Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why Worry (Matthew 6:25-34) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A news columnist wrote.  “I am feeling great and I will tell you why.   I read an article by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who said that as males get older, their brains shrink.  Was I ever relieved to read that.  I was really worried.  I thought it was just me. “Many times I am looking all over for my reading glasses-and then I walk past a mirror and notice that they are perched on my head.  Ha, ha, they gaily shout to me, you cretin.  Also I have always been terrible at remembering people’s names, but now I forget names instantaneously, before they have gotten all the way through my ear canal.  Anyway, I was very relieved to find out that this was not just my personal problem, but a problem afflicting the brains of males in general, although as a frequent flier, I hope it doesn’t extend to male airplane pilots - Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching our destination – it’s either Pittsburgh or Honolulu.”

Do you ever worry?  “Is the pope Catholic?”  What do you worry about more than anything else?  We must ask the question – why worry?  I'll tell you why, because there is a heck of a lot of things to worry about.  We worry about our children and grandchildren, our health, our jobs, our finances, our education, social security, government shut-downs, disease, illness, crime, floods, fires, earthquakes, environmental threats, the economy, global warming and I haven't even begun.   We worry about things we can control and over things we can't control.  Yes, there is no shortage of things to worry about.   When someone tells me some bad news, I think, oh no, one more thing to add to my list.

Yes, let's be honest, life itself is worrisome.  So is worry even worth talking about?   Jesus thought so.  He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke to the crowds, so clearly, he believed it was an important subject.  Jesus says:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”  Come on Jesus let's be realistic.   A friend said - “I just finished a 12-step program, I am now a recovering worrier.”

Why is worrying about things a problem?  Common sense tells us that worrying is a waste of time, there are more productive things to do with our time.  Common sense also tells us that worrying wears us out and drains us of the energy we need to face life day in and day out.  Common sense also tells us that worry is futile, you can't change anything by worrying about it.
Experts have estimated that 40% of things we worry about will never happen, 30% of our worries are things from the past, 12% of our worries are about health when nothing is wrong with us, and 10% of our worries are small and petty.  That means only 8% of our worries legitimately deserve our concern and thought.   Worry can negatively affect our physical health, our mental health, and our relationships   Mark Twain said:  “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”    Now note what Jesus is not saying in these words.  He is not saying: “Life doesn't have any troubles or problems, it's just your imagination.”  He is not saying: “Everything will always come out all right,  everything will be OK, it will always happen the way you hope it will.”   He is not saying its OK to be irresponsible, to have a thoughtless and reckless attitude about life.  He is not saying: “Your mistakes or poor choices won't have consequences.”      He is not saying you don't have to work hard, you'll get by luck.  He is not saying - “Your on your own, get used to it.”   Jesus isn't saying any of these things.

What is Jesus saying?  Let's go a little deeper.  First, the Greek word Jesus uses is merimnan; it means to “worry anxiously.”  Jesus is not speaking about the normal daily worries or concerns which pass through our minds.  A more accurate translation of the Greek is: “anxiety, anxious-worry, fearful worry or worried fear.”  It’s the kind of worry that plagues you, that haunts your ever waking moment, that negatively affects your attitude and health, that keeps you up at night, that interferes with your thinking and functioning during the day.  It’s the kind of burdensome, tormented, and all-consuming anxiety that sucks the joy right out of you. 

Second, Jesus is saying remember, you are of ultimate value to God.  “Look at the birds of the air, your heavenly Father feeds them, are you not much more valuable than them?”  Knowing this, we are to daily spend time with God.  Pray unceasingly.  Pray for wisdom.  Pray for a strong  and life-giving faith.  Trust God in the things that are beyond your control, turn them over to Him, because those are especially the things we tend to worry about.  Give thanks to God for your blessings.  Give thanks always.  Trust that God is ultimately in charge of life and of your life.  Pray for God to deliver you from the debilitating consequences of worry.   Because you are of ultimate value to God, maintain your sense of humor and don't lose your joy.

Phil. 4:6-7 says:  “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  I love this verse.  God's peace is more wonderful than the human mind can comprehend.

God is concerned with everything in our lives.  Include God in the small stuff, in the details, in the little problems as well as in the major crises.   The letter of I Peter says: “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you.”  There is that word again.  Ask God to unburden you, to free you, to deliver you from the anxious worry that is weighing you down, and sapping your strength, so that you might experience God’s peace and joy.  Ask God to help you experience His power and strength in the midst of stressful and worrisome circumstances. 

You are valued by God.  Recall this story:  “Twas tattered and scarred, and the auctioneer thought is scarcely worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, but held it up with a smile “What am I bidden, good folks, he cried, who’ll start the bidding for me?  A dollar, two dollars, and who’ll make it three?  3 dollars, once, 3 dollars, twice, going for… But then, from the back of the room, a gray-haired man came forward and picked up the bow; then wiping the dust from the old violin, and tightening the loose strings, he played a melody pure and sweet, as a caroling angel sings.  The music ceased, and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said:  “What am I bid for the old violin and he held it up with the bow.  1,000 dollars, and who’ll make it two?  2,000 and who’ll make it three, 3,000 once, 3,000 twice, and going and gone.   The people cheered, but some of them exclaimed we don’t understand, what changed its worth?”  The auctioneer replied: “The touch of a master’s hand.” 

And so it us for us.  God touched you when he made you.  God touched you when he sent Jesus to save you by dying on the cross for your sins and bring you new life today and forever.  You have been touched with God's hand.    

Third, Jesus says that anxious worry is useless and pointless.  Verse 27 is ambiguous and can have either one of two meanings.  It can mean that no one by worrying can grow taller or add a cubit or 18 inches to his height.   It can also mean that no one, by worrying, can add time to his life.  You may add time to your life by a healthy diet, or exercise or getting adequate rest, but you won't add one day or one hour by worrying.  Either way, Jesus is pointing out how anxious worrying is futile.  Worrying is passive,prayer is active.

Fourth, Jesus is saying that you and I are to put God first in our lives, not ourselves, not our family, not our career, not our money, but God.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you.”  We are to center our lives on God.  Are you doing that?  Is God at the center or at the periphery?   If we let something or someone else become our number one priority, it will eventually engender stress and worry in our lives.   Jesus is saying: “Be careful about one thing above all others things, your relationship to me.”

Finally, Jesus is saying that during those times when your feeling overwhelmed, and I suspect you have had such times, so have I, break things down into smaller more manageable pieces, take things one at a time, live one day at a time.  “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own, today's trouble is enough for today.”  Don’t borrow worry from tomorrow. Don’t keep asking – but what if?    Instead, plan for tomorrow, set goals for tomorrow, dream dreams for tomorrow, think about tomorrow, take action for tomorrow, but don't allow tomorrow to consume you with worry. 

Make a list of things you can do.  Maybe you can’t solve the problem completely on your own, but do what you can. Then, reach out for help from others.    Don't retreat or severe friendships and become a hermit.  People are ready to help.  I have always found that true in my life, there is always someone who is willing and ready to help.  Put your energy in taking action, rather than in doing nothing, and waiting around for the worst.  Inaction and passivity gives birth to worry.  It can keep you from living the life God created you to live and accomplishing the things God wants you to achieve.   Don’t allow anxious worry to paralyze you, and immobilize you, and shut you down.  

Someone said that worry is like a fog bank.  Fog can blanket a city for blocks and be as much as 100 feet deep.  But if we were to take that fog and change it into water, it would only fill up a single glass. 

I close with this Irish prayer titled “WHY WORRY”  “There are only two things to worry about - either you are well or you are sick.  If you are well, then there is nothing to worry about.  But if you are sick, there are two things to worry about.  Either you will get well or you will die.  If you get well, there is nothing to worry about.  If you die, there are only two things to worry about.  Either you will go to heaven or hell.  If you go to heaven there is nothing to worry about.  But if you go to hell, you’ll be so darn busy shaking hands with friends, you won’t have time to worry.”  Amen!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Enthusiastic Life (Matthew 10:26-33) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One Saturday morning as a man was getting dressed, his dog grabbed his pants, dashed out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The man ran after the dog, but when he was at the bottom of the stairs, he slipped on the entry rug and skidded toward the front door, crashed through the screen and wound up face-down on the front porch, surrounded by pieces of torn screen.   Looking up he saw his mailman staring down at him. After a long pause, the mailman said, "Man! I’ve never seen anybody so eager to get the mail.”

When you think of an enthusiastic person, who comes to mine?  I think of Chris Denorfia of the San Diego Padres.  He was named the Padres winner of the 2013 Heart and Hustle Award.  He inspires me.  I think of 64 year old American author, speaker and endurance swimmer Diana Nyad who became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without our help of a shark cage.  It was her 5th attempt to complete the 110 mile swim.   She loves swimming and she loves life and gives her heart and soul to everything she does.  She inspires me.

What do you get enthusiastic about?  The stress and tension, the hurt, the demands and disappointments of life take their toll, without question; they constantly threaten to erode our energy and vitality.  You surely know people who have lost their zest for life.  Who have given up?  Have you?  You undoubtedly know people who have lost their passion for life.  What about you?   How about your spiritual life?   20th century Evangelist Dwight L. Moody used to say:  “Some people have just enough religion to make themselves miserable; they cannot be happy at a wild party and they are uncomfortable at a prayer meeting.”

Do you ever think - what’s wrong with me?  I’m just going through the motions.   The truth is that life can become routine and painful and disappointing and we can become stagnant and lose our vitality.

When you think of the word enthusiasm what comes to mind: eagerness, ardor, fervor, passion, zeal, gusto, energy, vigor, fire. The word "enthusiasm" is derived from the roots of two Greek words; en — “in or within” and theos — “God.”   It means having God within or being one with God or being inspired and empowered by God.  It always goes back to the Greek, doesn’t it?   Remember Gus Portokalos, the passionate Greek father in the movie: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  He said: “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek. There are two kinds of people - Greeks, and everyone else who wish they was Greek.”

What is it about the quality of enthusiasm that’s important?   Enthusiastic people light up our lives.   We need them around us!   Life can certainly wear us down.  It can break us if we allow it too.  It is easy to fall into sink holes of boredom and negativity and cynicism and bitterness.  Enthusiastic people have found ways to sidestep these traps and to maintain their high spirits.  They have an ability to radiate positive energy.  They are curious and interested in life and people.  They love learning.  They focus on the good, even when things are bad, on what’s possible, not what’s impossible.  They emphasize what they can do to overcome a given situation, not on what they can’t.  They feel deeply and laugh often.  Humor is important.  The give themselves fully in what they do, no matter how small. They serve a greater purpose than themselves. 

In her book Exuberance: The Passion for Life Kay Jamison profiles Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, whose passion for the glories of the natural world touched and influenced millions. This buoyant quality enables people to do great things.   Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm."  There is a playful dimension in the spiritual writings of the Great Christian Saints through their example, teachings, and miracles. Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century mystic, counseled her spiritual devotees to be:  "Juicy people," filled with wonder, delight, and optimism.”   

If all we do is complain, we need a change of attitude.  If we are negative much of the time and always feel sorry for ourselves, we need a change of heart.   Why?  People get tired of hearing us.  Let’s be honest.  People stop listening after a while.  Why? How do you want to be remembered?  Do you want as your epitaph:  “She was a glass half empty person; he was known as Mr. Grumpy.”  Why – because God didn’t create us in his image to be pessimistic and downer people.  God didn’t say, “I think I’ll create a race of grumblers.”  God didn’t make us to live this way.  This is just the opposite of why God made us.  God wants us to live passionate, helpful, committed, hopeful and energetic lives.   Scripture says:  “Christ became poor so that by his poverty we might become rich.”   

Complaining often stems from being unappreciative, thankless, faithless, and lacking in humility.     We need to turn to the source and author of life.   “God, help me to be grateful.  I want to be aglow with your presence?  I want to be on fire about the gift of my life.  I want to serve others and witness to others with fervor.   Lord, help me to be the best I can be.  Help me to inspire others by my spirit and behavior.” 

The Bible in Romans says:  “Never lag in zeal, but be aglow and on fire, serving the Lord enthusiastically.”    In Matthew Jesus was addressing his disciples in a time of coming persecutions.  He knew their enemy was fear.   Jesus could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices.  He says to his disciples, don’t be afraid, don’t fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight, what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”   Jesus is talking about being enthusiastic about your life in Christ, about your witness, about your faith regardless of the circumstances.  Jesus is talking about letting others know you are his follower regardless of the circumstances.   And that takes the power of God working in our hearts.   “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”   

God does not bless wet blanket people.  God does bless positive and energetic and faithful attitudes.  God wants us to do our work, whatever it is, paid or volunteer, with such excellence, that others will be inspired.   If it’s being a mom, give it everything you’ve got.  If its being a husband, give it everything you’ve got.  If it’s doing your job, give it your all.  If its serving in the church or community, give it everything you’ve got.  If it’s babysitting, give it everything you’ve got.  If its being a student, give it everything you’ve got.  If it’s being a grandparent, give it your all.  God wants us to give in everything we do our heart and soul and God will bless such an attitude. 

Is your style, your demeanor, your comportment pointing to God?  Is the way you deal with people and problems pointing to God?  Is your faith, your words, your example a witness to God?  For a positive, energetic, passionate life, a life aglow is contagious.  “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight, what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”  “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”   

Jesus calls us as his followers to be persons of positive influence.  Yes, such an attitude makes all the difference.  When you hear it, when you see it, when you smell it, when you touch it, when you sense it around you, you are blessed.    Someone said, “One enthusiastic flea can worry a whole dog.”

FedEx CEO and founder Fred Smith first developed the idea for an innovative air-freight company while he was a student at Yale University.  His professor was less than impressed; the paper Smith submitted outlining the concept earned him a "C".  Thirty years later, FedEx is the world's largest express transportation company, with nearly 300,000 employees. Smith has an ability to recruit others to his vision.  People want to be part of it.  In the early days his pilots often refueled company jets with their own money or sat on paychecks for awhile to help keep the company afloat.  Fred Smith's greatest asset is his enthusiastic determination to get the job done.  He believes in what he is doing and as a result, he inspires loyalty.   Never underestimate the power of a positive spirit, the power of enthusiasm, the power of positive spiritual energy, the power of God inspiring others through you.   

I remember a man in a former church who complained and grumbled constantly.  He regularly talked to me about all the things that were wrong at the church.  He had a gift to see the negative in everything. I would ask him to help in some area and he would say, “I’ve done my share, I’ve done my time, get someone else.”  I like the saying: “Don’t criticize unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves.”

On the other hand, I remember a woman at another church who said:  “Pastor, why do other churches have women’s retreats and we don’t?  I said well, we need leadership.”  She said: “Would you mind if I starting talking around to see if there is interest in a women’s retreat?”  “I said by all means.”  She gathered a small planning group together and that fall our church sponsored our first women’s retreat. 

That’s the difference between enthusiastic people and grumblers.  Grumblers say, “Look at that problem, isn’t it awful, and then walk away.”  Enthusiastic people say:  “We have a problem.  I want to be a part of the solution, Lord, how can I help?”  Enthusiasm finds solutions where there appear to be none, and seeks success, when success was thought impossible.

Retired baseball player Cal Ripken, the ironman, of the Baltimore Orioles played a record-breaking 2,632 consecutive ball games.  Ripken's mother tells the story about the night before Cal's first Little League baseball game.  “When I tucked him in that evening, I noticed he was wearing his baseball uniform. I told him he didn't need to do that; he'd have plenty of time to dress in the morning. So I made him get up and change into his pajamas.  Several hours later before turning in for the night, Mrs. Ripken went in to check on Cal one more time. He was sound asleep, snug and comfy--in his uniform!”  Sometimes we adults can learn something from the unrestrained enthusiasm of our children.

God has given you power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  You have the Spirit of God dwelling within you.  Stay in tune with the Holy Spirit.  Take time to replenish your spiritual resources every day.   Our lives need to be infused with the goodness and power and joy of God every day.   Where do you get inspiration?  How and where does God inspire you?   Stay in touch daily with those places and sources of inspiration.  Always remember that your enthusiasm has a profound affect on others.   I like what Rev. Robert Schuller wrote: “Add up your joys; never count your sorrows.  Look at what you have left in your life; never look at what you have lost.  Relive your happy memories.  Treat yourself to replays of that great collection of joyful experiences that have occurred in your past.  There are many wonderful things that have happened to you in life.” 

I close with these words of wisdom: "Do not judge whether what you are doing is impressive or mediocre, spiritual or mundane.  Just give yourself to whatever you do with this full knowledge: God is within me. All actions that I perform are an offering to God."  Let us be positive, hopeful, expectant followers of our Lord.  Never lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Proclaim it from the housetops.  Our lives are an offering to God.    Amen!