|Sermon at Paisley UMC oct 2014 by Toni Smothers|
I’d like to read from the 116th Psalm, verses 12-14
What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of my salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord. Now in the presence of all His people.
Thank you Father for your Word and for your love. Bless us this morning as we seek wisdom from your word and power from Your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, we pray.
David was right when he said that our experience of the past two weekends was rewarding. Actually, that’s an understatement. The people involved with the Lay Speaker’s program are a group of dedicated, truly spiritual people who put together a wonderful program for us.
When some of you asked me, “How was school”, all I could say was, “Well, I thought it was very interesting… but possibly out of my league.” That too…was a gross understatement. But, nevertheless, I went and put on what I call my “Paper Lion Suit” and pretended at least partial nonchalance. That’s my survival tactic when I’m really scared witless. So…now you can probably better understand why I titled my talk:
Who Do I Think I Am?
Although I enjoyed the experience of being at Lay Leaders school, after the fact, I really was a somewhat reluctant participant. If you can picture the old vaudeville image of the truly rotten performer who is yanked off the stage by this huge hook around his neck, that’s a good visualization of how God got me there that morning!
The basic group consisted of a bunch of people and so we were divided up…And, of course, David and I were each put into different classes.
We were first directed to introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about jobs and families, which I guess was okay…you know, somewhat uncomfortable for us introvert types, but a pretty normal request in a new group and all… But then… as an “ice breaker”, and I almost couldn’t believe this, our teacher told us to give a five to ten-minute impromptu presentation about the two most important people in our lives that had been the most influential to us through our spiritual growth. Nothing like jumping in with both feet!
In the face of everyone’s testimonies, right off the bat, I was glaringly different from everybody else in my class…. They each had all these lovely recollections of generations of loved family members who had provided them with these wonderfully strong, nurturing backgrounds. We won’t go into my background, but believe me, it wasn’t anything like there’s. So, from almost the first hour of class, I felt myself to be somewhat lacking…Somehow less qualified to position me for leadership than the others because I never had any nurturing type experiences as a point of reference or source of confidence as they had.
But like the psalm I read to you, I still felt gratitude towards God that I needed to express. When I asked what I could do to show my appreciation to God, I had ended up there in that class, so in some way, I did belong there.
So…Though I might have come from a very different childhood and environment than my classmates, it wasn’t really about that… or even about who was less or more qualified. For me, it was just about loving the Lord for what He has done for me and needing to share Him with others.
I once had an angry, bitter heart. God healed me of that dark outlook on life and that was a tremendous blessing. But that’s another long story and not what I’m here to talk about today. I’ll just say that God’s ability to heal anything …matters. …It matters a lot.
I learned about forgiveness when it was next to impossible to be forgiving. Because, you see, that lesson was for my benefit. My forgiveness wasn’t really for those who I eventually forgave. That’s the part of it that is so important –. That God literally changes us from what we were into what He wants us to become and it’s always better.
We are actually transformed by the word of God and the love contained within it…And unless we are willing to proclaim that fact, we are being selfish children.
A lot of what Paul wrote to his friends from his confinement in a Roman jail became quite literally, food for my thought. I’m sure you all know the verses I’m referring to, where Paul more or less says,
Brothers, as I close this letter, let me say this one thing more: Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.
Those words… those words inspired by the Holy Spirit did literally change my way of thinking. And so dismal, angry thoughts were eventually replaced with happy, life-giving ones. Christian thoughts… delivered from resentment and shame. All I had to do was accept His healing and simply choose to fill my mind with His goodness through the power of His word.
So great…But that has to mean more than just sitting around all day having nice thoughts. There has to be some effect…some action…that my Christian thinking and living has on the world around me. The beauty that has been disclosed to me is not meant to be held as my own personal secret.
In Matt 5:13-16 Jesus said,
You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world? And you yourselves will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.
You are the world’s light – a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see… so that they will praise your heavenly Father.
I can’t let my uplifting thoughts go unrealized, which they will if I’m not taking some action to share them and give them life. So then I must do something, take some action.
Serving God with singleness of purpose and putting the concerns of His kingdom first are actions that follow His will and free me from anxiety over any lesser things.
Jesus tells us not to accumulate treasures on earth and not to even worry about our lives at all. He illustrates His point by comparing what He gives us to God’s provisions for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. We may not know them word for word, but we all know those verses:
Basically, He tells us not to sweat the small stuff but to use our energies more wisely. To seek God and His ways and everything else will take care of itself. But, we so often overlook this instruction.
We are progressive people, becoming more and more educated, more and more capable – We acquire more and more prestigious things, all the while puffing our chests out further and further. Either that – or we’re worried sick because we’re not as accomplished as so and so, or we haven’t acquired the new car or overpriced house on the lake.
Whether we are situated on the outside or the inside of that treadmill, the resultant anxiety is the same. Worry has become natural to a lot of us – As natural as eating or sleeping. Why I know a lot of people and I’ll bet you do too, who couldn’t possibly get through a day if they didn’t have something to worry about. It’s almost as if worrying was a part of their nature.
Does this tendency to worry have anything to do with what Jesus means in the seventh chapter of Matthew where He talks about entering heaven through the narrow gate? He says that the highway to hell is broad and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way. But the gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow and only a few ever find it. Do you suppose we will find it by worrying?.
We are literally required as children of God to abandon concern for anything other than our spiritual growth and the commission given to us of telling the world about Him. God is God. He knows what we need and only He controls tomorrow. So are we going to actually obey God…or just think about our striving to be obedient? That was the decision I had to make – You know, actually “Walk the talk.”
It’s a bit unnerving to consider what Jesus says in Matt 7:21.
Not everyone who says to me Lord ,Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
For most of us, it’s easy to designate things like lying or deliberate cruelty, or murder, as sins…Those are pretty clear-cut and we can simply decide not to commit them. But worrying is also sinful. Jesus says it is. And that’s just not something most of us think of when we think of being sinful.
All I could do, from the time we were given the assignment to get up in front of everyone and give a ten-minute sermonette, until… well, from that Saturday till the following Tuesday afternoon, was to consider all the possible subjects I could speak about and then worry my heart out about my inability to do it.
My thinking went something like this:
How in the world did I get myself into such a predicament?
Whatever possessed me to think myself capable of preaching to anybody else?
I have no credentials or special talents in relation to public speaking – What was I thinking?
Who in the world do I think I am?….And on and on like that till I had a knot the size of a melon gripping my stomach. It wasn’t until I forced myself to stop and look at how worried and fearful I had become that I was able to actually start to work on this assignment. But before I could do it, I first had to hand it over to God – Truly leave it with Him.
You see, all the worrying in the world wasn’t going to make me the least bit more capable. Only God’s grace could do that. Only when I turned the outcome over to Him could I envision myself speaking clearly and comfortably without having a heart attack from the stress.
Again, my answer came from His Word: (Phil4:13)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
So when the temptation to second guess my situation – to beat myself up with thoughts of inadequacy comes, I have to see that for what it really is. Its just another way that Satan has of creeping into my thoughts and stealing my confidence and perverting my good intentions until I think myself foolishly presumptuous.
Who do I think I am to stand up and preach the Word of God? Well… I’m predestined to adoption as a child of God, purchased and redeemed by the blood of Jesus and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise who guarantees my inheritance into heaven. That’s who I am and there is no room for false pride or insecurity in the power of that!
All I have to do is ask the Father to give me the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. Because then the eyes of my understanding are enlightened and I recognize the nature of His calling in me which is far above any puny negative power.
So I can answer the question of whether I should presume to be here with faith. (Eph 2:8) For by grace I have been saved through faith, and that not of myself, but it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest I should boast. For I am His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that I should walk in them.
So, I put on the armor of God… that I may be able to stand and open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers few. So, like others of us here, I have heard the Holy Spirit call me and I have chosen to be among the few.
And I believe that we are called with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. (2 Tim1:9)
I’d like to close with one final Bible quote from Matt 12:31
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
When the Holy Spirit calls, we can only obey.
Praise God and may He so richly bless each of you.