January 21, 2018
*CALL TO CONFESSION
God has already overcome evil and sin by the power of God's love through Jesus. Therefore it is safe and wise to readily confess our sins to the Lord.
*PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Loving God, once again we confess our need for you and admit that too often we go about our lives trying to live on our own wisdom and strength, forgetting to lean on you. Sometimes we are afraid to ask for your help. Sometimes we think you expect us to earn your favor. Sometimes our pride gets in the way, and we want to prove that we don't need your help. But when we are honest with ourselves, we need you. So, Lord, remind us today that our lives are meant to be a partnership lived in faith with you, that while we are to do what we can do, you genuinely want to help us with the rest. Thank you for being our shield and our strength. Continue to help us trust in you. Amen.
*DECLARATION OF FORGIVENESS
God who promises to always be with us, is indeed our source of wisdom and strength. God sent his Son into the world to save us, and Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit to continue to equip and empower us. Through Jesus Christ all your sins are forgiven, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus encourages you to live on for him. Thanks be to God!
Joshua 1:8-9, NIV
8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Psalm 118:5-9, NLT
In my distress I prayed to the Lord,
and the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?
7 Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me.
I will look in triumph at those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in people.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
Luke 18:1-8, NLT
18 One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. 2 “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. 3 A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ 4 The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, 5 but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
6 Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. 7 Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
1 Peter 5:7-11, GW
7 Turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you. 8 Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour. 9 Be firm in the faith and resist him, knowing that other believers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering. 10 God, who shows you his kindness and who has called you through Christ Jesus to his eternal glory, will restore you, strengthen you, make you strong, and support you as you suffer for a little while. 11 Power belongs to him forever. Amen.
The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God!
Anxiety Antidotes: Keep Calm & Pray God's Presence
Contagious Calm is for me a like an anchor in the storm. If someone else is calm in a situation, it's easier for me to remain calm. Likewise I want to be that for other people when I am able. Last week in Session we began a conversation about how to handle potentially dangerous situations if they ever happened here. Better to be prepared and it never happen than for the odd chance it happens when we are totally unprepared. I was quick to say there are certain people I expect would handle the situation. I know my job would be to keep everyone calm. That calm for me would come in prayer, in scripture, in hymns whether or not I was able to communicate them out loud, that's what would be in my head until the situation was managed.
Is there someone in your life who keeps you calm or whose calm you admire? Is that who you reach out to when you need help to calm down? Even if that person isn't accessible right at the moment, perhaps thinking about how that person was calm in a past situation or remembering things they have said would be enough to catch their calm and get through your present struggle.
Max Lucado begins his chapter on contagious calm with the story of an officer in 1962 who avoided disaster for all of us with his calm, clear headed thinking. At 36, Vasili Arkhipov was chief of staff for a fleet of Russian submarines headed near Havana, Cuba. Hurricane Daisy with 50 foot waves tossed them about. The warm water drove temperatures on board to 120 F. They were not at their best physical condition and their anxiety levels were rising. A message came to patrol the Florida coast. US ships responded in protocol by setting off depth charges. The Russians assumed they were under attack. The captain was on the verge of leading them into war, but Arkhipov asked to speak to him privately. The calm officer suggested they talk to the Americans first. The Russians surfaced. The U.S. maintained survellaince. No one fired a shot. Eventually the Russians were able to go home without a battle. Forty years later this story was revealed by our National Security Archive whose director said, "The lesson from this is that a guy named Vasili Arkhipov saved the world." (Lucado, Anxious for Nothing, p. 67ff)
Whether or not any of us save the world, there are many times when remaining calm and clear headed can keep us safe or help us avoid disaster. I encourage you to find examples of calm to emulate, cultivate calm in yourselves, be that calming influence on others.
This is a good time to remind you of Lucado's acronym for C.A.L.M. It's on the cards we handed out the first week. Be sure to get one today if you weren't here Jan. 7.
C is Celebrate goodness; A is ask for help; L is leave it to God; M is meditate on good things. All of these come from the meanings Lucado finds in Philippians 4:4-8. Listen to it today from God's Word translation:
4 Always be joyful in the Lord! I’ll say it again: Be joyful! 5 Let everyone know how considerate you are. The Lord is near. 6 Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. 7 Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.
The thing that Lucado emphasizes the most regarding contagious calm is to remember the source of calm and peace. You are not handling the challenges of life alone. God is with you. Paul wrote in Philippians, "the Lord is near." We read in Joshua 1, "Be strong and courageous, for I will be with you wherever you go." Keeping these promises in mind, we can be calm, because we are not relying on our own strength or our wits, we are reminded to rely instead on God who will help us do our best and get through the challenge. That doesn't mean everything will always work out exactly the way you want, but it does mean things won't always be as bad as you can imagine. Most of life happens somewhere in between, and with God's help we can live with that.
One of the exercises suggested in the study guide for Lucado's book, Anxious for Nothing I shared with Mary Marthas yesterday; I would also like to share it with you. Think about the things you do any given day, your usual routines. Then in a guided meditation style, think through all those parts of your day with Jesus right beside you. Jesus helping you fix breakfast or sitting beside you in the car. Jesus watching the news with you or reading a book. Jesus going to work or school with you or to the doctor's appointment or to your exercise group. Jesus watching over you when you sleep. Every problem that comes up during the day, you share with Christ and receive his help. That's the way for a Christian to live.
Psalm 118 also has many verses that remind us of the help we find in the Lord. God hears and answers our prayers, God works for our best in spite of what humans do to us, so it is better to trust God than to rely on human beings, even those of high ranking and responsibility. We know there is a limit to what each of us can do, even when we try to help others. So, shouldn't we understand that from others as well? But those limits don't apply to God whom we call Almighty, whom the Bible tells us is love itself. God can and will do for us, what we humans cannot do for ourselves or for each other.
However, we too often forget to turn to God for that help. Even the disciples forgot from time to time. Imagine all the things they witnessed, the healings, the miracles, and yet when they were in the boat, they panicked rather than trusting that Jesus could calm the storm. When the crowds followed Jesus they panicked about providing food rather than trusting Jesus already had a plan. When Lazarus died, they wondered why Jesus waited so long, rather than believing Jesus could raise him to life, and when Jesus was crucified and buried, why didn't they expect that God could raise Jesus to life again? When your life is a mess, when funds are scarce, when your patience runs low, when others are negative, when life happens, remember to give it to God and trust God to see you through the challenges. In John 16:33 Jesus gives his disciples a truth and a promise we also need to remember: "I’ve told you this so that my peace will be with you. In the world you’ll have trouble. But cheer up! I have overcome the world.” We need to focus not on the trouble, but on the promise that Jesus has already overcome everything we face.
The chapter of Toler's book, The Power of Your Brain that the Adult Class will focus on today, shares many many scriptures of promise while asking us to view the truth about ourselves from God's perspective. Some of us have a very low view of ourselves and perhaps others of us have egos that are a bit inflated? Again, most of us live somewhere in the middle. To realistically realign our self perception with God's truth includes a balanced approach to either extreme. Where we have faults and character flaws let's be honest with God and with ourselves about them. Confess your failures and any negative thinking. Make a decision to turn away from that negativity and any false assumptions or inaccurate beliefs you may have. It's what we call these days a reality check. Toler quotes Giles St. Aubyn, "Thought, like all potent weapons, is exceedingly dangerous if mishandled. Clear thinking is therefore desireable not only to develop the full potentialities of our mind, but to avoid disaster." (quoted by Toler on p. 48) I think the story of Vasili Arkhipov demonstrates that quote perfectly.
But, of course, emptying your mind of negativity isn't enough. The vacuum can easily be filled by something worse. You have to intentionally fill your mind with good things. Turn to scriptures of promise. Look for the positive stories in the news. Listen to a lecture, read a good book, watch a documentary to learn something new. Listen to music that makes you smile or watch a show that makes you laugh without demeaning someone in the process. Find a good story or write one! Plan something to celebrate a friend or a family member. Turn to Philippians 4:8 and meditate on those positives it lists. Go for a walk or a drive and enjoy the beauty of nature or an art museum to appreciate the creativity God has given others. Do a craft or art project yourself. Don't make excuses. Pick one and go for it. If that's not your thing, pick something else.
The biggest positive to remember is who you belong to and who God created you to be. Listen to just a few verses that remind us. John 1 tells us we are God's children. 1 Corinthians 12 says we are members of Christ's body. Colossians 2 teaches that we are complete in Christ. Philippians 3 reminds us we are citizens of heaven. I especially like Ephesians 2:10, " we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Isaiah 43 tells us God calls us by name. Jeremiah 1 says we belong to God who formed us and consecrated us before we were even born and in chapter 31 reminds us that God loves us with an everlasting love. (Many of these are found in lists provided by Toler in chapter 3) The Old and New Testaments both are filled with words that remind us of God's love and God's purpose for us.
Surround yourselves with these verses and repeat their message to yourselves several times a day. Repetition of the positive messages is how you root out the negative thoughts. Thoreau wrote, "As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." (quoted by Toler on page 50) Don't just occasionally consider that you are God's beloved child. Tell yourself that important fact several times a day and especially any time negative thinking attacks. Tell yourself that God loves you and has a plan for your life even when you don't believe it, until finally you do live out of that belief. Tell yourself every day and in every challenge that God loves you and is there to help you, because that is what the Bible adamantly teaches us.
Lucado tells the story of a young boy whose chore was to keep the family supplied with firewood. There was a large stump in the yard which would bring a lot of firewood, but though he tried and tried and tried he couldn't dig it out of the ground. When his father came home and saw what he was doing, the father kept telling the boy he wasn't using all his strength. The boy who was sweaty and tired was not pleased with what his father said; he was sure he was putting all his strength into the effort. But when he finally asked what his father meant, this is how his father replied, "You haven't asked me to help you yet." (Lucado, p. 75) In the same way when the challenge is too much for us, God is waiting for us to ask for help.
That's the point of today's Gospel lesson, to ask for what we need, and to keep asking as long as it takes. A widow needed justice, but the unjust judge didn't want to be bothered. Still she continued to bother the judge, knocking on his door without giving up until finally he ruled in her favor just to get rid of her. In Luke's telling of this story Jesus asks, if even an unjust judge who doesn't respect God will give justice to the persistent woman, how much more will God hear and meet our needs when we ask through prayer.
Philippians 4:6 told us, "Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks." Many scriptures tell us the same thing. Prayer needs to become a first response to any crisis situation, but can also be a first reaction to everything in life, to pray for help and with gratitude.
This is what our New Testament reading also tells us to do when it says we should cast our care or cast all our anxiety on God. I've known this verse in that version since 2nd grade, because my favorite song in our Lutheran Song Book was based on it. When I think of the verb to cast, fishing is what comes to mind. In biblical times one cast out a weighted net then slowly pulled it in hoping it would be full. Fishermen today might cast with a rod and reel throwing that baited hook far out hoping to reel in a good sized fish. The process depends partly on the skill of the fisherman, but also on the weather, on the currents, on other conditions around them, and on the fish themselves. So, even fishermen after doing their best depend on God for the final results.
In the same way, we do our best, but rather than stewing and worrying and fretting and being anxious, we need to trust God for a good result, casting our requests, our prayers to God and even letting God have our worries and anxiety to deal with them. I like Lucado's way of summing up this plea. "The path to peace is paved with prayer." (Lucado, p. 87) With that in mind, let us cast our cares on Christ. Keep Calm & Pray God's Presence into every dimension of your life.
The books referred to in this series are as follows:
Max Lucado. Anxious for Nothing. Harper Collins Publishing, 2017.
Stan Toler. The Power of Your Brain. Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph. D. Learned Optimism. Vintage Books, 2006.
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