by Jeffrey Lindsay
February 16, 2020
If you’ve been with us this last few weeks, you know that we’ve been preaching through a series based on the first chapter of the gospel of John, that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. From Peterson’s the message it says, and God became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. As followers of Jesus, we think is there a model there for us to follow? Is there are some addresses that need to be rethought of and some neighborhoods that we need to move into? Is there some change that needs to happen in each of our lives that helps us to be more followers of Jesus? Let’s pray. God we ask that you would speak to us through your words today. We asked that you would lead us and guide us and illuminate the path before us that boldly and with great confidence we might follow you, wherever that might lead. For we pray this in your name. Amen.
Early in our marriage, Tami and I bought an entertainment center from IKEA or one of its predecessors. I will always remember that project because it took three of us to get the box into the basement. I was optimistic as I held onto the words, printed on that box, easy steps to a whole new room of entertainment. Two days later with a few leftover parts in my hand, I had determined this job was far, far from easy. Well,
I should add here though, that had I listened to my wife, Tami, I would have been done in less than one day. See, Tami had figured out early in the project that I had gotten off track. I had elected to start skipping some of the directions as a shortcut and we know how that works.
Why is it, I pondered, that we never seem to have time to do things the right way the first time; but we always have time to do it over again? I could have learned so many things that day, like swallow your pride, listen to your spouse or maybe ask for help when you aren’t sure. The most valuable lesson I could have learned that day, which would have saved me so much frustration, embarrassment, and money, is that there really is no such thing as easy steps to really anything, especially change.
Change is hard. Change is hard no matter what it’s for. What can help us to take steps towards changing our lives is faith — faith and hope in a God who is deemed intentionally loving, grace-filled and reliable. For faith in such a God offers us the hope needed to produce the courage and confidence necessary, to encounter real change. I think this is what the author of Hebrews 10 meant when they warned us to “not therefore abandoned the confidence of yours, it brings a great reward. For you need endurance so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”
Several years ago, an experiment on endurance was conducted at the University of California-Berkeley. The experiment involved placing Norwegian field rats –first of all… who knew they were such a thing?– Norwegian field rats in a tub of water where they were forced to swim until they grew exhausted and finally drowned. I know kind of sad. During the first experiment, the researchers discovered that on the average, these rats were capable of swimming for seven hours before drowning.
A second experiment was conducted exactly like the first, but with one exception. This time when a rat was getting too exhausted to swim any longer, the researchers would remove the rat from the tub of water for just a few seconds and then put the rat back in the water to continue swimming. These rats were able to swim for almost 20 hours before perishing. The research concluded that the rats in the second group were able to swim so much longer than the first group because of one factor. They had hope. They had experienced a rescue, and what kept them going was the hope that they would be rescued again.
It’s a sad experiment. Don’t worry, there are lots of Norwegian rats; but still, what can we learn from this? What is there about hope that keeps us going and helps us to keep on keeping going? Hope combined with faith increases the endurance level needed to produce desired change. Anything less can lead to despair or complacency. Our relationship with Jesus can produce confidence in our faith and the hope that comes with it and it seems to me followers of Jesus are supposed to not merely endure change, but even be the cause of change.
A sobering question that I ask myself from time to time is, “How am I changing?“ When was the last time I did something positive and significant for the Kingdom, and what if any, change did that produce in my life? It’s good to pause to think about that from time to time, but maybe a more insightful question is, when was the last time I did something positive and significant for the needs of others? Is it time to make an adjustment to our spiritual addresses with deeply challenging steps that will offer the conviction that leads to real change? What will it take to motivate you and I to take those first steps to positive transformation?
You see — I can be deeply entrenched with my beliefs, my choices, my habits, my patterns. How about you? I can find myself as the main character in that old story of the farmer who rode his mule to town one day and just as he got to the edge of town, that mule decided it wasn’t going to go any further. So then the farmer began to tug and pull, trying to get his mule to finish the journey. The farmer began to plead and promise anything to coerce that mule to complete the journey. The mule was content with where he was. No one or no thing was going to change his mind until it was ready.
Do you hear yourself in that story too? The more I’m set in my ways of thinking and acting, the more I am like that mule, delayed in reaching my encouraged destination. As I get older I continue to hold onto that notion, “as long as I make it to the finish line, I’ll be okay.” That “as long as I make it to the finish line” kind of thinking tempts me to look in other directions than where God is leading and with each ache and pain of each day I relate to it even more. It’s something I have to stand up against and to work towards other ideas.
I don’t think accepting this mindset was what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “to run the race with endurance.“ No matter how things look, feel or seem, I think Paul, a student of the prophets, was holding fast to God’s promise from Isaiah 40 when he said “run the race with endurance.” Isaiah 40 says, “…but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” You’ve ever thought for a moment who are the “those” in this passage?
Well, we are the “those.” We are the “they” in this passage. As we wait, have faith and endure, stepping courageously into those places where God is calling each of us individually and collectively as a church. We are the ones who shall renew our strength. We are the ones who shall mount up and soar like eagles and even the ones who shall run and not be weary and not faint. Because when things are going good and life continues to fall in place on a consistent basis, trusting God is easy. Our endurance is tested when challenges arrive and it appears God is calling us to change the address of our thinking, like where we place our hope or how we use our gifts and abilities and talents. That’s when there are no easy steps. Just hard, yet helpful steps leading to new places, to new addresses.
This idea suggests that we need to reside in an ever-growing trust in God. Faith along with the attitude of perseverance and endurance should still be at the forefront of our minds. This should be how we pray. This is how we should encourage each other. This is how we should live each day. Our passage today from Proverbs 3 reminds us to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts, to not rely on our own insight, but in all our ways acknowledge God and God will make straight our paths.” So, the question is– On whose path to this new address do you want to walk on? Yours or God’s? If God is leading you and leading us as a church, maybe we want to walk these steps being laid out before us by a loving, intentional God. Not easy steps, but God’s steps and steps that can change us forever — the steps that have been modeled for us by the life of Jesus.
A poem by Gina Whitacre is about the environment, but speaks to us about change:
Change is inevitable,
But yet we fight it, just the same.
Change is essential to our evolution.
Change is going to happen,
In fact, it happens every day,
Maybe it is too small to see, or perhaps we would rather not see it.
We fight change, because we fight the unknown,
We fight the unknown, because we are scared
Scared of change, scared of the unknown.
If we were to allow change to happen freely
We might find solutions to the problems that exist around us
But instead, we are hung – up on controlling everything around us.
Maybe this is the problem with the world today.
Everyone assumes control of everything
and does not allow nature to run her course.
Maybe this is why, we have devastating fall out from Nature,
Natural catastrophic disasters, such as fire and flooding.
We fight change, therefore we are fighting nature
and her natural being and her existence
in the world that she has created by God’s hand
and has graciously allowed us to be part of.
We should welcome change and allow nature to control our destiny.
Change is uncontrollable,
Change is inevitable,
Change is the unknown.
Hopeful words there and also challenging words.
I’m convinced that these first steps towards changing where we currently live and experiencing that niche’s place on God’s journey for us, is based on an ever-growing intentional faith on our part, or maybe a better word, trust. Trust in a trustworthy God. I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from The Message of Romans 8, “…so what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us embracing our condition and exposing Himself to the worst by sending His own Son, is there anything else He wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even point a finger? The one who died for us, who was raised to life for us is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone’s going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There’s no way. Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying and threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.”
Don’t you love that? Life can certainly be exciting and hopeful and sometimes life is unfair and really hard. There are even seasons when we can feel like life itself is up against us, but there are also seasons when our new address is only a few, not-so-hard steps away.
A little secret that I have about myself is the way I try to look at life — on the one hand I would like life to be a bit easier. That would keep me and others from despair. But I’m also glad that it is at times difficult, because it reminds me –and it reminds all of us– of our absolute need for God. We must be careful, church, because it doesn’t take much of anything to get us distracted or stuck. Looking backwards is a distraction that can cause us to lose sight of our destination. Our new address for looking back will rarely motivate the endurance we need to experience all of what God intends. We can choose to look towards the future because amazing, wonderful days may be ahead of us. God’s grace and mercy assures us that every day is a chance for a new start.
Again, from The Message from James 1 that reminds us that God has known from the beginning that we are going to be faced with hardship and challenges, but there’s a good reason for us to keep on keeping on. In James 1 it says, “Consider it your gift friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith life is forced into the open and it shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work. So you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” That’s what we want, isn’t it? To be the fullness of what God desires so that we can experience and participate in the fullness of the life that God has for us.
After spending hours enduring the long lines and rude clerks and insane regulations at the Department of Motor Vehicles (sorry if you worked there) a man stopped at a toy store to pick up a gift for his son. He brought his selection, which was a baseball bat to the cashier and handed it to her. She said, “Cash or charge?” “Cash.” The man snapped, then apologized for his rudeness and explained, “I’ve just spent the afternoon at the motor vehicle bureau.” The clerk sweetly asked, “Shall I wrap the bat up or were you planning to use it soon?”
Sometimes life situations tempt us to go back to the past and correct all the wrongs that have been done to us or re-experience those moments we long for. These are memories that can keep us from fully embracing and striving for life at our new address. Of course, no easy steps to get there. All of us have had things happen to us that should have never taken place, but remember the ever-present God of Scripture, the great I AM, knows each and every incident and has never forgotten one time or one place that you struggled and offers us comfort and encouragement and grace and mercy and love.
So can’t we be confident of these words and these promises? Scripture declares, “and we know, that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to God’s purposes.” If God really meant these words, then we can constantly look to this new change and this new address that God’s Spirit invites and calls us to. Each step not easy, full of challenges, even overwhelming at times. It filled with the promise, the promise of God’s presence.
I love listening to little bits of history from famous people and I stumbled upon this the other day. There was a man born in the late 1800s. One of several children being the oldest, took care of the younger children and began to cook for them. He started this when he was just seven years old. His father died when he was still young, leaving him even more responsible for these other children. He worked many jobs in his life trying to make things work. As I read through the story, I counted maybe 20 different jobs and careers that he pursued through his life trying to find that one that fit.
Known to have a temper and to have it flare up quite often with those who did not agree with him, makes choices for the success he longed for seem unattainable. Thus explains all the different jobs he had. He became a ferry boat captain, a railroad conductor, a lawyer, a tire salesman, a gas station operator, even had his own restaurant for awhile and served in the US Army. Well after his failed attempt of having his own restaurant, he went into the business of instructing other people how to prepare and cook their food his way and that would make his name famous –Colonel Harland Sanders and his brand, Kentucky Fried Chicken, a household name forever. Eleven herbs and spices and 73 years of endurance later, his company was sold in 1964 for millions of dollars.
I love that story. He never gave up, never stopped trying, always looking for that place. Frustration — I’m sure he felt so much frustration, not being able to quite figure it out; but he kept on keeping on and he found his way.
These steps of endurance, hope and faith are empowering gifts of the Spirit offered to each of us each day. Offered to us that we might be able to take steps towards our change of address. Just like Colonel Sanders, you may have had a lot of adversity and things that have happened in your life. Life may seem like a jigsaw puzzle right now with all the pieces in disarray, but God offers love and support and encouragement. His Spirit leads and guides God’s people. God promises to assist us in putting the pieces together to create a beautiful picture, a future address that we cannot even begin to imagine.
God’s Word and the life of Jesus, offer us promises that God will walk with us. God will dream with us. God has faith in you. We’re going to be there together through struggles, through challenges, through ups, through downs, through wonderful, exciting moments and all those things in between. God calls us to change address, to move into new neighborhoods, and God promises to be with us every step of the way. No easy steps, just easier steps along the way.
Let us pray. God we’re grateful for your words for this day, may they continue to be a light to our path and a lamp to our feet as we seek to follow you. For we pray this in your name. Amen.