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All Wrapped Up - By Pastor Thomas Engel

After an hour of spilling out all your problems to your best friend over multiple cups of coffee, your friend makes eye contact with you, so you can see her eyes that are showing deep thought and care, and she slowly whispers, “Wow! You are wrapped up tighter than cellophane on leftover chicken. You need to get a hobby.”

Your eyes open wide in shock, you blurt out in your caffeine-induced edgy mood, “You are my best friend. You are suppose to be giving me good advice, and all that you can tell me to do is to get a hobby-like taking up knitting is really going to solve my problems.”

I have to agree that your best friend is giving you good advice-probably, she could have said it better, but getting a hobby could be the beginning to the answer to your problems.

In your talk with your friend, she noticed how you are letting your problems get the best of you.

Our problems can be potent like an altering potion. They can get into our system and take over our thoughts and feelings.

Problems can erupt like a volcano that spews out lava destroying everything in its path.

If we let them, problems can become a very slippery slope. Once they start, we can go sliding down into a pit of self-pity. In this pit, we can become selfish as we only look at our problems and think that we are the only one with problems. Or worst, yet, you say to yourself, “I know everyone has problems, but no one has problems like mine.”

Looking at a mountain of problems, and problems can stack up, but in only seeing our problems, we can get so self-absorbed.

Problems can wrap around us like a python coiling around its prey, and before we know it, they consume us.

I do believe in venting and getting our problems out in the air like when having coffee with a friend. Your poor friend has to listen to all your sorrows, but having a best friends is for that very reason-to listen to all the long details of our problems.

When we are seeing that problems are wrapping us up, we need to feel the pressure, so we can let go of them.

We need to take responsibility for our problems, and, at some point, we need to be “adult” about our problems and say, “I have a problem here that is affecting me, and I need to do something about it.”

Having problems come and go in our lives is part of the human condition, but their presence does not mean that they have to take us over.

At any point in the phase of problems , we can dominant them with patience, resilience, perseverance, and hope for a new day with a perspective that looks to see how doors are opening to solutions.

I am all in with your friend who is suggesting that you get a hobby. Having a hobby can distract us from our problems for a while as we are knitting one side and are purling the other.

When we leave our problem for a time, we can go back to it with a fresh perspective and new energy. We can unwrap the problem instead of it wrapping us up.

If you’ve noticed, I’ve been secular in my approach to problem solving. I can go on and talk more about growth mindset, mindfulness, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and many different creative approaches to finding solutions to our problems.

In conflict with others, we can talk about how negotiation and mediation can bring opposing sides together. I believe that in every situation we can find solutions that have a win for everybody.

As a matter of fact, I teach these things in my college English class, and we teach many of these skills across the street at the school.

I’ve said it before that my prescription for people in our nation that is experiencing such contentious division is to take up a hobby, go for a hike, or bake cookies, so we can start moving forward again.

A note-if you do bake gourmet cookies, please make sure you share with your pastor.

Problem solving skills are great to have, but I’m sure you are thinking that there is one step that is above-far above-all those steps.

Before we go to the first step, we need to make sure that we understand a term that is used in reading literature-even the Bible.

This literary device is “hyperbole.” When a speaker or writer uses “hyperbole,” this person is exaggerating something to make a point.

Today, in our Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 7:29-31), we are seeing St. Paul use examples about marriage and the single life to make a point about faith.

If you don’t mind, I will illustrate St Paul’s point with talking about a typical day in the life of a family.

It’s been years since I was managing the family life. Although CC, my Mastiff at one-hundred and seventy-five pounds, is a handful, she doesn’t have too many demands after she has her bone and a walk.

When my son was in first grade, I remember trading in my sporty convertible for a boxy mini van, so I could take my son and half of his team to games when it was my turn to car pool-so many life-style changes from the single to married life.

Moms and dads have their careers, and the heavy responsibilities that go with them. After a hard day at work, they have to grocery shop, cook dinner, take the kids to games and to piano lessons. Then, there is homework and the brushing of teeth that have braces that trap a lot gunk.

As I said, it’s been years since I had the full family life, and on the one hand, I do admit that I miss a lot of things about that crazy life of a hectic home.

So, when St. Paul is talking about the single life-“Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, ...”-on the other hand, single life doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.

Family life is a life of joy, but families by their nature have a continuous to-do-list to keep them going. With all there is to do, it’s easy to get wrapped up in everything.

I just watched again My Fair Lady. Professor Higgins is convinced that he is to lead the bachelor because it’s so uncomplicated. He sings about the life of a single person, “To live exactly as he likes. And do precisely what he wants.” But, he meets Eliza and can’t help but fall in love with her. Good-bye to “living as he likes,” but he finds happiness in a relationship.

St. Paul isn’t advocating for every person to be single, but he is making a strong point. The single life has less demands on it.

With his talk about marriage and single life, St. Paul is just saying that while we are living in this world, we have to deal with it, but we are not to cling to it, nor put our trust in it, for “the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). Rather, give “your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35).

Jesus uses hyperbole, too. He said if your hand causes you to sin that it would be better to cut it off than to sin. He doesn’t mean to actually cut of your hand. He is making the strong point not to sin.

Jesus also talks about when a person comes to faith. This person’s coming to faith might cause a separation from a parent who is an unbeliever. It’s better to be hated by an unbelieving parent than to be without faith.

When Jesus meets a rich young man, he sees that this man is all about all of his possessions. Jesus tells the man to give it all away. Not every rich person has to give away all that he has, but for this young man, he needed to give it all away, so he could have an unblocked path to faith.

Scripture has so many places where we see how we are to focus on faith:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. ” Colosians 3:2

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

We can go on all day with verses that tell us how we are to be wrapped up in Jesus and in all that blessings that he has for us.

When we are all wrapped up in Jesus, we can go back to our lives that are often riddled with problems, but they don’t have to overwhelm us.

We can do well because we have all that Jesus has come to bring to us.

Earlier I talked about things like resilience, perseverance, patience, and hope for a new beginning. Jesus has not only come to teach us these things-for no one can teach us these like Jesus. He is the best teacher of all that we need because he is actually all these things.

Jesus is not to help us only to be problem-solvers. It may seem that all we have to do is solve problems as they often come shooting out at us at a rapid-fire pace.

But we are to be living a life in the Lord, to the Lord, and for the Lord. It’s all about a life of worship and the sharing of love and care in our Lord’s name.

Having a problem is not a sin. Problems are not meant to make us miserable. They are lessons and tests of character and faith.

A small and simple question can help whenever we are in a problem, “Where do I turn?”

At first, it sounds counter-intuitive when we are facing a problem to first turn away from it. It seems that problems should get all of our attention from start to finish to make them go away.

But, if our first step is into the problem, we will see darkness, and then we might keep sliding deeper down into the pit of despair, where no light can get to.

But, if we turn at first and keep a lasting look to Jesus, we can be going to his light that gives direction-a bright light that goes through this life all the way to heaven-after all, this life is not much compared to eternal life.

Jesus has come to give us the best life. By his death and resurrection, we have forgiveness of every sin, especially for the sin of giving our full attention to problems without seeing Jesus walking in front of us.

When we look at our nation in these days, we are seeing such political and social unrest that is seems that we can never have peace.

As much as we have to live in this world and deal with all of its problems, don’t be looking at the world too long, and don’t be looking at Jesus with just glances from time to time, for Scripture says that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus as he is the author and perfecter of our faith.

And our faith says this to us, focus only on Jesus and see how he will help us in everything.

With all the problems that our nation is having in these times, the best that we can do is to worship our Lord, and then, let’s see what happens in our worship of our God in Christ who is our present help in troubles.

I like hobbies. I think they are a good distraction- and to say, spending hours on social media and having a nexflix account are not hobbies. We need to be physically and mentally active to get distracted from this intense chaotic world.

The next time that you are having coffee with a friend, talk about problems for awhile, and if things get too sour in those details of the problem-have a jelly donut to sweeten it up a bit.

And then, go play a fierce game of mini golf, or go to a Book Club, or stretch out your tense muscles in a yoga class, and then you will better set to go back to the demands of life.

Yet, most of all, for all people of faith in all times, getting wrapped up in all who Jesus is and what he gives is what is needed always far above anything else.

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