Sunday, August 07, 2016

How to be free of worry

Luke 12:22-34
Some of the worst tragedies I’ve witnessed as a pastor have had their roots in what people thought gave their lives value. Marriages have broken up. Families have been driven asunder. And other tragedies have happened because people tend to put too much trust in the things this world has to offer.

For the Christian, it’s clear that our value can’t be found in money, the affirmation of other people, in pleasure, or in power. Nor can it be found in our work or even our families, no matter how much we may enjoy the one and cherish the other.

The reason that none of these common ways we use to measure our value will do is that they’re of this world. They’re finite, imperfect, and dying.

Now, let’s be clear.

I’m not saying, “Don’t love your spouse or kids.”

I’m not saying, “Don’t be devoted to doing a good job at work” or, “Don’t sometimes relax and take it easy.”

And I’m not saying, “Don’t try to be worthy of others’ trust in your business relationships, family relationships, and friendships.”

What I am saying is that if you or I use the success with which we do these things, as the measure of our value of our lives, we delude ourselves and set ourselves up for both massive disappointment and eternal separation from God.

There’s only one measurement of our value that matters. That’s the value that God places on us.

Listen: There is no one and nothing God more values than you!

According to Genesis, after God created everything else in the universe, He declared it, “Good.” But when God made human beings, God called His whole creation, “Very good.”

It was only human beings, of all the things God created in this universe, that God made “in the image of God.”

And, it was to human beings that God gave authority over creation.

To God, human beings are a very big deal!

You’ve heard the saying: “I love humanity. It’s the people I can’t stand.” God doesn’t have this kind of ambivalence toward us. He loves you, an individual human being, with all the passion, commitment, concern, and joy with which He loves humanity.

Every single one of us has been individually, custom-designed by God and every one of us is the object of God’s love.

King David in Old Testament times was amazed by God’s love and concern for every human being, how wrapped up in every individual person God is. David writes in Psalm 139:15-16: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

And, God’s love for us didn’t end once sin became part of the standard equipment with which every one of us is born. As soon as the human race fell into sin, God went to work with a plan to make it possible for all of us who are the objects of His love, could be saved from sin, death, and darkness.

In Genesis 3:15, God promised that He would send a Son of the human race, hated by the serpent, but who, despite Satan’s and the world’s efforts to kill Him off, would crush the power of sin beneath His feet. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers,” God tells the serpent, “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

God, as always, was as good as His promise, sending Jesus to save all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus to live with God forever.

Second Corinthians 5:21 speaks of this gracious love, saying: “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Sinless God became the embodiment of every human sin--including every one of our sins, so that by faith in Christ, we could receive His righteousness and be restored to God.

Only the God we know and believe in in Jesus Christ confers value on our lives.

And what does He say our value is to Him?  By His action in Jesus,
  • He says that you’re worth the sacrifice of His life on a cross. 
  • Worth suffering for. 
  • Worth dying for. 
  • Worth sharing the victory over sin and death He gained for all who trust in Him. 
It is only Christ Who gives our lives eternal value that no one and nothing else can either give us or take away from us. With the apostle Peter, we know that there’s no place else we can go for a life or for lives of value, significance, hope, and peace: ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” [John 6:68]

In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 12:22-34, Jesus warns us against three of the most common ways we’re inclined to follow in order to ensure our value in this world. The three ways are:
  • worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow; 
  • worry over having enough; and 
  • worry over whether we’re going to look good. (In this, I include both what we wear and how we look to the world.)
Each of these three ways of worrying has one thing in common. They all express a common idolatry, the idolatry of the self.

Self worship, which the advertisers encourage in us every time we turn on our TVs or laptops, is born of the delusion that we can or should be in control of the world, or at least of our own worlds.

In other words, the real source of worry, in the end, is a common human desire, the same desire that drove Adam and Eve to bite into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the desire to be like God.

We think that if we conquer the world--or our little pieces of the world, get lots of stuff, look good, wow other people, get promoted, we will be in control. We’ll be on top. Though we’d never say it this way, we’ll be gods. The desire for control, the desire to prove and secure our value, is where worry comes from.

Let me be honest, I struggle with this myself.

At the beginning of this summer, I set five major goals to achieve by this fall as the pastor and spiritual leader of Living Water. I didn’t expect that needing to hire a new secretary / administrative assistant would get thrown into the mix.

I spent hours not only praying, but also worrying. I will confess that I probably spent more time worrying, worshiping the idol of Mark-being-in-control, than I did praying and working on a solution.

But God is good even when we're goofy. (That's a technical theological statement, by the way.) Despite me and all the ways I’ve tried to get in His way, God is bringing these five goals close to fruition.

It’ll be a few months before we know if all five goals have been met. But when they are met, it will be because God worked, not because I worried.

Jesus has been underscoring the wisdom of His words in Luke 12:25-26, for me: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

I’ve never been a fan of roller coasters. I love the rides that whirl you around and throw you sideways. I like Disney World’s Tower of Terror that drops you a few stories at a time, ratchets you back up, drops you back down again, then pushes you out over the park and pulls you back in again. I like water rides that take you up, down, and all around. But I’ve always had an irrational fear of roller coasters. They’ve always scared me to death, mostly I think, because they make me feel so out of control.

On the day after we were married, Ann and I went to Cedar Point. She fooled me into getting onto a coaster that was mostly concealed by trees. I was terrified the entire time. But guess what? I survived. I lived. I’m still here forty-two years and four days later.

Here’s the deal: We all have irrational fears about this life.

We’re afraid of things that shoot down our delusions of control.

But look, whatever it is we adopt as the thing that makes us feel like we’re in charge and makes us feel that we have attained the status of “valuable” is one day going to let us down.

Only God is in charge.

Only God assures us of our value when the world turns away or leaves us behind.

Only God assures us of our value when He welcomes us to resurrection beyond the bounds of death.

Only the God we know in Jesus Christ, Who died for us, collectively and individually, can imbue our lives with a value that can never be berated, reduced, or denied to those who trust in Him as their God and Lord and King.

In Luke 12:33 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus says this to all we worriers: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Jesus isn’t telling us we need to take a vow of poverty, although some Christians have done so through the centuries. Their examples of trust in Christ inspire us all.

But Jesus is saying this:
  • Free yourself of fear’s and worry’s rule over your life. 
  • Get rid of those things you don’t need for you, your family, your life, your work. 
  • Travel light because you won’t be taking it with you. 
  • If what you get rid of can be sold, use the proceeds to help the poor. 
Jesus says also, don’t put a strain on your wallet or your financial advisor. Invest in what’s eternal.

And friends, there is only one commodity on this earth that’s eternal. That commodity is the people for whom Jesus died and rose who believe in Him. Invest in people for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Give yourself to the mission of the Church and of every individual Christian, to the mission of making disciples.

And give all you can, every bit of yourself, wherever you work or live, to that cause.

When you do, you can be sure that one day, you will see your dividends, the payoff, in eternity.

That payoff won't be more value from God. You already are valued by God eternally, infinitely!

That payoff will be the people you see in eternity who trusted in Jesus because of the way you lived your life, the way you shared the Gospel, the way you loved God and loved neighbor, the way you prayed for others, the way you served in Jesus' name, the way you made disciples.

When we follow Jesus’ directions in verse 33, we will be living in the certainty of our own eternal value and passing that certainty onto others so that they too, can live with God forever. We will kill off our worries and give a life of eternal value to others too.

Could there possibly be a better way to live?

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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