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Jamie Johnson
6 October 2013

Letting Go ... and Hanging On

NOTE: This is a written version of the message I delivered to a group of residents at Kings Daughters Community Health & Rehabilitation Center on October 6, 2013.

My father watched the news or read the news as long as I knew him. In his final days, however, he said that there was nothing on the news but "stupid politics and stupid people." He had let go of the news. An avid solver of crosswords and Sudoku, he had also let go of them. As he looked forward to Heaven, he let go of the things of earth. Letting go is a lesson that we have to learn during this life.

Throughout my life, I have hung on to lots of things. I have 40-year-old toys, not one toy, but plural - toys. And I have many toys from 30 years ago. I am a collector. Some things I have are nice, sentimental and have a place. However, I have hung on to some things, it seems, just for the sake of hanging on. They do not serve any purpose. And as our family has grown, we have been running out of space. Further, too much clutter can feel suffocating. So, our household has been slowly, but surely, been cleaning out and de-cluttering.

This takes time. For some it is easy. For others, like me, it can be hard. I have a lot of stuff. I have a lot of memories associated with my stuff. However, some things are broken or serve no purpose. The kids don't want to play with them and no one wants them. I have to let them go. And with one item at a time, I have let some things go. The first weekend I started this process, I made two trips to the dump last time I went.

What does the Bible say about letting go?

Matthew 6:19-21 (NASB) is a well-known verse about letting go: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

This addresses material things, but it goes further and mentions "treasures in Heaven." These are not material, but things of the heart. Where is your heart today? What are some heavenly treasures? Witnessing, significant impact, legacy, love. Are you storing up such treasures?

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NASB) mentions some non-material things we need to let go: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

Notice the progression. In the Greek, it goes from bitterness (pikría, πικρíα) to anger (thymos, θυμος) to wrath (orge, οργη) to clamor ("talking" krange, κρανγη) to evil speaking (blasphemía, βλασφημíα) to malice ("rage" kakía, κακíα). Anger can start off small. It may even be justified, but if you hang onto it, it can result in evil and sin. Just a few verses before, Ephesians 4:26 says in regards to anger to not sin. This means we have to let go of our pride or our "right" or hurt that is fueling the anger. And if we are angry, we have to let it go.

Romans 12:19 (NASB) says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord." We are to let go of vengeance.

Proverbs 15:1 (NASB) indicates we should let go of a harsh word which stirs up anger:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

So, we are to let go of non-material things such as bitterness, unresolved anger, venting, vengeance and harsh words. And what I said about material things applies to non-material things: This takes time. For some it is easy. For others, like me, it can be hard. I have a lot of stuff. I have a lot of memories associated with my stuff. I think for most of us, the non-material things are hard - the heart-attitudes and so on.

We are also to let go of our own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB) says the following:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.

I am not suggesting amnesia here, but we are to let go of what is behind according to Philippians 3:12-14 (NASB), where the Scripture says,

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The non-material thing I have difficulty letting go of is anxiety. Yet, look at what the Bible says about anxiety. 1 Peter 5:7 (NASB) speaks of "casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you."

Philippians 4:6 (NASB) says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."

We are to let go of entanglements, burden and sin according to Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB):

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Echoing what I shared at a men's retreat regarding Hebrews 12:1-2: In addition to letting go, we must fix your eyes on Jesus. The phrase "fixing your eyes on" in the Greek is aphorōntes eis (ἀφορῶντες εἰς), which means "looking away to" (Source: Bible Hub by Biblos). This means that we are looking away from sin that entangles and looking to Jesus. And further, it is not a one time "look." Rather, it is a "looking" as in "fixing our eyes." This is something that has to be done continuously, not passively. May the Holy Spirit help us!

2 Timothy 2:23 (NASB) says to "refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels."

Sometimes, we want to let something go and we must hang onto it. Paul dealt with this and wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NASB) the following:

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me -- to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.

(and what was the Lord's response?)

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

This seems to be captured in a song "Blessed Be Your Name" by Tree63 in the line: "He gives an takes away" but the song says that regardless, "Blessed Be Your Name." On days where we keep and days where we let go, blessed be the Name of the Lord. And while we let go of what He desires, may we hang on to Him.

While preparing for this sermon, I realized that I wrote about letting go 2 years ago. That is something I have not let go of nor should I. If something keeps welling up, be it a conflict or a theme, it is unresolved. There is more to let go of. I'll quote myself from that talk:

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book With Open Hands that clenched fists demonstrate being closed to God while reflecting through prayer invites us to open our hands -- and ourselves -- to God. Though not old, I have lived a significant amount of time. Yet, others have all the more experience with life. I have found that the longer time goes, the more I - and we - have to learn to let go.

Recently, I heard a sermon where the pastor walked through the Ten Commandments and how a message about love can be drawn from each one. What does each Commandment say about letting go in Exodus 20 (NASB)?

"You shall have no other gods before Me" (v.3). We are to let go of other gods. What are some of our gods these days? Anything that you place equal to or above God is a false god. Let it go.

Verse 4 is like it, which emphasizes its importance: "You shall not make for yourself an idol..." What are your idols? Let them go.

The third Commandment says, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain..." (v.6.). What does that say about letting go? Taking God's Name in vain is disrespecting Him, His reputation and His authority. We need to let go of our rebellion and let go of our disrespect.

"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God;" (vv.8-10a). Again, what does that say about letting go? We live in a busy society. You may not feel busy, but busyness is not necessarily going places or working. It can be those, but it can be a busy mind, a distracted mind. It might be a mind that does not heed Psalm 46:10, which says to be still and know He is God. We need to let go of those things, thoughts, attitudes and distractions.

Verse 12 says, "Honor your father and your mother..." What can we reap about letting go here? Remember what we said about God's Name. We need to honor. We need to let go of disrespect and rebellion. For some, their parents are gone, but there are still authorities God has place over us and we are to honor them. In our world where civil discourse is a rarity and where division is the norm, people become disrespectful rather quickly. If you are in Christ, you can be a witness by letting that disrespect go, not just in regards to God's Name, but in regards to the persons around us. If you are in Christ, you will disagree with the world, but we can disagree in a respectable manner.

"You shall not murder" (v.13). Whoa! Wait a minute, none of us are murderers are we? I've said this before and I will say it again. Yes, we are. How? How many have been unrighteously angry with someone else? I have. How many have considered another person useless or not of value? I have. If you have done either of those, then on those bases alone, we are guilty of murder. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-22 (NASB):

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

So, what does that have to do with letting go? It goes back to what I said earlier about letting go of anger and bitterness and wrath and rage so that in our anger we do not sin.

The seventh Commandment says, "You shall not commit adultery" (v.14). This is about unfaithfulness to a spouse, but it is also about unfaithfulness to God. We must let go of those vices, those temptations, those places and those activities that tempt one with unfaithfulness. What is one of the most famous stories of adultery in Scripture? David and Bathsheba. The account is in 2 Samuel 11:2-4 (NASB):

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite." Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. ...

I spoke about this recently at a men's retreat and I mentioned to those there that I wondered if David was seeking out a beautiful woman when he went up to the roof. We do know that he noticed the woman. Did he cover his eyes and remove himself from the situation? No. He did not let go of his lust for her in his mind and heart. What did he do? He actually sent someone to find out more. Next, he sent messengers to get her. Then, he slept with her. He was obsessed with her. Obsession, which fuels anxiety, is a persistent refusal to let go. David compromised himself multiple times in this account - the rooftop in spring, not removing himself, sending messengers to get her, and sleeping with her. Each of those times was an opportunity for him to say, "No" and turn the Lord. Each of those was an opportunity for him to let go (and let God as the saying goes).

The eighth Commandment says, "You shall not steal" (v.15). We are to let go of those things that do not belong to us. And even what we think belongs to us actually belongs to God and we should use our time, talent and treasure for Him.

"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (v.16). This is the "Thou shalt not lie" Commandment. Let go of falsehood. Let go of gossip. Don't take what people say about others as truth unless you have verified it with the person in question (that is, if it is even worth verifying).

And finally, "You shall not covet..." (v.17). We are to let go of our envy or jealousy of what others have. We should rejoice with those who rejoice and how God has blessed them. And if you stop before Him and think, you will see how He has blessed you. And be thankful.

In Luke 9:23 (NASB), Jesus says, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." There is a letting go - a denying of self. And there is a hanging on - taking up his cross. We have focused on letting go, but there are things to which we must hang on.

What does the Bible tell us to hang on to? It's an exhaustive list, but we can again consider the Ten Commandments.

We are to hang on to God.

We are to hang on to God being above all else.

We are to hang on to the fact of God's holiness and respect His authority.

We are to hang on to margin and rest and being still in our quiet times and prayers with Him and in our worship of Him with others.

We are to honor others, parents, authorities, those around us.

We are to hang on to love and demonstrate it.

We are to hang on to faithfulness. Love the one your with and dance with the one who brought you.

We are to hang on to good stewardship - using what we have to God's glory.

We are to hang on to truth.

We are to hang on to God's grace in Christ and how He has blessed us and in doing so hang on to gratitude.

I end today with some questions about letting go and hanging on. What did Jesus have to lay down for you? His life, even to the point of being forsaken by God and death on the Cross. What do you need to lay at the cross today? Anger, anxiety, past hurts? Are you clinging to Him? Are you hanging on to His promises such as new life in Him as shown by His resurrection? Are you trusting in Christ alone and His work on the Cross setting you free from the power of sin? Are you letting go of your own attempts at righteousness, realizing that only Jesus did the perfect work? Now is the time for letting go of the things that hinder, entangle and suffocate ... and hanging on to the things of significance, most importantly Jesus.

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