After the service yesterday, several people told me I was being too hard on myself. Maybe. Maybe I painted myself in a more harsh light than I really have been, but that’s OK. I think the point came across. Don’t get the wrong impression from this sermon. I love people and I love being around people. I love that we’re at a church that loves people. It can be easy to get caught up in yourself sometimes, though. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had that problem.
We had several people sick yesterday, including our Song Leader and sound guy. Fortunately, people stepped up and filled in the gap with a servant’s heart. Unfortunately, because of the last-minute changes, we didn’t get a recording of the sermon. If you want to know what we talked about, you’ll just have to read it. Sorry if that complicates things for anyone.
This morning’s sermon was a difficult one for me to prepare. It wasn’t because it’s a difficult theological concept. Exegetical issues of today’s text are pretty straightforward. Nothing too complicated there. On the surface, you’d think a sermon from today’s text would be a piece of cake. Some preachers could probably craft a memorable sermon based on this text in their sleep. Not so with me. You see, this week’s sermon is extremely personal for me.
I had become a protector of my own time. Yes, time is precious and we need to do all we can to maximize the use of our time. After all, we’re only given so many minutes in the day and we are stewards of the time God has given us. Somewhere along the way, though, I started thinking time was all about me. I needed to protect my time because, after all, I’m the pastor. I’m important. I don’t need to waste my time on frivolous meetings. I’m busy doing things for God. And because my time is so much more important than anyone else’s – because, after all, I’m the pastor – I would try to think of reasons to minimize meeting times. It wasn’t really because I wanted to maximize my time, but because somehow had the idea that my time was more important than other people’s.
I even found this happening at home. I’d be doing some important church-related business. When one of the kids would come up to me and ask, “Dad, would you like to play?” or, “Dad, can you help me?” or, “Dad, could you fix me a snack?” I’d get a little frustrated at the audacity of my children interrupting my important church-related work. I’d eventually do what they asked, but I wasn’t always pleasant about it. Who do they think they are, anyway? Don’t they know I’m the pastor and have important work to do?
Lines of communication with Christy have also been strained. With her student teaching and classwork, she is essentially working the equivalent of two full-time jobs. And even though I realize that, there have still been some times in the back of my mind that I have expected her to drop everything and adjust to my schedule and do things the way I want them done. After all, I’m the pastor and my position is important. Who does she think she is? Doesn’t she realize that I have important ministry to do? Nevermind the fact that our most important ministry is at home with our family. I had somehow allowed myself to lose sight of that. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t some big-headed ego-maniac. And I never actually said anything like, “Who do you think you are?” But I’ve definitely had a bit of an attitude with my family the last few weeks.
This is a common phenomenon in the sports world. When a team is doing really well, everyone seems to talk in grand terms about how great that team is. Newspaper articles are written about how this is the greatest team to ever step foot on the court or the field. Sports talk show hosts discuss how unstoppable the team is and how it looks like no one would ever be able to beat them. If the players on the team allow that discussion to become part of their own thoughts, they begin to think they are invincible. Maybe they really are the greatest team ever assembled. Maybe they really are this unstoppable force that everyone keeps talking about. And instead of using that talk as motivation to practice harder and prepare even more diligently in order to live up to the hype, there are times where players allow all of the hyperbole to go to their heads. It can be very easy to spend more time reading your own press than preparing for the next challenge. Doing that can have adverse effects on the team and they usually wind up losing somewhere along the way because they were too caught up in patting themselves on the back.
I’ve found myself patting myself on the back quite a few times over the past few weeks. Rather than have encouraging words challenge me to continue improve my ministry efforts, I had allowed some of the ‘positive press’ to go to my head. I puffed out my chest a little more, climbed up on a little stool, and thought, “Yeah – I have this thing all figured out. This is all a piece of cake. Look at me. Look at what I can do for God. Aren’t you so grateful, God, that I’m on your side?” In fact, I think I even strained my arm patting myself on the back so much.
And then last weekend happened. Nothing seemed to go the way I had planned. Meetings I had set up went longer than expected. People showed up late to other meetings. And in the back of my mind, I thought, “Who do you think you are? Don’t you realize I have important things to do and you’re just getting in my way?” By the time last week’s Thanksgiving Service with the churches in Springport and Oakville came around, I was pretty huffy because of the self-important, self-righteousness and false humility I had managed to massage all day. I’m sure if you could somehow paint what was in my heart, it wouldn’t be a pretty picture. And I entered the Thanksgiving service feeling anything but thankful.
You know how they say pride comes before the fall? Well, it happened last week – that’s for sure. As the prelude began, I sat down, still somewhat annoyed at the audacity of everyone else interfering with my own personal schedule and agenda. As I looked over the order of worship, it suddenly hit me – I hadn’t talked with anyone about serving as worship leader for the songs. Fortunately, Virginia was willing to jump in and take on that task with very little prep time. I want to thank you again, Virginia, for stepping in at the last-minute. You did a great job!
One catastrophe had been avoided and I still felt a little bit of pride for avoiding a potentially embarrassing situation. After the prelude was finished, I made my way to the podium to welcome everyone and issue the call to worship. After I completed the opening prayer, I left the stage and went to the back of the Sanctuary to sit down. In the weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving Service, I had looked over the order of worship several times. As I prepared the call to worship, I never noticed that I was supposed to lead the next section of the service as well. So, I went about preparing my call to worship, completely oblivious of the fact that there was more I was supposed to lead. So, when Brother Paul from the Brethren Church in Oakville completed his section of the service, he asked me if I was going to come up and share some thoughts about thanking God for His creation. Of course, the only thing I could say was, “Uh, I forgot.” Which was met with laughter.
So there I was, standing on my stool, puffing out my chest and breaking my arm by patting myself on the back. When suddenly, God kicked that stool out from under me. “Who do you think you are?” I asked myself. And I realized that I had become too focused on myself. I had somehow convinced myself that following Christ and leading others along the journey is somehow about me and my preferences and my ego. And it’s not. It’s not about me. In fact, it’s not about you, either. It’s about God and God’s people living their lives in such a way that they glorify Him – not the ego of a pastor who has allowed himself to become a little too self-absorbed.
Unfortunately, this experience is not too uncommon. Unfortunately, the church has had its share of people who lost sight of what the gospel is and, in the process, thought much more highly of themselves than they really should have. As long as the church has been in existence, there has been a temptation to make church about ourselves and not about becoming God’s people. There’s a temptation to make church about building ourselves up instead of seeing lives change with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is written to an audience that was experiencing this conflict on a grand scale. There was division in the church. People were trying to pull the church into the direction of a belief system that was more about personal preferences than about the glorification of Jesus Christ. There was a tension within the body that threatened to tear it apart because of people’s pride and arrogance.
And Paul had heard about the struggles the Colossian church was facing. Although he did not have a hand in establishing the church there, he had a connection with them and used the relationship he had with them to remind them of what being the church is all about – it’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ. It’s all about Him.
Turn with me to Colossians 2:6. Colossians is in the New Testament, towards the end of your Bible. It’s directly in front of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and 1& 2 Timothy. It follows Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. One way that helped me remember the order of these four books is the phrase ‘General Electric Power Corporation’ – the initials stand for Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Colossians 2:6 is found on page 1027 in that Bible.
Paul reminds us that our egos shouldn’t get in the way of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ – both at home and abroad. We can’t let our preferences or our self-importance become the focus because we really aren’t that important. In fact, without Christ we would be nothing. Earlier in chapter 1, there’s a reminder that we were once enemies of God. That we had once chosen sides, and chose to set our tents in the enemy’s camp. But God didn’t want us to be His enemies. He wants us to be His friends. He wants us to have a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Him. And so He did the unthinkable. He wrapped Himself in flesh and became a man. And while both fully God and fully man, He showed us what it means to be part of God’s family – the kingdom of God. And when the right time came, He willingly gave up His own life on the cross as a payment for the sins we chose to commit. And because of that ransom that He paid, we have the freedom to leave the enemy’s camp and set up our tents in the presence of the Living God. Because of that redeeming act, we can have a right relationship with God. We can be His friends. And He didn’t stop there. Three days after conquering the power of sin, He also conquered the sting of death – giving us the hope of eternal life. There is nothing we have done to earn this love and grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more than He already does. There is nothing we can do to get God to pour out His grace more lavishly than He already has.
Because of the unending love and the sacrifice He made for you and for me, Paul reminds us what our response should be – Read Colossians 2:6-7
Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s earth-shattering grace, our lives should change. Because God has already done everything for us, we need to live in Him. We need to allow Him to change our hearts and make them more like His. And our response to all of this is a life that shouts thanksgiving. Everything about us – our attitudes, our actions, our thoughts – need to display the thanks that God deserves. There’s no room for self-importance. Our focus needs to be the importance of God, not the importance of ourselves. Who do you think you are? You are a child of God. And we need to remember to treat each other as such.
Days like Thanksgiving Day are important for us because they not only give us an excuse to eat lots of really good food and watch football all day, but it’s a reminder that we need to thank our Creator for everything He continues to give us. It’s not a one-time thing where we only thank God on that day, but our thanksgiving should occur throughout the year. And when we come to Thanksgiving Day, it’s almost like a climax to the story – giving us opportunity to come together and share what God has done throughout the year. But now that Thanksgiving Day is over, our lives need to continue to be about giving thanks to the Father. Paul said here that our lives need to be ‘overflowing with thanksgiving.’ And that starts with realizing that it isn’t all about you and it isn’t all about me. If I had taken this passage to heart much earlier, I would have treated other people better. I would have made the most of the opportunities my children were giving me. I would have approached the meetings I had over the past few weeks as opportunities to see how God is at work and as opportunities to invest my life in people. A life that shouts thanksgiving is one that sees interruptions as an unexpected way to glorify God, not as an annoyance. And ultimately, a life that shouts thanksgiving is one that seeks to glorify God in everything we do. It doesn’t seek an ego boost or self-gratification. Because it’s really not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about God and what He has done to redeem His creation. It’s all about Him.
I know my life needs to shout thanksgiving more than it has. What about you? Is your attitude overflowing with thanksgiving, or does thanksgiving get put on the back burner – if on any burner at all. It’s amazing how it usually takes some kind of embarrassing or catastrophic event for us to realize how much we really have to be thankful for. But it’s really strange, isn’t it? We are given the gift of life every day. Every day is a new opportunity for us to receive God’s blessing and to bless Him as well. Every day is another day to grow in the love of Christ. Every day is another day to become more like Him. Every day is another day to shout out thanksgiving with our lives. Is your life doing that? Are you shouting thanksgiving with your attitude, thoughts, and actions? That’s a difficult thing sometimes. Sometimes things happen – personal crises erupt and life really seems like it’s in a downward spiral. Even in those circumstances, our lives need to shout out thanksgiving to God for all He has done.
You have an invitation this morning. It’s an invitation to have your life shout out thanksgiving in every situation. Maybe your life has been shouting thanksgiving for many years, but it’s somehow decreased in volume recently. This is an invitation to you to refocus and live your life in a way that is giving thanks to God for all He has done. This is your invitation to walk closer with Him and allow Him to work on you and change you, helping you realize all of the things you have to be thankful for on a continual basis. The more time you spend with God, the more your life will naturally overflow with thanksgiving and you’ll be shouting thanksgiving with your life. This is obviously an area that I need to allow God to work on in me. So I’ll be right here with you, learning how to shout thanksgiving with my life. Because it’s not about us. It’s all about Him and giving Him praise and thanks in all circumstances.
Or maybe you’ve never experienced the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe you haven’t shouted thanksgiving with your life because you haven’t really had a reason to. God loves you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He wants to give you a joy and a peace that is beyond anything you can imagine. That doesn’t mean everything will be easy, but it does mean that you’ll be able to experience the difficult moments of life with confidence and boldness – and be able to have a life that shouts thanksgiving in all circumstances. This is your invitation this morning.
Like all posts on this blog, your comments are welcome! If there’s anything that sparks an idea or a thought, please share it and maybe it will help kick-start a conversation.