Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 18, 2015 - A Well-Ordered Life

January 18, 2015
Acts 6:1-4

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

One of the dilemmas that face ministers is the amount to which they should be confessional about their lives.  I’ll tell you about some of the goofy things I’ve done and some of my life experiences, but I generally have a limit on matters that are deeply personal.

But I will tell you this morning about a moment of epiphany for me.  Earlier in my life I was going through a period of great anxiety.  It continued through a period of several months and came to the point where I felt as though I had locked myself in a prison of anxiety.  There were many nights of sleeplessness and much soul-searching, and I wondered what was wrong with me and asked God what was wrong with me.  I tried several ways of dealing with the anxiety.

First, I decided I needed to work harder.  I don’t know why that’s a solution that often comes to mind for so many of us.  As if we don’t already work hard enough – and while there is nothing wrong with hard work, it can lead to an obsession that can damage our lives – we usually find that working more does not help us to work our way out of anxiety.  Second, I thought it would help if I became better organized.  If you know me well at all, you know I am not very organized, although I do try very hard to keep organized.  I have alerts and reminders programmed into the calendar on my phone.  But I also keep a paper calendar with me as well, and it is full of notes and reminders.  Each week I print a long to-do list, and you can see from this copy – about six pages long – that I add a good bit to it during the week.  I also have a couple of pages of notes with me at any given time, notes about matters I need to keep in mind and notes about upcoming sermons, programs, etc.  But I’ve found it is impossible to organize yourself out of anxiety.  Third, I found myself attempting to be a fixer.  Some of you are also fixers, working to fix everybody and everything.  But what I realized – and you may have realized as well – is that I can’t fix anybody, and I certainly can’t fix the world.  I can barely fix myself.  The danger of becoming a fixer is exhaustion and frustration at trying to fix everyone and everything, and how the desire to fix can lead us to become controllers.  When we become fixers we place ourselves in the role of God, who can fix things.  I can’t fix anybody else and you can’t either.  We can, though, point the way to God who can do the fixing.  But we need to stop trying to take the place of God, because when we can’t fix people we want to start controlling them to make them the way we want them to be, and that isn’t what we’re called to do. Fourth, I turned to the reading of Scripture in a way that had a profound effect upon me.  Each day, I would read a few of the psalms.  I would read the same psalms each day, and after a period of time I would turn to other psalms.  Each day I would read a portion of the prophets, such as the passage from Isaiah that I read for the Call to Worship.  I would also read a portion of the Sermon On the Mount and various sections of New Testament.  One day, while reading from the book of Acts, I came to the passage that is our text for today.  It’s a text that I have used many times before, but as I read that day an important truth became clearer to me – there are many levels to Scripture, and we can turn to the same passage time and time again and find deeper and more varied meanings.  As I read this story about the selection of the first deacons it occurred to me that what I had been trying to do was to live a well-organized life, while God is calling us to live a well-ordered life.

This is a passage about the events leading to the selection of the first deacons, but it is also a passage about leading a well-ordered life.  A well-ordered life is a life that has a healthy arrangement of priorities, it is a life that is well-balanced, it is a life that recognizes there are matters more important than just keeping up with what is on our daily to-do list.  It is a passage about doing what God has called us to do and centering our lives in God.  It is about stepping away from the idolatry that makes up much of life in our modern world.

This is a passage about living a well-ordered life, not a well-organized life. I used to have the illusion of being well-organized, but I have come to realize that was only an illusion.  We spend a lot of time trying to be well-organized, but what about being well-ordered?  A well-organized life is not the same as a well-ordered life.  You can live a tremendously well-organized life, but it may not be a well-ordered life.  A lot of people think that if they just live a more organized life then life will be better, but a well-ordered life is what is really needed, not a more organized life.

A well-organized life is a life where one organizes their schedule and responsibilities, but a well-ordered life goes beyond these things.  A well-ordered life asks questions of us, such as, is my schedule reflective of who I am in Jesus?  Am I giving my time to the right things?  Am I giving too much of my time to peripheral matters?  Are there important matters of life that I am missing?  Where is God in my life?  How am I serving God in my life?  Is God the love of my life?  Do I love God with my all my heart, mind, and soul?  (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37)  Well-organized and well-ordered are not the same thing.

Here is the heart of what I want to say this morning – I don’t think we are always living well-ordered lives.  If you disagree with me then you can just tune me out and think about something else, but that is what I believe.  And I believe that living lives that are not well-ordered is at the root of much of our anxieties and struggles.  The question becomes – do we really believe the words of the Scriptures in relation to how we are asked to live our lives?

This is not a message meant to make you feel guilty.  Just mentioning the word priority sets off guilt in a lot of people.  Guilt is an emotion that is generally destructive; I prefer the word conviction to guilt.  Conviction is much healthier and is more likely to bring about long-term change in our lives.  Conviction leads us to ask hard questions about our lives and to look closely and carefully at the fundamentals and the foundation of our lives.

As we turn to our Scripture passage this morning we find it is a time when the church is bursting at the seams with growth.  The growth was putting tremendous pressures upon the people within the church.  It would have been easy to just ride along with the growth trying to keep their heads above water and to allow the activity to set the agenda, but the apostles make sure they are well-ordered in their approach.  Very quickly the apostles recognize the need to keep the church in a healthy order.

The first matter was to make sure they did not get swept away from their responsibilities as the leaders of the church.  Listen to verse 2 says so the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  The matter at hand was how to keep up with the ministry of feeding people, and the apostles – the twelve – understood that their priority was in teaching the church from the Scriptures.  It’s not that they believed they were above the task of serving food, but that was a task to give to others so they could concentrate on their primary calling.

Here is an important truth to remember – if we do not set the agenda for our lives, life will set the agenda for us.  This is why it is so important to be well-ordered, because living a well-ordered life will prevent us from setting our life agenda.

I like to find metaphors about life, so I will present two of them to you this morning.  One is the metaphor of a treadmill.  How many of you have been on a treadmill?  How many of you like a treadmill?  I’ve told you before that I have a philosophical problem with treadmills.  I know they can keep us healthy, but I have a problem with a machine that is so much like life – no matter how hard you go, you never really get anywhere and if you slow down for just a moment you are in real trouble.  That’s no way to live, is it?

I prefer the metaphor of white-water rafting for life.  How many of you have been white-water rafting?  It is so much fun, although you have to wonder about some things about such an adventure.  First, it’s always a bad sign when you are given a helmet before engaging in an activity – especially one you have paid to participate in.  But I put the helmet on and get in the boat and start down the river.  Each boat has a guide, thankfully, but there are some things they don’t tell you until you are already in the boat.  They tell you that when you fall out of the boat – not if you fall out of the boat, but when – that the current may pull you under.  I thought I was already in danger of being pulled under the water by the heavy helmet on my head, but the guide gives me another reason to worry.  The guide says one of the things that can hold you under the water is getting pinned under a rock.  What do they mean by one of the things?  What else is under that water that can hold me under?  The instructions are to curl up in a ball – not so easy to do underwater with a swift current – and a heavy helmet on your head – and you will eventually pop out from under the rock and float to the top, where one of the other boats will pick you up.  How long is eventually?  I can only hold my breath for about thirty seconds.  And what if, after following all the instructions and floating back to the surface, you suddenly remember you were in the last boat?  Who picks you up in that case?  But the craziest part of this entire adventure is that we pay money to do this!  But it does beat a treadmill, and even though you hang on with all your strength to make sure your head stays above water, and you scream, and sometimes you fall out, but you get back in and then things calm down and you laugh about the wild ride. I prefer that white-water way of living – you have a guide to steer you through the times when things are rough and they will see you safely through to the destination and you have a sense of fun and adventure while you’re at it.  I don’t want to live the treadmill kind of existence that’s all pain and no progress and never gets you anywhere.  The difference between those two approaches to life is that one is a life where the agenda is set for you and the other is a life where you set the agenda.

Do you ever feel as if life is taking you on a treadmill ride over which you have no control?  Does it feel as though all you can do is try your best to deal with the immediate problems and needs that jump up at you every day? The apostles saw danger on the horizon; they recognized that if they did not allow God to pull the church into a well-ordered existence they would be driven by everything that came their way.

The apostles were skilled at setting their priorities.  There are so many opportunities available to us today.  Many of those opportunities are great opportunities – they are great for individuals and the church. But the sheer number of opportunities can overwhelm us as well.  We have to have a good filter at sorting through what is available to us – a filter that comes from worship, prayer, and study of the Scriptures. 

The apostles realized they could not be swept along by everything that came their way; it became very obvious they need to have a well-ordered approach to life and ministry.  It wasn’t just well-organized, but well-ordered.  As you read this passage you will note that there is not one hint of the details of how, for instance, the ministry of feeding the poor was carried out.  It doesn’t tell us how many were served, what they were served, and what time they were served; it just says they were served food.  Well-organized tells us the details of how it is done; well-ordered tells us that it needs to be done.  Well-ordered reminds us that we are not to live life with thought given only to our own interests but to the interests of others, as Paul says in Philippians 2:4 – Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Is your life well-ordered, or are you trying to work, organize, and fix your way through life.  I can tell you that will not work, but being well-ordered will!

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