Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Don't Worry, Be Thankful

Preached on Sunday, November 22, 2015

Scripture readings: Psalm 104:1-24; Luke 12:22-34

A woman was at work when she got a call from her babysitter. The message was that her daughter had a high fever. So the woman left work and raced to the drugstore for some medicine.
Along Lower Crab Creek WA: November 2015
When she got back to her car, she found that she had locked her keys in her car. So she called home and told the babysitter what was wrong. The babysitter told her that her daughter was getting worse and that, maybe, she could get a coat-hanger from the store and unlock the car. The mother got a coat hanger and, back at the car she realized that she had no idea how to unlock a car door with a coat hanger.  She prayed frantically for God to show her what to do.
Just then a beat-up old car pulled up next to hers and this tough looking guy gets out. He’s covered with tattoos. He’s wearing a biker’s jacket. He’s got a skull rag on his head. But he looked over at this woman and he could see that she was crying.
He asked her if she needed help, and the woman told him about her daughter, and her keys. She asked him, “Can you use this hanger to unlock my car?” He says, “Sure thing!”
The door is open in less than a minute. The woman hugged him and she said, “Thank you so much. You’re such a nice man!” The guy said, “I’m not a nice man at all. I just got out of prison a couple hours ago. I was in for car theft.”
The woman hugged him again and she prayed out loud, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you for sending a professional!” (From Ray Kerley, Eculaugh, note #7165)
In the teaching we read from Jesus the word thanks is not used. Jesus was talking about worry. Actually he was talking about the antidote, the treatment, for worry. Worry is one of the main enemies of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a celebration (sometimes a very quiet celebration) and you can’t celebrate very well when you are worried. You can put on a smile, but you can’t celebrate.
Thanksgiving is peace, and you can’t have peace when you are worried; unless you have the peace that passes understanding.
One of the treatments Jesus prescribed for worry is to think, and think again. Jesus said, “Consider.” “Consider things.” “Consider the ravens.” “Consider the lilies.” Considering has something to do with how you think and how you see. Worry doesn’t start with a feeling, and neither does thanks. Worry and thanksgiving come from a state of mind. They come from a way of looking at the world and at life.
Jesus said, “Look around you.” It’s true that Jesus was being selective in what he wants you to look at. But, if you are worried sick about something, you are being selective too.
Jesus pointed to the grass in the fields and he pointed selectively. Think about walking over the fields and the hillsides. You can think about the grass and the wildflowers, or you can think about snakes. I only nearly stepped on snakes three times this summer.
I don’t go around worrying about snakes. I killed a rattlesnake with a shovel in my yard several years ago. (What he was doing with that shovel, I’ll never know!)
When you are walking through the fields you can think about all the grass and wildflowers, or you can think about snakes. You can think about both, but don’t let the snakes make you forget to consider the grass and the wildflowers.
Jesus said, “Look at the world around you.” Look at how things fit together. See how they work. See how everything has a place. There is beauty. There is order. There is precision. There is a design. This world is a work of art created by God. You are a part of this. You are a work of art.
Here is something that we can see more than ever before through the gift of science, which reveals more and more amazing things every day. Every new amazing answer provides us with brand new amazing questions waiting to be explained.
Look at your hands. See how complicated they are, with all those little bones and joints. And the skin! How different it is on the tops than on the palms. Think of how each person who has ever lived has had a unique set of fingerprints.
If you were able to look inside your hand, and one single cell, and if you were able to see what goes on in that cell, in the tiny organs every cell has, and how that cell was fed and nourished on a molecular level within you hand, you would see a process that was just as complex and beautiful as anything you could see with your naked eye.
If you could looker deeper into your hand, and see the smallest things (the atoms, the subatomic particles, and the energy in them, and the spaces between them) you might forget all about yourself. You would see yourself as if your hand held a whole galaxy: billions of stars.
I was at a church picnic on a farm where there was a little girl visiting with her grandparents who owned that farm. I got to talk with her. We must have been talking about the world of that farm and how God made everything. I remember her saying something about being made of mud and worms. I tried to argue with her but she was very committed to this. I told her that mud was made out of stardust and so she was made out of stardust, but she never bought it. I wonder what she grew up to believe.
God’s artistry and design have no end. We are surrounded by examples of infinite skill, infinite wisdom, infinite care. Jesus said: consider, look, think. And, if you are still worried, think again.
There is a fancy word called “providence”. Nobody uses this word in today’s world and that is part of our problem. It has to do with God: with God providing. The old Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee had a good definition for providence. He said, “Providence is the means by which God directs all things – both animate and inanimate; seen and unseen; good and evil – toward a worthy purpose, which means his will must finally prevail.” (Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Introduction to Esther, p. 171)
But (more than that) God’s providence means that God, in his love, provides for us, and gives us what we need. Thanksgiving comes from thinking, considering, and seeing this.
Another treatment for worry is to consider that you are important, that you matter, that you matter more than the birds and the lilies and the grass which are the objects of God’s infinite care and love. Some people have trouble with this. They have trouble because of discouragement, or because of mistakes they have made. Other people (who may or may not be scientific) seem to think that the human species is a noxious weed upon the planet: and in a way we are. Even the Bible says that we are trouble makers. But we are also creatures of God just as much as any other creature.
Jesus said that we are more to God than the birds and the grass. There is something different in human beings that Jesus says is of special value. Jesus says that life is more than food, and that the body is more than clothes.
This is very odd. How can life be more than food if you will die if you don’t get food? Or how is the body more than clothes if going naked outside in the winter would kill you? What Jesus means is that there is something in human life that is not physical and not material.
The word Jesus uses for our life here is the word for “soul”. You have a spiritual life that runs deeper and will outlast your physical life. Because you are a spiritual being, as well as physical, you will carry the story of everything around you into eternity. Jesus wants you to know that this makes you a being of tremendous worth to him.
The Lord treasures you. Consider this when you think about whatever worries you, or wears you down. Keep thinking about this.
There was a girl who was asked what she looked for in a guy and she answered, “How he fits in his blue jeans.” Those are the values and the expectations that will not last, especially not long passed the age of fifty. But there is something spiritual and eternal in us that is made for everlasting life with God, made for an everlasting home. Caring about that life will give us values that last.
Those who know the Lord have a different set of concerns. We have our hearts set on different things. We are motivated by different loves.
To be in your garden in the morning, to look in on your children or grandchildren when they are in bed (and not just to say, “Thank God they’re asleep.”), to hear or read a word that God speaks to you…in that instant you know, at least for a moment, that your life is an awesome gift, and that it means something. This is an antidote for worry. This is part of thanksgiving.
Jesus said, “Do not set our heart of what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.”
Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t work and don’t provide for yourself and for those who love you.” He is saying, “Don’t live for that. Live for something bigger. Live a different life, because your life is a treasure and so are other people. Devote your life to what is best and highest.”
Jesus says, “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
I read once about a Laotian Christian pastor. The communist government in Laos wanted to stop him from preaching. They wanted to stop his church from meeting. So they sent soldiers to his house.
The soldiers gathered the pastor and his family together and they held a gun to his twelve-year-old son’s head. They told the pastor to deny his faith but, before the pastor could say anything, the boy spoke up and said that he would never betray Jesus. So the soldiers shot the boy on the spot. The same thing happened with the pastor’s wife. Then the soldiers took the pastor to a prison work-camp.
Eventually he escaped to Thailand where he devoted himself to sharing Jesus among the other refugees. Even though, by some standards, it could be said that he had lost everything he held dear, by his standards he had not lost everything, and he still followed Jesus who loved him and who said, “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
He shared Christ with others out of a thankful heart. People who know Jesus find that their hearts are set on different things, and that they are motivated by a different love.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted.” Here Jesus is saying, “Know what counts and live accordingly.”
When Jesus said (in another place) to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye, if they cause you to sin, he was using strong language with shock value to say, “Take these choices seriously. What you choose to consider, in your heart and your mind, matters.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
When Jesus says to be ready to sell what you have, he is using strong language with shock value. He means for you to make a real decision about what you value and love. How will you live if you believe that your Father has been pleased to give you his kingdom?
What does “his kingdom” mean? A kingdom is wherever its king rules, wherever the king’s will is done.
It means that you live a life in which God truly rules. God provides for you. God works with you: in you, and through you, and around you. God rules.
You live under God’s will, and under God’s protection. You live in God’s peace. You live with hope in God’s promises. Heaven is yours. The coming kingdom is yours. In a very real way God has given you his kingdom already, and so this world is yours. You have come home. You have come inside.
God gave us his kingdom when Jesus died for us on the cross. Jesus carried the things that separate us from God. He carried those things on the cross. Jesus tore down the wall. He bridged the gap on the cross.
This is the same thing John was talking about when he said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Knowing Jesus is all about receiving a gift from someone who loves you; whose love you can trust. This is the antidote for worry. This is where thanksgiving comes from.

1 comment:

  1. Consider, look, think...I will keep those three words together in my mind when I want to worry.
    And I hope I never see a rattlesnake with a shovel! LOL.
    Devote yourself to the best and the highest. Good sermon, as always.