The following are Pastor Kevin’s preaching notes. They are neither a transcript nor a professionally edited document. They are provided for personal and devotional use and should not be distributed without permission.
Good morning, my name is Kevin Labby, and I'm the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. I want to welcome all of our guests here today! And I also want to welcome everyone watching this online either live or throughout the week. We know that most people will check us out online before they ever visit. We hope to see you soon.
Please open in your Bibles to Matthew 6:25-34. This is the Word of the Lord:
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Here ends the reading of God's Word. Let's pray.
Prayer for Illumination
Father, we ask that, in the precious name of Jesus Christ, you would open to us the treasures of the mysteries of your Word. By your Spirit's power, expose our need of Christ that we might depend upon him more fully; the sufficiency of Christ that we might rest in him more deeply; and the beauty of Christ that we might share his gospel more willingly. Let this time in your Word be for your glory, our good, and the good of our neighbors - even our enemies. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
"Don't worry. Be happy." Yeah right.
When I was growing up, I loved listening to oldies. For me, that meant the Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, Franky Valli, the Temptations, the Lettermen, the Dave Clark Five, and so on. I remember thinking, even as a young child, why don't they make music like this anymore?
Today, I find it humorous (and a little depressing) that my kids consider music from the 1980s and even the 1990's oldies! Several years ago, I took a kid from my church to the post office, and I heard Bon Jovi on the sound system. I started humming "Living on a Prayer" as we stood in line. The kid asked me, "You like this song?" I said, "I love it." Do you know what that little brat said? He said, "Me too! I love the oldies!"
Bon Jovi? Oldies? Come on! I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Listen, punk. We’re at a post office. I can buy a box, stuff you in it, and ship you anywhere in the world.”
But alas, that's where we are now. Some of those 1980s and 1990s classics are vintage.
Do you remember that now-oldie by Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"? That song drove me nuts one summer. I worked in a restaurant, and it played over and over and over and over again. A song encouraging me to relax set me on edge. The irony!
Do you know what drove me nuts about that song? The lyrics. McFerrin spends the whole song telling us not to worry and to be happy but gives us no reason to be at peace. Listen to these lyrics:
Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy
Let's review. Did someone steal your bed? Don't worry about it. Are you without rent money? Don't worry about that either. Why? No reason. Just chill, bro. I have to think there was a lot of marijuana floating around the recording studio when they wrote this song.
If only it were that easy! To the mantra, "Don't worry, be happy," we might want to say, 'Yeah, right.'
Why are we often so worry-filled and anxious?
The truth is that we're often worry-filled and anxious. Why is that?
Moving toward an answer, let me first say that some among us might have genuine anxiety or panic disorders. I'm not speaking to that this morning. These are legitimate medical conditions that can benefit from medical and psychological expertise. If you think that might describe you, I will encourage you to contact a doctor or a licensed counselor. You might even consider contacting Redeemer Christian Counseling here at Willow Creek. God works healing through doctors and counselors all the time, in his common grace.
However, and second, let's note that what we might call common, everyday worry and anxiety have a lot to do with fear. When we fear a harsh judgment, a poor outcome, a deprivation of some blessing, and so on, we feel anxious - unsettled, uneasy in our hearts and minds. Dwelling on fearful possibilities, our general sense of anxiety can turn into a persistent pattern of worry. Left unaddressed, we can lose our sense of joy, peace, and the assurance of God's love - the very blessings God wants for us.
Jesus calls us to a practical experience of peace.
What good news it is that Jesus does not want us to live in fear or resulting anxiety and worry! He tells us as much in the first verse of our passage this morning:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on."
Most of us here in the United States do not have daily worries about basic food or clean water or clothing. Sure, we might not be able to afford the most excellent wines, eat at five-star restaurants every night, or wear high fashion. However, most of us are without fear of complete deprivation. Our concerns are usually in the realm of quality, not quantity, of provision.
That wasn't the case for many of Jesus' first-century hearers. Some lived close to extreme poverty, even experiencing times of drought and famine. When Jesus told them not to worry, it might have sounded - at least at first - like the equivalent of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
How can Jesus do this? Seven Principles
And so Jesus continued by providing seven principles of God's love and care toward his children - solid reasons for moving from fear to faith, from troubled to trusting. He shares the same with you.
#1. Life is more than stuff.
"Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?"
Do you know what Jesus is saying here? He's saying, in so many words, don't make stuff your focus and priority - whether it be food or drink or clothing or other possessions. Life is more than stuff. Are these things important? Sure, to some degree. Are they all important? No way. Not even close. Life in fellowship with God, a life lived to his glory and for the good of others, is so much more than any of these things.
You might be thinking, “Well, that’s not my issue.” Be careful. Test your heart on this. When you walk into a room and you’re not wearing the right clothes or the right outfit, do you ever feel insecure. Is there part of your heart that feels unsettled because your confidence, even in some small measure, is found more in your appearance than the reality that you’re a child of God no matter what you’re wearing? When you have people over for dinner, do you ever worry if the food you offer is good enough for their approval? Does their acceptance, in that moment, feel like something you need to have for personal peace and calm? Conversely, when you know your house or car or job is the envy of those around you, do you find joy in that?
The truth is this. We tend to anchor our sense of significance and security in possessions - the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we call home, and the like. We fear the judgments of others. On the one hand, we might grow arrogant and smug when we possess much and are the envy of others. On the other, we might feel embarrassed and ashamed when our possessions don't measure up, even thinking it means we don't measure up. When we fall prey to these lines of thinking, whether poor or rich, what we’re really doing is pegging our sense of worth and identity, in some measure our very lives, to these things.
Against this, Jesus warns us not to give "stuff" such power over our lives. We have an infinite and unrivaled source of security and significance and life than anything we eat or drink or wear or own: everlasting and abundant life in union with Jesus Christ, something we cannot lose. All earthly treasures will eventually rust and rot. Don't anchor yourself to them.
#2. Worry isn't even for the birds!
"Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
Here, Jesus says a second thing: worry isn't even for the birds!
My wife, Molly, and our kids recently rescued three pigeons here at Willow Creek. I'm not sure why pigeons fall on hard times here at Willow Creek, but they do - at least lately.
The first was Jerry Jingles. He was a racing pigeon, tagged by a club in Louisiana, but decided that he needed a pitstop in Winter Springs. As an aside, and frankly, I was glad Jerry escaped Louisiana. It seems to me that some people in Louisiana will eat almost anything! Anyway, with the help of one of our members, we got him some help at an animal hospital and sent him on his way. The second, Pudge, had an infection of some sort and needed help. We also got him some. The third, Nipsey, had an injured foot. He's now in a sanctuary toward Deland.
We cared for each of these birds, knowing that they had no apparent ability to understand what we did for them. What impressed me most about each of them was how docile and trusting they were. They weren't panicked. They sat on our laps and watched television with us; ate the food and drank the water we provided; and even rested with Cali, our Golden Retriever. They seemed almost expectant of our care.
That's a bit of the portrait Jesus paints here. Birds work hard, but with the expectation of adequate provision. They don't store worms and seed for the future. They live expectantly, confident that all they need will be ever before them. Jesus attributes this provision to our Heavenly Father. He cares for the birds!
Jesus then makes the obvious point: if the Father cares even for birds, what on earth makes you think he won't care for you? If they're not worried, why are you? Jesus invites us to live expectantly.
I loved caring for those pigeons. It was fun, a great memory. At no point was I more committed to their care than the care of my children. God cares every single day for things a lot less valuable to him than you.
#3. Worry doesn't even work.
Now, listen to Jesus’ frank conclusion here:
"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?"
Jesus then gives a third reason by asking a rhetorical question - i.e., "What exactly does your worry accomplish?" The answer, of course, is nothing. It's useless. Sometimes, it's just that simple.
#4. God's got you covered – literally.
Let’s continue reading:
"And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"
Jesus then points his hearers to the beauty of the lilies of the field. They don't toil; they don't spin. Even so, they're more beautiful than King Solomon ever was. In other words, the work of God to clothe his people results in infinitely greater beauty than their meager attempts.
How has God clothed us? Spiritually, he's cleansed us from our sins in the blood of Christ and clothed us in the robes of Christ's righteousness. No fabric or design of earth could ever exceed or adorn beyond what we've received by grace through faith. One day, we will gather as an innumerable multitude before the throne of God, each dressed in white garments to reflect the beautiful inner-working of God's grace.
How should we adorn ourselves today? Not with an anxious preoccupation with expensive clothes and accessories, but with the noble character flowing from the work of God's Spirit. Listen to these words from Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV):
12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
God desires that our outer expression reflect the love and peace of Christ within. If our hearts are making much of Jesus and the things of Jesus, we won't be preoccupied with lesser things.
#5. Quit thinking and acting like an orphan. You're not.
Jesus then points to our ultimate identity as God’s children:
"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all."
Here, Jesus summarizes all said previously by pointing to our ultimate identity. We are not Gentiles (i.e., unbelievers, people outside of covenant relationship with God). God is our Father, and we are his children. We are not orphans. We are beloved. He knows what we need before we do.
#6. Put first things first.
Jesus continues by saying we should put first things first:
"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
The sixth encouragement from Jesus is to focus on God's Kingdom and its righteousness. In other words, Jesus counsels us to quit focusing on our problems, but rather our Provider.
What does this mean practically? Consider this. Sometimes, we face problems so overwhelming that we're quickly demoralized. We don't know how to solve the whole dilemma, and so we do nothing. What does Jesus counsel here? He tells us to make it our aspiration to know and do the will of God moment by moment (seek the Kingdom and its righteousness), trusting that each act of momentary obedience will guide us toward a fuller experience of God's peace and provision.
#7. Don't get ahead of yourself.
Jesus brings the matter to a close with these words:
"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
You can't know it all. You can't do it all. But here's the blessing: you don't need to! Your Father is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present. He's pledged himself to your care. You can take it day-by-day, moment by moment.
The Apostle Paul echoed this thought in his letter to the Philippians. Listen to what he said in Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God is there, and he is listening. With a thankful heart, if you need something, ask. Charles Spurgeon said it this way, "Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the kingdom." Prayers and petitions become pathways for peace.
You'll probably still worry. That's OK. Jesus has that covered, too.
Now, after all I've told you from our Lord, wouldn't it be ironic if you left worrying that you'll still worry or anxious that you'll still have anxiety? Spoiler alert: you will. You won't have a perfect experience of peace here. We're not home yet. You’re not yet glorified, completely free of the power and presence of sin and its effects. We haven't yet entered the complete shalom yet to come.
However, that does not mean that you can't grow into a fuller experience of trust resulting in a more profound sense of peace. With that in mind, let me close with some invitations, rooted in the gospel of peace, for you to consider. I won't elaborate on these; they're only for your consideration. Ask yourself:
Are you taking time to behold God and who you are in his love? It's easy to forget who you are, to live as an orphan rather than a beloved child of God. Forgetting your true identity leads to fear and fear to worry and anxiety. Do you take time - every single day - to reflect on and remember your identity in Christ?
Do you have the audacity to ask God for everything you need? Is your instinct to dwell on your problem or pray to your Provider? Does ceaseless prayer characterize your life?
Are you doing too much? Why are you doing it? Did God call you to it, or are you doing it for some other reason? Is it to feel more significant? Is it to please others? Does fear or faith motivate you? Maybe it's time to simplify, to seek first the Kingdom in your decisions.
Are you doing too little? Are there some necessary tasks that you're leaving undone? Do they hang over your head and demoralize and demotivate you? Are they too big or daunting to tackle? Maybe it's time for you to face them in faith, prepared to do the next thing if you can't accomplish the whole thing. God goes with you. He not only knows what you need; he's promised to provide it.
Is your life too cluttered? Are you weighed down by too many possessions and too many resulting responsibilities? Because God laid hold of you, of what can you let go?
I want to encourage you to do three things this week in search of a greater experience of peace. I want to challenge you to:
Read some Scriptures in the morning and evening, maybe selections from the book of Psalms.
Pray three times a day, praising and petitioning God. Instead of being worry-filled and anxious, confess you need and ask God for help.
Whatever is hanging over your head, that one challenge that seems too big to conquer: do the next thing, the next act of obedience. If you can’t accomplish the whole thing, do the next thing.
Jesus invites us to move evermore from fear to faith. May we grow into a fuller experience and enjoyment of the peace that is already ours in him.