The Perfect Tool

This is a transcript from the January 5, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

I want to talk a little bit this morning about tools. To do that, I'm going to begin with a story that I have told before, but I wanted to share one because it's relevant. The fact that it's humiliating is beside the point. It makes the point, and so it's worth sharing again. I think I was in about college-age right around there, and my dad and I were doing a project. We were converting some part of a garage, and with walls and some different rooms, with an older house. Everything was plaster, and we were using drywall.

It was the first time I had encountered drywall as such. You have to cut drywall, so what do you do? You get a saw and you start cutting drywall, and it wasn't going very well. It’s ragged edge and it's dulling the blade. My dad says, “You don't do it that way here.” He pulled out a power saw. Some of you have worked with drywall. Okay, good.

Let me just tell you that's not the way to do it because as soon as you hit it, what's inside is this gypsum, and when it hits a lot of speed and friction, it just aerosolizes everywhere. Now, it will also dull your blade. It will burn your saw out if you do it long enough. We didn't do it long enough. We thought this is just what it requires. We're tough guys, and we’re going to do it. We put bandanas over our noses so we could breathe, and glasses and we're covered. We look like we’re the abominable snowmen, and it's just hard, hard sweaty work.

A neighbor came by and said, “You know, there's another way you might want to try.” Yes, and we had one of those little knives, those little razors. He took it and took a straight edge. He went, yes, you could do it that way, too, I suppose.

I learned a couple of things again that day. It's a lesson I've learned a number of ways. Most embarrassingly on that day, is that for any project to do it right, you need the right tool, and the right tool is going to be determined by the project itself. So both of those things together. If you are cutting wood, you need a saw but a certain type of saw. If you're cutting drywall, it's a whole different tool. You know what the right tool is by the project that you've been given. It is a different tool if you were trying to cook or if you are trying to repair your car. If you were working on pipes or on plants, they are different tools. You need the right tool, but the right tool is determined by the project itself.

Now we know this. So let me take this and extend it one step further. What tool would you use and what would you use if you wanted to grow your own soul? What would you use and what tools are available, and how would you use them well in order to expand who you are?

What if you wanted to transform your soul? That's what this passage in front of us is all about. These lofty words that Paul is using in the book of Ephesians and mirrored in the book of Colossians. He uses these words, and if you look at them what he's really asking about is, this is what God wants for you. It's nothing less than the transformation of your own soul, your whole life day by day.

Jordan read these words already, but...

"For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of His glory that He may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being."

Anybody need their inner being strengthened as you would look into 2021? That you'd be strengthened in your inner being, your truest self.

With the power through His spirit, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. How would you live your life if-- How would you face the challenges of this week in this year if you came from a place where you were rooted and grounded in love, that everything you did was informed, nurtured, guided, directed by the love of God?

While you're thinking about that, he completes the prayer.

"I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints. What is the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, and to know the love of Christ even though it surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." 

What does life look like? What does it feel like as you wake up in the morning as you go about your day filled with the fullness of God?

I'm going to take that last verse and make that our memory verse for this month. I invite you to pick up the cards that are on the welcome table. I have used a little different translation because of the way it works with the grammar.

May you experience the love of Christ. No, it's too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. The project is you and the project is me, and the project and the goal is somehow to live and to experience the fullness of life and power that comes from God. What tool would you use for that? That's what I want to focus in on for ourselves in the next several weeks.

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

I want to talk about the toolkit for 2021, and that's not a typo, by the way. I know we're in year 2020, but I'm not talking about the easy changes. Those you can make by yourself and you've already made them. If they were simple, you do it. I'm talking about the things that run deep into our life, the things that change, that take time, that take failure, that take learning.

I'm asking you on the first Sunday of 2021, how would you like to walk in that door? How would you like to greet the next year? What changes do we need to make now and start to work on now, so that that can become a reality a year from now? What tools would we use? I'm going to suggest five tools. If you have been part of the five by five, you will recognize these as assets and/or tools. These are the means by which we transform our lives. These are the tools of having to do with a purpose for your life.

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Do you know why you're here? See, there was a conversation that developed about a year ago now. It crystallized a lot of things. We were talking about church and talking about change. It struck me, and I posed this question, and I'll pose it to you today. I want you to imagine, what would it look like. What would New Hope look like if when people walked in the door, they knew that within two years of being here, that being here would help them answer these questions. What's the purpose of your life? Do you know the why of your existence?

Second, do you have a group of people who are committed to your growth and you to theirs? Do you know what the gifts and talents and experiences, the things that you bring to the table of life? Do you know what those are that you have that you bring that is your unique gift, your passions? Do you have a place where they're making a difference? Then finally, maybe at the top of it, if you have the practices that nurture and sustain those tools.

See, I believe anybody who can claim those five things, and to the degree that we can claim those five things, we are on this pathway to transformation. It will change our lives, it will change our families, it will change our Church, it will change our community. I have absolutely no doubt about that. 

Part of my goal for us this morning, I would hope that everybody here would be well on their way to knowing what their purpose, their people, their profile, their place, and their practices are. The date that I'm throwing out for us is May 31st. May 31st is Pentecost Sunday. It is part of a cycle, an arc of a story that begins today as we go and we follow the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the response after the resurrection. What we started on Christmas Eve is where we take the light from the Christ candle. We have this candle that is lit, and now we've got this candle.

Then on Pentecost, here comes fire again. When fire comes down, and now, people become the candles, people become the light, people become the embodiment of God, people become the representation of the fullness of Christ. My hope, and we're going to do a lot of things that over the next several months, help us to find those places, that place of purpose, and your people, and your profile, and your place. Then to have practices and make a difference, because I believe it will make a difference.

I believe that when we do those things, life changes. It's a big project. It takes some unique tools. Let me begin with the one of purpose, because I think this one drives so much. Purpose is the big why, the sufficient why of your life. Viktor Frankl was one I believe who coined the phrase that, if you have a sufficient why in your life, if you know why you're here, you can put up with anyhow. We know that. We know that we know that in ourselves. We know that we have a sense of purpose and direction, and boy, the energies flow, and we can take on anything. We're resilient.

We're buoyant. We know people who go through unbelievable suffering and tragedy. How do they stay afloat, let alone somehow remain resilient? There is this inner core that drives them, and they have the sense of why. I know why I am doing this. The suffering drops off and it just becomes the work of my life.

Conversely, we know people, do we not, who would seemingly have everything. They've checked all the boxes of the things that you would think you would want for a good and healthy and prosperous life. They are directionless. They go around in circles. They make terrible decisions sometimes. It is because they do not have something that is driving. They don't have an inner compass. They don't have something that is keeping them on track. They do not have a sufficient why in their life, and so anyhow that comes up is fair game.

Do you have a why that drives you? Now, when it comes to this toolkit for 2021, I think the first question is, what is this purpose? If I would ask you, can you describe the purpose of your life? Not as a test, but just as a way of saying, so what is the purpose of your life that you might answer with that classic question of the shorter catechism that some of us grew up with when the very first question is about purpose.

What is the purpose of life? What is the chief end of humankind? The answer is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. To glorify, to embody, to reflect, and extend the presence of God, to enjoy God's presence. If you've got that, you're well on your way, because you've got more of a guiding star that many people have. I think it goes deeper than that, and this is where it gets very exciting, is because even though that is generic in general, that is also specific. How does that work out in your time and space, in your life right now? How does that get applied to your life?

Because it is not a matter of just saying in some ethereal way, what is the purpose of my life, and now, how do I apply it to over here, and what I want to do over here? I think Viktor Frankl again has a much better take on this question, and in fact, I think it's much more biblical when he says this. He says, 

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

This week, life will ask you, "What is the meaning of your existence? Why are you here?" This year the question will come. It's not a matter of whether we've got something that we created in a library carrel, that's sufficient over here, but in the nitty-gritty every day, the daily stuff, the stuff of our lives. It's asking us every day. It shows up, "Why are you here? What meaning will you bring to this day? How will you manifest the love of God, here and now?"

Here's what I want to do. I want to ground this-- I thought you might have a little more room in your bulletin this morning in where you could draw some of this out, but that's okay. You can either stretch it in or this will be available a little later on our webpage. If you had a blank page in front of you, what I would do is, I would ask you on one side of the column, would you just list the relationships of your life. The relational spheres, the arenas in which you live your life. It's family, and you can expand that as much or as little as you want. Whatever is helpful. You can break out all the individual relationships of your family, your friends, and your old friends, your new friends, or the friends in the community, or the friends at work.

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Just the same as in church, what are the relationships that are there, and working in your community, the way it could be the work that you could get paid for, or the work of your life, whether you get a paycheck or not. It could be the community. You describe it, and whatever is most meaningful and helpful for you. Nation, world, the same? Then on the other side of that paper, just list another column and say, what are my responsibilities to each of these relationships What do I bring to my family, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a brother, as a son? What do I bring? What am I-- How do I manifest love in those places?

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

What's my responsibility in my community and in my church? It's not to overwhelm, but it's to create a conversation between here's where I live my life. Here's the responsibilities that are required of me. Not to be a to-do list because we're not done yet, because at the bottom, what I'd love you to do is to put this rooted and grounded in love. This isn't a to-do list. This isn't about how valid you are, or how worthy you are. You are already worthy. What does it mean to approach all the relationships and responsibilities of your life rooted and grounded in love? Knowing as we say that there is nothing you're going to do to make God love you more or less. Start there. Now starting there, how do you face the responsibilities in the relationships?

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

Then finally at the top, the goal that keeps us moving. What does it mean to experience the love of God in Christ? What does it mean to have the life and power of God? Now, somewhere in there, purpose begins to emerge. Because it's in the everydayness; it's in the moment-by-momentness. When you wake up, this is your life. The question that your life asked is, what is the meaning of your life today? What meaning will you bring? How will you manifest the love? How will you embody and extend the love of Christ in which you are rooted and grounded? How will you do that?

The Perfect Tool - New Hope Presbyterian Church - Castle Rock, CO

I contend that to a degree that we can answer that question as clunky as that graphic may be, as uninteresting as a bunch of words on the screen can be, to be able to catch it for your life is to be able to catch your life in a different way, and to begin to catch the possibilities of what might be.

This is the toolkit for 2021. It is a toolkit that is designed to transform your life one day at a time. It is not magic. We will make mistakes. That's why we begin now. It's not a matter of just changing it this week. We will make mistakes. We will use the wrong tools. We will use them wrong. We will create lots of dust. We will create all kinds of confusion, and we will be frustrated, and we will learn, and we'll come back, and we'll learn how to use the right tool in the right way. Little by little, it will begin to take an effect, because the point is, on the first Sunday of 2021, who do you want to be?

How do you want to live into the great love of God? Rooted and grounded in love, transformed and strengthened in your inner being, so that you can extend the love of God everywhere you go. I believe that will be important for us.

This year, none of us knows what's going to happen, but I can take a few guesses as to some general trends. Here is a guess. That polarity that exists in our culture, in our nation right now, I don't think it's going to get any better in the year to come. I think it's possible it's going to get worse in this election year of 2020.

In this year, where we face a year with anxiety and fear, and there are things that are real threats, whether it is violence, whether it is in our environment, whether it is in crime, whether it is in the health of those we love or within ourselves, there are things for which we are to be afraid and anxious. I don't think it's going to get less this year. My guess is it's going to get more.

My guess is that this year, there will be people who will want to call the tune of your life, that will tell you who you should love and who you should hate. They will tell you how you should look and how you should act. They will appeal to the same set of fears and anxieties, and they will look to the same polarization. The question will be, if you don't have an inner compass, if you don't have a sufficient why, who's going to call your life? Who's going to determine the direction and the music to which you will move and the allegiances that you have?

It's not just for us. If it was just for us, that would be enough. In this world around us, the entire world, I believe it is important to have people who can have that sense that using those tools to be able to be rooted and grounded in love, strengthened in their inner being, experiencing and extending the love of God, it will make a difference not only here. It will make a difference in our community. I dare say even in our world to the degree that more and more of us are able to do that, to use the right tools that we have been given, to use them in the right way, and to get on with this project, which is the very transformation of the human soul one day at a time. That's what's in front of us.

Would you pray with me? We are here on this day, oh God, on the cusp of a new year, on this hinge between what has been and what has yet to be, what we know and have known, and what is a mystery still, what is in our control, and what is beyond it.

We face it, but we face it not with fear, not with trepidation. We face it with the tools that you have given us. We face it in ways that are anticipating, all the different ways that You are going to be revealed in this world and in our life. We yield ourselves over. We surrender ourselves to You and to Your care, to the direction of Your spirit, that we might be guided, that we might be transformed, that we might be the people You created us to be. The true self of who we are would be manifest here, and now, through Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.