Good morning, Friends! Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a great holiday season. We had a wonderful visit with our daughter and her boyfriend, and we enjoyed all our presents. It seems a little sad to take down all the decorations again. They were so lovely.

I don’t know how many of you started out the New Year making resolutions. I came across a really nice prayer for the New Year which I’d like to share with you. It says:

“Dear Lord, so far, today, I’ve done all right in the New Year. I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, or self- centered. I’m really happy about the New Year so far. But in a few minutes I’m going to be getting out of bed and then I’m going to need a lot of help.  Thank you! Amen.”

I always like to start the New Year by finding a Scripture that I can carry around in my heart for a while. This year, I chose one of my favorite Scripture passages. It’s from the beginning of the first letter of John.

That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked at and our hands have touched —
this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The life appeared;
we have seen it and testify to it,
and we proclaim to you the eternal life,
which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,
so that you also may have fellowship with us.
And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We write this to make our joy complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not live out the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

– 1 John 1:1-7

There’s a game you sometimes hear people playing with each other. Each person in the game is asked, “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?”

One person might be a wild horse, or a brave lion, or a faithful dog. Another person might be a grumpy old bear, or a happy dolphin.

Have you ever heard people playing that game with each other?

I want to play a similar game with you this morning. If your church were a business, what kind of business are you?

I think we ought to name our church, “Springfield Power and Light.” That’s the business that God is in – God is in the power and light business, not the gloom and doom and discouragement business.

I know some Quakers who act as though we’re a branch office of the local funeral home They act as if we’re dying, when our real business is to connect people with power and light.

Don’t get me wrong – we want to provide comfort in times of grief, and support each other in times of loss or change or uncertainty.

But we are NOT in the loss and uncertainty business. We are people who need to be certain about the most important things in the world, and our business is to share those things with everyone we meet.

You’ve probably heard people who’ve used the phrase, “You need to get your business straight”. You ever hear somebody say that? “You need to get your business straight”.

Churches need to learn from that criticism. A lot of the time, churches forget the business they’re supposed to be in. They get involved in unprofitable sidelines and they stay committed to useless, outdated technologies.

But God is not obsolete. God will still be around here, putting out power and light, when all of this year’s latest electronic gadgets are out in the recycling bin. The church is needed today more than ever. But we need to keep our business straight.

Maybe you’ve seen something on the Internet that’s been going around a lot recently. It’s not a new idea, but it’s kind of gone viral in the last month or two. I’ve seen a lot of people re-posting it, and I’ve thought about re-posting it myself.

It says,

“If your religion makes you feel bad all the time, you need a different religion. If your religion makes you treat other people badly, you definitely need a new religion.

If your religion tells you it’s all right to put other people down, or if it tells you it’s OK to neglect the needs of the poorest people in society, your religion is NOT the religion of Jesus Christ. If your religion encourages you to kill other people in the name of Christ, that’s not a religion that Jesus EVER endorsed.”

“If you feel guilty all the time, that’s not a healthy Christianity. Christianity is about becoming free from guilt, free from shame, and living openly and joyfully in the light of Christ.”

This is important – if your religion tries to make you stupid, that’s not a healthy religion. Religion shouldn’t make you turn off your brain. It shouldn’t deny your intelligence. Who do you think gave you a mind? God did. Faith isn’t afraid of discovery. Faith isn’t afraid of science. Faith isn’t afraid of intelligent discussion or reason.

God is in the business of light, and truth. There’s a long tradition, in all the best religious groups, of believing that all light and truth ultimately comes from God. Some of the most brilliant scientists and philosophers have been deeply religious men and women. Some of the best politicians and social reformers have always been Christians.

But we need to keep our business straight. If our religion causes us to hate other people, we need a better religion. A lot of what passes for religion today is actually hate and fear and intellectual laziness and stupidity, and I’m not afraid to say that.

A lot of bad religion today is being wrapped up and sold as if it were truth and light.
It’s a fake, and we shouldn’t be in the business of selling anything fake in the name of Jesus Christ.

There’s another old saying, I’m sure you’ve heard before. It’s so old that it goes all the way back to the Romans. “Let the buyer beware.” Caveat emptor. Be on your guard against buying fake or broken-down or shoddy religion.

A lot of people say that what we need is a more Bible-based religion – and I absolutely agree! I read the Bible all the time. I don’t preach from anything else. I work passionately to help people understand the Bible better.

But the Bible isn’t full of perfect people who always got it right and who lived perfect lives. If you ever study the Bible carefully as an adult, you’ll see that it’s full of people of faith, but it’s also full of people who made big mistakes, who didn’t get it right for generations.

When we read the Bible, we need to be learning from the mistakes people made there, and we should be trying our best not to repeat them. You can always tell the authentic prophets in the Bible, because they’re the guys who always have a big dent in their forehead, because they’ve been banging their head against the wall, because people didn’t listen to God and get it right.

The Bible also gives us lots of examples of fake prophets and stupid leaders and foolish people. The Bible is not a book where it says, “And they all lived happily ever after.” It’s a book about people who lost their way and lost their faith and had to go out and painfully try to find it again.
The Bible is a book where people make mistakes and turn their lives around. It’s a book where people make colossal mistakes about who God is and what God is doing.

But it’s also a book which says that God is in the power and light business. God is in the business of making all things new. God is in the quality business – God doesn’t make junk, and that includes you and me.

If you put yourself down all the time, you need to remember that God loves you, just the way you are. God made you beautiful. God made you talented. God touched your life with joy. If God loves you and thinks you’re wonderful, what do you think you’re doing by putting yourself down?

God is just amazing! God can rebuild and recycle and repair all kinds of stuff. God knows all about despair, but God doesn’t practice it. Did you know that? God doesn’t practice despair.

God knows all about disappointment, but God isn’t in the disappointment business. God is about making all things new, healing the world, restoring relationships, fulfilling promises, putting things back in their right places, tearing down walls and barbed wire, blowing up injustice, opening doors and windows and letting in light and fresh air.

God is in a very different business than a lot of churches. I’d like to be part of a church which works in partnership with God. I want us to be working with power and light. I want us to be growing, not failing. I want us to be building, not going out of business. If you want to go out of business, I can’t stop you, but that’s not what I’m into at all.

I’m willing to change, if that’s what it takes. I’m willing to let new people in the door – actually, letting new people in the door is what it’s all about!

If your religion is about keeping people away from God, you definitely need a better religion. Church is supposed to be about letting people in. It’s supposed to be about telling the story everywhere we go. It’s supposed to be about going out into the highways and the byways and back alleys and work places and actively inviting people to join us.

We should be welcoming people who are different, who come from a different background and who don’t share the same family ties we have. If you don’t understand that, you have missed the whole point of the life and message of the Apostle Paul.

Paul said we need to welcome and accept people who are different from us, because – guess what? – God loves and accepts them too. That’s God’s plan, Paul said. That’s God’s business. And if it’s not our business too, then we need to change or get out of the way.

Let’s start the new year, and let’s live the rest of the year, with the idea that God is the God of power and light. God is the God of unlimited resources. God has everything we need, and God wants to share with us.

If you feel like your faith and love are like a flickering flame sometimes, that’s OK. Everyone feels that way part of the time. What we need to remember is that God’s love and faith are like the power of the sun rising.

Today’s Scripture says,

That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we have looked at and our hands have touched. . .

It’s a very personal, tactile description. What do we hear? What do we see? What can we feel for ourselves?

Church isn’t about second-hand faith. This isn’t hand-me-down religion. What can we say? What can we witness to? It isn’t enough just to quote Scripture – what can we say for ourselves?

“God is light; in God there is no darkness at all.
If we claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and we don’t live out the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

That’s the word for the New Year. God is about power and light. God is about healing and hope. The church needs to be about joy. If there isn’t any joy here, then we need to get our business straight.

It’s about caring for the little ones, and it’s about serving people in need. It’s about bringing light into the darkest places. It’s about overcoming fear. It’s about peace that comes from deep springs. It’s about sharing and living the love that Jesus taught.

If your religion makes you hate, you’re in the wrong business. If if makes you despise anyone, it’s nothing Jesus taught.

God is light. In God there is no darkness at all.

Let’s live that. Let’s learn that. Let’s share that.

Copyright © 2016 by Joshua Brown

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