Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 24, 2010 - Up to our Eyeballs in Alligators

Up to Our Eyeballs in Alligators
Psalm 121

[Pecans in the Cemetery]
    On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big, old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts. "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me," said one boy. A couple of them dropped and rolled down toward the fence.
    Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery. He slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me." He just knew what it was,  so he jumped back on his bike and rode off.
    Now just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along. "Come here quick," said the boy, "you won't believe what I heard!  Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls."
     The man said, "Beat it kid, can't you see it's hard for me to walk?" When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled to the cemetery.  Standing by the fence they heard, "One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me..." The old man whispered, "Boy, you've been tellin' the truth.  Let's see if we can see the Lord." Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence yet were still unable to see anything.
    The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.  At last they heard, "One for you, one for me. That's all.  *Now let's go get those nuts by the fence and we'll be done."* In terror, the old man and the boy looked at each other, then took off a-running.
    They say the old man made it back to town a full 5 minutes ahead of the boy on the bike!

What are we afraid of in America today? I believe that the overall atmosphere of this nation is fear.
    +Fear of terrorism,
    +fear of the nation’s long economic recession,
    +fear about what will happen if the wrong people get elected;
    +fear that we will walk into an Al Qaida plot while traveling in Europe,
    +the list goes on and on.

Far too often, it is fear that shapes the way we vote, the way we lock up our houses, the way we spend or do not send our money, and much more.
    And we keeping wondering, “How did we get into this mess?” Or more to the point, “How do we get out of this mess?”

    An old Jewish saying tells us that difference between being smart and being wise is that the person who is smart knows how to get out of a situation which the wise person would never have gotten into in the first place. As the sky falls around us, what we've learned is that America, for all its SMARTS, lacks WISDOM, that is, the ability to see what lies ahead and how to proceed after hitting a fork in the road. And so we worry that even our smarts may not extricate us from hole we're in.
    It is a time of fear, and so we worry. In such a time as this, do we have any word from God? Lord God, I hope so.


[ABC-TV] In 2007, ABC-TV presented a special by John Stossel with the title: "Scared Stiff: Worry in America." It raised the question: "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?" Have we created an atmosphere of fear which is hurting our health-as-people and our heart-as-Americans?

    There's a lot to be scared about. The media hit us with endless warnings: terrorism, swine flu, vicious crime, cancer, global warming and much more. **But are all worries created equal?** It turns out that what we worry about is often different from what's most likely to hurt us.

            *Terrorism:* How big is the risk? The program looked at what the American Enterprise Institute calls "terror porn": billions of dollars wasted in the name of safety, and what you could call the F.I.C., or the *"Fear Industrial Complex"*: politicians, lawyers, activists and media, who have an incentive to keep us scared. They stay in business by spreading fear. Skeptics, like John Mueller, author of "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats," say the threat is overblown, and Americans are less likely to be killed by an international terrorist than by driving into a deer.

            *Kidnaping and Molestation*: C.N.N.'s "Nancy Grace" and Dateline's "Predator" programs earn high ratings by focusing on molestation and kidnaping. The Center for Missing and Exploited Children runs powerful public service announcements about abducted kids. But what damage is done by the fear they spread? Kids are much more frightened about kidnaping than they are about the other risks that are *more* likely to hurt them.

            [*Vaccines*: Many activists have blamed some vaccines for IQ loss, mental retardation and autism. People are catching easily preventable diseases because we have frightened the public about vaccines.]

        The *Law of Unintended Consequences* is alive and well: Politicians pass laws in the name of safety, but safety regulations can create new problems:

            *Bike helmet laws*: Countries that require bicyclists to wear helmets find that fewer people ride, possibly making us fatter. And it's not clear that the mandatory helmets result in fewer injuries. And when I started wearing a helmet, I took more risks -- I used to ride in Knoxville City traffic right down Broadway from Fountain City into town.

            [*Sanitizing the house*: Some experts claim that sterile houses may be giving more children asthma.]

            *Child safety caps*: Medicine bottles are now so tough to open that some people leave the cap off. Poisonings result.

We have become a people driven by our fears. We fear that we are up to our eyeballs in alligators, and thus alligators are all we look for.
    But worse yet, sometimes I think that we believe ourselves to be better persons because we are so focused on our worries. What do you mean that you have no worries? Aren’t you taking life seriously? Didn’t you see the warning? People who are not as fearful as we are should be taught to be afraid.

    [STORY - No Fear of Hell]
    In the very earliest days of the settlement of Arizona, the Archbishop of Los Angeles sent a missionary out to Phoenix to try to establish a church there. After two years, the priest returned to tell the archbishop that he could not establish a congregation in Phoenix.
        "Why not?" asked the Bishop. "Are there no people there?"
        "Well, yes, there are people there," said the priest. But those who live there during the winter have no need of heaven and those who live in Arizona during the summer have no fear of hell." (2)

II. Think about it: If that priest was to look at America today, how would he evaluate our spiritual situation? Adam Hamilton, in his study, Enough, points to one area: Our current economic crisis is not merely the result of bad policies of the housing and banking  industries. Rather, they are born of a spiritual crisis.

    +People have gotten into economic trouble because we reached for more houses and cars and stuff than we could possibly pay for. The spiritual term for this is *pride*.
    +Lenders have encouraged us to borrow beyond our means so they could make a profit on the loan or the sale we generate. The spiritual term for this is *greed*.
    +We have watched as our neighbors got the newest and the latest and felt we had to keep up. The spiritual term for this is *envy*.

    What has happened to our capacity to look at all that we already have and be satisfied? Or to look at the family and blessings we enjoy daily and give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us? What has happened to our ability to stand with other Americans and give thanks for all the blessings God has poured out in such abundance upon this nation? We become too busy getting the next one to give thanks for God's blessings and care. We are too busy getting more. It is a spiritual crisis.
   
[B.] It is a spiritual problem when the fact that we have all the houses and cars and stuff that we can handle does not lead us to the conclusion that we have ENOUGH. Instead of gratitude, we panic that we will not be able to buy the next one. And in our panic, we assume the reasons we cannot handle more are due to external threats which someone should do something about. But, the Bible teaches us that we should not be watching constantly for alligators (or terrorists, or Stock Market crashes, or oil spills); the Bible teaches us that we should be watching for the signs that God is among us.

    God wants us to live in trust, not in fear. The Bible was written in the midst of all the same worries that beset us now. Wars are nothing new. Aggression is not new. Disease is not new. Hard economic times are not new. In the middle of the same kinds of worries that trouble us, the Bible was written by people of faith who chose faith instead of fear.

    Paul said to the Philippians from his jail cell:
    6  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.6f).

God calls us to set aside our fears and live in trust.
    +Trust that the God who has brought us this far will be with us regardless what the future holds.
    + Trust that the God who claimed us as God’s own children on the day of our baptism will claim us tomorrow.
    +Trust that the God who was able to create the world and declare it good is able to sustain the world so that it will once again be good for all the living.

[ILLUS: The Keys to the Car]
    Have you seen the TV commercial that shows a father talking to his little girl about the responsibilities of driving? She looks like she is not more than five years old. As the commercial continues, she is transformed into a 16 or 17 year old young lady – obviously ready for her first solo drive.

    There are transitional moments in life that confirm something tremendous has taken place. These are those moments in a teenager's life and in the lives of parents when a mom or a dad gives to their teen the keys to the car. Many of us have already experienced this. Some of you still have to experience it, but, I guarantee you, it's going to happen. It's going to be a step of growth for you.
    Parents, it's a time when you release your child into the adult world.
    Teens, it’s a time when your parents give you adult responsibilities.
It's a change in our lives from which none of us are ever going to turn back.


    Remember the scripture where Jesus said to the disciples: "As the Father has sent Me, so send I you." Jesus is tossing the keys to the kingdom to His disciples. He is demonstrating that He is accepting them as His followers but Jesus is also demonstrating to them that He is entrusting to them the message of the gospel. He gives to them a great privilege. Jesus is showing them that He believes in them (4).

IV. Now, remember Psalm-121 with which we began our worship this morning? It is a Psalm which speaks of the confidence and peace which rests upon God's faithfulness.

    2 My help comes from the LORD,
        who made heaven and earth.
    4 He who keeps Israel
        will neither slumber nor sleep.
    7 The LORD will keep you from all evil;
        he will keep your life.


+Because God is faithful, we can live in confidence.
+Because God is faithful, what we have can be enough.
+Because God is faithful, we can lay down our heads to rest each night in peace.

    Now, I invite you to turn to Psalm 121 again and pray the Psalm we have been reading. Pray this Psalm to still the anxious fears that what we already have will not be enough. Let its confidence still your fear that you will be left behind by the latest toys or phones or cars in the stores. Let this Psalm whisper to us a reminder that it is not the stuff-we-have but faith-in-God that is the foundation of our peace.

    Let us pray:
    Lord, I lift up my eyes to the hills–from where will my help come? I know and I am confident that my help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. LORD, keep our going out and our coming in from this time on and forevermore. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen




Notes:
1.  In 2007 ABC-TV presented a special by John Stossel with the title: "Scared Stiff: Worry in America" 02/23/07
2. James R. Gorman, Leaving Evil to God
3. Rev. Sharon Moon, Sermon: “Rejoice and Proclaim Jubilee”“
4. Pastor Don Walker, "Commissioned to a New Ministry"

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