Giving Up Control

Matthew 4:1-11

       Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. ”Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,  so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Prayer: Lord God,

We confess our need for you today. We need your healing and your grace. We need hope restored. We need to be reminded that you work on behalf of those you love, constantly, powerfully, completely. Forgive us for trying to fix our situations all on our own. We come to you and bring you the places we are hurting. We ask for your healing and grace to cover every broken place. We release to you this day every need and problem we’ve carried or tried hard to control. We believe in your goodness to see us through. We love you. We need you today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

  1. Today is the First Sunday in Lent, the beginning of our journey with Jesus as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem to give his life for us. 
    1. Our word “Lent” comes from an old word for “spring”. 
    1. During these six weeks, from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Christians are called to prayer, repentance, self-denial, and charitable works and giving.
  2. Often, Christians observe Lent by giving up something for the forty days, as a way to practice discipline and as a spiritual exercise.  There are a variety of things you could give up, of course. Chocolate – pizza, or the internet – others think they can give up alcohol, or ice cream – or the television. But the resolutions made during Lent resonates like the resolutions that we made for New Years – they disappear soon, not to be followed.
  3. So, to help all of us – especially me, I discovered a sermon series about Giving up for Lent. But this is beyond giving up the physical things of life – but the way that we live today – in today’s society. The series will have some suggestions as to what we might consider giving up . . . not just for Lent, but permanently.
  4. Today: Give up control.
  5. Now, there is nothing wrong with “control”.  Without some measure of control in place, we would live in a very chaotic world. 
    1. For example, traffic lights.  They control the flow of vehicles and allow for orderly movement to avoid collisions.  Where would we be without that form of control?
    1. We speak of parents who have — or don’t have — control of their children.
    1. Most local governments have an office called “animal control”. 
    1. Furnaces are under the control of a thermostat so that our sanctuary is warm when you come to worship.
    1.   So, control is not a bad thing.
  6. The other day Ann asked me what today’s message was going to be about. On Sunday mornings, before I leave for church, I always leave a copy of the bulletin and my message with Ann – so this was a natural question for her to ask.
  7. I said that I was starting a sermon series for Lent – on “Giving Up” and this first week was going to be about “Giving up control.”
  8. Well – after several minutes of hysterical laughter, Ann said seriously? Really! This should be really interesting on Sunday morning. You are going to speak on giving up control!
  9. I got her attention!
  10. I guess that I am a controlling person and I suspect that like many of you — you would say the same about yourselves –“Who me?” Denial is important, isn’t it?
  11. We are funny people. We hate to be controlled and we do not like people who try.
  12. If you are a controlling person, it is maddening to be told you’re a controlling person.  You want them to take it back and you will work at it until they do.
    1. So, I questioned Ann – and sure enough she had some specific thoughts. But then she said, “I love you as you are”! I was relieved.
  13. If you want to make your spouse crazy, tell them they are controlling. They’ll spend the next thirty minutes making you take it back.
  14. This is what makes the terrible twos so terrible. The main job of a two-year-old is to figure out who she is by testing the waters. She may not have the vocabulary for what she is doing. You won’t hear a two-year old saying, “Please pardon me while I test the boundaries of our relationship, but I am self-actualizing and need to figure out just how much of this family I’m in control of.”
  15. She won’t say it that way, but she knows what she is after. She’s after power.
    1. Just how much control can I get of these two people who are raising me?
    1. Where are the lines, and can I redraw them, so they include everything I want?
  16. That’s how we learn even in adulthood what we can control and what we can’t control.
    1. We learn by pressing the limits and like a two-year-old, our goal is to control everything we can.
    1. We want to control our finances, our futures, our families, our pets, our children, our jobs, our schedules … everything.
  17. We want control.
    1. That is the fallen human condition and the motivation for all spiritual rebellion.
    1. We hate it when we see control-freakishness in anyone else because their need for control might mean we have to give up territory.
  18. But here’s the ultimate irony. To the extent that I try to get or keep control, I will work against my God-given design and end up owned by my own rebellion. This is because I am not designed for control but surrender.
  19. Let that sink in: You are not designed for control but surrender.
  20. Let’s look at some Scripture examples and see if we can consider some life changing ideas
  21. The Bible story of the first man and the first woman is a story about control.  Adam and Eve, had it made.  They lived in paradise.  Food was provided.  They didn’t have to put up with snow.  Or rain.  Or cold.  They could do whatever they wanted, except for one thing.
    1. There was a tree in the garden, a tree that God called the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, that they were instructed not to touch or eat of its fruit. 
    1. That’s it. Just one restriction.  Don’t we hate one specific restriction. We will work to get around it – won’t we?
    1. But as we know, these first two humans fell prey to the deceits of the devil, who is described as “tempter” in the NIV.  Other translations call him “most clever” (ERV ) and “shrewdest of all the wild animals” (NLT ).
  22. The serpent’s appeal to Eve was an appeal to her ego.  “You won’t die if you eat that fruit.  The serpent’s message to Eve was very clear.
    1. God just doesn’t want you to know what he knows and be as powerful as he is. 
    1. God wants to control you!  It doesn’t have to be that way.
    1. You can be in control yourself.”
    1. And of course, Adam followed right along. 
  23. And how they must have enjoyed not only the delicious fruit, but now they were in control of their life.  Or so they thought.
  24. Contrast Adam and Eve with Jesus’ encounter with the same devil in the Scripture that was just read.
    1. This time devil is described, quite aptly, as the “tempter”. 
    1. Jesus had gone into the wilderness at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, there too fast and pray in preparation for his public ministry which would follow. 
    1. He was tired and weak and just then Satan shows up.
  25. Adam and Eve were tempted with the fruit of a tree. 
  26. But look what Satan offered Jesus:
    1. First, food, to satisfy his hunger.  “Just turn these stones into bread, Jesus, you can do it.  You’re hungry, aren’t you?” 
    1. But Jesus knew the Scriptures and he remembered what it said in Deuteronomy chapter 8, that life is more than just bread.  True life is feeding on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
  27. Then Satan suggested that Jesus do a miraculous stunt, to jump off the highest point of the temple.  “Oh, how popular you will be, Jesus. 
    1. Your name will be in the newspaper or on the evening news reports.
    1. People will come from near and far to meet this daredevil who survived such a fall!”
  28. But no, Jesus could not do that.  That would be taking control from God, to whom control of his life belonged.
  29. Satan tried one more time.  This time he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. 
    1. “Look, Jesus.  Have you ever seen such splendor? 
    1. Look at the riches, look where you will be living.  You will have the admiration and respect of all these people.  You will be king of the world!”
  30. But Jesus didn’t take this bait either. 
    1. The control of Jesus’ life did not belong to him but to his heavenly Father, and Jesus could never worship Satan.
    1. Jesus let God be in control.
  31. PAUSE
  32. But we have trouble giving up control, don’t we? 
  33. And some people take this thing of “control” to an extreme. 
    1. In fact, in the late 1960s somebody came up with a term to describe this phenomenon: “control freak”. Do you know anybody like that?
  34. How about the following:
    1. You might be a control freak if you think that someone should change one or two things about themselves, you’d be happier. 
      1. So, you try to help them change this behavior by pointing it out, usually over and over.
    1. You might be a control freak if you micro-manage others to make them fit your expectations.
    1. You might be a control freak if you find yourself using phrases like, “This is for your own good”, “I’m only trying to help you”, or “You’ll thank me later for this”. Of course, we never use these phrases, do we?
    1. You might be a control freak if you judge with disapproval the behavior of others and then withhold your attention and approval until they fall in line with your expectations.
    1. You might be a control freak if you offer what you call “constructive criticism” to others as a way to advance your own agenda.
  35. Well, you get the point. 
    1. Control freaks are lurking, it seems, everywhere. We all know one or two, don’t we? Or maybe it is us! We are the control freak and do not want to admit it.
  36. Here is something to ponder: Let’s be kind and loving and accepting.  God is in control and we are not. 
    1. We each have quite enough to do to take care of our own life, so let’s let others live their lives without our controlling interference.
  37. Give it up for Lent!  Give it up for good!
  38. On Fifth Avenue in New York city is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand.
  39. We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, “I give up, Lord; here’s my life.  I give you my life.
  40. God told the Israelites, “If you want freedom, you have to leave what you know and head for the desert.”
  41. Jesus told his followers that if you want to gain your life, you have to lose it. “What does it profit you,” he said, “if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36)
  42. The Bible’s prescription for the sickness of control is always surrender — often defined in the scripture as a call to wholeheartedness — and the Bible’s promise is that if we will lean into surrender, we will find freedom.
  43. So,  here’s the question: In what area of our lives do we need to loosen up and let go of control?
    1. Because when we choose to surrender over control, we are choosing peace over anxiety.
    1. Sounds like quite a benefit to have our anxiety reduced doesn’t it?
  44. Let us pray:
  45. O God, we keep thinking that if we are in control things will go well. But deep in our soul we know that is not true.  May we give up control to you, for you are God and we are not.  Thank you, O God, for your love and your forgiveness of our sins.  We give up control, right now.  We pray this in the name of Jesus, our Master and our Savior, Amen.