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Jamie Johnson
September 4, 2011

Letting Go

This is the expanded version. A concise version is available.

NOTE: This is a written version of the message I delivered to a group of residents at Kings Daughters Community Health & Rehabilitation Center on September 4, 2011.
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I am a pack rat if I let myself be.  I find that I don’t let go of things easily. And I have found that this is true not just with material things, but with things of the heart and mind as well. The other night, I dropped a salad on the floor and long after the gravity had taken its effect - beyond my control - I was still steaming a bit about it. And if I do not do well (I am a recovering perfectionist after all) or something doesn't go as expected, I can dwell on it for quite a while. I am sure you have heard of "paralysis by analysis", which is only one of the curses of analytical thinkers. These are all symptoms of not letting go.

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.

It seems that we go through a series of letting go, beginning with delivery from the womb all the way to death (that is, unless Christ returns before our deaths).

What is letting go? It is not necessarily forgetting. It is making a choice.

We are to let go of our parents. Genesis 2:24 states, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (NASB), which is echoed by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8, and by Paul in Ephesians 5:31 adding in the next chapter the context of honoring them (Ephesians 6:2). Children grow and become more independent and eventually become their own persons and young adults. For those that marry, when they marry, the couple forms a new family. When I married my wife, we formed a new family and despite being an adult, I needed to further let go of my parents. And I have found the same with death and grief. There's an old phrase, “A boy becomes a man when his father dies.” I lost my father last year. I lost a friend and mentor as well as a parent. As I grieve, I am learning to let him go, entrusting him to God and trusting that in Christ, I will see him in Heaven on that Day. Letting go is a process.

What happens if one doesn’t let go of his or her parents? It may fuel an unhealthy marriage, inability to stand on one's own as an adult, and in grief, it may further complicate the difficulties of the process.

We are to let go of our childhood while remaining childlike. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." (NASB). Jesus discusses childlikeness with his disciples in Matthew 18:1-5 (NASB), which states the following: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, 'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me." Jesus is emphasizing humble faithfulness. Last month, we had a Fresh Air child live with us for a week and a half. She observed me going to work one morning and noticed I carried a backpack and a lunchbox with cartoons on it. She asked me if I was a kid since I wore a backpack and carried a lunchbox like one of her friends at school. I told her that I wasn't a child but that I still enjoyed playing and imagining. I then quoted my late grandfather, "Never let the kid in you die." However, I am a man, a husband and father, and one with responsibilities where I must do "awawy with childish things" while remaining childlike.

What happens if one doesn’t let go of childish ways? Irresponsibility, immaturity, broken relationships, selfishness.

I love being a husband and I love being a father. However, we are to let go of our kids – to train them up (Proverbs 22:6) to be independent adults living for Christ. This even applies to persons with kids at home.  This does not mean neglect, but knowing that they are on loan from God to the parents who are the stewards. That's true of all things.

What happens if one doesn't let go of his or her children? He or she will vicariously live through the children, making it more difficult for their children to let go and grow up and be the persons God intended them to be.

We are to let go of sinful habits. Colossians 3:5-11 (NASB) states, "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him - a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all." This does not mean we never sin. Then how can we let go of our sin? It is based on Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone; the new has come. What does the verse say, that if anyone is what? In Christ. Does this mean we have a license to sin? Well, if we are taking a license to sin, are we letting go of sinful habits? My pastor recently preached on 2 Peter and he read the first two verses of the book, which state, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. " (NASB). In Christ, we are chosen by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to do what? To obey Jesus Christ. We must be washed by Him.

What happens if you don’t let go of sinful habits? We fail to live the life abundantly in Christ. We fail to be his witnesses. Where we can walk with Christ in joy or grief, when we fail to let go of sinful habits, we choose the walk of grief.

We are to let go of idols. We all have them, many non-material. If one fails to put God first, what might the idol be? Self or something else that gratifies self, which really means putting self first.

What happens if you don’t let go of idols? Obviously, idolatry and a host of other sins.

We are to let go of others' perspectives and even our own perspectives of ourselves. We are to let go of what others think about us, including those that do not esteem us and those that do. In Matthew 6:1-4 (NASB), Jesus says, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Consider what God thinks instead of clinging to what others think. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28 (NASB) the following: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

And what of our own perspectives? Sometimes we think too much of ourselves, which results in self-centeredness. Sometimes, we put ourselves down, which requires a focus on self, which is again, self-centeredness. Galatians 6:3 (NASB) states, "For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself."

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4 (NASB), "But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord." He does not even examine himself as he knows of nothing against himself. He is not worried about the thoughts of others, even if in court, but is focused on what God thinks as "the one who examines me is the Lord." This does not mean we do not consider what others say or examine ourselves in confession to God. Rather, we choose to let go of those perspectives - our own and others' - that are not glorifying to God.

What happens if one doesn’t let go of the perspectives of men, including those of self? One may find that he or she is controlled by others or worried about the things of man as opposed to the things of God. This will result in living to please man or self, not God.

We are to let go of certain relationships. Consider Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB): "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." This context would be like that of church discipline, but it applies towards personal relationships, too. Some are destructive.  Some tear down.  Some lead to temptation. It doesn’t mean we automatically forget the hurt.  It does mean we choose to forgive and not take revenge or pay back evil for evil.

What happens if one doesn’t let go of such relationships? If it means failing to forgive, then bitterness may take root. Hebrews 12:15 states, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled" (NASB). In some extreme circumstances, not letting go of such relationships could result in being controlled or abused.

We are to let go of anger. Ephesians 4:26 (NASB) states, "BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger." Righteous anger has its place. Unrighteous anger is sin. Regardless of which type of anger, we must let go of anger.

What happens if one doesn’t let go of anger? Again, bitterness. And if prolonged, even health concerns.

Eventually, we have to let go of those closest to us and even ourselves. When my Dad died, he had to let go of my Mom and she had to let go of him. Prior to his death, my Dad was a man who enjoyed watching the news, but as he approached death, he said that the news highlighted "stupid politics" and "stupid people." He let it go. In fact, we must let go of ourselves!  Those in Christ are not their own. Did you know that? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (NASB).

Luke 14:26 has always been a controversial verse: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (NASB). The word "hate" is not as we typically think of it. In the Greek is μισεî (misei), which means, "regard as inferior" (source). Jesus must be our focus and above all else. He must be FIRST. All else is that of which we may have to let go.

Not letting go is a form of control - of others, or trying to play God, or perpetuating selfishness.

Philippians 3:8-14 (NASB) sums up letting go well: "More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 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."

Let go of other things and entrust them to God and in the meantime, cling to Jesus, come what may.

What are you hanging onto that you must let go? Are you clinging to Jesus? As my pastor said during the day of the recent earthquake, "Hold onto Him for dear life."


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