A penny for your thoughts when you saw today’s sermon title, “The Importance of a Yardstick.” A wide variety of thoughts, I’d imagine. I know Mandy’s, because she told me. “What in the world kind of hymns can I pick to go with that?”
The thoughts you had could have been positive or negative, depending on the primary ways you have seen yardsticks used in your lives. If you love using the yardstick to measure where furniture will fit or where to hang pictures, your thoughts are positive. If you loved it as a child each year when the yardstick came out to measure how much you had grown in the past year, your thoughts are positive. If you were always disappointed with the results of that, your thoughts are negative.
My first thought when I heard the word “yardstick” is “weapon.” When I was in what was then called junior high school I had a man who was such an ineffective teacher that he had great difficulty in keeping the attention of students and maintaining any sense of discipline and order in the class room. I believe that is a fair assessment, because I don’t remember other classes having that sort of chaotic atmosphere. In his frustration and anger, he tried to rule his classroom by violence. The last line of offense was a huge paddle which he used with regularity in the hall. But the first line of offense was a yardstick. My mental image of him always includes a yardstick in his hand. He could use it as a pointer, of course, but the reason he carried it was to rap people who were not paying attention. This reign of terror was totally ineffective. The more he hit, the less he had the respect and attention of those who watched or felt his blows. A lot of people in a lot of different situations could stand to learn a lot from that.
I am not a tee-totaler about corporal punishment, but I think one needs a very carefully thought out plan about how to use it and what its intent is. Otherwise, when you start punishing by using violence it can become like going over to the dark side. The rage builds when it doesn’t work, and it tends to become a little bit more, a little bit harder each time. Parents in relationship to children, husbands in relationship to wives, policemen in relationship to citizens, and vice versa, one nation in relationship to another, we should think very carefully about what situations call for the punitive use of the yardstick. Otherwise we will breed more contempt, anger, fear, and desire for revenge than we will build respect and love. And in those situations I cited, there is never a case when violence among spouses is the right thing to do. Never.
Today I want to focus on the importance of yardsticks in a metaphorical sense as positive standards by which to measure the progress of our lives and set goals for how we want to grow and improve. Hopefully none of us thinks we are through growing as human beings.
In II Timothy Paul talks to Timothy about three types of yardsticks to use in measuring his life and determining his goals and how he is progressing toward them. The first yardstick he talks of is the yardstick of people. Identify those people you most admire for the way they live their lives and try to model your life after theirs, try to learn all you can from them about how to live a quality life.
So much of what we learn and experience in life and so many of our choices and habits grow out of the kind of parents we have first and then the kinds of friends we choose later. We also choose heroes – people we admire and want to emulate. We tend to pick public figures, people who seem to have great lives and lots of everything. But hopefully the most lasting impact is being made by those whose lives are most deeply intertwined with ours.
Paul starts out reminding Timothy of two of the most important yardsticks he has had in his life. He says, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.”
Parents and grandparents can play such an important role in helping to shape our life and our character both by their example and by the love they show us. Two examples have hit home recently for me, one big and one small. One of our children was very disappointed in the actions of a friend and told us later, “I realized that if I had been raised at all differently I would never have handled this as well as I did.” The other involves our grandson. We are not able to see him as much as we’d like, maybe once a month, but the last time he was here I had made some banana bread and he liked it a lot. Saturday they had gone out to a restaurant for breakfast and they got him a banana muffin. They were videoing him and asked him what he thought of the muffin. He said he liked it, and then he said, “GDaddy made this.” If you don’t think the things you say and do are not only observed but closely catalogued by your children and grandchildren you’d better think again. I’m happy it was a banana muffin that made him think of me rather than a yardstick.
I hope everyone has someone you can look back to in your life that represents the gold standard for you of how to live and treat other people. It is a great blessing to have that kind of yardstick by which to measure our lives. Whether a mother or father or grandparent, it is good to be able to reflect on a life lived well and ask questions like: “What was it about the way that he or she lived life that set that person apart and made me look up to them? Am I working to have that quality in my life? Will others experience it in me? What would that person who was so important to me think about the kind of life I am living now?” If you are a child or youth now, I encourage you to think about the important people in your lives and be actively thinking about those qualities that you admire and want to incorporate into your way of living.
And if you are a parent with children in your home now, I urge you to keep in the forefront of your minds the importance of showing your children what it means to live a life of Christian faith. Bringing them to church and to children’s and youth programs is important, but most important is what they experience at home. Don’t just tell them what to do and what not to do, let them see in the integrity of your life what you are talking about. Show them that what is in the Bible is important by reading it yourself and talking about it. Show them the importance of prayer by letting them see you pray. Show them it is important to treat people kindly and fairly by doing that yourself. Show them that worshiping and working in the church are important by doing those things with them. Show them that love is the greatest gift by loving them extravagantly and loving their other parent extravagantly. During adolescence they will certainly look at you as though you have lost your mind, but later – when you have completed that amazing parental metamorphosis of going from knowing everything to knowing nothing and then back to knowing everything – the example of your life will be part of the fabric of their lives.
One last word on the subject of parents and grandparents. Perhaps you noticed that Paul mentioned only Timothy’s mother and grandmother, nothing about his father or grandfathers. It is sadly true that many men have seen their role in the home as providing for the material needs of the family and have left the spiritual side to others. Let it not be so among us. We fathers and grandfathers need to be vitally involved in the Christian nurture of our children and grandchildren.
The second yardstick Paul talks to Timothy about is himself, Paul. While Paul and Timothy were not related, Paul was Timothy’s mentor in the Christian faith. The relationship is close. Paul calls Timothy “my beloved child.” Clearly Paul understands that Timothy regards him as a hero, as one to be emulated for the quality of his life and the depth of his conviction.
Paul does not discourage this idea of Timothy measuring his life by Paul’s. He encourages it. He says, “Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings… As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.
Most people don’t want others looking up to them as role models because we are all human and make mistakes and it is a lot of pressure. But we need people who are willing to be good, positive role models for others to use as a yardstick for their lives, a unit of measurement for seeing the possibilities of human life and how well we are measuring up to those possibilities.
My earliest church memory is of Miss Margaret, who had to have been at least 70 years old but taught the Preschool “Peepers” class every Sunday for 50 years. She loved each of us unconditionally and held us on her lap and taught us the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed and the 23rd Psalm. A lawyer named Stanley Woods taught my middle school Sunday School class every Sunday and a judge named Tenant Lee taught my high school class. We must have been a rough bunch. I guess the next step would have been a probation officer. Shorter Strang was a member of my church and the Scoutmaster of my Scout troop for years. Neb Hayden and Aaron Fleming made a huge difference in my life as Young Life leaders. These are just a few of the people who are not related to me by blood but were willing to stand in front of me and with me and be a role model for me to measure myself by in years to come. They are people whose names and lessons I remember.
You surely have people like this in your life as well, people to remember and be thankful for. Have you done anything to qualify for being on any young person’s honor roll of role models a few years from now? Anyone can do it. You can do it by working in the nursery, being a Sunday School teacher or a youth advisor; a Scout leader or young life leader. It takes some time, some unselfishness and love for others and desire to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Sitting around worrying about your own problems and feeling sorry for yourself just doesn’t cut it and won’t be much of an answer when the Lord asks you what difference you made with your time down here.
The last, but certainly not the least yardstick Paul tells Timothy to use in measuring his life is the Bible. He says, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
As we read the Bible daily we are measuring ourselves against the yardstick God has given us. It is not a yardstick God wants to terrorize us with, to slap us on the hand with. It is a positive yardstick to teach us how to live, to train us in doing right, to equip us to do good works, in a word to make us whole and complete, all God wants us to be.
There are no shortcuts. Your mother and father can’t read the Bible for you, nor can your Sunday School teacher or spouse. Can you imagine being a member of an organization all your life without having read the book the organization was based on? I cannot imagine that for myself, but it sure happens in the church. Take the time to read and study the Bible, a gift from God to his people to help us measure our lives, set new goals, and generally keep it in the road on the way to the kingdom. You will find your life is richly blessed over time as you do this.
Three yardsticks: parents or grandparents of faith; heroes outside of our families who have set godly examples for us; and the Bible. A ship’s navigator can study the stars on a clear night to determine the ship’s location and course. If the evidence shows the ship to be off course he can make adjustments to get back on course.
These yardsticks can help us see if our lives have gotten off course. May God grant us the determination to make the necessary adjustments to get our lives back on course if so.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey Central Presbyterian Church
May 8, 2016 Anderson, SC