This a picture of a Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at Arlington, National Cemetery
Pauses for 21 seconds, takes 21 steps…repeats for his entire shift.
This has been going on, non-stop, day and night for over 70 years.
-Including all weather, including when the plane crashed into the Pentagon 2.5 miles away
They will only stop if they have to address someone at the Tomb site who is talking or otherwise acting with disrespect.
To become one of these Tomb Guards the training and selection process is so rigorous that it is the second rarest badge awarded in the Army…just behind the Astronaut badge.
-didn’t know we even sent soldiers to space…can’t be many of those.
Takes up to 6 hours to prepare their uniform for a single shift.
Their uniform tolerance is 1/64 of an inch…seams, where badges go.
Off more than that…a gig or demerit.
Same with a single hair, or a speck of dust.
They take the same meticulous care even it is it in the middle of the night, or a blizzard…when no one is watching.
WHY IN THE WORLD?
Is this something we have gotten very wrong or very, very right?
With so much going on the world, so much need…so many things of substance that need our attention.
Why spend so much money and effort and attention on “pure” symbolism?
Because it is never, merely, purely symbolism…if there is no substance behind the symbol…then their is no real symbolism.
A symbol that no one understands, that evokes no memory or passion…that stands for nothing real of substance…is not really a symbol.
It is a sign signifying nothing…these tombs are signs signifying much.
Today we wrap up a month of looking at principles of relationships.
If you have been here you have noticed it has not been a list of “do this”
But principles from Scripture regarding how to thrive in relationships with God, self, others…we have looked more at “be” this than “do” these things.
Because as we become certain kinds of people…we will act from the inside out…in certain ways.
Today we finish up with a foundational principle important in all healthy relationships: God, self, others…the vital importance of faithfulness in the small things.
Before we go on let me offer some Balance to what follows.
Faithfulness is not equal to perfectionism.
In fact…perfectionism is not faithfulness at all.
I heard a brief last week about an entire organization that had been overtaken by toxic leadership.
-A key component of that toxic leadership was micro management….this approach to leadership (which is not really leadership) was based on fear and control.
It was not driven by a desire to be faithful in small things…but a desire to control things for their own needs and desires.
Some people are from perfect country, some from fun, or peace or control (flag page you would enjoy it)
But my experience is that…the details matter to all of us…they just differ from person to person.
So these very same Tomb Guards…who can keep 1/64 tolerance on their uniform…don’t all neccesarily keep their apartments or cars tidy
For me, I couldn’t keep 1/64 tolerance if my life depended on it….I couldn’t spend 6 hours in a year looking at the details of my uniform…couldn’t see anything there.
But in terms of language, and the importance of clarity in words…I tend to have very low tolerances…I am a 1/64 tolerance guy there…because it matters to me…while other things don’t as much.
I have a young friend who has thrived as an adult in every way you would want to thrive or hope your son would thrive…but his room while in college was the worst I had ever seen.
It looked like an explosion…I became anxious just looking at it…but he could live in it.
So be careful about making too much of things that don’t directly correlate to a thriving life.
Messy room doesn’t mean messy life and clean room doesn’t mean ordered life.
This young friend was faithful in the things that mattered most…I would have preferred he keep a clean room…but I was thrilled he kept a clean heart and he has lived a faithful life.
So this is not about perfectionism…which as an approach to life…is not healthy.
Perfectionism is not accepting any standard short of my definition of perfect.
So don’t go into guilt here…faithfulness as a principle helps some people actually move away from perfectionist tendencies…for others it helps them become more attuned to the details that matter.
So back to the Tomb Guard the Army doesn’t really believe there is cosmic truth in 21 steps or 1/64 tolerances.
Because out of around 1 million soldiers in the Army, the Army only wants a couple of dozen to pay attention to this level of detail in this way.
This is their specific calling to be faithful in the little…this detail is for a specific purpose…to communicate honor for the fallen.
This intense attention to detail symbolizes what we think of someone who lays down their life for others.
But for the soldier in combat to pay attention to these kinds of details would not be faithfulness but mission failure…they must pay attention to other demonstrations of faithfulness.
So don’t get lost on the details of the illustration…but see the beauty of it.
I was powerfully moved by the symbolism I saw because it points to real substance.
The power and the beauty of faithfulness in the small things…that symbolized the power and beauty of love and sacrifice.
Let’s look at this principle of faithful in the small things in the OT then in the NT…then some applications for our lives.
Faithfulness matters, doing what God has for us to do, when we know we should do it…matters.
Last of the plagues of Egypt was the death of the firstborn…also called Passover.
Ex. 12:21-28Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.
Didn’t God know the hearts of his people? He knew their addresses…Why the symbology of the blood? Why give this detail.
-Pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus
-It was tangible show of faithful obedience…do what I tell you to do and things will go well.
They needed lots of practice at this…and they were really bad at consistently following through on faithfulness.
As the OT goes forward there are many, many commandments…ceremonial, civil, moral in nature.
There are super detailed instructions regarding building the Ark, Tabernacle, the Temple.
All through the OT the story is “trust and obey” in ALL God says…faithfulness requires obedience in the small things.
Was leading his army against a formidable foe…it just didn’t look good for them…it appeared they would be crushed.
The men began to run in fear, hiding in caves, some went AWOL across the Jordan.
Saul…instead of stepping up and providing leadership did what he was not supposed to do…he turned God’s commands into a sort of superstitious ritual…he disobeyed what he was told.
He offered a sacrifice without waiting for the prophet Samuel.
Then Samuel showed up…
1Sam. 13:11-14 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
The Lord has sought a man after his own heart…that would be David…not Saul.
Stop and look at some differences in Saul and David
Saul cut corners, David obeyed…faithful in little.
David, like Saul…failed, he wasn’t perfect…but David confessed his sin, Saul justified his sin.
Some say when they read the commandments and stories like this that “God is way too petty.”
“Doesn’t he have something better to do than worry about all this small stuff?”
-He is the ultimate micro-manager
- What he “does” he does without effort…he is never busy, his plate never gets full.
- Therefore he doesn’t worry about anything…he is in control of everything.
-Worry is the result of being or feeling powerless
- In regards to the small stuff…what if nothing actually is “small” for him…its all the same size.
Humans think God’s details are petty…or optional…or they are just a bit smarter, more sophisticated than God is…he is, after all, quite old.
Some of the details God gives are clearly moral in nature…are just absolutely right to do…treating people certain ways…is just right.
Some matter symbolically, like
Like details of how to worship and how to build the Tabernacle…these are important because of how precious the substance behind the symbol is….and who God was training them to be.
The ritual details pointed to God’s holiness and ultimately to the cross of Christ.
What if the small things really do matter because they are what shapes us into who and we are becoming?…we are learning to become like God, to trust and obey him.
To believe that what makes the most sense is always…do what he says.
What if it is the million small things not the half dozen or so huge life choices…that determine the real course and outcomes of our lives.
What if the million small choices…make or break our relationships.
What if the small things are not really small…but all things are either “Yes God” or “No God” in this moment?
So all things are the same size to God…they are either “trust and obey” or not.
And what if all “Yes God” choices are the path of the thriving life and all “No God” choices are step off the path of the thriving life?
What if all catastrophic life failure is a final single “No God” in a long chain of barely noticeable “No, God”
What if the life that thrives, the life that punches through into significant freedom in Christ…like a plane climbing above dense clouds…is a life of many very small “Yes God’s”
Again…this is not about perfection but a settled direction…there is grace and forgiveness for failure in all aspects of our lives.
Let’s look at the NT
Of course you can begin there with the life of the Lord.
Jesus was faithful in all the details of his calling…all the way to the cross.
Heb. 3:1 Therefore, holy brothers who share in the heavenly calling (holy=set apart for God’s purposes), fix your thoughts on Jesus, (think about life like he would live it, like he wants you do live it, like he lived his) the apostle and high priest whom we confess. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him.
So now we are to live a faithful life ourselves…like Jesus did.
1Cor. 4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
We have been entrusted with the gospel…which was secret…but is no longer…and what is required of those who have been entrusted with something precious is that they (we) be found faithful.
This faithfulness shows up first and foremost in the day to day details of our lives.
The small things, the day to day, the minute to minute…”yes God”…the 1/64-inch tolerance of faithfulness.
Not because God is petty but because he knows how he has made the world and how he has made us…this is how we know him and become like him.
**SAY AGAIN…this is not perfectionism…don’t freeze up worrying about missing God in some detail.
*Pay attention to “being”…a heart that is his…and “doing” will take care of itself.
Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Key practical, actionable verse…pay attention to what God has put in front of you right now.
Be faithful, as best you know how…right now.
Three applications under the heading “little before much”
Courage, Community, Consistency
To live the “faithful in little” life is often going to take courage.
Saul’s troops were going AWOL…he was faced with a choice…trust God and obey his clear commands…or do what he felt like was good to do.
He did not act with the courage of conviction…he acted on fear and his own wisdom.
Courage is neccesary because others will not necessarily faithfulness in the little around you…or even encourage you in it.
*Hopefully your small group, close Christian friends will…I’m talking about those you might live and work around who don’t share this value.
Last week there was a long line on the freeway to the Denver Airport.
-Google maps (which is often right) offered drivers a better way and about 100 cars took Google’s advice.
The road quickly became dirt but one driver named Connie said “I’m following this line of cars and my thought was, ‘well there’s so many other people going, it must be ok.”
About 100 cars ended up stuck in a field that was swampy and muddy from all the rain.
It’s a funny story but it can be more serious than that.
I met a man last week who is the State chaplain of Alaska…over 6 years ago the National Guard leadership there had three types of people:
- People doing bad things
- People watching people doing bad things (and not having the courage to do anything)
- A much smaller group, led by this chaplain who had courage to act.
It was a brutal process and it took years…but all the leadership was removed…a place where everyone was unhappy and even some being harmed…has now become a place where people love to work.
It started with a single man with courage of conviction…and he often felt like…”Am I seeing this right, am I wrong?”
It was a struggle…and he was not well liked…but he was faithful day by day over a long period of time.
Now he has wide influence in his state and elsewhere regarding ethical leadership.
And relationships across the organization have become healthy.
Faithfulness in the little in the various relationships of your life will often require courage
Courage that comes from conviction…God is real and his word is reliable…so this is how I will live my life.
Faithfulness in a little happens in community.
Community is what keeps you from going rogue, or becoming proud, or weird.
In 1999 a baby was starved to death by his parents who were part of a cult that began as a Bible study and a home church.
The father, received a sentence of life without parole and has been in prison for 19 years.
The child was starved as a result of a prophecy given by someone inside the small cult.
The father has since changed…and lives with great regret for what he did…he has truly changed in significant ways…reads widely, engages the Christian community inside and outside the church.
This is very different from the narrow thinking when he was in the cult.
The cult had become more and more narrow to the point that only the 40 in their group were true believers…all other influences were cut off.
When I say community I’ve talking about your friends, small group, our church as a whole…then the larger Christian community in our city…and nation…and in history.
Learning from brothers and sisters, being teachable, open to being wrong…humble…eager to know what God wants for and from you.
Truly teachable people…tend to avoid disaster and tend to thrive in life.
People who only play at being teachable…tend to end in messes.
*If you live in isolation you will lose sight of what biblical faithfulness looks like.
Richard Nixon was Presidents Eisenhower’s VP for 8 years and Eisenhower, who had a long-time group of close friends…was continually amazed that Nixon just didn’t seem to have any real friends.
The result in Nixon’s life was that he listened to and trusted the voice in his own head…he was a smart man…but it cost him dearly.
Anyone who listens to his or her own voice exclusively will end up in bad places.
You must not wait for the chance at the “Big Obedience” and miss the thousands of opportunities at the small obediences.
People sometimes become distracted and dejected because normally their walk with Christ feels really normal…just daily plodding.
This fact causes some to stop plodding…to stop moving forward in a Christ-like direction.
One of the reasons you can meet men and women who have been Christians for a long period of time and yet don’t exhibit Christ-like maturity is the lack of consistency in faithfulness over time.
They ebb and flow in the things that lead to maturity.
Disciples exercise disciplines:
Discipline over time is the life blood of healthy relationship…God, self, others.
Time with God, life fully engaged in community(showing up), open and honest relationships.
Faithful in the little is a perishable quality…it has a shelve life in terms of impact…you are only as faithful as you are right now.
“I used to be faithful in time with God”
“I used to be faithful in small Group”
“I used to be faithful in friendships and having an open and honest life”
“I used to be faithful sharing my faith, pursuing purity in what I allow into my mind and life.”
Again…you are only as faithful as you are right now.
Your past glories are just good stories.
The future hasn’t happened yet.
Be faithful in the little in front of you right now.
But I don’t know what that means!
Direction not perfection is key.
Pay attention to “Being” this kind of person and the details of the “Doing” will come.
IMPACT OF THIS PRINCIPLE ON KEY RELATIONSHIPS: GOD, SELF, OTHERS
When you have the courage of conviction to be found faithful in the small things…you will be positioned to bless people and not to be impressed by them or to seek to impress them.
You will be positioned internally to love and lead your children.
You will be positioned to be a friend who is asking “how do I love and encourage” people
A spouse who isn’t trying to “get life” from your spouse but to give it.
Your heart will be tuned the applause of God not the approval of men.
This is the heart direction this principle will take you.
When you understand the vital necessity of community in order to live a faithful in little life…you will approach others with humility.
You will learn to die to “winning” and “being right” and “looking good”…because you are learning to be found faithful.
You will fail in this regularly…but you will notice when you do…it will not look or feel good to you and you will repent of it and get back on track.
You will value people who are different rather than being annoyed or threatened by them.
This is the heart direction this principle will take you.
When you embrace faithful in a little you will pursue a life of consistency.
Its not a boring or tedious life.
The tedious, boring life is the life that is forever starting over…repeating the same cycles of starting and stopping over and over again.
The thriving life is a faithful in a little life.
To thrive in the key relationships of your life: God, self, others…value faithfulness in the little.
Pay attention to the legitimate 1/64 tolerances God has for you…and do it because of his great glory and goodness.
Not a grim, dull perfectionist…but a joyful, thriving child who is learning to delight in faithful obedience.
Communion can have and should have a shaping effect on our hearts.
It is a participatory act of worship…we taste, touch, smell, see…physical elements that remind our minds and hearts of the reality in space and time of God’s mercy in the sacrificial, substutional death of Christ.
If you told a Tomb Guard that his attention to detail…that the symbolism of his devotion and action was merely symbol…he would think you crazy.
His symbolic walk is a great honor…because is more than symbolic…it speaks of something powerful and real…whether crowds are watching or whether he is walking alone in the night in the snow.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
*So…let’s practice faithful in a little in this communion service.
Let’s pay attention to 1/64 tolerances in our minds…don’t let them wonder.
*Think of the cross of Christ…think of your sin and need for him.
*Consider eternity and what the gospel means for you.
1Cor. 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.