We all deal with worry. It might be because of health, work, finances, or a relationship. Worry cuts us off from the presence and power of God like almost nothing else. It robs us of joy and paralyzes our ability to trust God. Join us this week as we learn to give our worries to God and live with a peace that is beyond human understanding.
You know, I remember, as a kid, worrying about things. * I would worry about school. * I would worry about taking tests. * I would worry about what I’d get on my report card. * I would worry about getting in trouble if I didn’t get good grades. * I would worry with the question, “What if my parents find out?” about whatever it was I did wrong. I remember thinking, “It must be great to be an adult, because when you’re an adult, you don’t really have to worry about anything anymore.” Then as I got a little older… * I still worried about losing at sports. * I worried about getting into the right college. * I worried about getting into the right graduate school. * I worried about making friends. * I worried about what I should do for a living and if I would live up to my potential (whatever that was). * I worried about meeting the right girl, and falling in love and getting married. * Then I worried if we would have a child. Then we did. When that little child was born, I realized I had everything I wanted, and now that I was a parent, I would never worry again. That lasted about 10 seconds. * Then I realized this little baby was 8 pounds of non-stop worry. * I thought, “Now I’m going to have to worry about this little kid for the next 18 years!” * She’s 16 and now I’m starting to worry she’s going to go away to college soon and never look back. Worry is not my friend. It always tries to get me to live in a future that I can’t control; and miss the present where I could know gratitude. Worry is insatiable. I can worry about not having kids, and I can worry about having kids and doing a horrible job of raising them. These are mutually incompatible outcomes, but I can worry about them both. I have a finite capacity to live but an infinite capacity to worry. And worry is relentless at killing the joy in my life. * There won’t be enough. * You’re not going to make it. * The kids won’t make it. * The bubble is going to burst. * You’re disappointing people. Worry will make me say, “But what if?” rather than the truth I know from the writers of Scripture, like, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Worry will make me say, “If only…” rather than, “In all things, give thanks.” Worry is sneaky. My brow is furrowed, and my wife will ask me, “What are you worried about?” “I’m worried about this stupid sermon I’m working on.” “What’s it about?” “It’s about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount about not worrying about anything.” “You’re worried about how to teach people not to worry?” “Yeah, what’s your point?” Jesus hates worry. * He hates what it does to people. * He hates how it makes us small, selfish, timid, and mean. * He hates how it chokes joy, kills dreams, and steals our days one hour at a time. Jesus hates worry. But he loves worriers. You need to hear this — Jesus has great compassion for people who worry. It may be that anxiety, chronic worry, or panic attacks are a crushing enemy for you. Maybe other people or even churches sometimes make you feel worse because they imply that the anxiety is your fault — “You ought to have more faith,” they say. I have a close friend who has incredible faith in God who has dealt with chronic, often severe, anxiety since childhood. He doesn’t lack faith. He (and maybe you) has to fight an inner battle no one outside of his body can ever fully understand. But God knows. And God cares. And Jesus does not say these words to add to your burden. In fact, it’s the exact opposite — he wants to lighten your burden. So we come today, in the Sermon on the Mount, to these words of Jesus: 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? 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? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 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? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34) I was reading some brilliant insights from a Christian writer who talks about how to locate our lives in the reality of what Jesus describes here. He said we live at the intersection of the past and the future. We all have a past — we remember what is behind us, and we do that either with gratitude or regret. And we all anticipate a future — we do that either with hope or fear. And the only place we can find God is in this moment right here and right now. You see, regret will try to make you live in the past. Fear and anxiety will try to make you live in the future. Yet God calls us to live in this moment, right here and right now. It’s actually his gift to us — that he created us to live in time. Then he said we’re also creatures who occupy space. And again, when it comes to space, we live at the intersection of two worlds: our inner world (in our minds) and our outer world (the great world God created). In our minds, there is this unceasing flow of thoughts and feelings. And your inner world is an amazing gift. Then we engage with an outer world — with objects, with nature, and especially with people. Now, the whole world is God’s gift to us, and we were made by God to live in our inner world with peace. The Apostle Paul tells us: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) And we were made by God to interact with the outer world with love. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34) You live at the intersection of the past and the future, and at the intersection of where your inner world meets with your outer world. You live at the center of the cross. You live what this writer calls a cruciform life — a life in the shape of the cross. You can’t live in the past. You can’t live in the future. You can only live in this place called “now”. We sometimes take “now” for granted, but we don’t get to manufacture it. Now is a miracle. Now is a gift. Maybe that’s why it’s called the present. With God, existence is always now. Someone asked Augustine one time, “If in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, what was God doing before the beginning?” Augustine said he was creating hell for people who ask questions like that. He was only joking because God loves it when people ask questions. God made us to ask questions. You see, this is how we’re to live — We’re to remember the past with gratitude, to anticipate the future with hope, to dwell in your heart with peace, and engage in the world with love. That’s the cross-shaped life, the cruciform life. That’s why the most important word in this passage is the first one: therefore. Therefore I tell you, do not worry… What’s the therefore there for? * Don’t worry, not because worry is unpleasant (although it is). * Don’t worry, not because it will hurt your body (although it will). * Don’t worry because we live in a God-made, God-breathed, God-soaked, God-watched, God-loved world. * Don’t worry because your cross-shaped life is safe in the hands of God. Jesus says: 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. Jesus would often teach about this lesson — the lesson of the birds. Look at the birds. They don’t sow or reap. They have very limited time-management skills. Birds are not very employable, not very ambitious, but almost never do you see a bird with real high blood pressure, or colitis, or a bird that’s obsessing over how the NASDAQ is doing. They just kind of trust that when they need a worm, it’ll be there, when they need a berry, it’ll be there. And Jesus says that when that happens, it’s no accident. He says: “Your heavenly father feeds them.” That’s what’s going on all of the time — Jesus would look at birds and it would make him think about how good God was being. God never gets tired of taking care of all those little creatures. We have two cats that we love, Rizzo and Baez, named after our favorite 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs. We feed Rizzo and Baez. We love them and take care of them. And they don’t worry about what they’re going to eat. We feed them everyday. What Jesus is saying is it’s like that with God and all of his creatures. We do not live in a machine. Science has not shown that we exist in a machine. Every time a hummingbird swoops in for nectar, every time a daisy pops out of the ground, it’s God. Jesus hasn’t even gotten to you yet. So we’ll talk about you in just a moment. Alright, now what does Jesus say about you? Well, he said in the gospel of Luke: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7) Think for a moment about your closest friend or family member. If you were to calculate their worth in sparrows, how many sparrows would it take for you to trade them in? Now you might be tempted to think, “I don’t see much evidence of God taking care of me. I don’t have the life, the job, the home, or the money I want. I rarely have a good day.” So let me ask you a question — what does it take for you to have a really good day? Because this is the day God made. This is the day in between the past and the future. I want to tell you about a Doctor who learned he had cancer, and about his best day. His name is Chuck and he had cancer a number of years ago. Chemo was very hard, but he made it through. One month later, he went in for his first checkup, and the lab results showed the cancer was back as bad as before the treatment. Chuck was a doctor, so that day was his worst day. That day he knew he was going to die. The hospital called the next morning. A lab technician had mistakenly switched Chuck’s results with the lab tests of another patient who had not even started treatment yet. Chuck was actually cancer-free. Since Chuck was a doctor, they asked him, “Do you want us to call the lab technician in so you can yell at him?” Chuck said, “Yell at him? I want to kiss him!” That day (the day after Chuck found out he was not going to die, that he could raise his children, that he could love his wife) was the best day Chuck ever had. Now what happened? Outwardly, what did he gain? Nothing. * He didn’t win the lottery. * He didn’t get promoted. * He didn’t inherit a fortune. * He didn’t become famous or buy a new house. He just got another day to do the same things he did every day. That’s all! He ate the same breakfast, kissed the same wife goodbye, drove the same old car to the same old job. He came home to the same old house, had dinner at the same old table. Only now he knew there was nothing ordinary about ordinary. There was nothing usual about usual. You might be going through life thinking, “God doesn’t really care for me. I’m stuck in the same old job driving the same old car, kissing the same old spouse.” Let me tell you something — somewhere out there in this world, there is someone who would love to be working at your old job. Somewhere in this world, there is someone who would love to be driving your old car. Believe it or not, there is someone who would love to be kissing your old spouse. Maybe you’re not married, you don’t have a job, or you don’t have a car. Still it’s true. There are people who, if they could be in your place, this would be the greatest day in their life. But we don’t see it. The birds do. The flowers do. But not us. See, there is this wonderful God, Jesus says, watching over his world. And with this God rightly fixed in our minds, Jesus says, “My advice to you would be — don’t worry, because in light of the eternal future in the kingdom of God, you have nothing to worry about.” It’s like this — I’ll never forget the day about 13 years ago. We were at Legoland in Chicago. My wife took our three-year-old daughter to the restroom while I waited outside. When she came out of the restroom, she didn’t have Lily with her. Our child was missing. Now, this place was huge. How were we going to find a missing three-year-old in a place like Legoland? I started to panic. My imagination went into overdrive. Needless to say, I was worried. We started to search and we ended up finding her near the entrance of the park. When we finally found her, we didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, hug, or punish. “Lily! Weren’t you afraid? You were lost!” She said, “I wasn’t lost. I knew where I was.” In that moment, I experienced profound gratitude for two blessings. One was just life. Our child was alive. That’s a gift. The other was that going forward into the future, when I would mess up as a parent, when Kathy would call me on it, I had something to use against Kathy for the rest of her life — “You lost our child.” Here’s Jesus’ teaching — “You don’t need to be nervous. God knows right where you are in God’s universe.” There are in the Bible a staggering number of promises that all make the same claim. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1) And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19) The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1) Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9) Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) In other words, ultimately, eternally, all will be well. Your need for a good future was placed in you to lead you to the God who alone holds the future in his hands. This is what Jesus says. Believe it or not, this is his claim. — * Things are not just better than you think. They are infinitely better than you think. * Things will not just turn out well. They will turn out indescribably, inconceivably well. * Pain, suffering, injustice, and death will not just be redeemed; they will be gloriously, creatively redeemed — redeemed without exception. Now if you’re ready to give life beyond worry a try, Jesus has an invitation. It’s not, “Don’t worry.” That just crushes people. You can’t not worry by trying really hard not to worry. By the way, worry is not a sin. People may choose to disobey God with greed, lust, pride, deceit. No one says, “God, I’m going to defy you so I can fill my days with chronic anxiety, panic, and despair.” If you wrestle with worry, don’t add guilt to it. No, what Jesus does is to give an invitation — But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Make it your top priority to get in on what God is doing and to have his kind of goodness shape your character. * Study God. * Love God. * Follow God. * Serve God. * Think about God. * Be preoccupied with God. * Be surrendered to God. * Give like God gives. * Find him in this moment. * See him in each person’s face. * Hear him in each voice. * Watch him at work with the birds and the flowers. * Rearrange your strategy for living around this remarkable opportunity to follow Jesus. In particular, Jesus says here and elsewhere in the Bible, do this one day at a time. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Live at the center of the cross right now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Right now. See, it’s when we look in the future that we get overwhelmed. The US Department of Agriculture said every year the average American will eat 1,996 pounds of food. Imagine if you were to go into a room that had all the food you were going to eat over the course of a lifetime. That’s 42,000 pounds of dairy, 14,000 pounds of beef and poultry, 7,000 pounds of butter and fat. If someone sat me down in a warehouse and said I had to eat all of that food, I would be overwhelmed, and yet we will all do it. How? What’s our secret to putting away 75 tons of food? Well, we eat it one day at a time. How will you face all the heartbreak life will hold for you? How will you deal with all the problems? How will you handle all the disappointment, loss, and grief? One day at a time. See, we think the answer to anxiety is we have to have less bad stuff happen to us. Sometimes people think, “If I become a Christian and follow Jesus, then God is supposed to make sure I’m protected from bad things. As long as I believe hard enough, that’s his job.” Jesus doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow because if you have enough faith, tomorrow everything is going to be okay.” What he says is: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Here’s Jesus’ prediction — trouble. When? Today. What about tomorrow? Trouble then too. Trouble today. Trouble tomorrow. Now what about terrible things that have happened in my past? Well, we don’t minimize them. We don’t deny them. We don’t over-spiritualize them. We recognize them. We lament them. And we grieve them. One of the premier researchers on gratitude in our day is a man named Robert Emmons. He teaches at U.C. Davis. He happens to be a follower of Jesus. And he talks about what he calls the redemptive twist. Oddly enough, very often the seasons that are most painful when we go through them end up creating community, connection, growth, or meaning for which we are the most thankful. See, if we live cruciform lives, our past is not finished yet. Another way of saying it is what happens in the future can change the way we understand our past. It was on a Friday that a cross entered the consciousness of the world in a new way because Jesus the Savior was hung on it. For his friends on that Friday, it was the worst day of their lives. On the next day (Saturday), that Friday was still awful. Then came Sunday. Easter Sunday. What happened on Sunday transformed forever the way they understood Friday. On Sunday, tragic Friday, awful Friday, God-awful Friday became Good Friday. On Sunday, human history got divided up into two sections: BC and AD (what happened before Christ and what happened after him). Now I’ll give you a sentence that has helped me with problems for the last decade or so. Many years ago, I faced a time of real deep worry and sadness. It was a situation of gut level, raw pain that involved my family and those I love most, and my ministry calling. I was not suicidal, but I remember thinking, “If my life were to end right now, I’d be kind of relieved not to be in this pain.” I was seeing a counselor. I was on antidepressants to be able to keep functioning. I told one or two of the people closest to me about the situation, and they expressed real deep empathy. “It must be so hard. We’ll pray for you.” Then I decided I would talk to a friend who was kind of a spiritual mentor of mine. I laid out the whole situation, and I waited over the phone for the words of sympathy I knew would come. I waited for him to say, “I feel your pain. How hard this must be.” Instead he shared with me the serenity prayer — 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 [In the longer version it goes on] living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Every time I tried to imagine or project into the future, anxiety would always win. So I had to learn — just this day. Strength for today. Manna for today. The cruciform life. Now much of that journey for me involved having a few people with whom to share it. When it comes to anxiety (this is a really important part of being Jesus’ community), never worry alone. We are wired to receive life from other people when we’re anxious or afraid. The reason we have small groups is — no one is meant to face life alone. So don’t neglect cultivating deep relationships where you can share whatever is going on in your life. That’s part of what I learned in that season. There was a closeness with Kathy and me, and with my deepest friends and me in that valley that never occurs on the mountain. When the valley comes, when you’re worried, stay connected in community. Never worry alone. For there is a Father who feeds birds and dresses flowers. You live a cruciform life remembering in gratitude, anticipating in hope, dwelling in peace, engaging with love. When the troubles comes, ask God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church