Getting Control Issues Under Control
Matthew 7:1-12
Pastor Todd Buurstra

Jesus may have intended these verses to be random sayings, but for a sermon I need a theme so I reached deep and came up with control. For judge not… relates to controlling another’s behavior; throwing pearls before swine might be about controlling painful people; Asking, seeking, knocking…leading to giving bread rather than a stone relates to controlling God; and the Golden Rule is a summary because it begins with therefore.

Everyone has control issues. At my worst mine look something like: bargaining with God—I’ll pray more if you heal…; or manipulating my wife through sarcasm—Ahh, I feel so appreciated…; or controlling my kids’ behavior through anger—I am SO sick of….

Then messing around on YouTube I heard this former top country song by Leann Rimes called What I Cannot Change. The lyrics are on the back of your bulletin…

The church has often tried to control behavior through judging. I think of how we’ve treated gay Christians. In our recent Parent-Teen Forum we had two very committed Christians, who also happen to be gay, talk to us. One of the things that they both talked about is their ambivalent relationship with the church. One said,
I love and hate the church at the same time. The church has hurt me deeply by judging me.

But Jesus tells us not to judge right? Not exactly, if you read on Jesus is saying more like: Judge others’ behavior, but only after you’ve judged your own behavior first. So what do I hope will happen when the first openly gay Christian seeks membership here (and it may be soon). I hope the elders will discuss the 7/30,000 verses that condemn the homosexuality in Bible times (pedophilia and temple prostitution), and then agree to disagree on how to apply that to today. Some saying a gay person must remain celibate; others that God allows mutual, monogamous gay love–both valid interpretations. Then I envision a gray-haired elder piping up, I may be conservative on this issue, but Jesus calls me to focus on the log in my eye before the speck in others’, so if our gay friend’s confident before God then I need his help as a member of this church with my weakness with greed. That would clearly be letting God judge others’ behavior so that we can focus on our own.

I have sometimes tried to control the painful people in my life through arguing. I remember my first fight with an elder at my first church. David was a manipulator who, as one of two rich people in a poor church, tried to control the church through money. So David and I were sitting in his Mercedes and he commanded me, Do a Bible Study on Marriage. Now, I have nothing against Bible studies on marriage, but I have everything against being commanded what to do. So I told him my best religious version of over my dead body! From that Sunday he lowered his tithe from $260/week to $5/week. I was scared stiff that I had bankrupted my first church in my first month there. As Communion loomed I called to apologize for how I refused, not that I refused. His donation stayed at $5. Today I think of Charles Spurgeon’s words, that 19th century prince of the pulpit,
Great King…I need thee, not only to open my mouth, but also at times to keep it shut.

Since that time 20+ years ago, Jesus has taught me that I cannot control painful people by stopping them from hurting me, but I can control my exposure to them. In other words, I don’t have to throw my pearls before swine

[who may turn around to] maul [me]

Lastly, I am often amazed at how we try to control God. We may not make little idols that we rub for good luck anymore, but we still try to manipulate God by:
Showing up at church for the first time in months to put a prayer card in for a dying friend;
Spending extra time praying in hopes that God may find a marriage partner;
Giving extra money so that God will rehabilitate an addicted son; etc.

Reflecting on Jesus’ words to trust God with prayer’s outcome Spurgeon writes:
It would be a terrible thing if God always gave all we asked for.

How true! When I think back on my prayers I am better off leaving the answers to God:
I asked for a particular woman; God gave me a better one.
I asked to be rich; God helped me scrape by to appreciate what I have.
I asked to be a better athlete; God made me a better cheerleader.
I asked for my Dad’s life; God gave my Mom strength to cope.
How about you? Where has God taught you to trust the answers of your prayers to God?

Jesus summarizes how to get control on our control issues in the Golden Rule. Don’t try to make others do what you want, or God do what you want, focus on what you can control, yourself, and do to them what you would want done to you. So here’s what I’d like you to do. Pray with me the serenity prayer, also in your bulletin, surrendering control of the unchangeable to God, and taking control of what you can change right now.

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