Brrrr, it's been cold this week. Fortunately most of us got out cars started so we could gather again this morning for another special service. With a booming "Good morning!" Brad opened the service and our attentions went to the front for the opening commentary and announcements. This was to be the fourth message about things that can steal our joy in the new year.
Announcements included these two important ones:
1) The Covenant Park Annual Meeting will be tomorrow evening, January 24th at Gethsemane Covenant Church, 6:30 p.m.
2) The Valentine's Banquet will be February 12 and we'd really like to see everyone there, so the price for one of Chef Leonard's spectacular meals is free, with a Free Will Offering according to ability. Basically, we don't want anyone to miss the dinner because of the cost of babysitters. After the meal there will be entertainment... an open mic with singing, poetry, and whatever other talents our church family chooses to put on display. Dinner begins at 5:30 and everyone is invited.
Darlene ushered us into worship with another beautiful introit. After several choruses the offering was taken followed by the reading of Scripture by Cheryl Borndal. (Matt. 4:12-23)
The Me Monsters
Brad opened with a story about the days when pagers were the rage. One one occasion so many people had pagers that he went a took the garage door opener out of his car and snapped it onto his belt to look like he was also wearing a pager.
The theme today was about the great lengths to which people go to create an image of success. If you want to see an exceptional degree of posturing, check out a tenth anniversary high school reunion. Some folks actually rent nice cars to establish the appearance of success.
The need to look good begins early in life. In too many families school and sports are all about performance and there is that constant expectation to excel. Consider these lyrics from the song Perfect by Alanis Morrisette:
Sometimes is never quite enough
If you're flawless, then you'll win my love
Don't forget to win first place
Don't forget to keep that smile on your face
Be a good boy
Try a little harder...
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are if you're perfect.
Brad asked the question, "What makes us compete so hard?" Many believe it's our inordinate need for affirmation. We have a huge need for acceptance. Certainly this is what drives many workaholics. Success and achievement are important because "I can't stand feeling like a nobody." This drives many to do "whatever it takes" to be recognized.
In truth, our significance comes not by human achievement, but through Jesus Christ. Our lives are a performance, for an audience of one. When we grasp this truth our lives begin to make sense.
In our American culture image is everything. That "image" shapes who we are.
In Luke's gospel we have an account of a rich young ruler who looked like the epitome of success, but came to Jesus because he sensed something was missing in his life. He asks, "What must I do to be saved?"
Jesus replied, [paraphrase] "You're keeping the rules, right? But there is one thing you lack... surrender. You're bowing before the wrong image. God doesn't have your heart."
Once we know God better, have a deeper intimacy with God, we will have better intimacy with our spouses, kids and friends.
Brad directed us again to a favorite passage, Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19)
"I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in Him," Brad said. Once we understand this we can each say, "I'm somebody, because I'm God's child."
Brad then shared this recent insight he'd gained from John's gospel. In John 21:20 we read, "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them." John was talking about himself. He didn't say anything about his importance, just that he was someone Jesus loved. This was his identity, and that is also our own identity. Every other identity is but a mirage, an illusion.
Scripture affirms, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
Success is not measured by things we accumulate or the prestige of a corner office or a home in the right neighborhood. Success is nothing more than allowing the love of God to flow through you, wherever you are. The fruit of the Spirit abounding in us, that is success.
Brad closed his sermon with a passage from Max Lucado's devotional When God Whispers Your Name.
For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.
I choose love . . .
No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.
I choose joy . . .
I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical . . . the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace . . .
I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.
I choose patience . . .
I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.
I choose kindness . . .
I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.
I choose goodness . . .
I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.
I choose faithfulness . . .
Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.
I choose gentleness . . .
Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
I choose self-control . . .
I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 1994) Max Lucado