Sunday, July 29, 2018

What is Your Life's One Purpose that is so Crucial That Without It You Will Not Be Complete?

At the time, it felt so hard.  Because, well, it was hard.  My legs screamed in agony climbing some of those hills.   But, after twenty minutes or so of the run, it was over.  I could relax, grab some Gatorade, cheer on some friends.   It always ended, the run.

Growing up, everything kind of felt that way.  Running in a race, no matter how hard that race was, it always ended.   Seasons ended.  Classes ended.   School years ended.    And after those endings, you could relax a bit, until something new began.  Even on the toughest days, I always felt life was going somewhere.  It was moving towards something, even if it was only the next class.  But now, life doesn’t feel like that so much.   No, life feels more like this famous old commercial.  

That commercial never inspired me to buy Dunkin Donuts.  But it sure made me feel bad for poor Fred.  “Time to make the donuts.”  Poor guy.  But, has your life ever felt a bit like that?  Does Fred’s life feel a little too close for comfort?   

Today the world doesn’t seem to ever turn off.  Life feels unrelenting, like a race that keeps going and going with no end in sight.  But as hectic as that pace can be, it’s not the worst.    No matter where you are in life, a bit of unrelenting comes with the territory.  Dishes always need to be washed. Errands always need to be run.   Life always has stuff like that.

No, what brings Fred’s life too close for comfort is when you wonder why? Why am I doing all that.  What am I actually aiming for, not just next week, next year.  What am I aiming for in my life.  Is it only to make the donuts?  

God tells you.  It’s not.  Your life has a grand, stunning, exciting purpose.  Your life has a purpose that encompasses everything you do, even everything that happens to you.   And, what is it?   In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.   

So, why are you here?  What’s the point of it all?   In Paul’s words, God tells you.  God created you for eternity, for a forever life with God, a life more wondrous, powerful, joyful than you can imagine.  But that life doesn’t begin when you die.  It begins right now.  God right now is focused on transforming you into that resurrection person, into the beautiful being God has intended you always to be.    

Now before we talk about how God does that, you need to understand why you need God to do that in you.   Lots of people believe they have a purpose for their life.  But in reality what they think is a purpose isn’t really a purpose at all.  Let me explain.

Do you know how a knock-knock joke goes?   Indulge me. Do one with me.  Knock Knock.  Who’s there.   Cow says.   Cow says who.  

That’s pretty good isn’t it?   Oh, did I leave something out?   What did I leave out?     I left out the punchline.   And without a punchline, that joke, any joke doesn’t make any sense.

A comedian named Michael Jr. helped me see that as a metaphor for my life, for any life.  You see every joke, Michael Jr. said, has only two parts.   It has a set up and a punchline.   The set up leads you to expect something, and then the punchline delivers that something, hopefully a something that makes you laugh. 

And Michael Jr. said that every life needs a punchline, but instead people get stuck in the set-up.  They never get to the punchline. You see.  The set-up is everything you accomplish in life, your job, your family, what you learn, everything.  Even the hard things, setbacks are part of your set up.   But, people mistake all that stuff or part of it as their purpose.  But none of it is.  It’s all part of the set-up.  Then people wonder when they accomplish all those goals, why they feel something missing.   It’s because they still haven’t gotten to the punchline. 

They feel like you’re feeling right now, wondering. What was the end of that knock-knock joke?  And since I don’t want you wondering about it for the rest of the sermon, let’s try it again.  Knock Knock.  Who’s there.   Cow says.   Cow says who.   No, cow says moo.  Get it?

Only when you have the punchline for your life, will it make sense.  And here in Paul’s words, God is pointing you to the punchline.   God is telling you your punchline is resurrection, not simply resurrection when you die, but resurrection right now.  And God will use everything in your life, even the hard things, to bring about that punchline.  Now, what is resurrection?  It is God healing what is broken in you.  It is God taking your potential and making it potent.  It is God doing all that to make you like God, not in God’s power, but in God’s character.  And what lies at the heart of God’s character but God’s powerful, unstoppable, joy-filled love.   That is the punchline God is bringing about in you, to love like God loves, powerfully, unstoppably, joyfully.   And how God works that punchline of love will be different for each person.  It will be unique to you, to how God has uniquely shaped and created you.  What do I mean?

Before the comedian Michael Jr. got this, he thought his purpose was to get laughs from people.  Then one night before going out on stage, he got it.  God had not created him to get laughs.  God had created him to give laughs, to give people an opportunity to laugh, to experience that joy.  Michael Jr. realized.   His purpose in life wasn’t to take.  His purpose in life was to give.   So, now every time he does a comedy date, he does a show in a place where laughter is hard to find, a prison or a homeless shelter or a home for abused kids. 

In one such home, Michael Jr. tells of a little kidnamed Ronan.  Before the show, Ronan’s grandmother had explained to him.  Ronan had been so abused by his mother that to have some sense of safety, he went through his life literally wearing a Spiderman costume, mask and all.  And as the show began there was that little Spiderman on the front row.  30 minutes into his show, Michael Jr. heard a voice cry out.  “My name is Ronan.”    And the little boy pulled off his mask.   It was one of the most powerful moments in Michael Jr.’s entire career, more powerful than any moment on Leno or in Vegas.  Why?  It fulfilled his punchline.

Like Michael Jr., you have a punchline, a way to give, a way to grow to love as God loves, a way to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection in your life.   But for that punchline to happen, something else needs to happen.   In his words here, Paul points it out again and again.   He talks about gains he now regards as loss.   He talks about forgetting what lies behind.   He even talks about becoming like Jesus in his death.    In all those different ways, Paul is pointing to the same thing.   For your punchline to live, other things in you need to die. 

This past week, I was sitting in a room with some local pastors.  And we shared the challenges we’re facing in our churches.   As we talked, Fidel, the pastor over at Calvary Chapel said something that will stay with me a long time.   He talked about how for years he struggled with the downs of ministry, people disappointing him, programs failing, painful losses, discouraging setbacks.  But now he realized.  His ministry wasn’t about creating a church with no downs, no disappointments.  That church didn’t exist.  No, his ministry was about letting God shape him through those downs, to become the pastor God intended him to be all along.  But doing that meant, Fidel had to let some dreams die.  He had to bury expectations that had more to do with what he wanted than what God did.   He had to leave a lot of stuff behind to live out his punchline.    And if you want to live out yours, you’ll need to do the same.   They may be good things even.  They’re just not the ultimate thing.  But you’ve made them that.  And now you’ve gotta let that go.   And that can be scary, like pulling off a mask that you think makes you safe, but only holds you back. 

So how does that happen?   It happens as you realize more and more how God has already lived out your punchline for you.   God did that in Jesus, when he died for you, when he rose again for you.  But God’s punchline goes even deeper than that.  In a few moments, we’ll hear it from the book of Hebrews, where the writer tells us:  that Jesus, for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame.  The joy that was set before him?  

What was that joy set before Jesus?  That joy is you.  You are that joy.   Jesus ran the race, the race to his own death to win the prize.  And what was that prize?  You.   Jesus endured the cross for the joy of bringing you home, of raising you up, of giving you the glorious freedom of the children of God. And when you know that, that God loves you like that, that God is that passionately, lovingly focused on you, it frees you.   It frees you to let go of anything else but knowing that love, but growing in that love, but living out that love, of becoming through that love what God died for you it be.   It frees you to live out your punchline. And the more you know that love of Jesus for you, the clearer your punchline will become.   You will discover day by day, moment by moment, the very unique punchline God has created you for.   And in that discovery, God’s resurrection power will grow in you.  It will grow you to love as God loves.  It will grow you to give as God gives.  It will grow in you until that glorious day when you aren’t striving for the punchline, because you have become it, in all the beauty and wonder that belongs those redeemed, restored, and recreated in God’s great love.          

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why Joy Only Comes When You Let Go of Religion Rather Than Clinging to It

I’m amazed I remember this at all.   I’ve done more weddings than I can count.  Yet somehow, with all those weddings, I still remember this one conversation.   I don’t remember it because of who I was talking to.  He was the father of the groom, but I couldn’t tell you his name.   I don’t even remember when it happened, though it had to be years ago.  And yet, still, after countless wedding conversations, this one I remember.  Why? It’s because of what we talked about, and something I said, something I wondered afterwards if I should have.    I had known the bride’s family for years.  But this guy, I had only met that weekend.  But as we sat together, we hit it off.   And the more drinks he had, the more comfortable he became.  I liked that.  People sometimes get so uptight when they meet a clergy person.  This guy admitted that he had been one of those folks.  But after we had gotten to know each other, shared a few drinks, he told me.  “Hey, you’re like a normal guy.  And you know, Kennedy, I’m not really religious.”  That’s when I said it.   I said, “Oh good, because I’m not religious either.”    I wasn’t lying.  I’m not that religious.   But that comment doesn’t come off too well, from somebody who is doing a so-called religious job.  

Yet, as I’ve thought about it over the years, I’m glad I said it.  It opened up a conversation that went deeper than the stuff you usually talk about at a wedding.  More than that, I was telling him something I deeply believe.  I do believe being religious will do more to damage your life, your relationships, including your relationship with God, then almost anything else.  And not only that, I think God agrees with me.   Why do I think that?   It’s because of the words you’re about to hear.  If you wonder how religion could be that deadly, here God shows you the way.   So, let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

In these words, from a once very religious man, God shows you the uselessness, even the danger of religion.  Now, how can religion be not only useless, but dangerous?   It’s useless because it can never give you what it promises to give.  And it’s dangerous because it deceives you into thinking it can.  Only when you realize that what religion promises to give you, you already have, only then will you discover the joy and fulfillment that God yearns to give.

Do you see what Paul is doing here?   Paul is giving you his religious resume.   And he has a very 
impressive one.   He tells you. He was circumcised on the 8th day.   He’s saying.  I’m not some convert to Judaism.  I’m a Jew from birth.  And I come from the tribe of Benjamin, he tells you, one of only two tribes of Israel, that stayed loyal to the house of David, Israel’s greatest king.   So, I’m not only Jewish. I’m a Jewish blue-blood, part of the ethnic elite.  And yes, I am writing to you in Greek, Paul says, but I’m not one of those Greek speaking JINOs, Jewish in name only.   I spoke Hebrew at my mother’s knee. That remains my mother tongue.  And on top of all that, Paul says, I became a Pharisee, the ancient day equivalent of a Ph.d in Jewish law.   And I lived that law blamelessly.   I even became an esteemed leader, organizing the persecution of the Jesus movement. 

Now, Paul isn’t trying to impress you.  He is doing it to make a shocking point.    For, in the end, he calls this resume rubbish.  No, he doesn’t say that word.   He says one more shocking, a word that translators get too squeamish to tell you.   He uses the word for excrement.  He tells you that all that stuff is so much crap.  And here’s the point that Paul is getting at.   He’s not the only person with a religious resume.  Everyone has one, even if they don’t call it that.   So, what is a religious resume?  

Well, it acts the same as any resume.  And what does a resume do? It makes a case for you.  It makes an argument of sorts, a case for yourself.   And why are you making that case?  You are making it to get in somewhere, a great new job, a top university, all sorts of stuff.   If you do on-line dating, and you write a profile, you are writing a resume.  This is who I am, and here’s why you definitely want to get into a relationship with me, super attractive person whoever you are.

But what Paul is trying to tell you is that you don’t simply do this for jobs or relationships.  You do a resume at a deeper level than that.   You use a resume to evaluate yourself too.  You don’t simply wave a resume for a job or a relationship to let you in.   You wave a resume to let yourself in.   In other words, if you mess up in your life, if you feel you’ve built a lousy resume, you shut the door on yourself, on your value, on your worth.   Now you may not measure your worth the same way Paul did, but Paul is telling you that you do have some way of doing that.   Everyone does.   Everyone is trying to live up to something, some set of values and achievements that you place your confidence in as Paul did his.  

For example, a while back, I had a situation where I spoke about a friend behind his back, things I should have shared with him first.  Instead he found out about my words after the fact, and felt deeply hurt, even betrayed.  His anger cut me to the heart.  And yes, I felt badly because he was right, and my actions had been cowardly and wrong.   But deeper than that, I felt terrible because my actions punctured a cherished belief about myself: that I was such a good, honorable and courageous guy, I would never do anything that would be that hurtful or unfair.  But I had.  That painful fact blew up a good bit of my religious resume, what makes me feel good about being me.   All of a sudden, being me didn’t seem to be such a good thing.  Now that may not be part of your resume.   Your resume may have to do with success at work or a great relationship or marriage or great kids   It may be intellectual achievements or net worth or friendships or popularity.    It may be all the good things you do for others, even your involvement in a religious community.  The list could go on.   But whatever it is, you have one. 

And the point God is making in Paul’s words is this.  You have some set of things that you use to get value and worth, what Paul means by his righteousness.  You have things that make the case for why you are worthy of love from God, from yourself, from others.   And yet, God says here, that all of that stuff is not only crap, and the more you let it rule your life, the more it will limit that, diminish it, even, at the extreme, destroy it.  Why? 

It’s because as much as you work to build that resume, you will never be sure it’s good enough, even for you.  It promises you worth and value, but it doesn’t give that.  It gives you insecurity and anxiety instead.   No one that I know described that better, then the writer David Foster Wallace in a famous commencement speech he gave that I quote a lot.  Wallace, a writer who was not a Christian, said this:     

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason, Wallace said, for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. He explained further.
“If you worship money and things if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.  Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” And then Wallace delivered his final point.  He said.  “But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…. they’re unconscious.  They are default settings.”

In other words, this compulsion to build a religious resume lives in you without you even realizing it.  What helps you realize it?  Ask yourself, what makes you anxious?  What do you fear losing the most, others finding out about you the most?  Those questions will give you hints.

So, if everyone has this default setting, how do you get free?   In Paul’s words, God tells you.   For why does Paul now regard all his former religious accomplishments as so much crap?   It’s because he has found the real thing, a righteousness, a rightness, a worth in Jesus Christ.    Now, how is that different?   How does that free you from the power of the religious resume?

To understand that, you need to understand, what makes that resume so attractive.  It gives you the illusion of control.   You can say. If I do these things, if I act this way, if I have these accomplishments, I am a worthy person, a good person.  I am even one approved by God.  I have the control.  But of course, you don’t have the control. Your resume does.   

But in Jesus, you discover two powerful truths.  First, you discover that this whole resume deal 
doesn’t even work.  No matter how awesome, you think your moral resume might be, God looks at it and goes, ehh.  That’s not really gonna do it.  But then God says, don’t you get it?  I don’t need your resume.   I already have one for you.  In Jesus I gave you one myself.

You see.  When God saw how lost we had become, so lost, in getting value and worth in all the wrong places, God reached out to show us the way home.  God said.  Don’t you get it?  You already have value and worth because you are my child, because I love you. That love doesn’t depend on what you do or don’t do.  I love you no matter what.   All this scrambling for worth just draws you away from me, from my love for you.   And in Jesus, God put flesh and blood on those words.  He said, this is how much, I love you.   In Jesus, God came to you, even gave God’s life for you.  God even forgave you as you nailed God to a cross.   And God did all this to set you free, from your blindness, from your bondage to your religious resume, to experience this truth. It’s God’s love, God’s love that went to death and beyond for you, that gives you your righteousness, your worth, your value.   And when you know this, really know this, this love humbles you, and it frees you.   It humbles you because you realize your religious resume ain’t all that.  But then you realize that even on your worst resume days, God’s love for you remains the same.  And when you know that, you can let go.  You can let go of your bondage to this resume.  You can let go into the God whose love, whose infinite, unwavering, irrevocable love has made you right forever.         

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What Key Thing Will Sabotage a Fulfilled, Joyful and Abundant Life?

Most of the time, I can figure them out.   But then someone sends me something that makes no sense at all.   I don’t admit that.   I just google it. Then I act like I knew what it meant all along.  But it still makes me feel old; like I’m past my sell-by date, if that makes any sense.

Has someone ever sent you a text with a mystery abbreviation, one that made no sense?  And to be honest, I wonder.  Is it really that hard just to write out the words?  Still, some abbreviations I really like, like this one.  BAE.   Does anyone know what that one means?   Yep, Before anyone else.  That’s what you write to your beloved to let them know that no one comes before them in your life.   Or if you are a parent, this one, PAW, might come in handy.  That means parents are watching.

And if you love Mr. Rogers (who was a Presbyterian minister by the way), the text (143) could be right up your alley because he inspired it.   It means I love you, based upon the number of letters in each of the words.   And if you’re curious how Mister Rogers inspired this, the Mr. Rogers link will clue you in. 

And this one I had to bring up, because well, I found the irony of it so compelling.  (IYKWIM).  This means, if you know what I mean, which of course if I got this abbreviation, I wouldn’t know what you meant at all, thus the irony.  And finally, I put up this one, SMH, which is what lots of folks do when people like me, try to do hip texting.  It simply means shaking my head.  And of course, I don’t even want to go into emojis.  That’s a whole other story.

But why am I doing this little texting quiz?   It’s because of what Lynn, our office manager, put on the cover of my church's worship bulletin this week, LIJ.    I don’t know if she was trying to create a new texting abbreviation, but what she did struck me nonetheless.  What if that little abbreviation, LIJ, could describe your life, living in joy.  Who doesn’t want a life lived in joy?  Yet in the words linked below, God points to one practice that destroys any chance of that life.   And in those same words, God points to the crucial insight that leads not only to a life of joy, but a life of fulfillment, purpose and reward.  What is that insight?  Here God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

What is the one practice that destroys joy every time?   In this public letter the missionary Paul wrote to Christians in Philippi, God tells you.   Complaining destroys joy.   In fact, complaining or murmuring (the word Paul uses here) messes up your life as few things can.  Why?  It’s because complaining distorts reality.  It distorts reality around you.   And it distorts reality within you.  And only when you realize the truth that lies at the heart of reality will you discover a life of joy, a life that truly fulfills you as nothing else can. 

Now before we can get to this truth at the heart of reality, you need to understand in how many ways complaining distorts reality.  In fact, every type of complaining distorts reality in a slightly different way.   A preacher named, Dick Kauffman, helped me see that, when he laid out the four basic ways people complain. 

Lots of folks, complain by whining about stuff, people at work or at home, things in the world, whatever.  But when you whine, what you are really saying is.  “It’s not fair.”   And that thought distorts reality in two very significant ways.  First of all, it assumes that life is fair, when every day all sorts of things make it clear it’s not at all.   But more than that, it assumes you know what fair looks like.  But fair can look radically different depending on where you sit.   Even trying to figure out what fair truly is, is sort of an impossible task.  

Now you can complain too by acting the martyr, as in no one appreciates me.  And, do you see how that distorts reality?  When non-appreciation offends you, it says something uncomfortably true about you.   It says.  Whatever good thing you did wasn’t so much about the other person.   It was about the kudos you expected to get.   It wasn’t about them.  It was about you.  Yet that very truth, you can’t even see of course.  Why?  Because, well, you are so focused on you and the appreciate you didn’t get.    

Now some complain in more subtle ways, by playing the cynic.   These are the folks that complain that nothing ever changes, which of course is true, as long as they live a life full of complaints about nothing ever changing.

And then comes maybe the most dangerous complaint of all.  That’s when you say something like.  “Is that the best you can do?”   For, far too often, that complaint betrays not a striving for excellence as it does a twisted perfectionism.  And that messes up your relationships with others, and it destroys you.  For you can say that complaint to someone else, but often you can say it to yourself, grinding yourself down in brutal ways.  And do you see how that distorts reality? Perfectionism leads you to avoid risking mistakes or when you make them, to not admit them. But you can’t learn and grow unless you make mistakes.  If you really want excellence, avoiding mistakes or refusing to face them will never get you there.  Perfectionistic complaining prevents the very excellence for which it strives.   

Take a moment, to think about what sort of complainer you tend to be, a whiner or a martry, a cynic or perfectionist?  It doesn’t matter whatever one you are.  They all mess you up equally.    

It’s because behind all these complaints lies an even deeper problem.  When you complain, you lose touch with the reality of who you are.   When Paul talks about murmuring here, he is alluding to a common set of stories that the Philippians knew well.   In the Old Testament’s stories of the journeys of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, one behavior trips them up, again and again, their murmuring.   It trips them up because it betrays an uncomfortable truth.   God might have delivered them out of slavery.   But they had a long way to go for that slavery to be delivered out of them.  You see. Complaining doesn’t just distort the reality of the world around you.  It distorts the reality within you.  It presumes that you are powerless to change things.   It leads you to abdicate your responsibility to do anything about problems in your life but complain.  And that slavery mentality will not only take away your joy, it will limit your life.

In 1964, two psychologists did a study with a group of dogs.   In both groups, the dogs received a mild shock that lasted for five seconds.  But in one group, there was a panel that if they pushed on it, would stop the shock.   But the other group had no such panel to push.   Now after the researchers administered a good number of shocks, they put the dogs back in their home cages.  But the next day, they placed each dog in a cage where the middle, they had put a low wall which every dog could jump if they tried.  Then they played a high-pitched tone that signaled a shock was coming.   Now the dogs who had had the panel to push, quickly learned to leap over the wall and get away from the shock.   But 2/3s of the dogs who didn’t have that panel to push, do you know what they did.  They didn’t do anything.  They just sat and whimpered (or in other words complained) and waited for the shocks to stop. 

As the psychologist Angela Duckworth points out in her book Grit, this experiment points to a powerful truth.  It’s not suffering that leads to hopelessness.  It’s suffering you think you can’t control. 

And human beings get captured by this twisted perspective again and again, living lives of complaints rather than lives of change.   And when they do, not only do they diminish their joy.  They limit their life, and often their relationships.  That’s why Paul puts murmuring or complaining with arguing.   He knows how often they go together.    

In fact, Paul sees this slave mentality so present in the world, that he tells the Philippians.  If you can live without murmuring and arguing, you will become so different you will be like stars shining in this world.

But how do you become those stars? How do you become free like that, free from complaining, free to change, to bring change into the world?   In Paul’s words, God tells you.  You hold fast to the word of life.   Now, what is that word?

When God saw the brokenness of the world, the lostness of human beings, what did God do.  God did not whine about how unfair it all was.  God did not play the martyr and complain of our lack of appreciation.    God did not give up and play the cynic either.  And God did not expect perfection from those whom he loved.   No, God did something about it. God reached out in love again and again.  And, in Jesus, God reached out in love so radically that he offered up everything, even his very life.  And through that act of love, God freed you from your slavery. God freed you to become everything God intended for you to be. 

And in doing that, God not only freed you.  God showed you the path to joy, to true fulfillment.   That path Paul points to in the final words of this passage.  For, Paul is writing this letter from death row in Rome.  Any day, the Romans could execute him.  But he tells his friends that if that happens, that means I will simply be a libation,a drink offering over the sacrifice of your faith.    You see.   In the Hebrew system of sacrifice, after you sacrificed an animal, you poured wine or oil over the sacrifice as a beautiful aroma to please God.    And Paul is simply saying.  If I die, that’s what I will be, someone who joyfully offered up his life to give you the freedom, the joy Christ has given me.   And that, Paul says will give me joy.  For I will simply be following in the steps of the God who did the same for me and for you, adding the aroma of my love, to the One who is love.  And as you experience that path, that love, that God who extravagantly gave up everything to save you, to bring you home, it will free you in the same way.   It will free you to love and sacrifice not because you are a slave, but because you know how profoundly God has set you free.   

Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Are the Two Things that Bring About Deep Change in You, even in the World?

Before I could even think, the words came out.   And, the moment they did, I was already regretting them.    I wished that, somehow, I could turn back time, replay the whole scene.    But I couldn’t.   I had again said words I regretted, words that hurt, words that betrayed my fears and anxieties.   And I had said them even though I so much didn’t want to. 

Now, I resolved to do better the next time, to make sure there wasn’t a next time.  But I didn’t know if my resolution could hold.   I did not have full confidence that hurtful and fearful words would not come again.   Have you ever struggled like that?  It might have been words you regretted saying yet kept saying nonetheless.  It might have been a habit you hated yet still couldn’t break.    It might have been a way of thinking that sabotaged, an attitude that tripped you up.   And let’s be honest, those struggles are likely not all in the past.   You still wrestle with some of them today. 

But, how do you change that?   How do you get better, become better?  These sorts of changes don’t come easily.   The writer Bill Owens put it this way.   People are not resistant to change.  They make changes all the time.  They are resistant to being changed.”   How do you change like that, have change work on you from the inside out?   In these words, God shows you the path to change, to a life of greater fulfillment, growth and joy then you could have imagined.    Here God shows you that way. Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

How does change happen, deep, internal change happen; the type of change that frees you from fears and habits that have captured you for too long?  How does that sort of change happen?   In these sentences from Paul’s public letter to the church in Philippi, God tells you.   That change happens as you let God work on the two things that prevent that change, the willing and the working.   What does God mean by that?  Before you can see that, you need to understand how God works in bringing change in you in the first place.  So, how does God do that?

Simply put, God rescues you.   Yet, God can’t rescue you alone.   God needs you for that rescue to happen.    That’s why, in Paul’s words, God tells you just that.  God says.  Work out your own salvation, your own rescue, with fear and trembling.     But does that make sense?   Isn’t the whole point of a rescue that the rescuer does the work, and you don’t?   Yes, and yet no.   The brave divers rescuing those kids in Thailand will be doing a lot yes, but asking a lot of those kids also. 

In fact, do you realize that ocean life-guards aren’t expected to rescue everybody?   Certain folks their trainers order them not to rescue.   When a life guard rescues someone, that person in distress needs to do something quite difficult.  They must stop fighting to save themselves.  They must let the rescuer do that instead.    And if that person continues to fight, in spite of everything the lifeguard does, (and lifeguards have lots of techniques to calm people down.), then as a last resort, lifeguards, to save themselves, might have to swim away, and call in a rescue boat or helicopter to do the rescue.  And when God rescues you from yourself, the same pattern applies.     

You have to stop fighting, and let God do in your life what only God can.    You have to let go, and that can be really hard.  But until you do, the rescue simply can’t happen.  

I’ve asked folks I’ve known in 12 step programs about what I can do with someone caught up in addiction who won’t get help.    Do they give me a technique to win them over or wake them up?  No.  They simply say this.   He’s not ready, and when she’s ready she’ll come.   That doesn’t mean they don’t care.  They do.   But recovering addicts know a painful truth.   You can’t rescue someone who doesn’t want to be rescued.  

And if you want God to rescue you from yourself or from some negative habit or behavior, it begins there.  You need to be willing to be rescued.  That means trusting that God can do the rescuing.  And that can be harder than it looks.   Many years ago, I talked with a colleague about an issue I was facing, and how I was struggling to trust God with it.    Matter-of-factly he replied.   “Of course, you’re struggling.  After all, he can’t be trusted.”   I got the point.  Do you?   Do you as times not let go because deep inside you don’t trust God will do what you need God to do. Or maybe you don’t because you fear that God will.   

And that points to the first obstacle, the willing.  In the gospels, Jesus is preparing to heal a man lame for decades, when he asks a seemingly pointless question.   Jesus asks.  Do you want to be healed?   But Jesus asks it, because Jesus know.  Often people don’t.   

When I struggle to overcome a habit or behavior or way of thinking that besets me, I remember this question my therapist sister gave me.   What’s the pay-off?  She’d ask.  You wouldn’t do it or have trouble letting go of it, if you weren’t getting a pay-off, even if it’s a negative one.   And every time I’ve asked that question, I’ve gotten an answer, usually an uncomfortable one.  That thing I struggle to overcome does have a pay-off, maybe an illusion of control or a sense of superiority or a momentary shot of pleasure or whatever.    I realize, painfully, that part of my struggle is admitting part of me doesn’t want to be healed.   And only when you face that willingness question, even ask God to help you with it, can God bring you the healing you need.

But even when you are willing, you can still resist the work.  Letting go and letting God does require something from you.  It requires an admittance of your own powerlessness, that you need the rescue.  It requires a relationship with God that only comes through regular connection with God, practices like prayer, scripture reading, Christian worship and community.  Above all, it requires believing that yes, this God can be trusted to give you the life you yearn to have, a life full of abundance and joy and meaning.   How do you find that trust?

You realize that God, when you resisted his rescue didn’t swim away.   In Jesus, this God came and rescued you even when he knew he’d die in the rescuing.   He did that because he loved you that much, that deeply, that infinitely.    And because his love was that great, not even death could defeat it.  Instead his love won.  And it will continue to win, in every area of your life, if you let go and let him work.  It won’t always happen overnight, but it will happen.  It will happen, much as how what happens when you eat something happens. 

When you eat something, wondrous things occur.  Your body converts it to energy.  It uses it to create muscle, repair injuries. It even disposes what you don’t need.  All of that happens, without you even thinking about it.   In much the same way, Jesus can and will work, transforming you, repairing you, removing what you don’t need, when you receive what God yearns to give.  And it will happen in ways of which you may hardly be aware.  There's a reason why how Christians celebrate God's work of change at a table where they eat and drink.  So, eat and drink God's salvation, including at the Lord's table and then let Jesus work.   Let Jesus rescue you as only Jesus can.