We have had an absolutely amazing week of Vacation Bible School! Dana Stevenson and her incredible crew of volunteers have blessed our kids each and every day this past week. The kids have learned about Jesus’ love in ways that will impact them for the rest of their lives. Each day during VBS we’ve had a theme. I want to share the themes with you before we get into our study of God’s Word this morning.
Our overall theme was “Weird Animals” and I have to tell you that when I first heard the theme I wondered what in the world “weird animals” has to do with anything other than a zoo! Well, it didn’t take long for my questions to be answered. God has filled this planet with some crazy, weird creatures, and you and I are among their number. The whole idea behind our theme was to teach kids that when they feel weird, different, or even lost in a crowd that they can always count on Jesus’ love for them.
Day 1 of VBS taught the kids that even when they feel left out and lonely…Jesus loves them. The Scripture they focused on was Luke 17:11-19, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. Our key verse was Matthew 28:20 where Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Now, that’s a promise we can all benefit from remembering!
Day 2 of VBS taught the kids that even though they feel different from others, they can always know that Jesus loves them. The Scripture they focused on was John 4:1-30, a story familiar to those of us who have been studying John’s Gospel, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Our key verse was Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus.”
Day 3 of VBS taught the kids that even when they don’t understand what’s happening in life they can still know that Jesus loves them. The Scripture they focused on was John 13:1-17 where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. Our key verse for the morning was Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”
Day 4 of VBS taught the kids that even when they mess up and do wrong, that doesn’t change Jesus’ love for them. The Scripture they focused on was from Luke’s Gospel where Jesus died on the cross so that we can be forgiven for our sins. The key verse was 1 John 4:10, “God…loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”
Day 5 of VBS taught the kids that whenever they are afraid they can draw strength from knowing that Jesus loves them. The Scripture they focused on was the story of Ananias being told by the Lord to go and help Saul. Ananias was afraid, but the Lord gave him strength, calmed his fears, and he went and helped Saul, who we know as Paul. The key verse was from Matthew 14:27, “Don’t be afraid…take courage. I am here!”
It was an amazing week, but the thought dawned on me while I listened to the message each day—these lessons aren’t for kids, they are for all of us. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. I had just recently read an article about the growing sense of loneliness that is being experienced by so many people. It is really a strange phenomenon isn’t it? We live in a world of 7 billion people, we are surrounded by people all around us, and yet more and more folks are feeling disconnected in our society. We have more and more ways to connect with folks today than we have ever had in the history of the world and yet more people are feeling disconnected than ever. We’ve got Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, texting, and more people of all ages have a phone with them at all times. How in the world can someone say they feel disconnected when there are very few places left where you can be disconnected?
I read about the Experience Project this past week. The Experience Project is an online community where people “talk” about their experiences of all kinds. The homepage boasts that more than 10 million friendships have been made through the Experience Project. I know one who hasn’t found a friend. Listen to what one young person wrote.
Billion People In This World, And…I Still Feel Alone. Ever since I was younger, I’ve felt like this. I feel like i’m the only person who doesn’t have a friend to call on; but would answer the phone in a heartbeat for a stranger. The person to call when your drunk and need a ride home, but not the person you’ll invite to enjoy the night with you before your drunk. I stay up all night and just think of how lonely I really am. How I can go through all 150 contacts, all 900 facebook friends, all 400 instagram followers, and still have nobody to call on. I walk into my house and up to my room and not one of the seven people in this house will check on me, ask me if i’m okay, tell me dinners done. nothing. its like I don’t exist. like I don’t have feelings. When I walk into the hall and hear everyone quietly talking about me, how am I supposed to feel except all alone in this world. when a “friend” calls me for advice, but wont pick up the phone when i’m on the verge of taking 30 pills, how am I supposed to feel except alone? I’m just tired. I know i’ll always be lonely.
I read story after story of people who feel all alone, but it’s not just young people among us who are feeling disconnected and alone. Did you know that in the last decade the suicide rate for those who fall between the ages of 35-54 increased nearly 30%? If that number weren’t startling enough for you, consider this: men in their 50s take their own lives at a greater rate than any other group. People being shot and killed in gun homicides get a lot of attention in the press, but gun suicides outnumber gun homicides almost two to one! Ross Douthat writes in The New York Times,
In an essay for The New Republic about the consequences of loneliness for public health, Judith Shulevitz reports that one in three Americans over 45 identifies as chronically lonely, up from just one in five a decade ago. “With baby boomers reaching retirement age at a rate of 10,000 a day,” she notes, “the number of lonely Americans will surely spike.” (Ross Douthat, All The Lonely People, The New York Times, May 18, 2013)
Emile Durkheim, the French sociologist and psychologist, was one of the first to suggest that men commit suicide at a higher rate when they become disconnected from society. In our day, sociologists like Brad Wilcox from the University of Virginia are becoming more and more certain that there is a definite link between suicide and loneliness, a sense of being disconnected from the community.
In a world where there are people at every turn, more and more people of all ages, races, socioeconomic brackets, and education levels feel lonely and disconnected. As with any problem we face as individuals in society, the authorities have their theories about the “whys,” “whats,” and “how-to-fix-the-problem.”
One of the easiest to understand descriptions of loneliness and the feeling of being disconnected comes from the late Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, the famous Jewish German psychoanalyst. She said, “Loneliness is the want of intimacy.”
Dr. Fried, as her patients liked to call her, founded a small sanitarium in Heidelberg, Germany in 1924. She was a trained psychoanalyst, but the therapy she used with her patients was described by others as “Torah-peutic” because she combined Jewish dietary laws with the observance of the Sabbath for her patients.
Dr. Fried left Germany after the Nazi takeover and ended up spending the last 22 years of her practice living and working at a sanitarium called Chestnut Lodge in Washington D.C. Dr. Fried worked with people suffering from severe schizophrenia. Dr. Fried is still known today in mental health circles because of her unique approach in treating her patients. For Dr. Fried, more important than administering “treatment” or “psychotropic” drugs was the need she had to see her patients as human and let them know that she deeply cared for them. She would do whatever she had to in order to reach her patients. If she went to see a patient who was sitting on the floor then Dr. Fried got on the floor with her. If a patient was sitting in filth, Dr. Fried would take a seat in the filth right alongside of him. She said, “the success or failure of psychotherapy depends greatly on whether there is an empathetic quality between the psychiatrist and patient.” (Fromm-Reichmann, 1950).
“Loneliness is the want of intimacy.” With all of the technological advances, with all of the new ways for people to connect digitally, isn’t intimacy what we are lacking more than anything? There are two two main connections that we desperately need and I want to spend the rest of our time focusing on them.
First, we need to be connected to God. It is God alone who can say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) There is not one person on the planet for whom we can say, “I know that nothing can ever disconnect me, or separate me, from that person’s love.” There are many people who love us, but the truth is that there are things we can do to cause those people to lose their love for us. And then there are those times that others lose their love for us for no discernable reason. Some of you have heard those words, “I just don’t love you anymore.” Relationships are so important to us, but relationships also cause us some of the greatest pain we will ever experience.
If you will remember, just last week I shared a verse with you that I hope you’ve been meditating on this week. The verse is so powerful to me because it reveals the truth of just how unstable and fickle human relationships can be. At the same time, it drives home the powerful certainty of God’s love for His people. Turn with me once again to Isaiah 49:14-16 and let’s read it together.
14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” 15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49:14-16 NIV)
There’s not a more tender and intimate relationship in all of human relationships like a mother and her nursing baby. Our sentimentality and sensibilities would tell us that there’s no way that a mother could ever turn away and forget her baby, but we know better. There are thousands of little ones abandoned by their parents every year. God uses this tragic reality to teach us the most important lesson: “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
There are things that lead to severed relationships among people, but let me assure you, those who cry out to God for salvation and redemption will never ever be forgotten by God. What we can’t say about people we can say with full confidence about God. He will never forget us. He will love us with an everlasting love. There is nothing that can separate you from God’s love that has been demonstrated in sending Jesus to claim you as His own. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans and said,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
You see, the truth is that we are born separated from God because of our sin, but because of His great love for us, God has come to us, in Jesus, to bridge the divide, to forgive our sin, to redeem our lives, and reconcile us to the Father. That is what God has done for us. Now, we have a choice. Will we turn away and continue to live life as we’ve been living it? Looking for love in all the wrong places, feeling unsatisfied and restless with those around us and life in general, and yet determined to do what we want to do. Or, will we hear the Good News, recognize our need and God’s unimaginable gift, and say, “Yes!” to His offer of reconciliation?
You may have come here today and you are listening to me, but thinking, “I believe what you are saying, but you don’t know my situation. I’m all alone. I was married for 20 years when she told me that she didn’t love me anymore. I’ve been lost ever since the divorce.” Someone else here this morning is listening, but you are thinking about the loved you who has died and your grief and sorrow are so deep that you know you will never be the same again. I was walking around VBS this past week and talking to a friend about the kids who were laughing, singing, and learning about Jesus. We were talking about some of the very difficult situations that some of our kids are facing. I know so many young people who have had a parent die, kids whose mother or father is in prison, or an addict and not a part of their lives. As a result of these harsh realities there are many kids I know who are being raised by grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster and adoptive parents. I was reminded of a beautiful verse in Psalm 68:5-6. Listen to this.
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing… (Psalm 68:5-6a NIV)
“God sets the lonely in families.” Isn’t that the best news you’ve heard all day?! God is reaching out to you this very morning. He hasn’t waited for you to come to Him, but He has come to you. His arms are open wide, He is speaking your name, calling you, but will you come? If you will reach out to Him this morning then He will set you in His family, make you part of the Body of Christ, and you will have fellowship with the God who made you and desires you. Not only will you have fellowship with the Father, but He will set you in His family so that you will have fellowship with others who have come to know the love of Jesus Christ. That leads me to the second connection point I want to share with you.
We need to be connected to others. We need one another. We were designed to be connected to one another. If you were to start reading the Bible it would only take you a few pages before you found God standing back and taking a look at all He had made. God noticed something, it was good, very good, but something was missing. God noticed that Adam was alone. Now, that’s not exactly true. God’s creative power had brought into existence all kinds of amazing plants and animals. The Garden was pristine, beautiful, and pleasing to Adam’s eyes, but something was missing…God said he was alone. In Genesis 2:18 we read,
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18 NIV)
God created Eve, another human being, and Adam had a companion to share with as they went through life together. It’s important in our day to point out that this is where the idea of marriage originated, but what about those who are not married? Is there no hope of connecting, of experiencing intimacy with other people? If we don’t get married are we destined to be alone and lonely? Not on your life. God’s Word teaches us that all of Jesus’ followers are placed in the Body of Christ, the family of faith. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12 with me.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body–whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:12-18 NIV)
Just as every part of our body works in cooperation with every other part, so the body of Christ is called to work together in harmony and unity. We need one another. There are so many verses of Scripture that call us to pray for one another, love one another, encourage one another, and comfort one another. Let me show you what I’m talking about. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told His followers,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
We are to love one another. This is not a command for us to love our biological family members, but the family of faith. We are to love one another with the same love we have received from Jesus.
The last Scripture I want to share with you has to do with God’s call for us to comfort one another. It’s interesting because we are told that God is the God of all comfort and that we are to comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1 with me.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
This verse is so powerful for us because it shows us once again that what God has done for us, we are to do for others. We need one another, but even more than that, we are called to go to others with the love and comfort we’ve received from God as He has sought us out.
There will be more and more creative ways for people to connect through technology, but none of them will deliver what our heart and soul longs for…we need intimacy. I hope that you will hear the Father calling you this morning. I hope and pray that you will fall into His arms and grace and mercy so that you can experience the intimacy you’ve longed for, yearned for, but never found. Won’t you invite Jesus into your heart this morning and join the family?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 13, 2014