Last Minute of Play: It is All a Gift

I have a relative who plays in the NHL. His name is Lance Bouma and he plays for the Calgary Flames. His Mom, Cheryl, is my second cousin on my Dad’s side, so Lance is my second cousin, once removed. I am also related to Lance in a second way. Lance’s father’s sister is married to my mother’s brother, so one of Lance’s aunts is also my aunt. Susan and I know Lance’s parents fairly well. Lance’s Dad, Bernie, and I were in Kinsmen together. Cheryl and Susan taught school together in Provost. And both Cheryl and Susan were pregnant with their second child at the same time. It turned out that Lance was born the day after our son, Morgan. But even though we knew Lance’s parents pretty well, we really didn’t know Lance because Susan and I and Brandon left Provost before Lance was born.

So it was a revelation this past summer when we were visiting with Lance’s aunt and she said that Lance was humble, and she repeated it for emphasis. And that surprised me, I think, because I was expecting someone who played sports at a high level to self-confident and proud, but not humble. Later, when some of us got a chance to talk to Lance at the Paulgaard Family Reunion, we realized that what his aunt said about him is true. He is a very humble and down-to-earth person.

And as I have thought about that later, I realized that humility really is the proper posture for a high performance athlete. And if you think about some of the great athletes, like Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby, they have an aura of humbleness about them. And the reason that humility is the proper posture for a high performance athlete is that it takes a team to accomplish great things. And the team is not just the athletes on the ice or on the field. The equipment manager, the receptionist, the trainers, coaches, team management and even the guy who sharpens the skates are all part of the team that surrounds every high performance athlete and helps her or him succeed. Even an athlete in an individual sport like golf or tennis has a team of people around them that supports them.

So any athlete that thinks that they are achieving great things on their own is simply not in touch with reality. What is worse is that their pride and self-centredness will close them off from the rest of their team and make them less able to receive what their team wants to give them. And soon they will find that they are no longer able to achieve what they once did because they are trying to do things on their own.

It is the same for you and me in our own life. All throughout life, you and I are surrounded by a team that God has put in place to provide for us, to support and encourage us and to help us to accomplish the things that God is setting before us. The question is, “What is our posture towards our team? Is it humility and thankfulness? Or is it pride and self-centredness?”

Today we are continuing the series “the Last Minute of Play” and the theme verse for this series is Ephesians 5:15-16 which reads, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 – NIV) And the Big Idea behind this series is that if we could think about what things are really important at the end of our life and then live like those things are important right now, we will have fewer regrets when we come to the end of our life.

Today is Thanksgiving Sunday and so today we are thinking about thankfulness. And the Main Idea of this sermon is, if we could really see things how they really are, overwhelming thankfulness would be our natural response. And the two things that get in the way of us becoming truly thankful are our understanding of management, and our expectations regarding outcomes.

The Oxford Dictionary defines management as “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”[1] When we manage, we arrange or use the resources and gifts that God has given us in a certain way and we relate to people in a certain way and usually it is because of a goal that we want to accomplish. And when we think of management, we usually think “If I do A, then B is going to happen.” We think if we manage things in a certain way, then we can expect certain outcomes, and that is called cause and effect thinking. And that type of thinking works in certain basic situations. If I heat water up to 100 degrees Celsius, it boils every time. If I reduce it to 0 degrees Celsius, it freezes every time. But when we get to complex systems where there are lots of different people involved, like sports, or life, cause and effect thinking doesn’t really work very well. There isn’t a coach or an athlete in the world who thinks to him or herself “If I do A, then B is going to happen.” They might think “If I do A, then that increases the chances that B will happen, but I don’t really know for sure.” So cause and effect thinking doesn’t really work in sports, and it doesn’t really work in real life either.

And here is another thing about cause and effect thinking. Not only is it faulty, it is faithless. When we function with cause and effect thinking we are the ones who call the shots and make things happen, so we don’t need God in our lives and we don’t need faith. We are, in effect, the god of our own life.

And another bad thing about cause and effect thinking is that it is no room for grace in it. It is completely a law-based system and because we are imperfect and flawed it will eventually grind us down. At some point, our source of hope, which is our own personal strength and effort, is not going to be good enough anymore, and we will be left helpless and hopeless. Cause and effect thinking results in pride, if you think that you can do it, or guilt, shame and despair, if you realize that you can’t.

Instead of cause and effect thinking, Jesus invites us into a totally different way of thinking about management and outcomes. In our first lesson for today, we heard these words from Philippians 4:6-7, Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) We hear those words from God that talk about not worrying and having peace, but we may not know how to get from here to there. How do we get from living a frantic life that is full of worry to living a life where we experience peace that is beyond all understanding?

The answer is in the phrase “as you live in Christ Jesus” and to find out more about what it means to live in Christ Jesus, we turn to Galatians 2:20. There we read, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  This passage is telling us is that to live in Christ means that we resign from managing our own lives and we invite Jesus to come in and manage our entire lives in whatever way he thinks is best. That takes faith. We trust in Jesus and we trust that his management of our lives will be infinitely better than our management. We also trust that he will move us to do whatever really needs to be done. And we trust Jesus to bring about the outcomes that he desires. So leave whatever happens completely up to him. For those of us with control issues, this is a very, very hard thing to do.

But here is what happens when we trust Jesus to manage our lives and produce the outcomes he wants. We experience grace. Whenever a good idea pops into our head, we know that it is a gift from God because it didn’t come from us. Whenever we do something and we find it very enjoyable, we know that it is a gift from God, because Jesus was the one who made that activity happen. Whenever a good outcome happens, we know that it is a gift from God, because Jesus is the one in charge of outcomes in our lives. We didn’t make any of these good things happen, they are all grace, they are all gifts from God. And thankfulness in our heart is the result.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “That is a fine and dandy way to live when one is healthy and everything is going alright. But I am struggling with a serious health challenge that severely impacts my ability to function. Or I am struggling with grief. Or I just lost my job. So how can I trust Jesus with management and outcomes when this is going on in my life?” My response is to simply point you back to Jesus and say, “I do not know the solutions to the challenges that you are facing. But I know that Jesus does.”

The truth is that the best outcomes that happen in the world occur when God is doing the managing. The creation of this beautiful, finely-tuned universe that was set up perfectly so that highly complex life forms could not only exist but thrive happened when God was doing the managing. The redemption of the whole world through the perfect human life lived, the horrific sinner’s death died and the resurrection from the dead by Jesus happened when God was doing the managing. The renewal and restoration of all things that will happen when Jesus comes back to this world in a visible way will happen when God is doing the managing. So if God’s management can bring about those kinds of outcomes, let’s trust him to manage our lives and produce the outcomes that he wants to happen in and through us.

Let me give you an illustration of how this works from my own life. One of the areas that I personally find challenging is managing my family’s finances. I know that this is an important area of life, so, in the past, I have put a lot of effort into trying to manage this area of life by myself. Sometimes, I would try tracking our finances by using an accounting system of some kind. But tracking your expenses after you spend the money doesn’t really help. And because I expected a certain outcome, when the accounting numbers did not add up to what I expected, I would get discouraged and quit. Sometimes I would try to forecast our finances with a budgeting system of some kind. But forecasting your finances doesn’t really help if your budget system loses touch with what is actually happening in your bank accounts. And I still expected a certain outcome and when the budget numbers didn’t add up to what I expected, I would get discouraged and quit that too.

Recently, I realized that I needed to give management of our personal finances over to Jesus and I needed to give the outcomes over to Jesus also. And three things happened when I did that. First, Jesus led me to a system that both tracks and forecasts our finances. Second, I don’t pay any attention when the numbers don’t add up to what I think they should. My task is simply to use this tracking and forecasting system that Jesus directed me to use. Jesus is in charge of the outcomes. And third, the outcome has turned out far better than I expected. And I think that the reason that has happened is that when I am trusting Jesus to manage my life and also trusting him with the outcomes, I have peace in my life. And the peace that I am receiving from Jesus in this process is stopping me from doing some therapeutic shopping (which is what I tend to do when I am managing my own life) to try to gain peace for myself somehow.

Every once in a while, an amazingly good outcome happens in our lives and it will transform our lives, if we let it. We see an example of this in the movie Finding Nemo. Because of the losses that he has experienced, Nemo’s Dad is very controlling, to the point that he is stifling his relationship with his son. They are separated and just when they are about to be reunited, tragedy strikes. But then a surprise happens. Just when it looks like Nemo is dead and gone forever, he revives.

If you are familiar with the rest of the movie, you know that the gift of getting Nemo back from being lost and nearly dead transforms his Dad. Instead of being protective and controlling, he is supportive and encouraging, but to get there, he had to give up control and trust that things were going to be okay.

It is the same thing with us. The greatest surprise in all of time happened in a garden nearly 2,000 years ago when someone who had been beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross to die, rose from the dead. You and I cannot manage things in a way that achieves that kind of outcome. Resurrection is a something that only God can do. And yet Jesus has already given us resurrection life. The seed of that same great surprise has been planted in our hearts through faith and one day you will open your eyes and see and experience resurrection life in all of its fullness. You will see Jesus face to face. He will wipe every tear from your eyes. He will wipe every tear from your eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will be gone. (cf. Revelation 21:4)

Our confidence is in Jesus, not in ourselves. Jesus is doing the managing. Jesus is producing the outcomes. It is all grace, it is all a gift from God. We follow along in Jesus’ wake enjoying the many wonderful blessings that he gives us. And through it all we have peace. And because of that God-given peace, we are better able to receive whatever our God-given team is trying to give us. And that leads to even more thankfulness. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on October 11, 2015.)


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