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For The Long Haul
August 8 and 9, 1998

LUKE 12:32-40

Two New York entrepreneurs decided to introduce bungee-jumping to Mexico. They fronted some venture capital to build a platform. A crowd gathered to watch their demonstration. One of the entrepreneurs put on the bungee harness and dived off. When he came up the first time, his partner noticed that his nose was bloody. The second time, he had a black eye. The third time, part of his ear was missing. On his way down a fourth time, he yelled, "What's a pinata?"

Where does it say life will be easy? What's the old song? "I never promised you a rose garden." Living, succeeding in living, has never been easy, but it is even more difficult today because the cultural norms, structures, values are breaking down. What is happening is that we are living through the dying of one age, and the rising of another. The modern world is dying, and the post-modern world is being born. It's not too clear what the post-modern world will look like except we know it will be computer-driven, and how we receive information and how we communicate is forever changed.

It perhaps doesn't make life any easier to live, but at least it might help to understand why careers, marriages, families, churches, ministries, are in trouble. The cultural structure that formerly helped to hold marriages and families together is pretty much gone. Without that structure, it is difficult to keep the commitments we make to family, spouse, children, God and church.

Therefore, it is essential for us to emphasize that commitments must be made for the long haul. I realize this is not a popular concept--one that many of you don't want to hear. Words like persistence, determination, time, effort, struggle, negotiate just aren't popular.

What does our culture teach us?

Our culture teaches that happiness is our right. It is okay to do whatever makes us happy, whatever gives pleasure.

Our culture teaches that pain is bad, and is to be avoided at all costs. When there is pain in a marriage-- disappointment, disillusionment-- look around for someone else, find the "perfect" mate.

Our culture teaches that work is not necessarily a virtue Do whatever is the easiest, just enough to get by. Pull a handle on a machine or pick a winning number is all you have to do to become an instant millionaire. In fact, instant is the slogan, the motto, the mission statement, of our culture.

Corporations seek instant payoffs through mergers and acquisitions, rather than investing in the long haul through research and product development. Some corporations are more interested in instant wealth for their directors and stockholders than concern for the people they put out of work.

Our culture teaches us to believe in instant pleasure, instant gratification, instant sex, instant parenthood (glamorous until the baby gets colic), and instant religion.

Our culture teaches us to look for a laid-back God, a God who offers advice, jokes, and opinions, rather than commandments! We want a God without commandments; a Christ without the cross, gain without pain, wealth without work, marriage without struggle, promotion without performance.

William Raspberry makes an interesting observation on what has happened to us, illustrated by sugar! Millions of years ago, nature equipped us with certain necessities for survival. One of the gifts we were given was a craving for sweetness. Built deep within us is a desire for things that are sweet. The craving for sweetness drove our ancestors to look for sweet fruits and berries which also contain valuable nutrients. However, something terrible happened, one of the worst inventions in history. We learned how to refine sugar.

Now, we can fulfill our craving for sweetness anytime we want. Now, we don't have to wait until we find honey in a hollow tree or when fruits are in season. We can refine sugar from a number of substances and have sugar anytime we please. You know the results. Obesity. Rotten teeth. A number of other health problems, all the result of a perfectly good craving fulfilled too easily, too readily through refined sugar. Sugar, instant sweetness, is indicative of a culture that waits and wants for nothing. Live in the instant, rather than the long haul. The Police Chief of Washington, DC spoke about the problems of crime among inner city youth. He said,

These young adults, hanging around on the street corners of our city, are not thinking about marriage, are not dreaming of owning a home and a car in the future, are not training for a good job. They are cynical, disillusioned, and fatalistic. They believe that the future is closed to them, that they will have short lives, so why make the effort? This is why they take and sell drugs. They feel that life is so short, that the future is so unpromising, that it is best to grab all that you can for today. Live for momentary enjoyment because who knows what tomorrow holds?

My plea is for us to see the larger picture, to believe in the future, and to make commitments for the long haul.

A successful farmer does not expect every crop or every season to be a success.

A successful teacher plants seeds, and rarely sees the harvest.

A successful restaurant plans for the long haul, and knows it takes at least three years to make a profit.

A wise investor looks at the long haul and is not devastated or destroyed when the stock market corrects itself.

A successful marriage lasts for the long haul, until death parts us, not some problem, or disappointment, or squabble.

A successful church plans for the future. At a former church, I asked, "What is your vision of our church twenty years from now?" One of the elderly saints said, "I don't care. I won't be here." She didn't see the big picture.

A disciple of Jesus is in it for the long haul and does not give up at the first failure, or when he/she doesn't feel like it, or when feelings get hurt.

I do not offer to you an easy faith, an instant religion, one without cost, risk or pain. In the lesson read today, nowhere is it implied that instant religion is either advisable or possible. Jesus said that discipleship is matter of total commitment, holding nothing back, giving everything to God. Discipleship means to get ready, to get your life in order and wait. When the master returns, he expects to have the door opened by his servants; he expects to be greeted. No one knows when he will come; therefore, be ready. "If he comes in the middle of the night or near dawn, and finds them ready, blessed are they."

Will you commit to the long haul? We received new members today. Did you hear their vow, their commitment?

For the long haul, even when you don't feel like it, will you faithfully participate in your church's' ministries by your prayers, praying for your church, you pastors, and for one another even when you don't feel like it?

Will you faithfully participate in your church's ministries by your presence, your attendance, even when you don't feel like it?

Will you faithfully participate in your church's ministries by your gifts, your offerings of regular, habitual financial support, even when you don't feel like it, even when you feel like spending it on something else?

Will you faithfully participate in your church's ministries by your service, by doing your own unique ministry even when you don't feel like it?

Will you commit to the long haul?

No, Jesus did not promise that life would be easy, but Jesus did promise joy. "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master." Matthew 25:21 It may not be easy, but it's fun!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris