It was his first day on the job. He was a new clerk in the green goods department of a supermarket. A lady came up to him and said she wanted to buy half of a head of lettuce. He tried to dissuade her from that goal, but she persisted.Finally he said, "I'll have to go back and talk to the manager."He went to the rear of the store to talk to the manager, not noticing that the woman was walking right behind him. When he got into the back of the store, he said to the manager, "There's some stupid old bag out there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce. What should I tell her?"Seeing the horrified look on the face of the manager, he turned about and, seeing the woman, added, "And this nice lady wants to buy the other half of the head of lettuce. Will it be all right?"Considerably relieved, the manager said, "That would be fine."
Later in the day, he congratulated the boy on his quick thinking. He then asked, "Where are you from, son?"The boy said, "I'm from Toronto, Canada, the home of beautiful hockey players and ugly women."The manager looked at him and said, "My wife is from Toronto."The boy said, "Oh, what team did she play for?"
I think we all wish we could be that quick. At least speaking for myself, there are many times later when I wish I had thought of something earlier.What I want to think with you about today is not the quickest reply, nor the one coming most trippingly to the tongue. I want to think instead about that reply we use most often; that response that we, particularly in matters that are profound, most frequently rely upon.
Often, our only answer is "because."
I want to think with you about the oldest, strangest, and strongest response we ever offer. It's that single word because.Would you prefer tea or coffee? Tea. Why do you like tea more than coffee? Oh, because.Would you prefer vanilla or chocolate? Vanilla. Why? Because. We never stop to think, for example, that chocolate ice cream doesn't melt as fast as vanilla ice cream or that cocoa beans might be addictive. We just say, "Because."
Why did you marry your husband? Let's be honest, ladies. He's not the best looking man in the world. He's not the strongest. He's not the gentlest. He's not the most intelligent. He's not the most profoundly Christian. So, let's lay aside all of that hyperbole, and let me ask you again: Why did you marry the man that you married?Well, because.Why do you like one hymn rather than another? Because.Why did you pick that necktie when the other necktie looks just as good with the suit as this one does and also was somewhat cheaper? Because.
Pascal, the great Christian French mathematician, said, "The heart has its reasons that reason does not know." Many times we make decisions, we determine preferences, we decide on courses of action just because. I would submit to you, in fact, that we do this more often than we realize.
I've always loved the story of the cowboy who was riding along and came upon an Indian lying flat on the ground with his ear pressed to the earth. The Indian said, "Wait. Wagon. Two miles off. Drawn by two horses. One black. The other gray. Four people on board: man in a red flannel shirt, his wife, and two kids."The cowboy was very impressed. He said, "It's amazing you can tell all that just by listening to the earth."The Indian said, "No. They ran over me 30 minutes ago. Go after them!"The cowboy thought what the Indian was doing was very profound, when in fact it was a simple case of hit and run.
What I'm suggesting to you is that many times we arrive at decisions and conclusions that we think are very profound, but in fact we have decided only because. Having made our decision on that basis, our minds move very quickly to add reasons to justify what our heart has led us to do.
You remember Lenny Skutnik. There was a terrible airplane crash in Washington, D.C., a few years ago when a plane became loaded with ice and fell into the Potomac River. Lenny Skutnik was driving along. He stopped his car, ran over to the side of the river, and began swimming back and forth, saving people. And when they asked him afterwards why he did it, he said, "Because."He didn't stand there on the edge of the stream tabulating how many he might save or assessing what course of action would be the best or choosing which direction he should go. Instead of that, he followed his heart because. If you asked him today, he might have a whole series of reasons to offer to you, but at the moment he did what he did because.
Faith is often a matter of the heart.
This will probably be upsetting to some of our theological rationalists and to some seminarians who listen in, but I find as I get older my faith becomes stronger and stronger. It is not so much built any more upon theological arguments as it is upon the conviction of my heart. There was a time when, for every position I held, I could marshal all kinds of proof texts and philosophical arguments and theological rationales to justify my conclusions. My conclusions are stronger than ever, but I now feel them much more in my heart than I do in my head.
Don't accuse me of being anti-intellectual. You do me a disservice if you do that. You know I believe we are to love the Lord with all of our minds. We are to read; we are to study; we are to work out the reasons for our faith. I am saying that in addition to that, there is a fundamental conviction of the heart, and many times that conviction of the heart comes before anything else does. We do what we do because.
Do you remember that scene in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin when Tom, the slave, is talking to Augustin St. Claire, the man who owns him?
Augustin St. Claire says to Tom, "Tom, how do you even know there is a Jesus Christ?"
Tom replies, "Why, Massah, I know him in my heart, and I know he loves you."
"But, Tom," says St. Claire, "how do you know that?"
"My soul knows it, Massah."There are some things that pass knowledge.
"But, Tom, you know that I know a great deal more than you do. What would you say, for example, if I told you that I don't believe much that is in the Bible? Would that shake your faith?"
"Not a grain, Massah. Not a grain."What he's saying is, "I believe because."
I know we are taught in Scripture, by no less a person than Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be able to give a reason for the faith that is in us. I believe that with all my heart, but I am also touched by Pascal when he says, "The heart has its reasons that reason does not know."He continues, "It is the heart that feels God, and not reason."
We arrive at some of the deep, soul-changing decisions of our lives on the basis of what goes on in our hearts. After we have arrived at our conclusions, we tack on valid and worthwhile arguments as a kind of concession to decency and order.
I'm very much taken by Wilfred Grenfell, that explorer and missionary who opened up Labrador. Somebody asked him on one occasion if he believed in immortal life. He replied, "I do."They asked, "Why?"He said, "I believe in it because I believe in it, and I am sure of it because I am sure of it."
Do you believe in heaven? I think we would answer yes. If I ask you why, isn't it true that beyond the avalanche of reasons you might pour upon me, good and valid arguments, isn't it really because eternity has been written in our hearts?As it is with us, so it is with our Father God.
God loves us because.
My text for this morning is one of my favorite verses from the Old Testament. Moses is speaking to the children of Israel, explaining to them why God loves them. This is what he says: "The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you."Moses is simply saying this: Why does the Lord love you? The Lord loves you because. He loves you because.Just as a woman cannot set down in a thousand volumes the precise reasons why she loves her husband as she does, so God Almighty loves us not because of reasons but because it is of his heart.
There is a kind of divine illogic, a glorious unreasonableness about it. This same God who set the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night and could have stopped there but who instead reached down in his bag and took out a handful of stars and spangled the skies with them so that thousands and tens of thousands since have fallen in love with those stars and thank him for them—this same spendthrift God loves us because. Just because.
I occasionally encounter people who can't believe God loves them. They have a deep and profound sense of their own sin. It's a good thing to have a sense of your own sin.
I was flying back last fall from giving lectures in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When we took off, the pilot told us there was rough weather ahead. I would have voted not to go, but they didn't pass out any ballots. When you're up in a small airplane, thousands and thousands of feet off the surface of the earth, and you're fighting strong winds and heavy rains and bouncing all about—that has a tendency to concentrate the mind. You cinch up your seat belt and hook your thumbs over it so it will not bruise you. You notice how everybody about you starts talking. That's what always happens when the air gets rough. Every body starts talking. That's supposed to make it smoother, but it doesn't.
I begin feeling my utter dependence upon God; I meditate on my sins of omission and my sins of commission and make promises.We suddenly become very theological; contemplating man's failure to fulfill God's love, the frailty of man, and man's dependence upon God. These are not just nebulous, theological notions. They become intensely personal. We need to recognize personally how we have sinned.But there are some who do that and who then say to themselves or to others, "I don't know any reason why God could love me." Scripture says there isn't any reason. He loves you because.
I read the testimony of an ironsmith, who said he worked with iron because iron was so hard to bend into something beautiful. He said he wanted to make iron into poetry.We're like that with our sins. We are hard, and we are rigid, and we do not bend easily. We are intractable; like dogs returning to our vomit, we go back and back and back again to the same old sins. But God loves us, and not because of anything within ourselves. There is no reason why he should love us. He loves us, as Moses says, "Because."He loves us so that his face was scorched in the crucible of Calvary, and his hands were wounded, and his side was pierced by the ironness of our sin.
Look at the ones he loved: Moses, a murderer; David, an adulterer and a murderer; Peter, a blaspheming traitor; the woman of Sychar, a prostitute; Paul, a religious bigot and one who stood by and assisted in a murder; sinners like us—lying, deceitful, gossiping, proud, prejudiced, not the stewards we ought to be. There is no reason why God should love us except the oldest and strongest and strangest reason of them all: just because.
Christians serve in difficult places because.
While we're thinking that thought, add to it this one: Have you ever noticed how some Christians are so willing to serve in very hard and difficult places, people who go out and minister in unloving congregations, people who serve Christ in seamy ghettos, people who pour out their lives in remote mission outposts. If you ask them why they do what they do and press it home, it's because. It's because.
I knew a certain student at the college where I used to serve. One day he was sitting in the class of a teacher who does not believe in world missions. This man believes missions are an intrusion upon the balance of the free market economy, and he opposes world missions. Sitting in this class, this young man had a beatific experience. The Holy Spirit came upon him. As soon as the experience was over, he took out a piece of notebook paper and wrote down what had happened. He gave it to me. I have that old paper in my hand. This is what he wrote. This is what God said to him:
"Child I love you. I love you eternally, unconditionally, and uncontainably. Out of your trials, I will bring good. Out of your problems, I will bring comfort. In your comfort, I will challenge you to go further. I will lead you with the greatest care, and I will never let you go. Feel the fire of love that burns inside me for you. Come into my arms. I want you to live with me forever. Nothing can separate you from my love. Be at peace. I have not planned a tragedy for you. I have not planned a farce. I have made you to be a love story. The most devoted mother would sooner forget her child than I could forget you. Rest in my peace; on fire with my love. My love burns for you. Peace, my son. I love you."
This boy described how he felt: he said he felt as if he was looking into the sun, not the fullness of the sun, but the corona of the sun. Suddenly, at the very moment he felt most loved, he felt called to the mission field. Imagine that happening at the feet of a man who argues against the validity of missions. But the Holy Spirit overwhelmed that situation, and that young man became possessed that day with the idea of going to India to serve.
He decided to leave school, not finishing his graduation. I counseled him against that, and he went off and joined a mission agency laboring in India. He had a very difficult time, and he contracted hepatitis, which almost took his life. But now his ministry has taken on a new power there.He brought his wife, an English girl who was serving with a mission group there in India, here this last summer to introduce her to me.
I said to him, "Rick, why are you so possessed with a love for the Indian people? Why have you given up your degree and all of the things that might have come to you because of that degree? Why are you spending yourself there?"
And you know what he said? He said what God said when asked why he loved mankind. He said what Christ said when Christ would not come down from the cross. He said what Livingstone said when he poured himself out on Africa. He said what William Carey said when he offered himself in India. He said what Francis Makamie said when he spent himself in the service of American Indians. He said what Hudson Taylor said when he gave himself to Chinese Christians. We love because. Because. Because he first loved us. Because.
Whenever you encounter a man or a woman spending himself or herself in some difficult service, not receiving the financial reward or the fame they might receive in some other field; whenever you find a young soldier dying in a ditch for the sake of an ungrateful country; whenever you find a child who continues to love and to serve a bitter and ungrateful parent; whenever you find a woman who remains faithfully at the side of a man who is a tyrant and a dictator and a demon; whenever you find parents who love and love and love evenwhen their children wound them and wound them and woundthem—press home for the reason. There is no reason except because.
All the Scriptures are the testimony of because. In Genesis, Adam goes astray, and God comes looking for him because: "Adam where art thou?"In the prophets he says, "Come let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus picks up the theme: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me … and you will find rest to your souls."In the last pages of the Scripture (from the front cover to the back cover), "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."And why this love? Because.
The greatest joy of my life is to stand in this pulpit and to sing of the love of God. My certainty about it, my confidence in it grows every day of my life.You say to me, "Why?"I can respond only, "Because." What I'm telling you is a love story, and love stories are not arguable."For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."Why?Because.