Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lord's Day Message: Called to Trust


Preface
The State of New Hampshire has a debt of 11 Billion, 147 Million dollars as of yesterday.  Today that number is higher.  That is a state debt of over $8,400 per living human being in New Hampshire.  The US National Debt, as of yesterday at 9:25 am, was 14 Trillion, 185 Billion, 974 Million.  By 10:25 we had added another 48 Million to that number.  And today at 9:25 am it had risen 1 Billion, 152 Million dollars higher.  Each and every one of the 311 Million people in the United States today owes, via the Federal Government’s spending, roughly $45,600.   So, if there are four people in your household, you can clear your part of the National Debt by simply writing a check to the US Treasury for $182,400. 

Are you worried yet?

There are 81,701,523 identifiable family units in the United States.  So far, in 2011, there have been 1,646,934 bankruptcies declared and 1,049,369 foreclosures.  We are on track to produce over 10,000,000 bankruptcies and over 6,000,000 foreclosures in 2011 alone.  That is to say that 13% of the people in this country will lose their home this year. 

Are you worried yet? 

Let’s look at some other statistics.  The top ten causes of death in the United States in 2010 were Heart disease, followed by Cancer, Stroke, Chronic lower respiratory disease, Accidents, Diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Influenza & Pneumonia, Kidney disease, "Blood poisoning”.  However, while about 600,000 of us died of heart disease in 2010, there were about 1,200,000 abortions, making the elective termination of life the number one killer in America. 

Are you worried yet?

And we haven’t even talked about Global Warming, Earthquakes and other natural disasters that last year claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, unpredictable regime change in Egypt, Tunisia, Libia, Yemen, Bahrain, and possibly Saudi Arabia and Jordan.  And if those things don’t make you worry, think closer to home. 

Church attendance throughout the US has dwindled to below 25 percent – only 13 percent of New Hampshire attends church at all; believers in God are considered anachronistic in our culture at best, irrelevant by most, and despised by many because religion seems to be at the root of so many of the world’s problems and disputes.  And here on Concord Heights, it is difficult to get more than 20 people to care about worshipping God at the same time.

Are you worried yet?

Because if you aren’t the Internet can help you to worry.  The next time you have a little ache or pain, just log onto www.webmd.com and you will be treated to the full and terrifying diagnoses of what might be wrong with you.

Now that I’ve got you worried (and I suspect, raised your blood pressure a few points), let’s pray and then see what God’s Word has to say about all of this.

(PRAY)

Turn with me to Matthew 6, beginning at verse 25, and let’s stand for the reading of the Gospel:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
            “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
(Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Jesus is in the middle of the most famous sermon in history, what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  Beginning at Matthew 5:1 he has explained the core teaching of the Mosaic Law.  He has talked about Christian social responsibility, about faith, about prayer.  He has given us a pattern for how to pray and what it means to live in a relationship of blessing with God and with our neighbor.   In a few short paragraphs he has systematically addressed each of the Ten Commandments and what the heart of the law is – what it would look like to really follow the law from the heart and not just from cold obedience. 

He has brought us near to the throne of God, and laid before us some pretty huge questions about what it means to really walk with God.  And over the past several weeks we have laid down the gauntlet of what are the non-negotiables of the Christian Life.  We have said that we are Called Together into Community, Called from Birth, Called to Follow, Called to Bless, Called to Freedom, Called to Life, and Called to Obey.  And after all that, Jesus knows it is all more than a little overwhelming to us. 

So he put what may seem like a parenthesis into his sermon, because he can see that the whole discussion is making us worry about whether we can do what he has said, and that we’re already worried about so many other priorities.  How are we going to DO this?

Our Anxiety is driving us.  Jesus knows this.  And so another non-negotiable of the Christian life is that we are Called to Trust.  That may seem like a no-brainer.  Of course we’re called to trust.  Isn’t that what faith is about?  But if our anxiety is driving us, we can’t trust properly.  Our anxiety is the elephant in the room at every gathering.  Our anxiety is the elephant in the room when we are at prayer.  Our anxiety is the elephant in the room, diverting our attention from the object of our worship to so very many things.  Did you ever notice how in most churches the prayer time is 100% about people’s illnesses, when corporate prayer ought to have as its first object the worship and adoration of God. 

Our Anxiety is driving us. 

That is why, here in Matthew 6, Jesus lays out for us first The Cause of Anxiety and then The Cure for Anxiety.  

The Cause of Anxiety (Provision and Recognition)
There are really two major things that seem to drive our anxiety as it drives us.  The first has to do with Provision, and the second with Recognition.  Jesus said,

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious (there’s that word “anxious”) about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Since you got up this morning, how many of you asked yourself any of these questions: 
            What will I eat this morning?
            What will I drink this morning?
            Hmm…
            What will I wear this morning?
When most of us in Concord, NH ask these questions, we’re really asking a question of choice.  Will I eat this or that?  Will I have coffee or tea?  Will I wear the blue outfit or the brown one?  Remember that, for 90% of the world’s population, these are questions of survival, not choice.  Most people, when they ask these questions are really asking,
            WILL I eat this morning?
            WILL I drink this morning?
            WILL I have clothing to put on my body this morning?

Our view of these daily questions is so skewed!  When I get up every morning I go online (something I have come to completely take for granted) and check my bank balance.  That’s what I worry about. 

What Jesus is talking about here is that first level of provision: near-term provision.  Immediate provision.  What, in the Lord’s Prayer he called “our daily bread.”  The thing Satan wants you and me to obsess about is to run over and over in our mind, like a dog worrying a bone, the phrase, “there might not be enough tomorrow.”  If he can get us doing that effectively, we will focus all our concern on these basic life questions over and over. 

Jesus is not saying that you don’t need to attend to these things.  But he is saying to put them in their proper place. 

The second level of provision we ask about all the time has to do with next season.  It is in verse 26:  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” 

Again, he isn’t saying you shouldn’t save money and resources for a rainy day.  But the Enemy of your Soul wants you to make worrying about your savings your life’s pursuit.   “What if there isn’t enough next fall?”  What will I do then, we say over and over.  We become obsessed with something we cannot fundamentally control.  Yes, we can do what is prudent and wise.  But all our efforts at protecting our future and our children’s future can be completely short-circuited by any or all of the things we mentioned at the beginning of this message.  The game changer could come at any moment.  Will you spend your life worrying about the game changer, or will you spend your life trusting?

And finally, Jesus says, we are anxious about the end.  My Grandmother was in her 87th year when she started feeling poorly one day.  Mom took her to the doctor, and when the report came back that she had late-stage leukemia that would surely take her within three months, she leaned back in her rocking chair and said, “Huh.  I always wondered what would get me.  Now I know.”

“which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

It was said that the billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes was so concerned about what might kill him that he created a completely sterile environment to live in and sequestered himself away from all human contact for the last ten years of his life.  Do you know… he died anyway?  It was probably the worry that killed him.

The final cause of our anxiety has to do with what people think of us.  This is a whole other category of worry, and Jesus presents it to us because it is another way in which we limit our ability to trust God.  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”  (little recognition of God)

Americans spend about 22 Billion dollars every year on cosmetics.  Tonight when they roll out the red carpet at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles there is something you can be sure of is true about every actor, actress, director, producer, lighting designer and key grip that walks into the room: all of them want recognition.  All of them want a little bit of glory.  And while we all know that everyone wants to be recognized in some way, Jesus juxtaposes our desire for recognition with our limited recognition of God.  He says, “if God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more clothe you?”  And then he says, “O you of little faith.”  What he means is that God has recognized you.  But have you recognized God?

And because we have obsessed about receiving recognition, we can’t give proper recognition to God.  That is what he calls having little faith. 

Our anxiety is driving us.

The cure for Anxiety:
What’s the cure for all this?  What will make us free to trust?  We believe it is what we are fundamentally called to do.  But how can we do it if we keep obsessing about tomorrow, about next season, about the end of life, about being recognized?
 
Train yourself to ask A New Question
The basic cure for our anxiety is every time we begin to ask the obsession questions, to rather ask “What will build the Kingdom, and how is righteousness served” in this situation?”

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Everyone asks those questions.  What God wants to free you from is bondage to them.  They are entirely self-motivated.  If you are ever going to be free to answer the Call to Trust, you’re going to have to begin to think outside of yourself.  And that starts with asking a New Question.  “What will build the Kingdom?  How is righteousness served?”  Those are questions that get you out of yourself.

Asking A New Question helps you develop A New Quest.  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Now, all of a sudden, because I’m seeking God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, I’m free to trust him for all the rest.  I have stopped asking what will happen to me tomorrow, next fall, at the end of life, and I’ve started to ask how can I serve God, and that leads me to a place I could never have gotten to asking all other questions.

Did you know that worry and anxiety can never exist in the present?  They only exist and they feed off of the future.  What might happen.  That’s what you worry about.  You can’t worry about what IS happening.  And what has already happened, good or bad, is history and it can no longer cause you anxiety.

To live in the present is to experience God’s Presence.  You can only really live now.  Jesus concludes,  
            “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
(Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

You see, it isn’t that there isn’t anything to worry about.  And don’t let Bobby McFarren’s famous line become scripture to you, “Don’t worry… be happy.”  That’s not reality either.  But God is calling you today to Trust him.  And that means Asking a New Question and seeking a New Quest.  You’ll never be sorry if you do. 

Amen.



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