In an article titled, "Mighty Mouse come down and save the day…," I mentioned how God provides us with little serendipities…and yesterday another one of those seemed to bless me. I was at one of the auto parts stores yesterday, looking for an additive to winterize my motorcycle's gas…and who do I run into in the store? The guy from R.C. Cycles who does the maintenance on my Harley…and who told me exactly what I should get in the back on the left in "Additives."
And the fact that such a convenient coincidence happened itself was serendipitous…because it reminded me how this whole year has been a "convenient coincidence"—right from losing my job just as it started to wrapping it up with a week long cold.
Now that sounds odd, doesn't it…that I'm saying that being laid off and being sick are somehow beneficial…?
But, if it weren't for both I would not have known the right thing to preach on today…or what my greatest spiritual need is.
I don't know about you, but after a week of being ill I feel pretty helpless…
And after seven months of not having a job…and now almost a year out not being entirely sure of how I am going to continue to pay all my bills…
After being sick…and after having my financial foundation crumble out from under me…
I realize just how much I am in need of the One I preach about each week up here.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (a rerecorded version is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
New Year's Resolutions
Which leads me to New Year's resolutions. Did you make a list?
What have you resolved to do in 2012? [ Listen for some answers. ]
The good news is you have a whole extra day to complete them, leap year and all 🙂
Now, I have multiple goals for 2012:
- Read through the Bible, especially focusing on the will of God and what happens when we die
- Bring my weight down to 195 pounds
- Learn the ukelele
- Begin work on a book
- Significantly reduce my intake of Diet Pepsi and other liquids and solids that have ingredients I cannot pronounce
Yes, I have quite a few goals for 2012, but only one resolution.
And, if you have a bulletin, you know what it is.
I resolve…to give up.
I know that probably seems like a pretty odd resolution.
We live in a "can do" society…in a country whose exceptionalism leads us to know we can overcome any obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it may appear…and we've proven over and over just how powerful that attitude is. I'd say, "If you don't believe me, just ask Hitler"…but he's not around because our "roll up our sleeves and get it done" attitude lead him to choose a coward's death in a bunker instead of facing us personally.
Yes, we are a nation of fiercely independent souls whose Puritan roots have led us to be vehement self-sufficient…although the current administration seems to be doing its darndest to change that…
Yet, I resolve to give up. I can't do it. I'm out of energy trying to accomplish the impossible.
And I see no reason in 2012 to be the little old ant who thinks he can move a rubber tree plant or silly old ram that thinks he can punch a hole in a dam…
Because that "high apple pie in the sky hopes" only work in Frank Sinatra songs, not in the real world…no matter how catchy the "High Hopes" song is…or how much I wish what it espouses is true.
The rubber tree remains rooted in its spot, and the billion kilowatt dam remains whole…instead the ant gets exhausted, and the ram gets a headache.
The "Just Try Harder" Heresy
Now, after I decided on this sermon's topic…
(Originally I was going to do one I was going to title "Would Jesus Be a Lactivist?"…so be thankful for the change. :-))
After I decided on this sermon's topic I decided it would be good to download and listen to a talk by Monte Cox which he gave at the 2008 Gander Brook Men's retreat. I recommend everyone sitting here, listening afar, or reading these sermon notes after I post them, take the time to also hear what he has to say…and no, you don't have to be a testosterone-infused male to get something out of it. We all can use what God inspired him to preach.
Partway into the sermon ("The 'Just Try Harder' Heresy"), Professor Cox asks:
I have to look at us and say, "Why are we so tired?" Inside and outside.
I don't know about you, but I feel tired. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually.
And although finally getting rid of this cold completely may take care of the first two, it won't the third. Every time I don't pray enough…every time I unfairly crank at my beautiful wife…every time I buy something I shouldn't…my spiritual-fatigue meter goes up another notch…and I am reminded of what an abject failure I am at being the man that this pulpit demands.
Now, Monte Cox does try to answer his question, "Why are we so tired?," and over a period of time shares:
- Busyness just wears us out.
- Could be loneliness. … A bunch of guys aren't likely to admit that they are lonely.
- There is a cynicism out there that just wears us out on the inside, isn't there? The cynic that says, "This is never going to get any better."
- Could be fear…that wears you out on the inside. Again, a bunch of men are not likely to admit they have fear.
- Is it just hidden sin? I don't think there is anything that will wear you out on the inside like hidden sin. You smile on the outside like everything's okay. But inside you are eaten up with a sin you think nobody else knows.
Do any of those speak to your weariness…to your exhaustion…physical, mental, or spiritual?
But he wasn't quite done with his list of reasons we are tired. In the realm of spiritual weariness he brought up one more problem that contributes to it…
Now…just in case you also were up to late last night greeting the new year…did you catch that?
But self-reliance is good, isn't it?! Even Professor Cox was trained from an early age that it was a positive character trait to be able to take care of yourself. But, as he shared with a bunch of us men over three years ago…
It's just that we bring all that self-reliance with us when we come together into the presence of a holy God who…as Jesus says in John 15…says to us, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." And we know that's true intellectually, but we struggle against all this self-reliance that we've learned to figure out what our part is versus what His part is.
And as I re-listened to his words yesterday, this next statement was especially striking:
There is a practical atheism that sets in from a secular worldview and infects us all. And yet we sanitize it with this word self-reliance as if it is a virtuous thing. And there are virtuous things about it, but sometimes this self-reliance handicaps us spiritually.
Our self-reliance is a "practical atheism." We claim to believe in God with our mouths and deny there is a God with our actions. We handicap ourselves spiritually.
In some ways I wish I could just make you all sit there and listen to his whole talk…and there is another one about pornography I'd like to make everyone with a Y chromosome listen to…but I'll share only a bit more of what Professor Cox said before we turn to Scripture.
He told a story about how he was driving somewhere with his boss, whose young son was having constant nightmares. Monte's daughter had had the same problem, so his boss asked him what he did to resolve the situation. Professor Cox sheepishly had to admit that after struggling with knowing what to do, in almost a last-ditch effort he and his wife prayed…and guess what his beautiful daughter reported the next morning.
That God took away her nightmares. 🙂
Why was it a last-ditch effort…why did caring parents try everything else first? Because…as he said in his talk…
Like the God of all the universe has time to worry about the nightmares of a child. Although in hindsight I look back and think what makes me think that anything on my prayer list rises above the level of the nightmares of a child?
Now isn't that both a wonderful and true question?
What makes us think that anything on our prayer lists rises above the level of the nightmares of a child?
Well, Professor Cox's boss was a bit incredulous…but the next day Monte got a call from him with tears in his voice. They had prayed…and guess what their little boy reported the next morning?
I don't need to tell you…and I get tears in my eyes every time I hear that story…or…in this case…when I share it.
Tears of joy.
Nothing on our prayer lists rise above the level of the nightmares of a child…
I have three more quotes from Professor Cox before we open our Bibles up:
- In fact He's not just watching us from a distance, is He?
- God isn't the one who forgets. I forget. So much so that I sound as if I'm in charge.
- All that self-reliance encumbers us when it comes to really growing in our dependence on God.
I am sick of being encumbered.
I resolve to give up.
Now, in all that I shared from Monte's talk I only mentioned one Scripture…does anyone remember what it was?
Professor Cox paraphrased a bit of John 15…so let's turn to the area he was speaking about:
15 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:1-5).
Can you bear fruit on your own? [ No! ]
Have you tried?
Are you still trying?
Now…dependence on God can be taken too far. In previous churches Michelle and I have met people who have "simplified" their lives so much that they have guaranteed that their survival will be dependent on the charity of others. God, however, does expect us to provide for ourselves. Inspired by the spirit, Paul keeps us from making a mistake in depending on the Lord:
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
We are not helping people if we encourage them to be slothful…that is called "enabling."
So, yes, I am giving up…but I will still do my best to be gainfully employed…and we should encourage everyone to do so (except those truly 100% disabled)…including senior citizens. We'll have plenty of time to rest on the other side.
Unless, of course, we don't really believe there is an "other side."
What about planning for the future? Should we give up on that, just putting our sail up into the wind of the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be carried where it takes us? James seems to somewhat confirm this approach:
13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15).
If our plans are useless because of God's sovereignty, why put any effort forth? Let's just "let go and let God" and see where life leads.
Well, then there is some odd advice in Proverbs:
Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).
What good are counselors if we are just going to let God decide everything? James wasn't condemning planning…he was criticizing boasting.
God expects us to work…and God expects us to use our heads…and the heads of our wise brothers and sisters…to plan for the future.
So, I'm not going to give up on the brain God gave me either…
Having said that…whether it is blowing out my knee almost two years ago…losing a job of 16 years a year ago…or having this cold for a week…
I know that no matter how hard I work…no matter how much I do wisely plan…
Life is capricious, and the totally unexpected may occur.
And it doesn't mean that God is going to be the one redirecting it…we all know how perilous this world is…and sometimes all our most righteous intentions are thwarted as we are collateral damage when the God of this world fights our heavenly Father with his dying breaths.
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!" (Revelation 12:12)
The lack of surety in life makes me anxious…does it you?
But I will figure out a way! God will help me…but I will make sure my family is fed and…
No I won't.
Because I resolve to give up.
Instead, I will "humble [myself], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt [me], casting all [my] anxieties on him, because he cares for [me]" (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Although modified to the first person by me, those words from 1 Peter 5:6-7 were from an apostle who was about as self-reliant as they come…that is, until denying Jesus three times reminded him just how dependent on the Messiah he was.
Mark 14:31a records:
But he [Peter] said emphatically, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you." And they all said the same.
Matthew narrates the fruit of that confidence in Matthew 26:69-74:
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, "You also were with Jesus the Galilean." 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you mean." 71 And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, "This man was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 And again he denied it with an oath: "I do not know the man." 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you." 74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately the rooster crowed.
Did you notice that…Mark said Peter "emphatically" said he wouldn't deny Jesus…yet Matthew records Peter more emphatically…with oaths and curses…doing exactly just that.
Don't you want to head back in time and ask Peter how that self-reliance thing was working out?
Well, we know how Peter would answer, because after the third renunciation:
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times." 62 And he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61-62).
I don't know about you, but I want to be broken like Peter…so I can truly understand…and follow his advice to cast my anxieties on the Lord.
How Much More Do You Need?
There are many more scriptures we can read together today…how many more do you need so that you will add my New Year's resolution at the top of your list of New Year's resolutions?
For instance, should any of us be surprised that the nightmares of a child are important to God, given that God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies?:
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?' or ‘What shall we drink?' or ‘What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6:31-34).
Give up. Instead, set your sights on the kingdom. Listen to Paul when he says:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
You want peace?
Stop believing the "if I just try harder" heresy that somehow you won't deny Christ in your actions…or lack of action.
You will if you keep trying to do it yourself.
Mary or Martha
Do you remember in Deuteronomy where, through Moses, the Lord said, "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil"? (Deuteronomy 30:15).
Well, today I set before you a choice…Mary or Martha.
Oddly enough, with all the biblical references that came to mind preparing for this, a simple story about two sisters seemed to fit best.
I am going to close with one more Scripture, making no more comment afterward. When we get to the end, I want you to first ask yourself who better describes you right now…Mary or Martha? Then I want you to choose who you will be in the future…Mary or Martha? Finally, I want you to decide what your #1 New Year's resolution is.
Because, I give up. I can't change me. I can't change you. But you can't change you either. You can try harder and fail miserably, or you can sit at someone's feet. You choose.
Because, I give up.
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." 41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42).