Proverbs 3:1-18, Galatians 5:22-23
Personal trainers have created a booming industry. According to IBIS World (an industry market analysis firm,) “…in the five years to 2014, revenue for the Personal Trainers industry is estimated to increase at an average annual rate of 1.9%, reaching $10.0 billion. Rising interest in personal fitness, partly prompted by worsening obesity trends, has resulted in strong demand for the industry’s trainers. As unemployment escalated and disposable income plummeted during the recession, consumers increasingly turned to less-expensive do-it-yourself exercise methods. However, as the economy has experienced sustained recovery, demand has begun to bounce back along with rising consumer disposable income….”
An entire industry has been created to tell us and coach us on what we already know. Exercise is good for us. Sitting too long is bad for us. Taking in more calories than we burn off will cause us to gain weight. Huh. Who knew? We all do – we know what is physically good for us and we make choices every day to help better our health or allow it to slip away. I also know that accidents happen; injuries limit our abilities forcing us to adapt to our new reality. But in general we know what is good for us and we make choices to better or worsen our health. Yet we continue to turn to experts to tell us what we know in our hearts is true.
Keeping our minds sharp and able to focus is a challenge as we age. I don’t know about you but I have found some pretty significant indicators that I don’t remember as much as I used to. I went through some old song books of mine where I had hand-written the words to songs that I would sing at folk festival events. What I noticed is I put what key I would play the song, but I did not note the chords throughout the song. Back in the day I just remembered them – not anymore!! I pretty much need to write everything down. I have even started writing note cards at home of things I need to do when I get to the office – keep in mind folks that my commute is a short walk through the graveyard!
Many of us are concerned about developing Alzheimer’s disease as we age. According to www.brightfocus.org, “Although there is currently no cure, scientists believe there are ways to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by continually ‘exercising’ our brains. Some research suggests that shoring up mental reserves as we age may protect against the onslaught of Alzheimer’s. This approach may also delay onset of the disease or possibly help retain cognitive function longer if it does strike.”
Research is prevalent about the need for continual learning. Not only does is benefit our minds but our bodies in general. We find fewer symptoms of depression and those nagging aches and pains the more we expand our head knowledge. One of our bucket list choices is in the area of knowledge – writing a novel, learning a new language, etc. Learning has no age limit – we know this. No one has to tell us that if we fail to use our brains we will begin to lose the ability. The brain, like any other muscle, needs a regular workout. We know this – absolutely.
Last year we focused on our overall health – physical, mental, spiritual. This year we are focusing on ‘What Weighs You Down?’ What is preventing you from a closer relationship with God? Quite frankly, our focus this year is on spiritual health. We cannot find balance in our lives without a healthy spiritual life, yet we often neglect our spiritual selves all the time. We often forget that God is with us. We often forget that even through the challenges of busyness or boredom, fast-paced or snail’s pace – God is with us. We would rather focus on our physical and mental health and call it a day.
This sermon series is about addressing those areas that are keeping each of us from a closer relationship with God. We are leading off with this subject of putting our faith/putting God first in our lives. This is all about our spiritual health. This is all about a reminder we need that God is the Creator of the world. We are fickle human beings and we need reminded often. One piece of advice I give to all the couples I council for marriage is to say “I love you” to your spouses and to say it often. Those of you who are parents know just how often you need to remind your children of certain things. Adults need reminding as well.
So just as we know that exercise and healthy eating are good for our physical well-being, and continuous learning is good for our mental well-being, so we know that putting God first in our lives is good for our spiritual well-being. But how do we do that? How do we change our priorities without dropping any of the items we juggle every day? As the Rock would put it, ‘this is your wakeup call!’ We live in a society that is all about putting ourselves first. No matter what is going on around us, we are taught relentlessly that ‘it’s all about me.’ We have bought into the notion that as long as I take care of myself, that is all that is needed – everyone else can just take care of themselves. God doesn’t need to get involved in my personal universe and I am perfectly content that way.
To me it sounds like a very lonely way to live. To me it sounds like a life that is only half fulfilled. We as human beings were not meant to live in isolation – we simple were not made that way. We are setting ourselves up to be a very apathetic community, careless of the needs of others. Unfortunately, silo–living has crept into the church in a very real and negative way. The light needs to dawn anew in our hearts and our minds that it is not all about us – it is all about God.
Putting God first does not mean we become victims. I have heard this argument that if I give up my will to God I in turn become less of a human being. Jesus turned this notion on its ear when he took on the role of a servant, stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples. What we gain by putting our faith in God first is a servant leader helping us to bear the load of everyday life. What we gain is a peace in knowing we are no longer victims to sin and death. What we gain is a hope that is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
Every week we recite the Lord’s Prayer as found in the gospel of Matthew. Notice the prayer does not start out with ‘give us today our daily bread.’ The prayer begins by acknowledging God as God, and we as God’s created beings. We ask God to bring the kingdom – ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ How can we experience the kingdom of God right here on earth? We experience the kingdom of God by extending the hand of fellowship, compassion, justice, and love to our neighbors, who may also need reminding of God’s care for all. What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Christ? It means looking beyond our own needs to the needs of those around us. It means seeing the world through unscaled eyes, making a difference in the lives of our neighbors.
We are just beginning the season of Lent. We had wonderful events of our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper followed by our Ash Wednesday service where our confirmation class attended as part of their learning. Many will talk about what they are giving up for Lent. Some are reflecting on God’s incredible love for us by sacrificing something to help experience a little of Christ’s suffering. We pause to assess where we are as Christians. For some this is a practice to feel closer to God – to remember to put God first in their lives.
I leave it up to you to decide how you will choose to experience Lent. Perhaps instead of giving up something maybe you could give back something as a way to put God first. Our BackPack Buddies campaign continues. Our Spring Fling event is coming up and is a definite way to connect with folks in our community. But maybe you would like to take on something outside our four walls. Our local schools are always looking for help in various ways. Our volunteer firefighters are always looking for assistants. Our confirmands are heading to DC for a field trip in March and we could use some chaperones. What you may find is that when you give back a small portion of your time, talent, money, and witness – these are returned to you 10-fold. God has a way of taking small things and turning them into huge blessings.
Putting God first may not be a natural thing for us. It often takes time for any behavior to become a habit. Try praying as a first choice rather than a last resort. Try reading some inspirational scriptures through daily devotionals that will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. Try noticing someone in your neighborhood that might need a helping hand, if for just a little while. I promise you God will take your blessings to others into renewal for you and for us as this church – this body of Christ. I would like to close with a fairly familiar passage of scripture – Matthew 6:33Common English Bible (CEB)
33 Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.