Our Search For Meaning — Believe in Something
Welcome to 2019. Welcome to the mission of NewChurch.
INTRO: We’re born, life moves really fast, it seems like we have all these choices— we have all these ideas, people probably told us we could do anything, be anything… participation trophies in grade school, awkwardness in middle school… In high school we think our whole life is ahead of us… College is over in an instant, our twenties are a blur. Love and marriage and life become a sitcom that’s not at all funny. We start to make a little money in our thirties but wonder where our twenties went. Forties come on like they’re mad at us—more belly, less hair, maybe another chin or two—people we went to highschool with are becoming grandparents. Maybe start family 2.0 or 3.0. Fifties we get to know our doctors a little better and start to realize we’re not gonna make quite the dent in the world that our 20-year-old self thought was gonna happen. Sixties—how would I know? I’m still in my forties—I’ll be forty-fifteen this April.
Of all the different times of our life, which are the best years?
We were playing a game on New Year’s Eve called Vertell?s. It’s basically a game that forces you to have meaningful conversations about the last year and the upcoming year—it’s pretty powerful actually. For one of the questions everyone had to rate the previous year on a scale of one to ten. What would you rate the past year? Ten being the best year ever and one being the most miserable year of your life. The oldest person at the table, my 81 year old dad, he said the last year was a 9. Everyone else at the table was cautiously saying 7 or 8—one person even gave their year a 3. Yikes. But Bob Hart said his 81st year was a 9. That should give us all hope that the best can be yet to come.
Every year I hear people say something like, “I’ll be glad to see the last of that year. Last year can take a flying leap! I’m ready for a new year.” But as Bono said, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.” The arbitrary marking of the passage of time doesn’t actually mean anything. The pain and trouble of last year are gonna follow us right into the next year. Mostly because wherever we go, there we are. Life only has as much hope and meaning as we’re able to believe is there—if we’re a person who doesn’t believe in anything, then we’re not gonna hope in anything, and life is gonna be pretty bleak.
The further our culture moves away from having faith in God—the worse it’s gonna get. The world is going mad and the cause of the madness is a crisis of faith. It is. We can’t survive without something to believe in. We can’t live without hope. And what I’m gonna show you today, is that we can’t create our own meaning. We can’t just make up our own hope—oh, maybe we can for a while, but if it’s not based on something that can’t be taken away, in the end it’ll lead us to despair. I thought we should start the year with a message of hope.
Prayer: Father in Heaven, we need Your light. We need Your mercy. Help us in our search for meaning. Give us something to believe in, something to hope for, something to give purpose to our pain, show us what You want us to do and help us to find people to help us do the work You have for us. AMEN.
Psalm 90: Earlier in the service we read part of Psalm 90. It starts out very positively, saying “God is our refuge!” We can turn to Him no matter what we’re facing in life—which sounds awesome, doesn’t it? That we can count on God because He has existed before the foundations of the world, and He’s the Creator of the world—but then it takes a really quick turn to dark. God made man from the dust and He turns them back to dust. A thousand years are the same as a day to God. The entire life of a person is like a dream that disappears in the morning. People’s lives are like grass that grows in the morning and is scorched to death by the end of the day.
So cheerful, right?
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we might grow in wisdom.” In other words—life is short, you better start paying attention—it’s short and difficult and if we don’t want it to just be a giant suckfest, we need to turn to God, the Creator Who is our refuge, and get some wisdom.
Then the Psalm takes another turn. This time it explains why life is so painful. The reason we have short miserable lives is because God’s had it with us. He’s angry because of our sin. Because we’re all such phoneys—putting our trust and hope and devotion in everything under the sun except for Him. He’s mad at us. He’s disappointed in us.
Verse 7, “We wither beneath your anger;
we are overwhelmed by your fury.
You spread out our sins before you—
our secret sins—and you see them all.
We live our lives beneath your wrath,
ending our years with a groan.
Seventy years are given to us!
Some even live to eighty.
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear, and we fly away.
Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as awesome as the fear you deserve.”
Then the writer of the Psalm says, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life,
so that we may grow in wisdom.”
It’s like, Okay God, I get it, we’re sinners—we made our bed and we’ve been laying in it—but could we have some good days, too? Could You show us some kindness and mercy? Could You come back to us and give us a little hope? At least a few happy Sundays to go along with all these gloomy Mondays? “Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.” Let Your children see Your glory again—would You please make our efforts successful? The things that we are doing for Your glory—would You please bless them?
The final verse says, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
See, we can’t survive without something to believe in. We can’t live without hope, and we can’t create our own meaning, our own thing to hope in, to live for—our hope can’t be in something that can be taken away.
When We Put Our Hope in the Wrong Things
If we put our hope in finding true love, finding someone to make us feel complete—if they leave us or betray us, or if they’re taken away from us—we’ll be destroyed. If we put our hope in our family and make life all about them—our children, or grandchildren—same thing, if we lose them we’ll be lost. We’ll lose ourselves. If we live for our children or our parents—making them the ultimate thing in our life—for all practical purposes making them our god—we not only risk harming ourselves but we’re gonna damage them by making them something they were never supposed to be in the first place. Anything we put in the place of God is not only bad for us but when we turn a good thing into an idol, we destroy it. We ruin it. Children and grandchildren and parents make terrible gods.
Family, status, career, sex, money, political causes, hobbies, distractions—they can all be great things, gifts from God—but when we put them before God, we misuse them, we make them into sin. We turn them into soul rotting evil. When we put our hope in those things instead of God, we put our hope in something false—something that was never supposed to bear the weight of our hope. This is the essence of sin—that’s what God is angry about—misusing the gifts God has given us. Trusting what we think they can give us rather than trusting in God’s promises.
A real simple test to see if your doing this or not is to ask why God gave you something. If you’re using whatever He’s given you the way He wants you to. Like with your family, if you’re loving them the way He wants you to—what would that look like? How would you treat your wife or your husband or your children or your parents? What role would worship and prayer and Scripture play in your day to day, week to week activities with them?
Same with your career: are you doing your work for God’s glory? What would that look like? Sex is a great gift, but it can also be a powerful destructive force—are you making sure to keep it within the boundaries of how God intended it to be enjoyed? Or do you think you know better? You’re gonna be the one person who can do whatever they want and get away with it, right?
I think you get the point. We can’t survive without something to believe in, and if we put our faith in the things God has given us instead of in Him—using them in ways that can harm us or trusting in things that can be taken away—then we’re doomed.
A man named Viktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor who was put in the death camps in WWII. As a doctor he was fascinated by how different people reacted to the horrors of the concentration camps. Death was everywhere. They were stripped of everything and tortured in the most degrading inhuman experiences. Just awful. But some people were able to survive—he actually wrote his most famous book while being a prisoner in Auschwitz.
Some of the prisoners became brutal, they lost all their principles and did anything to survive—steal from other prisoners, conspire with the Nazis, exploit friends and family—treat other victims with cruelty.
Others just gave up—just literally withered and died with no will to live.
And yet there were other people who continued to be themselves. They were courageous, made sacrifices, noble, heroic.
He wanted to figure out what was different about those people was. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” he came to the conclusion that it depended on what their hope was in. If their hope was in something that suffering or death could take away from them, then they were a goner in the death camp. If it was in money, family, comfort, health—all the things that people tend to live for—then they were toast. Most people don’t have a hope that can stand up to death.
1 Corinthians 15 says “If we as Christians have a hope only for this life, we are of all people most miserable.”
Viktor Frankl said, “Life only has meaning if we have a hope and a meaning that suffering and death cannot destroy.” He would often say, “Remember somebody is looking down on you from heaven, a friend, a wife, a spouse, or GOD. We must not disappoint them.”
If the prisoners put their hope in comfort, or in just hoping the suffering would come to an end—they were doomed. They had to find something to live for in the midst of the worst situation. Things like helping other prisoners or reminding themselves that they needed to survive so someone could tell the story of what happened. Devoting their life to making sure something like this never happens again. In his book he tells stories of prisoners who would be okay until the day they lost hope—then they’d just give up and die.
When we stop having hope, we stop having meaning, we stop having purpose. We can’t survive without something to believe in. But it can’t be just anything. If we put our hope in the wrong things, if we build the meaning of our lives on a foundation of lies—it might work for a while, but eventually it’ll stop working.
Psalm 90 talks about how God is weary of mankind putting our hope and trust in all the wrong places—our short and difficult lives are a direct result of sin. Sin is when we misuse the things God gives us. Life is short and miserable and then we die—but the Gospel answers that bleak sad fact with a hope and purpose that the Psalmist could barely imagine. Not only is God looking down on us with anger and disappointment but He also loves us and decided to come down here and help us.
Verse 13 says, “O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay?” A cry for God to return to His people and have mercy—and that’s exactly what happened thanks to Jesus and the cross. God entered creation, and now death isn’t the end of the story. Because of the cross, you have hope for life after death—Jesus took all that anger and disappointment on Himself. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, you have hope for joy even in the midst of this present darkness—this death camp.
That’s kinda the whole point of everything we do around here.
I want you to know that because of Jesus, you can have something to believe in, you can have something true and wonderful to hope for. You can have something that gives purpose to your pain and trouble in life. God has given you hope, something to do, something to work on, a very important purpose for your life—to worship Him and to love people. To worship God instead of any of the gifts He’s given you—because if you worship any of that stuff it’ll be really bad for you and everyone you know. We get together to learn how to truly love people because that’s the only way life makes any sense. Love isn’t selfish. If we’re selfish—then we’re like the prisoners in the death camps who turned on each other. We gotta be kind to our fellow prisoners. I need you to know these things. Our lives depend on it.
If you don’t trust Jesus above everything else, putting your hope in Him—every good thing in your life can become a trap. Your talent, your treasure, the people you love. You won’t be able to have money without the money having you. The things you’re good at, the things you know, they’ll become pride and eat you up from the inside. The people you love will break your heart and keep you from truly loving them. All those things are good things that God has given you but there’s no freedom to enjoy them outside of Christ.
And it’s not just true for you. Your family who’s not here—they need to know this, too. Everyone at your school, at your work, everyone who lives on your block and shops at the same grocery store you do—everyone needs to know about this hope and meaning you’ve found in Jesus.
That’s why we started NewChurch. That’s why we do this. That’s why you’re here—to help us in this mission to worship God and love people. To be a church you can believe in.
Several years ago I was in Kansas City at a worship conference and a bunch of us wanted to go out for a beer after the day’s festivities—we’re Lutheran so we can do that. I found this little pub on Yelp called Llywelyn's that seemed to have good ratings—when we got there it turns out that the place used to be a church. Stained glass, arched beamed ceiling, wooden walls—it was beautiful. It was also busy with people hanging out, eating together, laughing and enjoying all the micro-brews they had on tap. It was an awesome place. The whole time we were there, I couldn’t help but think how cool it would be to own the place and hang out there—get to know the regulars, tend bar, talk with people about their troubles—and then have Sunday worship services in the same space. Maybe some of the regulars would start coming to church, maybe the hope of the Gospel would seep into the conversations during the week. As people joined me in the mission to share the hope of Jesus with people—maybe they’d join the church and start hanging out with me during the week, helping me get to know people, pointing them to the hope of the cross. Bible studies happening in the same room with people playing darts and drinking beer. Maybe the elders of the church help out behind the bar when it’s busy. Maybe the musicians in the church play a set of music some nights—I just thought it would be an incredible way to live out the Gospel and be a church that really wanted to reach people with hope.
So, a few years ago when some of my friends and family asked if I would be interested in starting a new church—that’s the kind of church I agreed to start. From the beginning, that’s been the vision of where we’re going with this thing. A different kind of church that can offer hope and meaning to people who aren’t gonna stumble into the average run of the mill corner church.
We started at The Lab and made sure to eat and drink together after every service. We had grown to about 150 people when all of a sudden The Lab closed its doors and we had to find a new place to meet. Because we have so many members who are part of Aristoi Classical Academy, it was a natural fit to move into their auditorium—first the little one at the lower campus and then, when this room was finished, into this awesome space so we can grow and get ready to find our real home. Our Llywelyn's. Our NewChurch Pub.
So that’s what we’re doing. Growing and getting ready for our real home. We’re not coasting. We’re not on cruise control. We haven’t arrived. There’s work to be done and God has called us to do it. You’re here because you’re supposed to help us.
We gotta have the people we need to reach the others that Jesus has set aside for us to find. There’s got to be enough of us so we can afford to do it. We need the right people so we have the skills to do it well. We have to grow in wisdom so we know what to say when we need to say it. We have to be discipled so we can make disciples. We have a lot of work to do.
Psalm 90 starts off saying God is our refuge. And He is, but we don’t show up here every week to hide from the world. God is our refuge, not NewChurch—NewChurch is our mission. Psalm 90 ends with a plea to God that He would bless the work of our hands. Listen to me my friends, NewChurch is the work of our hands. This is our calling. May the favor and blessing of the Lord be upon us.
This is the work God has given us to do.
If we don’t get this right—not only will we put our hope in false things, but so will all the people we’re supposed to tell about our hope. Hope that can stand up to anything, even death. We can’t survive without something to believe in—it’s the only way life has any true meaning—it’s the only way we can truly enjoy all the good gifts that God gives us—the only way we can face the future and the upcoming year with confidence. We can’t live without hope, we can’t create our own random meaning for life and expect God to bless it—thanks be to God He’s already given us exactly what we need: something to believe in, something to do with our life, and a bunch of great people to do it with.
Welcome to 2019. Welcome to the mission of NewChurch.