Friday, September 30, 2016

Don’t Lag, be Ardent (Romans 12:9-21) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A visitor to Minnesota writes about his experience.  “In the community of Nisswa, Minnesota, an event happens a couple times a year which draws people from all around, the popular Nisswa Turtle Races. Every Wednesday evening in the summer months, the people of Nisswa and the surrounding communities gather at a designated parking lot for the weekly races.

It's big excitement and big business. Vendors rent turtles; others sell "turtle products." And the fans gather early, placing their chairs and blankets in the best viewing sites. In one recent contest, 435 turtles raced in heats of fifteen over a six-foot-long course.

Bif, the announcer, calls the turtles to their mark, gives them the "Go!" . . . and the crowd goes wild. People stand, jump, and wave their hands in the air, imploring their turtles to be unturtle-like. The excitement grows and finally reaches a boiling point as the preliminary winners all gather for the championship race.

Amid unrestrained shouts and cheers, the first turtle crosses the finish line, and the winning "trainer" receives five dollars—along with a turtle necklace. What an uncharacteristic frenzy of emotion for the normally reserved folks of Northern Minnesota!”

Exuberance, enthusiasm, what do you get excited about?  The stress and tension, the hurt and
disappointments, the pressure and demands of life take their toll; they constantly threaten to deplete our energy and vitality.  Life can lead us down dark roads of pessimism. You know people who have lost their zest for life.  Who have given up?  The truth is that life can become routine, we can become stagnant and lose our vivacity.

When you think of someone you know who is enthusiastic who comes to mind?  The word "enthusiasm" is actually derived from the roots of two Greek words; en — “in or within” and theos — “God.”   It means having God within or being inspired or possessed by God.   I don’t know but there’s just something about enthusiasm, it’s contagious.   It’s catchy.   It rouses people out of their lethargy.

Enthusiastic people light up our lives.   They stir us up.  They have an ability to radiate energy.  They are curious, inquisitive.  They are intensely interested in other people.  They aren’t afraid to try something new.  They focus on the positive, when things are negative; on what’s possible, when things seem impossible, on clearing roadblocks rather than being stopped by them.  They look for solutions to problems, rather than blame.  They look for options, possibilities.  They feel deeply and laugh often.  A sense of humor is key.  They don’t take themselves so seriously.  They give themselves fully in what they do, no matter how small the task. 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 Christian Saints like Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century mystic, who wrote: “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, often feeling sorry for ourselves, if we see darkness rather than light most of the time, we need a change of heart.   Why?  It’s not healthy.  It’s not what God intended for your life or mind.  And further it’s not a great way to make friends.  People get tired of hearing us.  Let’s be honest, people stop listening after a while.

I remember a woman who was extremely critical, negative, always complaining, and a poor listener. She was difficult to be around for very long.  She said one time, “I just no longer have any friends, they are all busy, they don’t have time for me, no one calls me anymore.”  How do you want to be remembered?   “She was a glass half empty person; we called him Mr. Crabby.”  God didn’t say, “I think I’ll create a race of grumblers.”  God wants us to live passionate, helpful, hope-filled, positive, committed, and energized lives.  A lack of enthusiasm often stems from ingratitude, a sense of entitlement, a lack of appreciation, and self-centeredness.  As a Christian I also believe it stems from a lack of faith.  You think it all depends on you.

The Bible in the letter of Romans says: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.   Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  Another translation says: “Never lag in zeal, be ardent, be aglow and on fire, serving the Lord.”   God’s word is talking about being enthusiastic followers of Jesus, in your witness, your faith, and your attitude.  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.

We read in I Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Jesus says: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”

God wants you to do your work, to fulfill your responsibilities, whatever they are, to serve, wherever you are, with such ardor that others see Christ in you.   If it’s being a mom, what a gift from the Lord, give it everything you’ve got.  If it’s being a dad, what a gift, give it your all.  If its serving in the church or community, what a privilege, give it your whole heart.  If it’s babysitting, what a blessing, give it your all.  If its being a student, what an opportunity, give it 100%.  If it’s being a grandparent, now that’s an easy one, most grandparents I know are quite exuberant.  God wants us to give our heart and soul, to radiate His love and care, and God will bless such an attitude.   Yes, such an attitude makes all the difference.  When you hear it, when you see it, when you smell it, when you sense it, when you feel it, you are blessed.

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 started talking to other women of the church, gathered a small planning group together, recruited a speaker, and that fall our church sponsored our first women’s retreat.

That’s the difference between enthusiastic people and grumblers.  Grumblers say, “Look at this problem, isn’t it awful, whose fault is this.”  Enthusiastic people say: “We have a problem.  What do we need to do to solve it, Lord, how can I help?”  Vehemence, ardor finds solutions where there appear to be none, and seeks breakthroughs where it was thought impossible.

God has given you power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.    Take time to renew your spiritual resources each day.   Our lives need to be infused with the goodness and power and joy of God every day.  A good prayer is: God, grant me a grateful heart.  I want to be aglow with your presence?   I want to serve and support others joyfully and freely without feeling obligated.   Enliven my Spirit.  May people see Christ in me.

Our member Judi Hauser texted me recently about a visit with member Jean Stone, who is in her 90’s and back in the hospital.  Judi wrote: “I wanted you to know I spent an hour with Jean Stone today.  She is such a strong willed determined person and so cheerful.  She says she is doing very little exercise, but her left arm and the pelvic area are improving. She has a doctor’s appointment on Monday and hopes to see significant improvement.  We had a great visit and I deeply admire her strength and faith.”

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.

Where do you get inspiration?    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.  Just give yourself to whatever you do fully and with this knowledge: God is within me. All actions that I perform are an offering to God."

Let us be positive, exuberant 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.  Why,   because our days and our lives are an offering to God.    Amen!

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