Monday, October 10, 2016

October 9, 2016 Do Not Worry About Tomorrow

I am grateful to be back this morning, after some time away.  I appreciate Jordan and David leading worship last Sunday, and it was a bit adventurous after Jordan being in the hospital most of last Saturday night with Lilly’s injury.  So allow me to begin by thanking our church staff, who work so hard to minister to and lead this congregation.  Much of the work of a church staff is not seen, it does not conform to regular and scheduled hours, and it is often stressful and, at times, discouraging.  Thank you for praying for us and encouraging us, and please continue to do so.

When I have a Sunday away I look forward to attending church.  I enjoyed sitting in the next to the last row in a church last week, and as I sat there a lot of thoughts and questions entered my mind as I got to be an observer for a change.  A number of questions went through my mind, among them these two questions – if I were sitting out in the congregation every week, what would I want to hear, and, perhaps more importantly, what would I need to hear?

Those questions got me to thinking quite a bit about my upcoming messages.  I have not been preaching in a series for several months, which is unusual for me.  Instead, I have loosely followed a theme – connections – until I felt led to go in another direction.  In recent weeks I was beginning to wonder why I had not yet felt compelled to go in any particular direction, other than from week to week.  I finally felt that prompting in recent days.

Beginning next week we will enter a four-week series I have titled Your Life.  The four messages will be –

Your Life Matters
Your Life Has A Purpose
Your Life Has A Future
Your Life Is A Gift

Now, to this morning’s message – Do Not Worry About Tomorrow.  Um, yeah, right. 

Today’s Scripture text is a familiar passage, which I turn to every few years, and the verses lead to the final verse, verse 34, which is what I want to focus on this morning.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

The genesis for this message came from some words of a friend of mine, who in recent months has said time and again that take no thought for the morrow (he likes to use the King James Version) may be the most important of all the words of Jesus.  Each time I’ve heard my friend make the statement about the importance of those words I’ve bristled a bit, because I do such a lousy job of living out those words that I’d prefer to ignore them. After months of hearing him make that claim I finally felt moved to preach on those words because, for one reason, it requires me to work out in greater detail what I think about them and how I apply – or should apply – them to my own life.  And, to respond to my friend, I don’t know that I would list these words as the most important of Jesus’ sayings, but I would put them in the top 10, and maybe top 5.

Now, I want you to notice something very important about this passage, and I’ll give you a hint about what it is – it’s in the title of this message.  What does Jesus tell us not to worry about?  Tomorrow.  He does not say do not worry about today.  Have you ever noticed that?  I believe Jesus acknowledges, when he says to not worry about tomorrow, that there are many matters in life that provide genuine cause for worry and anxiety.  Jesus is not saying that we either should not or do not worry; he is recognizing the reality of our worry about many matters in life, but tells us that we should not put upon ourselves more worry that we need or can manage.

So, what I am not going to do is to offer a three or four step plan that guarantees you will never again worry.  That is patently unrealistic.  Instead, I will speak more to what I would call worry management, and I will break down this verse into three categories to which I will speak – Attitude, Control, and Life View.

1.  Attitude.
Most everyone falls into one of three categories when it comes to attitude – an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist.  A realist is someone who lives in between an optimist and a pessimist.  And in each of those categories there are subcategories.  Under pessimist you can be a grouch, a whiner, a complainer, or general irritant.  Under optimist you can be unrealistic, naïve, or oblivious.

At the Salt & Light Festival two weeks ago, after our band finished playing, a gentleman came to speak with me and gave me this wristband that I have worn since then.  It says Live Joyfully.  I like that message, and I wear it to remind me that I cannot always control my circumstances – or many things in life, and we’ll talk about control in a moment – but I can control my attitude.

I believe this is one of the foundational principles Jesus is speaking of in this passage – attitude.  Don’t be controlled by fear, don’t be controlled by anxiety, don’t allow your circumstances to determine your attitude, he is saying.  But how often do we do just that?  How many times do we get up in the morning, ready for the day, ready to take on the world, ready to conquer the world, and the moment you step get in the car someone cuts you off and in just a moment you go from a positive, uplifting attitude, to wanting to commit an act of road rage?  It doesn’t take much to change our attitude, does it?  But Jesus is telling us that we must control our attitude.  Attitude is one of the few things over which we have control, which leads to our second point –

2.  Control.
I really love the Serenity Prayer.  For years I had a medallion on my keychain that had the prayer etched on it.  It belonged to my father and several years ago I passed it on to Nick.  You know that prayer, I’m sure. Written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, sometime in the early 1930s, it says – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.  Simple and to the point, it offers us some important truths.  It tells us, for one, that not everything is within our control.  In fact, we all understand that a great deal of life is not under our control, and that is one of the reasons why we experience so much worry and anxiety, isn’t it? 

To some extent, every one of us is a control freak.  Do you agree?  If you don’t agree, you’re most likely a real control freak, because they are usually in denial.  In fact, I’ll go off script here a bit, against my better judgment.  I can be such a control freak that…do I really want to say this?  Well, now that you’re wondering what I’m going to say I guess I should go ahead and continue!  I have to place the towels in our linen closet a particular way.  I have been very proud in recent days that I have not rearranged the manner in which Tanya placed the towels in that closet.  Don’t look in her direction, because I haven’t even admitted this to her!  Are any of you that much of a control freak?  Thank you to the few who are willing to cautiously raise their hands – it’s good to know I’m not alone! 

All of us want to control our surroundings, our circumstances, our life events, and almost every other facet of life.  And don’t feel there is anything wrong with you for wanting to be in control because it is one of the most natural states of being among humanity.  But here’s the problem – we aren’t able to control much of what happens to us in life.  We can control some things, to a certain extent, such as our health and the date at which we retire.  Somewhat.  But we can’t control every aspect.  We have no power over market downturns that wreck a retirement plan or portfolio, we have no control over the downsizing or closing of the company for which we work and the impact it has on our retirement planning.  We can work hard to care for our health so that we can live as long and healthy as possible, but we cannot control the distracted, texting driver coming our direction that looks down and drifts into our lane of traffic or the unwelcome news that a doctor shares about test results. 

Jesus spoke to an audience of people who had very little control over their lives.  They struggled mightily for their daily existence.  Their life span was not very long.  Almost half of children did not live to 10 years old.  To make it to my age would be quite an accomplishment.  They did not have time or resources to take vacations or to enjoy even a few luxuries.  They had no real conveniences in life.  No cell phones, no internet, no satellite TV, and no 24-hour news channels. They had no control over their political destiny, as Rome controlled everything. They did not have the opportunity to elect their leaders.  Okay, maybe they were better off in that respect.  They were people who had little choice but to endure what life brought to them, and what life brought to them was hardship, struggle, and difficulty.  They had many reasons to be bitter, they had many reasons to be discouraged, but in the words of Jesus they found hope.  God was concerned, Jesus said, about their daily needs, such as food and clothing.  While many people believed their lives had little or no meaning and that their lives mattered little, Jesus told them their lives did matter and their lives had meaning.  We grow up with the idea that we are valuable and that are lives matter and that we can accomplish great things.  Not the people in Jesus’ day.  They had little, if any, hope.  But Jesus gave them hope!  They did not have to be defeatist in their attitude and they did not have to be pessimistic about their future because they had hope.

3.  Life View.
I am the king of worry.  It would surprise me if anyone could outdo me when it comes to worry.  Too often, I find myself thinking more about problems than possibilities in life, which keeps me stuck in a short-term view of life.

If you can dream of and believe in a present and a future that has meaning and purpose, you can take the longer view of life.  If you see no real future, and certainly if you have no hope of anything after this life, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape a defeatist view of life.  If you think this is all there is, you are more likely to pursue a life of self-indulgence and self-satisfaction.  You’ll live in the moment – rock and roll every night and party every day, as the song goes.  That should not be the mantra of our lives!  Neither should sayings such as you only go around once in life so grab all the gusto you can!  That leads to a shallow and self-indulgent life that is of little or no benefit to anyone else.  Faith always, always, takes the long view of life, the eternal view.

So there you have it – worry management.  Are we going to worry about tomorrow?  Yes, we probably are!  But will we be trapped and controlled and ultimately defeated by that worry?  No!  Allow the power of God to free you from the prison of worry and anxiety!

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