June 24, 2012

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC


Ephesians 3:14-21

We’ve had a great week of Vacation Bible School.  Our theme has been “Sky”.  You’ve seen the airplanes and the balloons and the kites.  You’ve seen the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds, both in decoration and also through our big picture window.  The theme has reminded us that with God, everything is possible. (Mk. 10:27).  With God, the sky is the limit.  That means there are no limits.  Not with God.

That phrase “the sky’s the limit” was first used in 1911, about the time the airplane was first being used.  You could fly higher than the birds in an airplane.  You could look down on the clouds.  You could look down on the highest mountains.  It seemed there were no limits to how high you could fly, but really there were.  The sky was the limit.  Airplanes only work with air under their wings.  Airplanes were not designed for space travel.

But now the phrase “the sky’s the limit” is really out of date.  Because now we have spaceships.  Now we’ve been to the moon.  Now we have a spaceship called Voyager 2 that sent pictures back from the most distant planets in our solar system.  It’s still going.  It’s twice as far from the sun as Pluto right now.  It’s traveling 34,000 miles per hour and at that rate it will reach the closet star in a mere 296,000 years.  So the sky is no longer the limit.  And there still are no limits to God.

The scripture we read says it well.  “God . . . is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.”  In other words, there are no limits to God.  God can do in you way more that you would dare to ask or even to imagine.  And then it says, “Glory to [God] for all generations.  Forever and ever.”  Forever and ever is a long time!  We have a word for that.  Infinity.  Infinity means unlimited.  So infinity is a pretty good word to describe God.  I don’t know if kids are still into Buzz Lightyear like my kids were, but he had a favorite saying.  “To infinity and beyond!”  The sky’s not even the limit.  There are no limits when it comes to God.

If we believe that about God it makes all the difference in what we’re going to believe about ourselves.  It makes all the difference in how we are going to live our lives.  It makes all the difference in whether we are going to be timid and play it safe or be daring and experience fully the life God has given us to live.

The poet, Mary Oliver, puts it in the form of a question:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I have three things to say this morning.  First, never accept the limits that you place on yourself.  There was a man who couldn’t walk.  He’d been lying on a pallet beside a pool of water that was believed to have healing powers.  He’d been lying there for 38 years.  He was a victim.  He was a victim of cruel fate.  Whether he was born this way or had suffered an accident, something beyond his control had happened to him and left him this way.  He was also a victim of those who could have helped him but chose not to.  If someone would just pick him up and place him in those healing waters, maybe his fate could be reversed.  Maybe he didn’t have to live the rest of his life this way.  But no one cared enough to help him.  Everyone was so wrapped up in their own problems and their own worries they just walked right past him as if he didn’t even exist.

But now, after waiting 38 years for someone to stop and help him, someone finally did stop and help him.  His name was Jesus.  Jesus helped him first by asking him a question.  “Do you want to be well?”  (Jn 5:6)  That was a question that put this poor man’s predicament in a whole new light.  Maybe he wasn’t a victim of fate or a victim of others who didn’t care.  Maybe he had a part to play in his circumstances.  Maybe his biggest problem was his own crippling attitude.  “Do you want to be well?”  You have a part to play in your own healing.  Jesus did heal him.  He rose, took up his pallet and walked.  But it could only happen once this man had broken through the limits he had placed on himself.

We often aren’t even aware of these limits we place on ourselves.  We just think we are being self-aware.  We know our limitations.  We have a pretty good feel for what we can do or what we can’t do.  But how can we possibly know whether this self-awareness is a true measure of what we can or can’t do or a self-imposed limitation that comes from our fear or lack of confidence?

Here’s 10-year-old Ashton Eaton.  Ashton was a fast kid.  He was a runner.  He didn’t decide one day to become a runner.  He always knew he was one.  God had made him fast.  He went to high school with one of our daughters and excelled in track.

He was so good he got a full-ride scholarship to the University of Oregon.  The track coach there asked him if he’d like to try the decathlon.  He said, “Sure.  What’s a decathlon?”  But when he found out a decathlon included field events, not just track events, he was sure it was a mistake.  He was a runner, not a thrower or a jumper.  For example, he had never tried the pole vault in his life.  He didn’t want to try.  He was a runner, not a pole vaulter.  But as it turned out, he was a fast learner.  Here’s a little video his coach put together:

 (Youtube video:  Ashton Eaton pole vault)

Yesterday Ashton Eaton set a new world record in the decathlon.  He is going to London as the favorite to win a gold medal.  But only because he was able to break through his limited vision of what he was good at.  So never accept the limits you place on yourself.

Second, never accept the limits others place on you.  Ashton Eaton believed those who believed he could do more than he thought he could.  But too often we believe those who believe we can do less.

There’s the story of David, the baby of the family, the little boy who was out watching the sheep when Samuel stopped by to anoint the new king.  God had revealed it would be one of Jesse’s sons but hadn’t revealed which one.  God had given Samuel some words of wisdom:  “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature . . . for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  (I Sam 16:7).

Jesse was certain it would be one of his older sons that God had chosen.  One of the overachievers.  Not that little twerp, David.  But it was David.  What a surprise!

And then in the very next chapter, David is still a boy, not a man, when he volunteers to go to battle single handedly against the giant, Goliath.  They laughed at him.  Who did he think he was?  They had him all sized up.  They knew what he could do and what he couldn’t.  He most certainly couldn’t give Goliath a challenge.  This must be a joke.  But David paid no attention to the low opinion other people had of him.  He had a much higher opinion of himself.  You might call it courage.  You might call it hutzpah.  There’s a fine line between the two.  But little David proved the naysayers wrong when he made good on his boasting and killed the mighty Goliath.

I read a unique Father’s Day tribute last week.  It was terribly sad.  Here’s how it began:

It happens every Father’s Day.  My thoughts go back to the day after he committed suicide.  “If you say anything nice about him, I’m walking out,” my sister said to the pastor who was planning the funeral service.

Richard Peck went on to describe a father who was very difficult to get along with.  It was also a touching tribute as he helped the reader understand why his father was the way he was.  But he could never get past the memory of that day when he was 12-years-old and helping his dad stucco their home.  His dad said, “Damn you, Richard!  Can’t you do anything right?”

Some of you grew up with parents who believed in you more than you believed in yourself.  Others of you grew up with parents like Richard Peck’s dad.  We talked a couple of weeks ago about the power of a parent’s blessing.  Well, the power of a parent’s cursing is considerable as well.  Richard Peck went on to an illustrious career as a pastor and communicator.  But only because he didn’t accept his dad’s damnation.  Only because he knew his dad was wrong when his dad told him he couldn’t do anything right.  So never accept the limits others place on you.

Finally, accept only the limits God has placed on you.  Yes, there are limits in life.  God is unlimited.  But we aren’t God.  We are flesh and blood.  So the sky’s the not exactly the limit for us.  There’s a limited number of years we will live on this earth.  There’s a limit to what we can accomplish during that limited space of time.  You can get better and better at what you do.  It’s amazing the progress and improvement that are possible with persistence.  But eventually, you’re going to bump up against the brick wall that is the absolute limit of what is possible for you.

That man who was crippled for 38 years was healed.  But not all physical maladies can be healed.  Often they just have to be accepted like it says in that prayer:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  God has placed limits on our lives.  I hope that doesn’t contradict the whole week of what our kids learned in Vacation Bible School!  “All things are possible with God.”  Well, yes and no.  When God is dealing with flesh and blood creatures like us, even God runs into limits.

But here’s the thing about the limits God has placed on our lives.  There’s no possible way to know what those limits are until we test them.  Until we bump up against them.  Most of us coast through life not getting anywhere close to our full God-given potential.  Because the limits we keep bumping up against are the limits we have placed on ourselves, or the limits others have placed on us.  We have no idea how incredibly far out we could go before hitting that true brick wall.  Ephesians tells us that what God can do in us is “far beyond all that we could ask or [even] imagine.”

How do you know you are getting close to God’s limits for you?  They have a saying at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  “Discernment by nausea.”  Normally we choose the path of least resistance.  If there’s a hard way and an easy way, we choose the easy way.  It’s human nature.  The easy way feels good.  The hard way makes us feel sick to our stomachs.  But they say at Church of the Resurrection that the hard way is almost always God’s way.  And I think they’re right.

Getting anywhere near God’s limits for what is possible in our lives is scary stuff.  But the thrill when we live to the max the life God has given us to live is like no other thrill on earth!  You are a sports car designed to go 200 miles an hour.  Why are you going through life idling while you sit in a parking lot?

This video went viral a few weeks ago.  I missed it.  But they showed it at Annual Conference last week.  It’s better that any closing illustration I could give.  A fourth grade girl is wearing a camera and the camera has a microphone while she decides if she has the courage to attempt a 40 meter ski jump.

(Youtube:  Girl’s First Ski Jump)

Some of you are feeling the suspense at the top right now.  It’s freaking you out.  And you’re getting ready to chicken out.  Remember, God can do in you way more than you could ever dream possible.  So “tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

God, I pray for each person here today.  We’re all at different places in our lives, with different challenges and opportunities.  Different hopes and fears.  May each one of us invite you in and allow you to take us to that place that is your will for our lives, that place that is so scary but that is so thrilling, and that is possible only with you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.