FIRST LESSON: Psalm 25:1-10
SECOND LESSON Philippians 4:1-9
SERMON: “You Can’t Afford the Luxury . . . ”
Do you remember Greg Louganis , Olympic diving champion? I don’t remember which Olympics it was, but I do remember that one time in competition, on one dive he hit his head on the diving board. Later someone asked him if he wanted to see the film of that dive. Louganis’ response was ‘no way!’ He never wanted the image of hitting his head on the board planted in his brain. He knew the power of what we envision in our minds.
I think most of you, though probably not all of you, know that the cancer I had in 2010 was not the first time I dealt with that nasty disease. The first time was 43 years ago – 1970. I was just a little past my 21st birthday when I was diagnosed with ovarian carcinoma. I was blessedly unaware of how dangerous that was. I was young enough that I had almost zero experience with cancer in family or friends. I was young enough that it never entered my mind that a 21 year-old could die from it. I assumed pretty much from the get-go that I would recover from the surgery and radiation, and that for the most part it was just an annoying blip on the radar of my life.
I had had zero symptoms; the tumor was found on an annual physical. If you don’t hear anything else I say this morning, please hear this – if you have been avoiding going for one of those annual physicals, if you have been convincing yourself that you don’t need it – please do it anyway. It could save your life.
The doctors were all very positive – radiation therapy was to be done simply as a prophylactic measure. Nothing to worry about. I would be just fine. And I bought it, hook, line and sinker. Eight years later, when I was well past the 5-year “cure” mark, my family shared with me that the real prognosis given to them, but not to me, was that I had about a 50% chance of surviving 5 years. I used to believe that a patient has the right to know anything and everything about their illness. When I heard what my actual prognosis was I changed my mind about that, because I sailed through those years without much fear, but instead with an optimistic outlook. If nothing else, I avoided a lot of the panic most cancer patients have every time some tiny ominous thing show up.
But there is something else that I didn’t really learn about until after round 2. Twenty-three years after round 1, an unrelated episode in this collection of diseases made an appearance with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This time I was plenty sick. I won’t bother you with the details, except to tell you that this time the offending tumor was hiding in such a way that it was all but undetectable by standard tests. It took three months and nuclear medicine to find it. Had I had this one first, I would not have survived, because back in 1970 – they didn’t even have CT scans, much less nuclear medicine.
Having something like this once and being clear for 23 years, I had a sense that all was right and good. Having it a second time opened me to think about what I needed to do and to avoid in order not to have it happen again. That’s when I came across a book by Peter McWilliams entitled, You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought; subtitled “A book for people with any life-threatening illness – including life.
The author says it isn’t just a book for people who have life-threatening illness like cancer and heart disease, it is a book for people who have an even more primary illness of our time: negative thinking. One woman, who always tended to look on the dark side, after doing months of therapy with McWilliams, commented to the author one day that she was getting “way behind on her worrying.” McWilliams says his is a book about how to get way behind on worrying.
Someone once said that worrying is form of atheism. Another pointed out that worrying is paying interest on a debt you may not owe. The point of the book is: Be easier on yourself
Spend more time thinking about the positive – accentuate the positive.
Spend less time thinking about the negative. Eliminate the negative.
Enjoy each moment: Latch on to the affirmative.
Simple, but far from easy.
And of course positive thinking is not a substitute for appropriate medical care. But thoughts are incredibly powerful.
One of the best things Zig Ziglar ever said in his comments on positive thinking is that positive thinking can’t make you able to do anything. Sixty years old at the time of the recording I was listening to he said positive thinking couldn’t make him able either to play football in the NFL or to do surgery on your brain. But we can all succeed more with positive thinking than with negative thinking.
Consider the power of thought. Think about a lemon, imagine cutting it in half. See yourself removing the seeds with the point of a knife. Smell the lemon. Take a bite and chew it. Most people’s salivary glands will respond just to such thoughts of a lemon.
Think about fingernails on a blackboard – enough to make many of us cringe.
Here’s the thing: Negative thoughts produce negative results. Fear, anger, resentment actually cause our bodies to respond with chemical changes as a part of the fight or flight response. A build-up of these toxins contributes to disease.
The Apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Philippi to stand firm in the faith. (Using The Message translation) Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche to “iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.”
That wasn’t just good advice for Euodia and Syntyche. That’s good advice for all of us. In our personal lives, in our social lives, in our family lives and in our church life – iron out the differences and get rid of the toxins produced by anger and resentment.
“Don’t be anxious about anything,” says Paul. In other words, “don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” (The Message)
“Rejoice in the Lord” – accentuate the positive.
“Do not be anxious about anything” – eliminate the negative.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -- Enjoy each moment; latch on to the affirmative.
Way too many of us in this congregation have done, and some are still doing, battle with cancer. Others have dealt with heart problems, diabetes, addictions, depression, grief and other life-threatening dis-eases. Others of us are care-givers to loved ones struggling with such things. None of us can really afford the luxury of negative thoughts. The prescription may be simple, but it is not easy. Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative,
latch on to the affirmative.
One more thing: This prescription is not just for us as individuals; it is for us as a church, as a part of the Body of Christ. Some fear that in these times with complications of dwindling church membership and participation, with cultural changes that challenge Christian faith and practice, that the Church (big “C”) and our own church (little “c”) may not survive. As a church, we cannot afford the luxury of negative thinking.
If you envision this church closing its doors in two, five or ten years – you can make it so. If you eliminate negative thinking, if you accentuate the positive, with God’s help this church will celebrate its 75th and 100th and 200th birthdays.
Eight years after my cancer, part I, I learned the power of belief that I would not just survive, but be well. With cancer part II, I was just 44 years old, and since all my parents and grandparents lived at least into their 80’s, I didn’t entertain the possibility of dying from that one. I remember my oncologist coming into the ICU after my surgery. I heard him say, “Very curable. Very curable.” That was all I needed to believe that I would be okay.
With round 3, I came to a place of peace with God and understanding that “if we live, we live for the Lord, and we die we die for the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)
Now truly, growing up on the south side of Chicago, watching the White Sox play ball, I came to the conviction that even if your team can’t seem to ever win the pennant, “three strikes and you’re out” is the operative rule in baseball and in life. So now that I have beaten cancer three times, I am wholly in agreement with my oncologist that “a fourth time is not acceptable.”
At the same time it seems more than prudent to me, for my own well being, and for that of this church, to take Peter McWilliams’ prescription to heart – accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative. It’s not easy. But it is a worthy goal that the peace of God will be with us.