April 15, 2011

Urban Legends Introduction

One of my cousin’s friends was driving home from a friend’s house when a car pulls up along side her. She notices that the man in the driver’s seat is looking at her. Staring, and then start pointing for her to pull over. When she wouldn’t stop, he slammed on his brakes, pulled up very closely behind her and started flashing his brights at her. She can see him in her rearview mirror continuing to motion for her to pull over.

She could hardly keep control of the car as she became more and more nervous. She swerved off at an exit, but the car still followed her. Through various turns, running red lights, blasting through stop signs, the car kept following her.

Finally she pulled into a gas station and makes a mad dash for the inside. The guy jumps out of his car and yells, “Get inside and call 911!” As she reaches the gas station she turns to see the man pulling someone from her backseat and a gun go bouncing across the pavement as the man subdued this guy hiding in her backseat.

Luckily that my cousin’s friend was saved from the Urban Legend known as the Killer in the backseat...a legend that has never actually taken place.

Urban Legends and myths are all over the place. We hear them from friends, receive them as emails, watch them on the evening news.

What makes a good Urban Legend?

  1. It's a story, and usually a good one that is alleged to have “actually happened.”
  2. It has usually happened to a friend of a friend or to a cousin’s friend.
  3. It's plausible, sometimes just barely, but enough to be believed. There is always that slight element that it COULD happen...even if it has been demonstrated to be highly doubtful.
  4. Often you can’t even discover where the story originated.
  5. It varies slightly in the telling; usually by region
  6. It circulates by being passed from individual to individual, either orally or in written form.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot the fakes...but sometimes it is not. Let’s see how good you are at spotting some of these myth, legends and lies...By a show of hands, let’s see how many of you think the following are true and how many false.

Is this real?

A member of the Nigerian Royal family wants to give you money to help him. FALSE

It takes 7 years for chewing gum to digest in your stomach: False

Neil Armstrong misspoke the quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” TRUE He intended to say “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The debate raged between reporters and NASA, with NASA claiming the recorder dropped out. Years later, Armstrong acknowledged that he did misspeak the intended line.

Elvis Presley was once told “Stick with driving a truck because you are never going to make it as a singer.” TRUE

Atheists are petitioning to ban religious broadcasting: FALSE Emails have been going around for years...Touched by an Angel was one...they had to put up a page on their website calling it Touched by a Hoax.

The Koran in 9:11 reads, “For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah and lo, while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced; for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah; and there was peace.” FALSE No such verse exists in the Koran at all.

Is that in the Bible?

Train up a child in the way he should go...yes
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

The fool says in his heart “There is no God”...yes
Psalm 14:1

God helps those who help themselves...FALSE
It actually comes from one of Aesop’s fables called “Hercules and the Wagoneer.” And then more recently by way of Benjamin Franklin.

Pride goes before the fall....FALSE
Proverbs 16:8
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

There is nothing new under the sun...yes
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Spare the rod and spoil the child...FALSE
Proverbs 13:24
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Proverbs 22:15
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Proverbs 29:15
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Money is the root of all evil...FALSE
1 Timothy 6:10 says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

Urban legends and myths are everywhere...from the Nigerian Prince who needs your help accessing a bank account to the weary traveler who buys a woman a drink and ends up in a bathtub of ice with a kidney missing.

I had one lady who constantly sent me emails she received with various Internet rumors on them. She believed they were true, and wanted to warn everyone. She had obviously never heard of Snopes.com. So, occasionally, when I was in one of my antagonistic moods...I would hit “reply to all” and send her the link to the Snopes article with all the research disproving the email she sent. Finally, after just a few times of pointing out how wrong they were to all her friends, I no longer received the emails.

She kept sending them, but at least I was no longer on the list.

Most are just good stories. They aren’t true, but they don’t do any real harm, and sometimes they help prove a point or make moral observation. The Killer in the Backseat Legends demonstrates that you should really check out your backseat all the time, and that actions can be misunderstood.

Why would we do such a message series? Because truth is important for those seeking to follow Christ.

Proverbs 23:23 encourages people to seek after truth, “Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well.”

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

When we become followers of Jesus...we should become people of the truth...seeking after truth wherever it may be found.

But there is another reason we seek truth...some lies and myths are damaging if believed...especially when they affect the way we understand our faith or our relationship with God.

Over the next few weeks we are going to look at a few of these myths, and discuss what they mean for us as we follow Jesus.

This morning we are going to look at two pairs of myths that keep us from following Christ. They are each like two sides of a coin.

The first myth says...
I have to live up to God’s expectations so He will love me.

The flipside of that myth is...
I am a good person so God will accept me.

Both of these are myths because they come from a belief that our “works” or “actions” somehow earn us standing before God. Nothing you do or don’t do will earn you God’s love or your salvation.

If you fit into the first legend, you recognize that God has high standards, and you know that you have never been able to live up to them. Many people who come from legalistic backgrounds struggle with this issue. You will hear people say some form of the this, “I’ve got to get some things together before I come to church.”

The truth is our works are not the basis for God’s love. God loves you already.
Titus 3:3-5, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
Our salvation is not the result of our working harder to do the right things or avoiding the appropriate wrong things...it is a matter of trusting in Jesus Christ and following Him.

When we have the faulty belief that God loves us because we are doing the right things, we can fall into the trap of believing that He loves us less when we stumble and sin. God’s love and forgiveness are available for you despite what you have or have not done.

This myth plagues many people who have grown up in the church. I struggled for years with this one. I still struggle. If only I do one more good thing that will make sure I’m good. And when I mess up...I feel as if I’m doomed. We have to continually remind ourselves that God loves us no matter what.

If you fit into the second category, you see that most people have good in them, and that mistakes happen. People are not perfect. Some of you have also seen some Christians who act morally worse than some non-Christians you know. It is hard to believe that the morally good non-Christian is some how worse off than the morally bankrupt Christian.

The truth is even at our moral best we all fall short of God’s expectations...
Romans 3:21-24 “...apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
You see it isn’t about good or bad...it is about Jesus and His grace-filled forgiveness. Everyone falls short, but His grace is for everyone. Even when we are at our best, we still need God’s grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
So we don’t have to achieve some morality status level for God to love us. Nor can we do enough to earn our salvation. These are myths because it isn’t about what we do, it is about what God has done in Jesus to rescue us and restore a relationship with us.

Don’t get me wrong. Our actions and our obedience are important, but not because they earn us God’s love or a special standing in God’s eyes. Grace is opposed to earning not effort. Our works matter, not because they earn God’s love, but because they are our response to His love.

The book of James reminds us that “Faith without works is dead.” Why? because they are a sign that God’s love and forgiveness have actually taken root in our lives. If we really love someone...it will come out in our actions. If we are really excited about something...it will show up in our actions. If we are really following God...it will show up in the way we live our life. That doesn’t mean we always get it right or that we are trying to earn anything. It just means that our actions will be the fruit, the response, the sign that we have truly accepted God’s presence into our lives.

And this makes them VERY important. But they don’t determine how much God loves us.

The second set of myths focuses on our past.
I have done too much wrong for God to forgive me. Or, I haven’t done anything that bad.

These two myths come from our misunderstanding of sin and God’s power to overcome it. We have to go back to something I said just a little bit ago and look at it with a slightly different spin...

Even at our moral best we all fall short of God’s expectations...

All of us have sinful pasts, and our sin separates us from God. It stands like a roadblock in the way of true relationship with God. For those of us who believe we have done too many bad things...that’s a myth...God’s forgiveness overcomes all of it. For those of us who believe we haven’t done anything too bad...we still need God...because the sinful things we have done still need His forgiveness.
Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
While we were still sinners...still separated from God...still enemies of God...Jesus died for our forgiveness.

But here is the best part...
1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Confessing and repenting are two very powerful words. Confessing means that we own up to our mistakes, and that we agree with God that we need His grace and forgiveness. We may even need to name our sins to Him; not because He doesn’t know what we have done wrong, but because we need to know what we have done wrong.

Repentance means we have an about-face in the direction of our lives. Once we acknowledge that a certain way of life is wrong or a certain action is wrong in God’s sight...we need to repent. This means we are headed down this path, and, when we repent, we turn and head another direction. We are headed away from God...doing life our own way...we repent...we head toward God and begin doing life in God’s way.

Conclusion:

I like what Eugene Peterson says, "When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn't go off and leave us- he enters into our trouble and saves us."

We talk about these myths because they can derail our search for God. They cause needless suffering for some and they keep others from knowing God at all. So they have to be named for what they are...lies.

Here is the truth...God loves us. No matter how good or bad we think we have been or still are...God desires to be in relationship with us. And it is not until we drop the lies that we are able to grasp God’s love in some way.

I love this quote from Tim Keller, “We are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Today, you may be wrestling with these myths. You have convinced yourself that you are too sinful, too unlovable, too bad for God to love...you are wrong. Or, you may be thinking I’m a good person, I haven’t done anything all that wrong...you too are wrong.

We all find ourselves in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. And Jesus’ death on a cross makes our forgiveness possible. Jesus’ statement that, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” reminds us that when we want to break the power of these lies...we simply look to Jesus. We look at how he responded to the people around him. He accepted those who were broken and hurting, those who were sinful and felt they were unwelcome in God’s presence.

This morning God wants to help us put down these lies that hinder us from knowing Him. Haven’t we allowed them to keep us from really knowing Him for too long already.

It took me awhile to let go of the legalism and rules based religion that dominated my childhood. They talked about the gospel being good news, and I always wondered where the good news was in what they were saying. But once I found a real relationship with God...once I let go of the lies that bound me...I found that Matthew 11:28 is true
Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This morning I want to invite you to lay down those lies and legends, and accept what God has to say...You are loved and accepted.

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