LESSENING STRESS THE LORD’S WAY – PINPOINT MOTIVES
January 27, 2019
Whether you are a sports fan or not, you’ve probably heard of the huge controversy that erupted near the end of last Sunday’s New Orleans Saints-Los Angeles Rams football playoff game. The game was tied 20-20 with 1:49 left to play. With the ball on the Rams 13-yard-line, Saints QB Drew Brees hurled a pass to Tommy Lee Lewis along the sidelines.
Rams DB Nickell Robey-Coleman obliterated Lewis well before the ball arrived, but to the Saints and their 73,000 fans utter astonishment, no penalty flag was thrown. No pass interference. The underdog Rams went on to win 26-23, and will now face the New England Patriots as even greater underdogs in next Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Of all the explanations for why the referees blew this call, my wife has the most plausible conspiracy theory: She believes the refs had an ulterior motive…they were somehow paid off by Bill Bellichek and Tom Brady under the table to ensure the Saints didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, thus assuring the Patriots of a blowout win next Sunday! What do you think?
Well, this morning we aren’t here to debate motives behind football games…but we are here to explore how motives factor into the stress we experience in our daily lives.
Yes, when it comes to dealing with stress, motives indeed matter!
Let’s dig into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 and dredge up some important questions to ponder:
AM I A SLAVE TO APPROVAL?
Jesus shares these admonitions with his hearers…
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you….
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Yes, in Jesus’ day, the three great practices of religious life are almsgiving, prayer and fasting. You give sacrificially to help the needy, you maintain intimate communication with God and you deny yourself food on certain days. All are valid spiritual disciplines that strengthen faith and build character.
However, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day have made an end zone show of such practices. They like to be noticed when they make it rain shekels down on the poor folk…and when they pray their loud, pious prayers before curious onlookers…and when they slap on makeup to make their faces look pallid and drawn on the days they are fasting. It’s all about being seen…wanting to receive approval.
Jesus has a descriptive term for them – hypocrite. Hypocrites are actors who constantly change masks to glorify themselves. There is no authenticity…just an everchanging swapping of veneers in order to keep up appearances, to make sure you receive the applause and adoration of others.
Am I a slave to approval? Am I a hypocrite? Now that’s an uncomfortable question about my motives!
However, if we spend most of each day obsessing over what others think of us…if we spend most of each day striving to be something we are not…if we spend most of each day putting on layers of airs to the point we no longer recognize our true selves, then we are creating some serious stress! Inside we become miserable human beings.
How about another penetrating question:
AM I A SLAVE TO APPRAISAL?
Jesus goes and gets in the grills of the religious folk and us with another statement:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What are the “treasures on earth” Jesus is speaking of? They are probably different for each generation and each individual. But, ultimately, they are the stuff money can buy, and we fill our lives with stress striving to accumulate them. I like what financial guru Dave Ramsey says, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like!” And that’s a mighty accurate description, is it not?
We want it all. But what happens when we get it all?
Andrew Jackson “Jack” Whittaker, Jr. was the president of a successful West Va. contracting firm called Diversified Enterprises Construction. At 55 years old, Whittaker was living a successfully comfortable American life complete with a well-rounded family, great job and healthy grandkids.
On December 25, 2002, Whittaker’s life changed forever when he stopped at a convenience store to fuel his Lincoln Navigator and he purchased a deli breakfast sandwich and a Powerball Ticket worth $315 million.
The jackpot won by Whittaker was the highest ever in the United States at the time and Whittaker chose the cash payment option receiving a check after taxes for about $114 million. Little did Whittaker know the devastation that ticket would cause on his life…His enormous new wealth meant everyone wanted a piece of Whittaker. His legal and personal problems quickly spiraled out of control. Less than one month after winning $114 million, Whittaker was arrested for drunk driving. And it went downhill from there. Squandering millions in high-stakes gambling, casinos and strip clubs. Settling lawsuits out-of-court. Having thousands simply stolen from him by thieves. He even had churches fighting over the contributions he offered them.
By 2007 Whittaker was flat broke. He stated that no amount of money lent to friends and family was ever enough and that his experiences with the lottery simply destroyed his life. He said that if he could do it all over again, he would have just filled up his tank at that convenience store, bought an egg sandwich and a coffee and gone on his merry way.
Yes, friends, we might believe that bumper sticker “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” but, in reality, the one who dies with the most toys still dies. And to appraise the value of our lives on the basis of the stuff we have and are still accumulating is to stretch ourselves thin with unneeded stress. Am I a slave to appraisal? Is all I am ultimately the sum total of my stuff? Perhaps a better question to ask ourselves is this…
DO I LOOK AND LIVE WITH APPRECIATION?
Consider these concluding remarks of Jesus:
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
The biblical word mammon is a term that means more than just wealth. It is a lifestyle based on motives devoted to me-centeredness and materialism. And to stress ourselves out being such a slave to approval and appraisal is to cloud our eyesight with a light-sapping cataract.
The words of the Shaker hymn – ’tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free - describe the key to lessening stress the Lord’s way. Making minimalism a major, monumental emphasis can truly change our outlook and our blood pressure. We learn to look and live with appreciation, counting the true blessings God has surrounded us with.
A number of our senior saints here at Vision of Hope have given me much hope for the future!
I’ve heard you describe the transition to your twilight years…how it was, at first, such a daunting task to downsize your homes and your lifestyles. But then I heard you speak of how it ended up being a liberating thing…a joyful thing…of being no longer encumbered with maintaining a stash of stuff you no longer needed. And you have told me what freedom you’ve discovered in no longer worrying about what others think of you…you simply feel free to be who you are…making time to serve and to be with others…living as a contented child of God. `
Yes, to serve God is to be about accumulating relationships that are real. And, at the end of the day, that is what survives and thrives and gives us peace instead of stress.
In early November of 1998, we received the shocking news that Valerie’s mom and dad had suffered a devastating house fire. Although their home was still standing, most of their belongings and their pet cat had perished.
That evening when we pulled into their driveway, Bobby and Ellen were still sitting there in the front yard in lawn chairs, chilled, shaking, fighting back tears, still in shock.
But around their shoulders were the strong arms of fellow church members and neighbors, surrounding them with blankets and food and coffee and the love of God Almighty.
And over the ensuing hard weeks as they rebuilt their modest home and their lives, Bobby and Ellen would continue to be uplifted by the day-to-day caring of these dear Christian folk. They would not be alone. Their needs would be met. Shelter, clothing, food…but most of all…the presence of others standing by them.
Yes, they had lost all their “stuff”—the “wants” they had accumulated over a lifetime. But their needs would remain provided for.
I remember Ellen commenting one afternoon in the aftermath of that terrible ordeal, “Honey, we are so blessed….God has blessed us with such wonderful friends we never knew we had.”
And I’ve heard her express that same gratitude again and again over the years as she’s endured the loss of her husband and a long struggle with cancer.
Yes, in a world that often stresses us out, making us slaves to motives seeking approval and appraisal, can we dare to break the chains? Can we learn to look and live with appreciation for the true and lasting blessings God bestows upon us?
Yes, ’tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free!