Fast Food Faith: “Have it Your Way”
Intro: Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University. He dealt with virtual reality stuff. He was a much loved professor and, as it turns out, a quite good motivational speaker. Unfortunately though, he passed away last year of pancreatic cancer. When he had about 6 months left to live, he gave a lecture called “Achieving my childhood dreams” and from that he wrote a book called “The Last Lecture”—maybe you’ve read it. I guess he was one of those strange people who actually wrote down his dreams and life goals--and he achieved most of them. One that I found fascinating was that he wanted to be an imagineer for Disney. He told the story of how he worked on the Aladdin Virtual Reality attraction as part of his research. But when offered a job as an actual imagineer, he declined. Wouldn’t that be a great job?! Playing with models all day long—being creative and giving millions of people a great experience!
I discovered, along with about 6 million others who watched his lecture on You Tube, that he was a very engaging man. And many were inspired with some of his quotes. Imagine! Here was a happily married man, with three boys, and the knowledge that he had six months left to live. He was staring death in the face, and pretty sure that his enemy was going to win, and this is what he said:
Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it.
We don’t beat the Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well.
But there’s one statement he made that was probably not original with him because I heard a variation of it years ago – that goes to the heart of what we’re going to talk about today: We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.
We can’t change the cards we are dealt. In other words, we can’t deny the reality of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are in what we are in. But fast food chains come along and tell us, “have it your way.” Another way of saying this is, you are in control. We will adjust to you. We will fix it up however you like.
And that’s great, in a restaurant. And we keep hearing stories and ads that tell us, whatever you want—we can get it for you. You are in charge. You are in control. Ever gone to a store and had a fight with customer service – and won? I have. It’s a great feeling. I’m in control. I’m in charge.
And that’s great in a store. And we are told by those who love us and want the best for us that we can be whoever we want to be and do whatever we want to do. And because of the bombardment of these kinds of messages we begin to believe, deep down inside, “you know, they are right! I CAN be whatever I want to be. If I believe, I can achieve”. I really CAN have it my way.
Well, is that true? Can we achieve something just because we believe we can? Can we really be anything we want to be? Can we really have it our way throughout life?
Let me take a poll. How many of us have had life to go our way—in all areas? That all our childhood dreams have become realities and that all our circumstances have been favorable? I know that I haven’t. There have been MANY times when I’ve been bitterly disappointed with life, with circumstances, with people, with myself, and even disappointed with God. How about you? Can you identify with that?
See, while we hear the words, “have it your way”, we know that it’s not possible to have it that way all the time. But we go after that elusive ideal nonetheless. And we set ourselves up for disappointment. We begin to speak and act to “get in line” and arrange circumstances so that we can have it our way in the world.
For example, we believe that having a lot of money will make that statement come true. Now, everybody has heard “Money can’t buy happiness.” But it can sure come close! Or at least that’s what we often think.
Well, if it’s not money, maybe it’s the acquisition of power. The more power we get, the more we will be able to have life our way. But the more power, the more headaches, the greater the power struggles we encounter. Because, unless one is the king of the world, every person answers to someone else. Somebody is going to win the struggle and often it’s not us.
Or what about beauty, fashion, all that kind of thing? If I can just get people to notice how attractive I am, maybe they will hear what I have to say and my influence will set things up for me. And so you trim some things out and expand other things and in your opinion, look perfect—until someone else comes along that others deem more attractive than you. And then you discover that you can’t have it your way.
Or just fill in the blank. I can have life my way if _____________ . I will have control over my life if _______________. To me, that’s the real issue. How much control over my life do I have? Not much! Like, physically. How much control do we have over the most mundane things, like breathing? How many can hold your breath for 15 minutes? Or the next heartbeat? Or can you be as tall as you want (but some of us shrink!).
Think of relationships. Can anyone force anyone else to have a relationship with him or her? You see the person of your dreams—and if you’re married, you already have, right? But you see the person of your dreams and when you want to get close to them they say, “not feelin’ it”. And you’re devastated—because you can’t make another person have a close relationship with you—especially a romantic one.
What about career choices? How many of us have control over that? With so many options, we can’t do just anything we want, can we? How many NFL fans do we have? How many really believe they can play for their favorite team? I understand there are some Redskin fans here. Some Cowboy fans. Some Steeler fans. Now in Aug, when training camp begins, how many of you are going to go to the camp, walk on, and tell the coaching staff, “I’m here! I want you to start me. I know that I can make it because I want it so badly. I REALLY BELIEVE that I can play.” How likely is that to happen?
We have a problem: we are told that we can be and do whatever we want to be and do—we have unlimited potential. And when we try to communicate that to the world we discover that we are speaking a language that is different than the rest of the world speaks. But we try to speak the language of the world. The acquisition of power speaks loudly. So does wealth, good health, gadgets and toys. And when we get these things, we feel on top of the world, like we can do anything. And so we tell the world that we’ve arrived. And when we tell the world “I want to be in control” or “I want it my way”, the world doesn’t understand us. Sort of like the guy in this video clip: (PINK PANTHER 1 CLIP)
When we say, “I want it my way, it’s just like we’re Caluseau saying “I want to buy a hamburger!” No one understands! Or maybe they act as if they don’t understand us. Either way, the world just keeps right on being who they are. They are not slowing down one bit to accommodate our demand for things to go our way. No matter how loudly we scream it, no matter how well we try to say it, regardless of how intensely we want it, the world around us will act as if we are telling them, “I want to buy a hamburger “the way Inspector Cluseau tries to communicate it!
So, that puts us in a dilemma. Is there an answer? If we can’t get the world to pay attention to us, what can we do? Adjust! Listen, we can’t stop a huge boulder rolling down hill with our bear hands. Either we get out of the way or we get flattened! In other words, we adjust our bodies so we don’t get run over—we remove ourselves from the path of the boulder.
So, how do we adjust to life since life won’t adjust to us? Follow the advice that Paul, an early Christ follower, lived out and gave to us. Paul was a man who experienced over and over again that life didn’t serve him. Paul didn’t experience life telling him he could have it his way. He had, I would imagine, wealth at one point. Certainly, in his world, he did very well for himself. He had a lot of influence. But Paul had a lot of things happen to him to give him the clear message: “you can’t have it your way.” And Paul’s answer was simple but profound: adjust! Adjust your heart to reality. And here’s how he did that: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
See, Paul was a man who understood that the world didn’t understand his request to have life happen to him his way. He understood that he was not able to be who and do what he wanted to be and do just because he wanted it badly enough. Notice that there were times that he was in financial turmoil and there were times when it was smooth sailing. He was willing to roll with what life threw at him because he learned contentment. Now what’s that? Contentment carries with it the idea is that one is satisfied with what one has. What a person has, and I would say as well, who he or she is, is sufficient, is enough, for him or her.
What I like about the Bible is that it’s real. The stories, advice, life’s rules of engagement, don’t come out of an ivory tower. And that includes the idea of contentment. Paul’s circumstances when he wrote this were anything but easy.
The circumstances that led up to Paul writing this were difficult. He found himself in his predicament initially because he was falsely accused. People watched his life and they assumed a few things that weren’t true. Paul had to not only suffer that turmoil, but he also was beaten, humiliated and thrown in jail for a couple of years. And even as he wrote this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome. He was chained to guards 24/7/365 for two additional years—just to gain a hearing from the man who had absolute power over his life. Back then, Jews were not looked upon with favor, especially by the king of the Roman empire. If the Caesar wanted Paul dead, then that would happen immediately.
And so here was Paul, writing a letter to his friends in a town called Philippi. And of all the things that he could have written, he told them that he learned the secret of being content. I’m sure a “sane” person would look at Paul’s circumstances and say, “Paul, you’re going through all that stuff and you’re able to say that you’re content? You’re either in denial or you’re nuts!” That’s one response. Or perhaps Paul had a different way of looking at life than did others--others who weren’t content, maybe?
So, what was the secret to Paul’s contentment? It was his absolute confidence in Christ: I can do everything (particularly be content) through Christ who gives me strength. But Paul could not be content on his own—he had to have help. He also said that he LEARNED the secret of being content. And if Paul had to learn it, that must mean that there was a time that he wasn’t content.
Paul was able to be content in his circumstances because he knew that the Lord was trustworthy. For Paul, the situation he found himself in was no big deal. He’d been in situations far worse before. Paul faced hardship after hardship and he discovered that the Lord met his needs and got him through them. You might want to jot down 2 Cor 11:22-33 and you will see some of the things Paul went through—before he went through this stuff. Sometimes the Lord met his needs supernaturally; most of the time it was through others, like this time. When Paul’s friends found out that he had a need—in this case a financial one—they sent him some cash. And the letter to the Philippians was, in part, a big thank you to his friends for the funds that they sent him.
So, how much did Paul get from his friends? Enough. I would guess that he had enough to pay his bills and eat. But how can many of us relate to that? Most of us here have a family. Paul didn’t have a family, his bills were fewer, and things didn’t cost nearly as much as now, you might say. That may be true. But I think the issue is not how much is enough but how one defines what enough is. And how did Paul define it? I think the same way that Jesus defined it. Jesus taught his disciples to pray: Give us today our daily bread—give us what is sufficient to meet our needs. The Lord also said, So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
And notice what Paul wrote to Timothy, his Pastor in training, regarding contentment: we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
Did you catch the repeated words in those passages? Food and clothing. In other words, our real needs are the basics aren’t they? If we had enough to feed our family and ourselves and dress them and us sufficiently, isn’t that all we really need?
I’m convinced that we have, in our culture, included so much more to our list of needs than what Jesus and Paul did. Food and clothing is how they described needs. Everything else is gravy. So, from this vantage point, how many of us can say that we have our needs met? I’d say that we all do—and for many of us, much, much more. I’m going to show you a little clip to have us sort of pull back and remind us of a bigger picture. Take a look: (ROB BELL CLIP).
Rob Bell said pretty powerful things about our culture. And I really like his reminder that what we have is a gift from our GOOD God. He has provided everything we have for our enjoyment.
I spent some time talking about material things because that is where so many of us live—and where so many of us become discontented. How contented are we with what we have? In other words, do we have stuff or does stuff have us? Are we satisfied with what we have, or as Rob Bell says, do we consider our things outdated, old? I wonder, how content would we be if we were convinced that everything we have is a gift from the Lord and if we continually expressed our gratitude to Him for it?
What about our position in life? That’s a gift, too. Where we are professionally is in large measure a result of the gifts and talents we have. But, we might say, I’m not in a job that is to my liking. I’m not cut out for this. I don’t want to be here. Isn’t it great that we live in the greatest country on the planet? We have the freedom to explore, to improve, to maximize our gifts and talents. But I have a hunch that if you are not content with the job you have, then chances are pretty good that you won’t be content getting a new career path. Because the heart of contentment is in our heart, not our position in life. Contentment comes when we are satisfied with what the Lord has given us—to include our talents, giftedness and even the job we do.
But I’m sure some would say I’d be content working any job! I’m aware that millions in our country are now laid off. They would be happy to do anything—go anywhere. Perhaps you are one of those who’ve been laid off. I’ve been there, but thankfully not recently. I know the panic and helplessness of facing the possibility of not being able to feed my family.
But think about the resources you have right now. Today. Today, you were able to come to church, probably in your own car. You probably have food in your pantry. You are depleting your resources, but thank the Lord that you have resources to deplete! The Lord has helped you thus far; He will continue to do so. Look to Him. Trust Him. Remember what we just read: I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. And remember Jesus’ simple but profound words: “Do not worry”. He will take care of us. Perhaps what you are going through, though very unpleasant, is actually the best thing that you can go through right now. This gives you a great opportunity to trust Him, perhaps in ways you’ve never done before. As you trust the Lord right here and now, and then discover that He is faithful to you to supply what you need, you will have the confidence to take the risk and trust Him the next time you have a need. And isn’t that what He wants—for all of us regardless of where we are, to trust Him?
I love the old song sung by Andre Crouch. It’s called “Through it All”, and part of the lyrics go like this: I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys and I thank Him for the storms He’s brought me through. For if I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that He could solve them. I wouldn’t know what faith in God could do. Isn’t that a great personal story?
Relationally, very few of us have absolutely no one with whom we relate. If we don’t have immediate family close by, we have friends, co-workers, acquaintances. And don’t forget about the phone and e-mail! And every person who has placed their faith in Christ has a family made up of millions. Loneliness can be devastating. But when we realize that, even friendships are gifts from the Lord, we can take the risk to reach out and know that our brothers and sisters of faith will reach back.
But some might say, “I need that special person to fill my life!” Let me suggest that you accept the relationships you have right now as God’s gifts to you. Choose to be satisfied with those whom He has placed in your life. Give the Lord thanks for those people that you are in relationship with. And for those of us who have that special person: cherish your days with him, with her! Play show and tell—daily. Show and tell that person that you love him or her. Choose today to say and do what you want and need to say and do. Don’t wait. That person is a gift from the Lord. And we are not promised tomorrow. So, don’t squander your time or your relationships!
Kitty and I have some dear friends who live out of town. They have been foster parents for years. For the last six months, they have been taking care of a baby at UVA NICU. The wife has stayed there, away from her family practically 24/7 since January.
Now of course, the drawback of foster parenting is that the foster parents get attached to the kids. This is no different for them. She gets pretty depressed for a few days every time they have to give them to adoptive parents. A couple of weeks ago, Kitty and I paid them a visit at the hospital. The medical staff was in the process of weaning the baby off of a bunch of life sustaining medication. The pediatric cardiologist told them that they can take the baby home with them in less than 2 weeks if all goes well with the weaning. The baby has never been outside, except to be transported to the hospital. And did I tell you that the most recent attempt at adoption fell through? As we were leaving to get something to eat, right before the baby was put in his crib, the wife said, “Now I get to have things my way.” What a delight when all the effort that is invested is met with a rich reward—in this case, it’s more late night feedings, diaper changes, cholic! “reverting” back to being parents of infants—and it’s been awhile—their youngest is 22. But to them, all the sacrifice is worth it.
I wonder if they might be on to something. For them, real satisfaction in life is in resting contented with their lot in life, while quietly serving the Lord and others. They are not rich. The husband is a pastor! The wife has had to work outside the home to make ends meet. Over the years we have walked with them through some pretty horrendous experiences. But I think, along with Paul, that they have learned the secret of being content. They have learned to be satisfied with what the Lord has for them. And the joy they express just living life is a real example of contentment, to me anyway. They have learned that they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength. Strength for the journey of this thing we call life.
Let me give you one more quote from Randy Pausch. I don’t know where he was from a spiritual point of view but I think he said something profound: Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is listening to it.
For me, that great man is Jesus. To handle life, Jesus told us not to worry, and He inspired Paul to encourage us to be content in the circumstances we find ourselves. The hard part, as Mr. Pausch says, is listening to it. To Him.
So, have you listened to Jesus? Have you learned the secret of being content? Have you learned that the Lord is enough? With those questions on our minds, let’s listen to this song.