Pastor Roger Barkley again presents two short sermons. The first is the second week of comments about stewardship of our environment; these are part of our after-church classes led by Michael Barrett.
His second short sermon continues his series on the Letter of James, this week about the problem of perfectionism.
Week 2: Caring for Creation
September 30, 2018
Before joining the ministry, I worked in sales for the Del Monte Food Corporation.
It was a great job.
In addition to our generous salary, we could earn substantial bonuses by exceeding yearly sales goals, and the more you exceeded your goals the larger your bonus.
One year, in particular, we were doing really well, pretty much assured of coming in at 103% of goal, which would give us thousands of dollars in bonuses.
But if we could get to 105% well then, we’d really be in the money.
Understand that the grocery industry runs on razor-thin profit margins, so if a retailer can save a few cents on high-volume items then it will stock up on them.
So, we’re in December, a few weeks from the end of the year
when our company announced a substantially reduced price on a couple of bigger sellers like tomato sauce.
At the time, I was calling on the largest customer in the United States, and they had the warehouse space to store truckload after truckload of cheap tomato sauce and other items.
It was great … I was already dreaming of what I would do with my big bonus check.
Sitting behind me was the salesperson who called on Vons, and nearby a salesperson who called on Ralphs.
They also wanted to buy many extra truckloads of product, but their warehouses were more limited.
Then someone hit upon a brilliant idea – one that may have been in the “grey area” of company policy but could mean some real bucks for us.
With so much at stake, what if our sales office supplemented the cost of outside warehouse space and packed it with the low-cost product that our L.A. customers could pull from over the next couple of months?
We did a short-term lease of some warehouse space, and with that, our only issue became arranging enough trucks to ship tons and tons of tomato sauce from Stockton to Los Angeles by December 31st.
We made our extra bonus money … but we created a big problem: in exchange for our short-term bonuses, we had stripped ourselves of sales for several months of the following year.
Our one-time bonuses were quickly spent, but then we struggled to make even minimum sales goals for months ahead.
I keep thinking about our short-sighted strategy when I look at how we are managing our environment.
Our generation is burning fossil fuels and coal, stripping hardwood forests, filling the skies with poisons and the seas with islands of plastic … and, sure, it has been great for a few decades.
But now what?
What about our grandchildren and their grandchildren who are inheriting a damaged planet with depleted resources?
The constitution of Iroquois Nation includes what they call The Great Binding Law, which sometimes is abbreviated as, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation … even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
I find that preaching about stewardship of our earth is very difficult because it all seems like bad news that keeps getting worse.
The fallout from our pollution and global warming is everywhere.
As Americans, we have to take special responsibility, because the whole world is groaning under the weight of American consumption.
With less than 5% of the world’s population, we use a quarter of the world’s oil, nearly a quarter of its coal, over a quarter of its aluminum, and a fifth of its copper.
I could go on and on, but you already know the bad news as well as I.
And whereas many Evangelicals and other conservative Christians have the luxury of remaining unconcerned about these facts for reasons we explored last week, including their firm belief that Jesus will return and make all things new, we are left with a growing sense of despair and anxiety.
As I talked about last week, conservative Protestants are quick to quote Genesis 1:28 … fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
They are right that the word we translate as “subdue” – in Hebrew kabash – means just that: subdue, even enslave or molest.
Frequently, kabash is used in military contexts – soldiers are ordered to kabash their enemies.
But it only means this when the other party is hostile an to not subdue them would lead to death.
But that is not our relationship with the earth.
The earth is not our enemy (maybe it was in primitive times) but a gift for us to use and manage, not to beat down and enslave.
So, we need to see how Genesis 1:28 nuances this harsh word.
Genesis 1:28 also has the word we translate as “rule” – radah in Hebrew.
This is like the rule of a king.
That means that we should ask what God wants of those who rule.
The Bible shares God’s vision for a king, for example in this coronation psalm:
Psalm 72:12-14 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
So, that is the kind of ruling over God desires for us to have with the creation He has entrusted to us.
In fact, God lashes out against those who abuse their power and responsibility.
For example, in Ezekiel 34:4, God unleashes a tirade against Israel’s exploitive kings:
You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
What if these two scriptures were the measuring sticks against which politicians measured themselves?
What if these became the scriptures we engraved into government buildings?
I can’t fix the planet, you can’t fix the planet.
Let’s face that fact because until we do our anxiety and anger at politicians and corporations will just grow and grow, and consume us.
We can vote for responsible leaders, and we can take steps which may seem small and insignificant to manage our own use of resources.
Today, we’re going to learn about recycling in Los Angeles.
While it is a small step it is one each of us can do to make a difference.
It turns out that I have been mistaken about a number of things I thought could be recycled, and every time I put something into the “blue bin” that cannot be recycled, I add to the work at the recycling center, and then it means that a truck must make an additional trip from the recycling center to the dump to carry my mistakes away.
Luis is going to lead us through this beginning with a little quiz.
The Book of James Week 5
Getting Free from Perfectionism
A colleague of mine described talking with a friend about how best to use a new treadmill at the gym.
He said he felt a bit overwhelmed by the array of buttons on the control, so he didn’t bother with all the “cardio session,” “random session”, and other options … he prefers just using the “manual” setting because that way he can stay in control.
So, my colleague asked, “And how’s that working for you?”
He thought for a moment and replied, “Well, it works as long as I am in the gym.”
As long as you want to limit your life to sweating your heart out while not really getting anywhere, then trying for total control of your life may work for a while.
But you have to give-up such illusions if you want to live a happier more productive life.
Actually, the drive for tight control and perfection is not only an illusion, it is a form of arrogance which today’s passage from James confronts head-on, using people of commerce to make his point.
James 4:13 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.”
Prosperity can lead to arrogance and entitlement that breed isolation from God and a false confidence in our ability to secure our future.
It is not the profit motive that James attacks; it is the arrogant confidence that conceals the fact that we really are dependent on God for our success.
It’s not all about me.
In all that we do at work, in our relationships, in our ministries, it is about being in partnership with God.
James is building upon his previous teaching that there are two kinds of wisdom.
The first is the “all about me” “wisdom of the world” which invariably leads to what he calls bitter envy, selfish ambition, discord and every evil practice.
He contrasts that to God-centered “wisdom from heaven” which invariably leads to mercy, peace and harmony.
James 4:16 (Amp) But as it is, you boast in your presumption and your self-conceit. All such boasting is wrong.
James is addressing a group who seem so full of themselves, and so certain of their plans, that he uses the Greek word can be translated as braggart or boastful … which James says is a sin.
Operating from the “wisdom from below”, these people assume the world is a “closed system” by which I mean it has limited resources, limited opportunities, winners and losers.
By that worldview, if I gain control, then I get more stuff … but it means that you get less.
Envy drives the system … everyone wants more goodies, everyone wants control, everyone wants power, but only the winners get what they want, the rest are left outside wanting to get in.
James 14:14 You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.
James means this as more than a poetic metaphor because, in several places of the Bible, God says He will turn those who are unfaithful, for example, those who turn to Baal worship, to mist.
Hosea 13:3 …Therefore they will be like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears, like chaff swirling from a threshing floor, like smoke escaping through a window.
Bragging is a symptom of separation from God, and without God, we are like a mist that wafts through life and then vanishes.
Now, of course, we set goals for ourselves; of course, we set standards and targets for our lives.
But there are limits to what we can actually control, and our experience of peace and joy, come from accepting those limits.
The first temptation that Satan put to Jesus was to step back from being a creature, to step back from the human nature he had assumed and to go back fully to divinity.
No need to be hungry or thirsty… go back to being God.
No need to tremble on top of this pinnacle, you can be perfectly secure … go back to being God.
No need to worry about the powers of the world that might attack you … go back to being God.
Jesus denounced Satan and chose humanity, showing that a life of joy, peace and meaning can be lived within the limits of our finitude, and with the risks and uncertainty that accompany them.
Our compulsive drive for control, our drive for perfectionism has an underbelly of panic.
It is practical atheism … our inability to relax and trust that God is with us.
For the perfectionist, achievement never tastes sweet because we are instantly looking at what we failed to achieve.
We’re driven to always do better – but it is never enough, the panic and shame always return.
Where was God when we failed or when life failed us?
When I look across my own life, I see a lot of scars …some from some pretty deep hurts.
But scars are evidence of healing.
God never wastes a pain. God will use our pain for gain.
Worship leader and songwriter Brian Doerksen has written some of the most popular worship music of recent decades.
It turns out that his son, Isaiah, suffers from fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition which results in physical, intellectual, emotional, and behavioral limitations.
Brian reflects on the day he and his wife first received medical confirmation of Isaiah’s condition.
In the midst of his heartache, Brian considered turning away from worship ministry altogether, but God taught him a lesson that instead carried him deeper into his ministry:
“[After receiving the test results], I stumbled around our property weeping, confused, heartbroken.
“At one point I lifted my voice to heaven and handed in my resignation: ‘God, I am through being a worship leader and songwriter …’
“When I was able to be quiet enough to hear, I sensed God holding out his hand and inviting me: ‘Will you trust me? Will you go even with your broken heart—for who will relate to my people who are heartbroken if not those like you who are acquainted with disappointment?’”
Reflecting further on this word from God, Brian writes:
“I used to think people were most blessed by their great victories. But now I know differently: People are just longing to hear [others] speak of how they have walked through the deepest valleys. The world lifts up the victorious and the successful, but God lifts up the brokenhearted.”
You can go crazy because of your inability to control every this and that, every relationship, every detail of life.
Or you can choose to be grateful that the same loving God who gave us everything we have, who gave us every loved one we know, also controls our future.