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I Pity The Fool, Week 2 — The “Now Or Later” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Acknowledged that most of us are NOW people, not LATER people;
  • Dug into Proverbs’ strange command to “consider the ant”;
  • Gave a not-so-friendly shout out to state lotteries;
  • Landed at this bottom line:   Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED.

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So I am a little bit eager today because I get to tell you something in a little while that I KNOW will help your life, it will help your finances, it will help your emotions, and it will help your relationships. It will be really helpful. AND what makes me especially excited is that this thing I’m going to tell you will 1000% connect to what we do as a church and even why we say what we say. And as if all that couldn’t get any better, I’m going to do all of this by talking about … ANTS. Fabulous, isn’t it?

But before all that, can I tell you something? Something about YOU? It’s this. We like stuff NOW. Not later. Now. Even the fact that I told you I’m gonna tell you something A LITTLE BIT LATER that will make a whole lot of lights go on and use ants to do it is FRUSTRATING. Because you’re not a LATER person; you’re a NOW person. Like the little girl whose father wanted to teach her about banks and accounts and interest. And after explaining that your money earns interest when you park it in the bank, he took her to the bank to open an account. Like any good dad, he seeded her account with $100. After the transaction was finished – dad, daughter, banker – the little girl just stood there. Motionless. Finally, the banker asked her if he could do anything else. “Yes,” she said. “I’d like my interest money now, please.” Yes! That’s us! Still like little children in our enduring preference for NOW over later, for ME over we. We want want we want and we want it now, thank you very much.

My gosh, this is true in so many areas of life. We start our work and we want a raise and accolades and we want them now, please. We get in a mess in our marriage – a mess years in the making – and we want it fixed now, please. We see how they travel on Star Trek – phasers on! – and we want to be teletransported now please. We decide to start reading the bible (and because we ERRONEOUSLY think of it as a book we start at the beginning, intending to read cover to cover) and when it doesn’t immediately all make sense we give up in Exodus. We want biblical comprehension now, please. We feel our lives spinning out of control and want it made right and made right yesterday. Remove the love of alcohol or the allure of porn or the enticement of gambling NOW. Really, we want to be delivered. Instantly. In a mess (or not) but wouldn’t it be great if someone showed up to do it on our behalf. So a lot of us wait for our miracle, long for our breakthrough.

And the authors of Proverbs knew that is our tendency and our temptation. Even in ancient times, when EVERYTHING took forever, this NOW mentality was very common. That’s why in Proverbs 6:6, the author gives what is surely one of his oddest commands:

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!

Note the “Go To” initiative/imperative. You, a sluggard (lazy!) who want to be passive and have deliverance delivered unto you, your miracle served up to you, you’re going to have to seize the initiative. Even in learning to take initiative, you’ve got to take initiative. So these very first two words are almost a slap on the cheek: SNAP OUT OF IT!

Now: before we can see what we do when we “consider” ants, can I give you some ant trivia? Like, they are the most common insect on earth. There are 10,000 different sub species of them ! (I thought there was only red, carpenter, and FIRE!), they build ant hills which, get this, are 500x their own height!; they love to join their human neighbors on picnics; they can lift 20x their own weight, and best of all, best of all, they have two stomachs. One to use for themselves, NOW, and the other to store food, TO SHARE, with others, LATER.

I don’t know if the inspired author of Proverbs knew all that ant trivia, but I DO know that he admired what ants do. Look at 6:7:

It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,

I love that. They’re no co-dependent! Ants are emotionally healthy insects, fully capable of living their life and making their decisions! And then 6:8:

yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

Ah, not pre-occupied with NOW but look to THEN. And then the author gets super serious in 6:9-11:

How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
    When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

Gulp. Turning away from ant and bag to the sluggard he uses that “little, little, little” before BIG. You’re passive, you want to be delivered, you compromise and calamity comes little by little and then SUDDENTLY. Gradually and then IMMEDIATELY. It’s so true with people’s finances, in their marriages, even with faith. Wait for a miracle, hold out for a breakthrough, and then BOOM buried under the rubble of too little too late.

And suddenly, as we pity fools, it all becomes clear. Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED. Fools want it NOW, in a moment, and the wise realize the life doesn’t work that way. Fools succumb to instantaneous gratification and the wise know that gratification delayed is gratification multiplied. People who are foolish are driving on 77, see the signs for 1-800-LAWYER and think, “there’s my ticket out. I’ll sue somebody and get rich that way,” and the wise realize that wealth and contentment are a process, not an event. Wise people know that, in God’s hands, they are perennially “under development.”

Just think of all those things that have to be developed! Vaccines. Software. Film (back in the day). Movies. Land! Yeah land! That’s why people make their living in real estate development. And in all those areas how does development happen? Trial and error, starts and stops, commitment to the process as a vital part of the ultimate promise. Not a finger snap. A journey. And when you GET Proverbs 6, you get that not only is a master developer and YOU ARE HIS DEVELOPMENT! Hallelujah! You!   Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED.

It’s a little bit like what happened a couple of months ago. A lot of you know that we send out daily Reading Prompts on Facebook. We give you a daily suggested reading but with the ASSIGNMENT comes the EMPOWERMENT. We post some aids to your reading; additional insight whether you are a novice or even a veteran or somewhere in between when it comes to this library. The whole idea is to resource the people of the church AND THE COMMUNITY (because a lot of people read it who will never come here to church) so that they (you) will start the day in the Word and not the world. Anyway, not too long ago, a friend sent these words:

I’d like to thank the church for posting the daily readings as well as your teachings on your page each morning. These have made a huge impact on my life. As I read through Luke and now Acts I realize much of this is new to me and I’ve never actually read through these books entirely before. I’m learning so much! (And I love to learn so this excites me!) Even more importantly my hunger for the Word and my time alone with God has grown in a way I’ve always desired but seemed unable to obtain before. This has become a crucial part of my day and I’m thankful for the direction and prompts you all provide. I look forward to sitting down and reading the Bible and praying and I can certainly tell the difference in my attitude and approach to the day when I start my day in the Word vs when I don’t. Y’all probably already realize the importance of and the impact that your daily posts are making in the lives of those around you, but just in case you needed a reminder or some encouragement, here it is. Myself (and my family who also benefits from the changes being made in me), thank you.

But as great as that is, wait, wait, wait. I saw that note on a day in which the prompts happened to be from Acts 12. And when I was reading Acts 12 (to post the prompt later), all kinds of new insight from that chapter just LEAPT off the page. Fabulous details about how Luke writes the story of Peter’s escape from prison very purposefully to evoke thoughts of Jesus resurrection from the grave. But here’s the deal … in the 40 years I’ve been a X, I have probably read Acts 20 times. And I had never seen the pattern before. Now: either I’m really dumb (possible) or the Word of God is a never-ending reservoir of truth and beauty and genius (much more likely). He never runs out, it never gets old, and we’re never done being developed. I got developed THAT DAY reading THAT CHAPTER and I’m so glad I did. I want the same for you.   Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED.

Oh, while this is so true with Scripture reading – and I guarantee that starting the day in the Word and not the world will have all kind of benefits, intended and unintended – it’s true with so much else. It’s true with finances. And by the way, this is why playing the lottery is such lunacy! Especially if it’s your way to fix your money problems! And I love how our states, NC & SC, ask us to support “education” by doing something so abjectly dumb as lotto. Because, ultimately, what is a lottery jackpot? DELIVERANCE. BREAKTHROUGH! MIRACLE! (Prelude to bankruptcy, if statistics are to believed as well …). The ultimate in NOW with no effort. Listen, when it comes to your money woes, you didn’t get there overnight and you won’t escape by noon the next day!

Or your marriage. Give me one thing to do to make it right, counselor! Well, what’s the one thing y’all did to foul it up? It wasn’t one thing, it was a bunch. Right! Or even your despair. Whatever your dilemma, you didn’t get there overnight, you won’t get out of it quickly, and what a marvelous time to offer yourself up to God, master developer. To say to God, “I’m learning from that ant that tomorrow really is more important than today.”

See, we make decisions impulsively, based on our … impulses … and we fail to see how every single decision we make and turn we take impacts all of our other decisions. It’s like this string of Xmas tree lights. Isn’t this the way it works? That ONE BULB out in the middle messes the whole thing up? You have to go back and figure it which is the one? Why? They’re all connected! What you drank last night is really connected to who you date next week. The text you sent tonight may well be connected to the lawyer you see in two years. The impulse purchase you make next week really will force that decision between rent or utilities. It’s all connected. Ants know that. Why don’t we?   Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED.

 

And this has everything to do with Good Shepherd. This is 1000% why we call it a living relationship with Jesus Christ and not merely a saving one, not merely a reserve my place in heaven one, but a moving, maturing one. Living things stretch, living things grow, living things don’t live alone, and living things mature NOT INSTANTANEOUELY but ploddingly. Through a series of MASSIVELY SMALL STEPS. That’s what we want for you! To see yourself not as someone WAITING for a miracle but as SEIZING the start of your process, recognizing that the payoff may be a long way in front of you. It’s like when people start working out. At first, nothing happens. But under the surface, your blood vessels are making all kinds of new blood vessels, and then one day there is like a GRAND OPENING of new vascularity and BOOM. It looks like you grew overnight but actually it’s merely the evidence of work you’d been doing all along. Not passively, actively. God is looking not for watchers but for partners.   Fools want to be DELIVERED while the wise long to be DEVELOPED.

Because you know what I want for you? To be able to do your work unsupervised. To finish what you start. To preserve sacred relationships and not abandon them. To carry money with you and not spend it. To begin your day in the Word and not the world. To bear a wrong and not seek revenge. To thank God the developer and offer yourself as his development.

If ants can, why can’t you?

 

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