem. Scripture said it some three thousand years ago, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.'”
Every day is full of decisions: Wake up or hit the snooze button, whole grain cereal or pop tarts, dress down or for style, go to the gym or take a nap,
turn on the TV or read a book? Some decisions will determine the course of your life in a split second or so. Often our decisions make up a cumulative effect type of direction.
Many people make decisions in the direction of one concern: comfort. We just want to be comfortable now, and then later, today, and tomorrow, and so on. This is also how we get comfortable with the idea that there is no need for God any longer.
But here’s the thing. It’s not just us as individuals that are trying to get very comfortable without God around. It’s our society. Everything together in our very wealthy, very science-oriented, very technologically determined way of living and seeing life makes God a lesser and lesser concern. It’s just so darn easy to live today without the Lord being a part of the equation.
Some people take God out of the equation by intellectual means. They try to prove God doesn’t exist by consciously or unconsciously holding to opinions that aren’t true. Often these are simply wrong. I want you to hear one such exchange between a teacher and a student. It’s a bit long, but satisfying in the end.
The teacher challenged his students with this question. “Did God create everything that exists?” A student bravely replied, “Yes, God did!” “God created everything?” The professor asked. “Yes, sir” the student replied. The professor answered, “If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are, then God is evil.” The student became quiet before such an answer.
Another student raised his hand and said, “Can I ask you a question, Professor?” “Of course,” replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, “Professor, does cold exist?”
“What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?” The students snickered at the young man’s question. The young man continued, “In fact, sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”
The student continued, “Professor, does darkness exist?” The professor responded, “Of course it does.” The student replied, “Once again you are wrong, sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton’s prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. But the only way to know how dark a certain space is is to measure the amount of light present. Darkness is what we use to describe what happens when there is no light.”
Finally the young man asked the professor, “Sir, does evil exist?” Now uncertain, the professor nonetheless responded, “Of course as I have already said. We see it every day.”
To this the student replied, “Evil does not exist, sir, or at least it does not exist in itself. Evil is just like darkness and cold, a word we’ve created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when people no longer have God in their life and heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.” The professor sat down.
Fools say in their minds and hearts there is no God.
Who needs God? We do, and the world does.
Our scripture tells us one day Jesus was passing through Jericho, when he saw a man named Zacchaeus. As we all know Zach was rich—but he wasn’t happy. There was something missing in his life. The details of this story reveal he was a desperate man.
Zacchaeus was rich and dignified, yet he ran down the road to try to get somewhere he could see Jesus. Desperate people run. Kids climb trees; adults don’t, unless they’re chased by a mean dog, or trying to escape a flood. Climbing a tree is an act of desperation. Zach was desperately seeking something.
This little, rich man had an itch in his heart all his wealth couldn’t scratch. He probably didn’t even know what he needed. He just knew he needed something. When he heard Jesus was in town, he was hoping Jesus might have the solution to his problem. And he did—a life with God and for God. Zacchaeus would never be the same again.
Most of us have gotten a Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes letter in the mail. They use their sweepstakes to entice consumers to subscribe to magazines they represent. They used to write letters making it sound like you were one of a very few finalists eligible to win millions of dollars. The letters appeared to be “personal” because they repeated your name several times. Of course, the letters are actually generated by a computer that just plugs a name in the right place.
A funny thing happened a couple of years ago. The computer generated a personal letter to the Bushnell Assembly of God church near Tampa, Florida. The church got a letter that said: “Dear God of Bushnell Assembly, God, we’ve been looking for you! You are a finalist to receive our $11 million Sweepstakes! So don’t just sit there, God, return your sweepstakes form today!” The Tampa Tribune interviewed the pastor, who said he didn’t plan on returning the form because God already has at least $11 million.
That’s humorous, but when I read the phrase, “God, we’ve been looking for you,” I questioned whether that’s really true. Are you looking for God? Are you keeping your faith alive? So many people have answered the question, “Who needs God anymore?” with, “Not me.”
You see, Zacchaeus finally realized life wasn’t about his money. He just couldn’t spend one more day worrying about his wealth. And so he got up, and got out of his house, and walked down the street, and then started to jog to where the crowd was going, and then he began to run.
He ran for the first time in years and years. He ran away from the safety of his fenced-in home. He ran away from the comfort of his couches and shaded veranda. He ran out into the world, among people he had been avoiding for years. And he felt good. He was happy for the first time in such a long time. And he didn’t care what people were saying about him as he ran.
He could hear that Jesus was coming close, and he knew nobody was going to make room for him at the side of the road. He saw the tree, and he went to it, knowing immediately he was going to climb, even if people made fun of him. His excitement was overwhelming, his hope boundless, his love for others rumbling like an earthquake in his heart.
And then Jesus came into Zacchaeus’ view. “Oh, my. Oh, my, look at that face. He has so much peace. His eyes are so kind. His steps so alive.” Zacchaeus’ eyes began to tear up. His heart broke open. By the time Jesus saw him in the tree, the Lord had already saved him. All he had to do is look up and call out, “Zacchaeus!”
Isaiah 43:1 declares, “Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Yes, money is very important. It makes the world go round. We need it. Money is how we eat. Money is how we pay for healthcare. Money is how we buy clothes. It’s how things get done. In church, our money provides the resources needed for ministry to occur. The truth is everything that happens here has money behind it. The church needs money to worship, teach, sing, do outreach, plan, build, grow, and all the other ministries we are about. We can’t do what is ours to do without your ministry of money.
But loving money will never make us alive or bring God close by or show us our real possibilities as a man or woman following Christ.
Too many are stingy with something that is even more important to share than money. Most of us hold back love. We hold back when we could do more. We keep our love to ourselves because we don’t think we can handle being hurt. If we were to become less afraid and more charitable with our love, we would know how close God is to us, how much we need the Lord, and how strong we are.
I want you to hear this: If we don’t really plan on loving beyond what’s expected or normal, then it’s true, we don’t need God. But if you want to live a life beyond just being safe or comfortable, beyond keeping yourself to yourself or a few select others, then you will need God.
We decide whether we need God by how big we live or by how small we love. Zacchaeus decided he was going to love big, and he realized he needed the Lord to get him there. Let this be your decision also.
Jim Cymbala preaches at a church in the tough, tough places of New York City. He tells the following story: It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie, sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.
As I was sitting there, I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?” We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”
He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him.
I asked him, “What’s your name?” “David.” “How long have you been on the street?” “Six years.” “How old are you?” “Thirty-two.” He looked fifty—hair matted, front teeth missing, wino, eyes slightly glazed. “Where did you sleep last night, David?” “Abandoned truck.”
I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some debit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking, I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others.
Usually we don’t give money to people; we take them to get something to eat. I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”
I completely forgot about David, and I started thinking. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him.
But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other.
Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in six days.
He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing, and he said, “This is for you.” It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford.
A year later, David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, “The man is a preacher.” This past Easter, we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey.
You see, we can start out our life not believing in God, and then come to the Lord. What a wonderful thing that is when it happens. But the truth is, what happens even more these days is that people start out holding to faith, keeping God in their lives, being nourished spiritually by church, their love of Christ, scripture, good works, prayer, but then they walk away, believing they no longer need the Lord, or that there is no God. They’ve traded what scripture says is real for what the world says is real.
It’s so easy to lose ourselves in our world. We are the safest and most comfortable people ever in human history. It’s all at our finger tips. But our world will spoil you and wear you out and then convert you to a godless life, if you let it. We can’t have both the world at our fingertips and the Lord. Something has to give; someone has to be given away. Don’t let it be the Lord. Don’t trade in God for the world.
Rather, keep your faith alive. Let the fire of your devotion to God burn brighter. Live bigger. Stop being so comfortable. Love more. Stop playing it so safe. And the Lord will show you just how much of you there is to go around. Can anybody say, Amen?