Monday, October 28, 2013

Finally, reinforcement for procrastination! - Matthew 6:24

 Have you ever heard someone speak or been on the phone with someone who seemed to have multiple conclusions to the sermon or the conversation? You keep thinking, "Oh, this is it. He's done," but then something else is added and concluded again? I feel like that is what verse 34 is. Last week we looked at what would have been a perfect conclusion to the section on worry, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," but then Jesus adds verse 34 and concludes the section again with a call that on the surface seems to contradict much of the prior teaching. Here the conclusion seems to have gone from "do not worry...period" to "do not worry...about tomorrow, there's enough to worry about today."

And I have to be honest. I am incredibly glad and thankful that Jesus added another conclusion. It's almost as if Jesus knows our hearts and knows how difficult the instruction "do not worry" is. Kind of like "he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). But I don't think that Jesus is simply letting us off the hook and softening the teaching to something that we can actually handle. That doesn't sound at all like the rest of the sermon on the mount in which he keeps saying, "you have heard that it was said...but I say to you." What I do think Jesus is doing is calling us back to the same reality that he has been calling us to throughout the entire section...worry can't do a single thing about whatever the problem is!

And when we realize that truth, then we can finally enter into a position of trusting God. And trusting God is what faith is all about. I think a couple of passages from the Old Testament will help shed some light on the discussion.

 Isa 33:2- "O LORD, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress."

What if we trained ourselves to pray only for what is needed for the day? Sounds kind of like another familiar prayer, doesn't it? "Give us this day or daily bread." How much worry and stress could be eliminated from our lives if we simply learned to start each morning assessing what must be done for the day and asking God to stay with us and empower us with the Spirit that He has already given us just for the things that we have to get done today!? How much freer and less overwhelmed would we feel if we recognized that we are not responsible for our tomorrows...we are only responsible for our todays!?

How about this passage from Lamentations which was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed and its people were in the process of being carted off. Talk about a situation in which worry and stress would be a normal part of every day!

But Jeremiah writes:
"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, the LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD."   - Lam. 3:22-26

I'm not exactly sure what my life will look like in a couple of weeks. I'm trying to juggle several different roles and dropping any of them is just not an option. I'm worried about not being able to function well in any or all of the roles due to lack of sleep and time. I think about new roles that will be added soon (like a new baby boy that I'm ecstatic about!) and how that will decrease sleep and time even more. And if I'm not careful, I begin to worry.

But this is what I know. God is great. This great God lives in me. And I am COMPLETELY confident that He will see me and my family through today. I know that for a fact, no matter what happens today. And tomorrow when I wake up- if I can remind myself that He saw me through today, then He will also see me through tomorrow- then I will be able to live in the moment in trust and peace because, "I know who holds tomorrow."

May we all see God's providence for today and lean on all of the days of providence in the past so we can live with courage and peace and joy each  day as it comes instead of seeing the problems of tomorrow as so big that we cannot see the providences of today.
 I Know Who Holds Tomorrow
words by Ira Stanfill
I don't know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don't borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.
I don't worry o'er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I'll walk beside Him,
For He knows what lies ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

* Lest moms of teenagers everywhere start attacking me because of the title...No you shouldn't put off till tomorrow what you can do just shouldn't worry about tomorrow because when you do, you are forgetting about the blessings of the day. :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Only Way to Stop Worrying Once and For All- Matthew 6:31-33

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31-33

 We could run over this passage fairly quickly. Many of us could already quote it (or sing it) without looking at the words. But slow down for just a minute and really think about it.

Why shouldn't we worry about those things?

1. Because when we do we look like everyone else in the world scurrying around worried about what is right in front of their faces! I got smacked in the face by this principle on the way home from a long day of studying and clinicals yesterday. I was tired and frustrated and feeling very overwhelmed and joined in the complaining and fretting that all of the other nursing students were doing in the computer lab. And then I got in the car and turned the radio on. It just so happened that I caught the tale end of a sermon that was apparently about Christians exhibiting joy and peace in the middle of trying circumstances and how that joy and peace brings notice and praise to God when others witness it and ask "why are you so happy!?" I want to be different than the rest of the world that does not know the providence of my Father. I want to live with more trust, more calm, and more peace. Not because I want anyone to notice me, but because I want them to notice the One who lives in me.

2. Because your heavenly Father already knows that you need all those other things! Quick, name one thing you need that God hasn't already thought about? Having trouble? I'll give you more time, but I doubt you'll ever be able to come up with anything. So let's try another. Think of one thing you need that God does not have the power to provide. Blank again? Huh. That's strange. One more thing. Think of one dad that you know that loves his kids more than God loves you. I'm not being sarcastic to make a point to you...I'm needing to make the point to me! I'll lose the sarcasm and approach it like a logical proof. 

If God is my Father who loves me infinitely and perfectly, 
and if God is more powerful than any force in this world or any other, 
then God is both infinitely more willing and more able to take care of me than I am to take care of my 3 yr old daughters.

God is my Father who loves me infinitely and perfectly, 
and God is more powerful than any force in this world or any other,
Therefore God is both infinitely more willing and more able to take care of me than I am to take care of my 3 yr old daughters.

I'm know some philosophy student is yelling about why the format of this proof isn't set up exactly right, but if you fix whatever technicalities need to be fixed (and please do and let me know so I can set it up better!), I feel like the basic logic is sound, don't you?
I'll add one more conclusion. If that proof stands...then I can trust Him completely even more so than my daughters trust me. And I'm pretty sure they have never really been worried about not having enough to eat or drink or wear.

That sounds pretty simple, right? About as simple as 2+2=4. But you and I both know the living of faith is a lot more difficult than the stating of faith. I think Jesus knew that too and that's why He added the next verse. Instead of just telling us to stop worrying, he tells us how to stop worrying. Focus on something worth worrying about---The kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Christianity is not a religion of negatives. "Don't do this and don't do that." It is a religion of radical action based on faith. When we forget that and focus hard on what we are not supposed to do, we miss out on the peace that God offers in His Son. The only way we will ever be free of worry and truly exhibit peace and joy is by actively seeking God's kingdom. How have you done that today? How will you do it tomorrow.

Maybe if we all commit to doing so, we will finally be able to quit worrying about worrying too much and we will actually quit worrying once and for all!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why big worries= little crops- Matthew 6:28-20

original photo by flickr user Flavio~   
I think I've already belabored the point about those of us with plenty complaining about our lack of options, so I won't do that today with this verse. I won't get on my soap box about the phrase, "I have nothing to wear!" that actually means, "the stuff in my closet is out of date now that I've already worn it," or "it doesn't fit quite right," or "someone else wore it already." I think I've already made that point about our "worry" about clothing in so many homes in the U.S. so I won't make it again, we'll just move on.

It's almost redundant to keep looking at this theme of worry, because Jesus' illustration of the flowers of the field doesn't really add anything to the conversation as much as it emphasizes what he has already said. However, I have a feeling that if Jesus used two illustrations to make the same point, its a point that is worth dwelling on for a couple of weeks!

Since we have already looked at the basic principle, though, I want us to approach it a different way by looking at one of Jesus' most famous parables- the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23).

If you are not familiar with the parable, I would encourage you to read it at the link above or in your own Bible, but here is the gist of it: a farmer scatters seed in many different places. Some falls on the road, some falls on rocky soil, some falls among thorns, and some falls onto good soil that produces a bountiful crop. Of course the parable is a picture of how people respond to the gospel with each of the different types of soils representing the status of people's hearts when they hear and respond to the gospel (the seed). The soil that I want to look at today is the thorny soil, because the seed that fell there did produce a plant. In fact, as far as the parable goes, I don't believe the plant ever completely simply can't produce any fruit because, "the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Mt. 13:22). 

How many of us have a faith... of sorts- we attend services regularly, we profess faith in Christ, we read our Bibles and pray- and yet we grow frustrated because we do not see more fruit produced in our lives? When we are talking about fruit, I believe it means one of two things. It can mean the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, but it can also mean the good that is done in someone else's life because the "seeds" of our faith are being planted in someone else's life to produce a "faith plant" in them.

Take a minute to examine your life:
  • Are you more loving now than you were last year, not just toward those who love you back, but toward your enemies and those you disagree with?
  • Do you have more joy in your life now compared to a year ago?
  • Can you face difficult situations with the "peace that passes understanding" because you know your future?
  • Are you growing more patient as you age physically (which tends to make us less patient) but also mature spiritually?
  • Are you kinder to strangers now than you were last year?
  • Are you able to make better moral decisions (i.e.- goodness) now? 
  • Are you more faithful now to people and to God?
  • Are you more gentle now even as life gets more difficult as far as challenges and health goes?
  • Are you more self-controlled now?
 Those are the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. Are they yours? Are they growing?
Some more questions to ask:
  • Whose faith is growing right now as a direct result of God working through your life?
  • Who in the congregation are you currently encouraging in their faith?
  • Who in your neighborhood is having seeds dropped on the soil of their heart?
  • Who has come to faith in Christ over the past ten years that you know God has used you to either plant or water the seeds of their faith?
The reason I want us to think about those questions is that if we struggle to answer them, then there is a problem. These are the fruits that the Spirit is supposed to be producing in my life. I am called to bear them. If there is little to no evidence of fruit, then what has happened!?

Is it possible that many of us have let too many "thorns" (the worries of this world like clothing, and the deceitfulness of riches) grow up with our faith and it is choking out the fruit that should be produced? In other places, we read about the "quenching of the Holy Spirit." What if worry- lack of trust in God- does just that and is directly responsible for our faith not producing significant changes in our lives or in the lives of the people we come into contact with? What if we are not taking God at his word when he reminds us of the birds and the flowers and commands us to quit worrying? What if Jesus was not just giving us something else to feel guilty about but He was really trying to explain that God loves us and will take care of us, so we can quit worrying? 

Because worrying chokes out the fruit that should be hanging on our branches. And when we have no fruit, then no more seeds will be available to plant in others who are lost. What if our churches are stagnating not because of the secularization of society, or the lack of funding or the wrong method of attempts at "drawing in the crowds" but in direct correlation to Christian's lack of confidence in the providence of God?

What if we quit worrying about our clothing because God loves us just as much as he loved Solomon and infinitely more than He loves a lily? What if we quit being people of "little faith" and started living like we actually believe that the God we sing about actually is an awesome God?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Don't Worry; Be Happy- Matthew 6:27.


"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

Matthew 6:27


It's about that simple. The answer is "no, there is not a single person in the world that is capable of accomplishing or changing anything through worry alone." Of course, I didn't need to point that out because it is an obvious rhetorical question. At least our brain knows that. Our hearts sometimes take a little longer to understand it. We feel like if we are not worrying about it then we are just being careless and reckless.

It's important to point out-- and both commentators that I read did-- that Jesus in no way negates the responsibility to work and provide for our families. There are other scriptures that spell out very plainly the duty of working for food, shelter, and clothing (1 Timothy 5:8).  Jesus simply states that stressing out over those things and continuing to stew over them after we have done everything we can do simply won't change one iota about what actually happens!

When you think about it, it's actually pretty freeing. After all, if I can finally realize that ultimately God is responsible for whether my family eats today or not, then I am relieved of the pressure. If I have done my best and trusted in Him, then it is no longer in my hands any more than the crop that grows in the field is in the hands of the farmer who has diligently planted, cultivated, and watered. Beyond that, there's not much he can do. It's up to God to make it grow!

So are we talking about a "don't worry, be happy" mindset?
Well, I'd say it depends on what you mean by that. 

Are you following the philosophy of the song that is missing the dependence of God and acting like problems don't exist when they actually do? I believe that philosophy is incorrect. It denies reality and in so doing puts the person living it out and those who depend on him/her in jeopardy because they are not living prudently.

But if what you mean by "don't worry, be happy" is that you can't "add a single hour to your life by worrying," so just do what you can do in accordance with God's will and then enjoy the life that God gives you knowing that whether you receive abundant blessings or few (relatively speaking in terms of others around you and in the world) you most certainly will receive infinite and eternal blessings in the heavenly places if you have walked through this life trusting God. And I'm talking about a trust that is not just for salvation, but also for food and clothing, and guidance, and relationships. In fact, "What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived— the things God has prepared for those who love him"(1 Corinthians 2:9).

I don't know about you, but if I could keep the things God has prepared for those that love Him in the front of my head all of the time even in the stressful situations, then I'm pretty sure I could live with a "Don't worry, be happy" philosophy! The problem is that we just forget those blessings and focus on the problems.

I remember hearing a comment from a mom after a sermon on worry. "Great," she said, "now I'm worried and feel guilty about being worried!"

I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind for his disciples when he gave the instruction! :) 

I do think He came "that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). I have to think that a "full life" ("abundant life" in some translations) included a life free of worry. Not because there are not legitimate needs. Not because there are no worrisome events. But because we recognize our human weakness and inability to change some outcomes. Therefore, why worry? And then, in surrendering to that realization, we acknowledge that while we are impotent in the face of some things, God is eternally omnipotent. And He is our Father. 

No matter how "adult" we feel and no matter how many people depend on us because we are "responsible," in the end, we are all completely and utterly dependent. But we are dependent on Him. And that is a good thing. In fact, it really makes me want to start whistling and singing, "Oooh, oooh ooh ooooh, ooh ooh ooh ooh, Don't worry, be happy."

What a great day it will be when Christians are the one's spreading that message based on a real confidence in God instead of leaving it to Bob Marley.