Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7 and Matthew 11:1-3
The following blog recounts the experiences of a parent with two small tikes, ages one-and-a-half and four. It includes a local pharmacy, a display of canes, an umbrella stroller (I don't know what that is—a stroller that automatically changes into an umbrella seems unlikely to me), a call to the doctor, and spiritual fruit. I have permission to retell this tale, an everyday adventure I believe you can picture yourself in—whether you're a control freak or not.
I recently had one of those embarrassing experiences that we dread as parents. I was in a hurry, but I needed to run into the pharmacy and pick up a prescription. I rushed the C's out of the car and into the store and knew right away it was going to be bad. First, there was a line. We would have to wait, a recipe for disaster with toddlers. Second, I had just carried Caleb (age 1 ½ ) instead of putting him in a stroller, and he immediately began squirming and squealing to get down. Connor (age 4) quickly found a display of canes (because they always have those at the pharmacy...?) and started pulling them out of their bin one by one. While still wrestling with Caleb, I tried to pull Connor away from the canes and he obliged, only to start playing with a swinging door that separated the pharmacists from the rest of the store.
When it was finally my turn, I told the pharmacist my name over Caleb's yelps, his hands and feet still flailing in all directions. She looked... and looked... and looked. And then she proceeded to inform me that no one had called in a prescription for me. Embarrassed by my kids' behavior and annoyed because the nurse had specifically told me that she had already submitted my prescription to that pharmacy, I hauled the C's back out to the car to try to figure it out.
I called my doctor (while standing outside the car since both boys were screaming inside). We figured out what had happened, and she agreed to immediately resubmit my prescription.
Taking a deep breath, I got back into the car, calmly explaining to my boys that we would be going back into the pharmacy and setting some ground rules for their behavior. Having learned my lesson the first time, I put Caleb into the umbrella stroller, asked Connor to hold my hand, and off we went.
It was a totally different experience. Caleb sat quietly in his seat, occasionally pointing to an item in the store and naming what it was. Connor stayed by my side and waited patiently while the pharmacist filled my prescription. I paid for it, and we headed back out to the car.
As I drove home, reflecting on what had just happened, I realized the two drastically different scenarios that had just played out were a lot like my spiritual life. When I'm rushing around trying to do everything on my own, too "busy" to stop and seek the Lord first, my plans often get thwarted and I end up like a screaming toddler, frustrated because things aren't working out and doing everything in my power to do what I want to do. But when I take the time to set some "ground rules" with the Lord by reading His Word and spending time in prayer, I'm able to have an eternal perspective. Things still get crazy sometimes, but instead of those situations turning into a big, chaotic mess, I'm able to take a step back and give them up to God.
Abby Lawson is the author of the blog I just shared with you. She says God didn't just create us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. Instead, she writes, we were made to be in relationship with Him. He wants us to spend time with Him and invest in that relationship. In return, our "spiritual fruit"—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—thrives and we are able to live more purposeful, intentional lives, lives focused on Him (Galatians 5:22-23).
In her blog, Abby poses questions to us. She asks, "So what will we choose today? Will we continue to try to control our own lives, a road destined for force, flops and failure? Or will we give it all to God, invest everything in that relationship, and allow Him to be in control?"
Let's talk about control. Here is a quote whose author is unknown. "When I'm worried, it's usually because I am trying to do everything myself. When I'm at peace, it's usually because I remember God is in control."
Abby had her questions for us. Here's my question on this first Sunday of giving things up. Even to the most free-flowing of us here, to the one who says, "whatever happens is cool," why is it so challenging for us to remember God is in control?
If you're living your life where you say God is in control, I want you to think long and hard as you listen to the following. If we know God is in control, then our spending will be different. If we know God is in control, then our giving will be different. If we know God is in control, then how we spend our time will be different. If we know God is in control, then our motivations will be different. If we knew God is in control, then our perspectives will be different. If we know God is in control, then our lives would be different. Our lives would be better. Our lives would be graceful. Our lives would be the living witness of Christ present in our world today.
So, let me get back to my question. Why don't we always have in mind that God is in control?
Eve wanted control. Somehow that serpent knew exactly what to say to her, but maybe she helped the slithering creature. Recall our text. After he had asked, "Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?" She said, "Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden." Then she adds something, doesn't she? Maybe the serpent lead her to this, but she just happens to toss out for discussion this itty-bitty fact. She adds, "It's only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat."
Fast forward. You have to admit that the following is possible. Eve may have wanted to taste that fruit and used the bad guy to get what she wanted—control. Now I don't know that this is true. I am speculating, but in Genesis 3:6 we know Eve wanted wisdom. With Adam, she wanted control. As I shared in the sermon prep, that control led to loss, great loss. I also led us into this point with that prep: our desire for control over our lives leads us to great loss, too.
The three trees in today's children's sermon reveal this: we have our own goals in our own lives. At the start of the story, the story we will continue next week, remember each tree wants something. We want something, too. We want our lives to turn out the way we want them to. We want control.
Proverbs 16:1 has truth for us. It's on my scripture notes page. It reads, "We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer."
We all notice that little three-letter conjunction in that verse. Oh yes, we get the first half of the verse. We live the first half of the verse sometimes too well. We can make our own plans. In fact, we DO make our own plans...and then, boom...there it is...that little tiny word 'but.' "But the LORD gives the right answer."
In our second scripture today, John the Baptist is looking for an answer. He's looking for an answer because he doesn't like what's in front of and around him—prison. He wants out. And he wants the super power Messiah to make his unspoken escape plan actualize. See, John doesn't send THIS question, "Lord, what is your plan here?" John wants his plan here.
We are like John. In our dark and in our dour places, when we're surrounded by the hard walls of life and fear of the future closes in around us, we think we know what is best. But we don't. God knows what is best. And what is best, says God, is that you are with Me.
Eve wanted her way. John wanted his way. For a heartfelt moment, even Jesus wanted out of God's plan. In the garden, hours before His death, He pleads to His Father for a different ending, a different fate. "Don't let me go to the cross," He says. "Don't let me die. Don't let me die this way."
But Jesus adds, "but Your will be done." Now among other phenomenal skill sets, Jesus can walk on water. He could have gotten away from that cross before it ever came near, but didn't. Him commits His actions to the Lord. We can do the same.
Here's your second scripture note. It's Proverbs 16:2. "Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed." Let me say this verse differently. Another way to put your life—or live your life—is this way: live for God. Let everything in your life be God's. As we get to that cross in the days ahead of us, you can get to the words Jesus says. Commit to this sermon series. Out of your mouth can come these words: "May Your will be done, Father." Use these weeks of Lent to get there. First, lose control. Align your plans with the Lord's plans.
Hear this. It's our last scripture note today, Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Our God is good. Our God is great. Our God of love, peace, hope, joy and light only wants what is best for us—and what is best for us isn't a one shot deal with fruit. What is best for us is to be with God, the Father, through Jesus, the Son, by way of the Holy Spirit whispering far, far better things to your soul than some silly little snake that speaks not only to Eve, but also to all of us.
Remember the blog post I shared. That parent with those two young boys did what you've done. She went at life in her own way. It didn't work. She then went at life with God, and it did work.
Here's the bottom line. Let God be God. Give up control.