Recent Sermon of Mine – “No”

I recently preached a 2-week sermon series called, “Yes/No,” and figured I’d share one of them. Of the two weeks I got the best feedback on the “No” week. The series is based on Matthew 5:33-37, where Jesus says, “Simply let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.'”

The main gist from week one, “Yes,” is that we need to say “Yes” to those important relationships in our lives that we have already committed to, but we end up functionally saying, “Yes, maybe.” So week two, “No,” builds on that to say that we have to say “No” to some things in our lives because of the bigger and better “yeses” in our lives. I borrowed the main ideas from Ed Young, Jr., of Fellowship Church. Since I’m still working out a personal style of preaching, I’m experimenting with trying to take bits and pieces of good things from good preachers. It’s a good exercise, I think. Ed is good with the one-point sermon, making a central theme evident throughout. He’s also easy to follow, is very conversational, and eminently practical. I think he was a good one for me to “adapt.” I’m, uh, less than, well, all those things… easy to follow, conversational, and practical!

And for those who are worried I just copied him, don’t worry… The vast majority of this is original enough to be justifiably called (mostly) mine. The ideas and some of the metaphorical stuff is his. While we’re at it, here’s a good resource for preachers looking online for how to keep one’s integrity intact: Copy It Right from sermoncentral.com

This is the 2nd week, “No.”

Today we’re talking about “no.” When you hear the word no, at least when I hear it, I think about finality. It’s the last word. It’s hard to have a good comeback to “no.” And… when you think about that little two-letter word, it just doesn’t sound that cool. Yes, on the other hand, sounds pretty good. Yes is sexier. No… eh… just doesn’t sound that great… it’s boring.

When I think of the word “no,” I also think of my ridiculously cute son Alden. I think of how often I have to say “no” to him. It’s so frequent I feel guilty, like I’m a big killjoy “No” monster. “No, don’t touch that… No, don’t throw that… No, don’t write on the walls with that marker!” (Leo… need to talk to you about the parsonage!) :o) … With him, at age 2, it’s always, “No, No, No!” But I’m saying no because of a bigger “yes”… the bigger yes of him learning what is safe, what is good, what is right, what is correct behavior. How to write on paper, and not walls! We’re working on that! :o)

Well, last time we talked about the power of saying “yes”. And yes is a very important word, a word that we all need to say intentionally and strategically… yes! There’s a freedom in saying it that way… it’s an affirmation… it means something because our lives confirm our words.

But there’s also the no side of yes… the no that leads to a bigger yes. Thoroughly confused? Well, then, let’s turn to Matthew 5 together, verses 33-37.

That’s why Jesus said these words in Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” We say no because of a bigger yes.

Now the context of this passage is important because Jesus was talking to a crowd of people and to the Pharisees, who were Jewish leaders and teachers. The Pharisees liked to split hairs {I kinda like to split hairs!}… It’s easier to know who’s in and who’s out… so we can keep score and know how good we are compared to everyone else… So, the Pharisees devised an intricate system of how to sidestep the truth. Instead of asking simply how to do what is good and right, they wanted to know how much they could get by with. It’s like when teenagers ask, when it comes to being physical with a boyfriend or girlfriend, “How far is too far?” I respond with something like, “If that’s your question… everything is too far.” {And don’t start dating until you’re 25!}

Instead of just plain doing what we know is right and what glorifies God, we wanna know how we can keep score. So, the Pharisees were trying hard to know how to keep score and truth sorta gets lost in the mix and so they began to swear by their bodies, swear by heaven, swear by earth, swear by the city of Jerusalem to indicate, “OK, this time, I really mean it… No, I promise. I swear by the power vested in me by the state of Tennessee and its municipalities and the court and clerk of Greene County that Scott is a crazy person for saying that no really means yes.” It’s as if, for the Pharisees and many Jews who listened to them, it was more about the words they used than their behavior or sincerity of heart.

So Jesus comes along and says, “Simply let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Jesus said that, as a Christ-follower, our character should be so noble; our conversation should be so pristine and honest that when we say yes, we mean it. And when we say no, we mean it.

If we look at Scripture and check out all the different characters, we find that many of them said no. I’m talking about the ones who really were in the sweet spot of God’s success… {tennis racket > area called “sweet spot”… best place to make the ball travel as it was intended… on the edges it just doesn’t work very well… Believe me, I know…} So, these were biblical characters who were in the sweet spot, the success of a growing, active relationship with God, as it was intended.

I think about Moses because Moses said no, literally, to the presidency of Egypt. He did it because of a bigger yes of leading Israel out of Egyptian bondage into freedom. That’s a big yes.

I think about Joshua and Caleb in the book of Numbers. They said no to a bunch of whiny, legalistic, backbiting, negative, mean-spirited, curmudgeonly Israelites. They said no because of a bigger yes. What was the yes? To do God’s will, to face the enemy, to claim God’s land. That was their yes. They said no because of a bigger and better yes.

How about Matthew? Matthew was loaded. He left a very successful accounting practice. He said no to that because of a bigger yes. The bigger yes was becoming a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus himself said no because of a bigger yes… In Matthew 4, it talks about the temptation in the desert, the trifecta. Three times Satan came to Jesus and tempted him. Each time, Jesus said, “Nope. Won’t turn ’em into bread. Nope. Won’t throw myself off temple. Nope. Won’t bow down.”

So, even Jesus Himself said no because of a bigger yes. And when you think about the yes… it was the biggest yes, ever… The cross. So, as disciples, as followers of Jesus, we’ve got to learn, likewise, to say no because of a bigger yes.

So I want to challenge us to say a few different types of nos. And these nos are not exhaustive, but I’ve tried to lift out the no-necessities. It’s like The Jungle Book song, “The Bear Necessities.” These are the no-necessities.

At first glance, to many of you this morning, these may seem far off concerns, like they certainly don’t apply to me. But, just hear me out… First off, TECH-NO… “I’ve already said no to technology. I don’t even have a cell phone.” OK… But do you have a phone?! How ’bout the bathroom?! Anybody here still using an outhouse in their backyards? Secondly… PORN-NO… “I ain’t never seen a filthy magazine or a dirty movie in my life!” OK… But do you have eyes and (a) watch practically anything on TV, (b) drive by billboards in Knoxville, (c) look through the ads in the weekend newspaper, or (d) read fiction? Then there’s the third one, O-NO… Anybody here not felt overstimulated, overworked, or like life is over the top?! Yeah, I think that’s a lot of us… So we’re gonna apply this principle of “no” for a bigger and better yes to these areas.

TECH-NO

The first application is being able to say, “Tech-no.” Let’s just acknowledge up front… technology is awesome. Let’s give technology a round. Let’s give it up for technology, because we couldn’t even have this experience today without technology. What about this… Microphone? {Frankly, with my loud voice we could do without this one!} Those participating via the Parlor, which is fed audio and video on a big screen TV that’s, well, big, and in color?! Are you enjoying the cushy pews? Because those are a relatively new concept in church pew seating. And I’m sure you’re glad about that development! :o) {Actually, maybe we should go back to all-wood, uncomfortable pews… Maybe some of us are too comfortable.}

However, technology, if left unchecked, can mess us up. And it can really rule us and control us more than we are aware.

Here’s a little something I want you to think about: you may be controlled by technology if you make just one more call on your cell phone in the garage before you greet your spouse and kids. {Not that I’ve… ever… done… that… in the last couple days.} :o) You might be controlled by technology if you take your cell phone, Blackberry®, or laptop on vacation. {Again… Not that this applies to me! I mean, the vacation part!} :o) You might be controlled by technology if you check your email three, four, five… 20 times a day. This is a great one… this is the last one.

You might be controlled by technology if you answer your cell phone in church. I have seen this happen. People take a call in church!
{ANSWER PHONE CALL. A/V Ministry Team… Don’t actually talk to me, just ring me at appropriate time. Thanks!}

“Hey, girl! Yeah, he’s going a little long today. And it’s so boring. Yeah, girl, I’ll see you @ Fatz in 30 minutes, okay?! Bye, bye!”

I’ve been in the congregation when this happened. I was at a conference… 800+ pastors… big-name speaker up front… guy answers phone… speaker stops… we all wait… 20-25 seconds of our lives gone b/c this guy… {WHISPER} “Oops, I’ve got 800 people waiting for me to get off the phone. Better go. Bye.” LOSER! I can understand forgetting to turn off the ringer, but, to answer it and carry on a conversation in the middle of a message?! It’s the perfect example of letting the technology control us.

Many of us are familiar with the 23rd Psalm. It’s a psalm of comfort, right? “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” But there’s a new psalm out recently; I don’t know if you’ve read it. It’s called “The New 23rd Psalm.”

“Technology is my shepherd. I shall not want. It makes me lie down in front of the High Definition screen. It leaves me with incessant noise. It makes me feel significant. Though I walk through the valley of no cell phone coverage (Can you hear me now?), you are with me. My Blackberry®, laptop; they comfort me. You set wireless access before me in the presence of my family. You anoint my head with Bluetooth®. My email overflows. Surely Microsoft® and Verizon® will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the interweb [sic… original says “database” instead of “interweb”] forever.”

BTW… interweb is now the cool way to say it… internet + www… free, useless tidbit.

We’ve got to understand something about technology. Many times we’re surfing hundreds of channels, we’re emailing, and we’re talking on the cell phone and doing all of these things because we don’t want to be still and hear God’s still, small voice. Sometimes we do it to fill the spaces, the voids in our lives. I find myself sometimes jumping headfirst into television land, without thinking, to watch a television show… just to escape my own show. I get involved in another story to keep myself from thinking about my own story. That is where technology can get out of balance.

That’s why the psalmist said, specifically, in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

There’s a correlation between stillness and knowing God. So what does that mean? I think it means we have to take some baby steps or do some things to balance technology in our lives. You might want to say, “Okay, I’m only going to turn my cell phone on during a certain amount of time, maybe only during the work day.” Maybe you say, “I’m going to take voice mail out and off of all of my phones, at home and my cell phone. Boom, it’s gone.” You can do this… voicemail is optional. I’m only going to check email once a day, or twice a day. I’m not going to talk on the cell phone when I’m going from the office to home. I’m not going to listen to any music while I’m driving in the car.” Praying in the car? Singing? (That’s my thing… {SING “I Exalt Thee”}… If you see me driving in the car around town with my mouth open and eyes half-closed, you’ll know why!) :o) If I’ve got my hands raised, then we’ve got other problems!

Say no to tech, in order to say yes to finding some silence. Carve out time to think about to your story, your life. Listen to God… Be still and let the Holy Spirit bring to mind what you need to hear…

{Be quiet for several seconds of pure silence.}

Isn’t that kind of weird? That was, like, 10 seconds, and we’re freaked out. Say tech-no a little more in your life to make some space for your relationship with God.

PORN-NO

A second no, if you’re keeping score, is Porn-no. I wish we didn’t have to even talk about this, but it’s such a problem in our culture today that it deserves… DEMANDS treatment.

Now immediately, when I say the word “porn,” many of you assume you know exactly what I’m talking about… But, let me say, at the outset of this point, that we’re looking at the use of the Greek word porneia (por-NAY-uh), which is used here, in 1Corinthians 6:18, in the general sense of “all forms of sex outside of the context of marriage.” That is, as a general principle, porn is really any approach to anything sexual in nature that is outside of God’s intent (i.e., monogamous marriage relationship.) I’ve included that idea in the outline in the bulletin to be clear. {Well, clear-ish.}

If we take this general use of the word porneia for sexual immorality and add what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent (and that’s an attitude of the heart) has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” we get a principle for saying no to any form of perverted sexual imagery or behavior or intent. In other words, we need to broaden our definitions of porn, of anything sexually inappropriate, to include a number of things to which we should be saying porn-no… catalogs that come in the mail, TV shows, billboards, your thoughts about such and such a person, inappropriate internet sites, that smarmy talk show or smutty romance novel.

Many of you read the outline and were inevitably thinking, “Okay, it’s the guys’ turn to be lambasted. They’re the ones who give themselves to pornography.” Well, yes, actually, they should be lambasted, but in the general sense we’re assuming here, it’s not just a guy thing…

Women sometimes engage in pornography, for example, by the things they watch on TV or read or dream/romanticize about… Frankly, I’m convinced that soap operas, some talk shows, and probably all romance novels are pornography. You can equivocate all you want about soft or hard-core, whatever… It’s still pornography in this general sense spoken of in 1Corinthians 16. While men seem to more easily struggle with the visual, women seem to more easily struggle with, well, for lack of a a better way to describe it, and to make peace with my wife and other women… women more easily struggle with… not visual stuff! :o) That’s all I got on that one… No frilly 4-syllable word here, just “not visual stuff!”

So we all have this temptation, or have had, at times in our lives, this pull… because we’re ambushed by all of these sexual messages, 24/7. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing some general form of this sexual immorality. This general sense of porneia is all around us.

1Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality.”

The word flee, in the Greek… get this… means, “flee!” :o) It means run! It means say no to it. Like Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife, we say no… Why? Because of a bigger yes.

And here is one of the awesome things about God that we fail to remember. Every time God tells us to sacrifice, every time God tells us to say no, he doesn’t say it just to say, “Okay, thou shalt not have fun! Thou shalt not enjoy thine life! No, no, no! And, oh, by the way, you’re going to suffer, because you said no.” He’s not a masochist. God wants us to say no because of a bigger yes. Every sacrifice that we make in the Christian life, every time we say no, every act of discipline, every time we do the difficult things first, God is going to reward us and bless our lives. We say no because of a bigger yes. {Pause… for lack of a good transitional thought.}

So, Scripture says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

You talk to some Christian guys and here is what they say about the sexual drive. They say, “C’mon, Scott, you’re a man, {and I just say, “You know it!”} :o)… and God has given us this sex drive. It’s almost like God has set us up for failure. That desire is so strong in a man’s life, it’s like we’re set up to fall into the abyss of sin.”

Here’s my basic response… While I understand what you’re trying to say, that’s not true. That is a lie. You see, when we do sex God’s way, blessings follow. Yes, it can be a struggle. It’s a daily dying to our self. It’s a daily saying no because of a bigger yes.”

And that bigger yes is marriage. The yes is one man, one woman—together in harmony. The yes is commitment. The yes it something the world doesn’t know. The yes is an intimate experience of relational intensity that is meant to give us a foretaste of a perfect, eternal relationship with God.

So Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” God will give you and me the strength to say no because of a bigger yes. God has made provision for us, by the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, to stand up from under the temptation. Over time, one’s own experience of a fulfilling sexual relationship with one’s spouse and/or a fulfilling spiritual relationship with God means… I don’t really need those useless things anymore… You reach a point of maturity where you learned to be turned on by what God is turned on by… the bigger and better yeses of life… It’s like you can say to the world that bombards you with these rather pathetic models of sexual intimacy, “I’m quite happy enjoying the bigger and better yes of relationships that truly satisfy, thank you very much!” :o)

What do you need to say no to? That second, intentional look? That website? Those channels? Romance novels? Soap operas? We say no because of a bigger yes.

For some of you out there, BTW, saying no is difficult enough to do by yourself and you need someone else to help you say no. It’s all about accountability. James 5 says this…

O-NO

Our last no, we’ll call the “O-no.” It’s the busyness syndrome that many of us experience. This applies, frankly, not just to young people with young kids who are always running around town chauffeuring them to their various activities. Incidentally… if you are young and you have kids and you’re not exhausted by 7:30pm like I am, please talk to me afterwards and give me some of whatever drug you’re taking! :o) This applies, I am often told, to people of all ages. I have, in the last week, had 4 conversations with retired men who are complaining that they’ll never get anywhere near the end of their to do lists. It’s a disease of frantic activity that many of us experience WAY too much!

We over challenged, over stimulated, overworked… our lives are over the top! Humans today are, like computers, “overclocked.” {Scott… explain overclocking.}

And the big mantra today is, “Man, I am busy!”

When we ask, “How are you doing?”

It used to be, “I’m fine.”

Now, in response to “How are you doing?” we get, “I’m busy! I’m just swamped. I’ve gotta go over here to do this, pick this up and take it to there, call her about this, and ask them about that… and so on goes our lists!”

Sometimes we are saying, “I’m important! I’m busy!” Sometimes busyness is a smokescreen for the insecurity we experience from the voids in our lives.

Maybe instead of “What you into lately?” we should be asking ourselves, as Christians facing an overkill world that wants to rob us of time with God and time with people… Maybe we should ask, “What you no longer into lately?!” “What are you saying no to so you can say yes to God?!” Because if we’re going to walk in God’s will, we’ve got to say no because of a bigger yes.

And that’s tough to do, especially because our lives, over time, become the sum total of our yeses and nos. They are the result of lots of smaller decisions we make every day.

It’s like our light hanging outside our front door… When we first moved to Greeneville 4 years ago, the light fixture was clean and bright. But over time, gazillions of bugs have flown into the lamp, and the bottom of the fixture is an inch deep with fried bugs. And how did the bugs get into the lamp? One little, interested bug at a time.

So how about your schedule? Is it becoming too filled with little, interested bugs?! How ’bout saying no to incessant demands on your schedule?

Say no to the good, because you’ve got to say yes to the best. That is a hard thing for me, and that is a hard thing for all of us because we have so many good opportunities. “Oh, that opportunity is good. That ministry is good. That is good! That activity is good. Good, good, good, good, good.” Everything’s good. Everything’s a good option. Just by virtue of its existence, any demand has a valid footing with any other demand. How do we say no to things when they’re so good?!

But what is the best? Often good can be the enemy of the best, and we’ve got to say no to the good because we say yes to the best. What is the best in your life, and what is the best in my life? The best things are… relationships with our spouses, our kids, our families, our friends, our church, and, ultimately, our Lord…

It’s saying yes to God. Just say no to the good and yes to the best.

You know, when I think about no, the ultimate no, I always think about the cross. Jesus, as he was suspended between heaven and earth; as he was paying for your sins and mine, there‘s no telling how much intensity and pressure was all around him! Every demon in hell was screaming in his ear, “Jump down off the cross. Come on. You’re the Son of God! You don’t need to go through this. This is too much torture, too much pain. Your Father has turned his back on you. You’ve got nobody… Come on!”

What did Jesus say? “No.” He said no because of a bigger yes. And we are that yes. May we learn to simply let our yes be yes, and our no be no.

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