Overcoming Floccinaucinihilipilification
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
November 23, 2008

VIDEO – Play DQ “Antidisestablishmentarianism” commercial

That’s a pretty big word. The kind of word you can use to impress your friends. It’s a word that basically means that you’re against the people who are against the people who are in control. And it comes in at 28 letters, making it one of the longest non-technical words in the English language.

I say non-technical because when you get into the technical words you could be looking at thousands of letters. For example, there’s a protein known as Titin. It’s known as Titin because nobody can say the real name. Here it is…

[Copy from http://www.othyr.com/titin.html]

That’s 189,819 letters. That’s a long word! When I found that online and pasted it into Microsoft Word, it took up 48 pages! That’s a long word. But it’s a technical word. So we’re going to rule that out.

I’ve already said that Antidisestablishmentarianism is one of the longest non-technical words in the English language. It’s actually the second longest. We’re going to talk about the longest non-technical word today. Because I think it describes a problem – maybe even a disease – that we have in our lives and in our churches today.

Floccinaucinihilipilification. If you play Scrabble, that’s definitely a word you want to know. Because at 29 letters, it’s the longest non-technical word in the dictionary. If you’re able to somehow finagle that onto a Scrabble board, you’re in for some huge points.

And basically it means that you judge something as being worthless.

Floccinaucinihilipilification: the act of judging something to be worthless

It means you see something or someone as having absolutely no value. It means you see something as being entirely trivial. In other words, it’s a big word for nothing.

One of my favourite authors is Leonard Sweet. He’s a professor at Drew Theological Seminary and in 2007 was voted as the 8th most influential Christian leader in America (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Sweet).

Just as a side note, when Shera and I were in Kansas visiting her grandparents this past summer, we were staying in their apartment with them, and just across the street was a StarBucks. So every morning, I headed over to StarBucks to read one of Leonard Sweet’s books. And the book I chose was “The Gospel According to StarBucks.”

Anyway, Leonard Sweet also has a podcast called Napkin Scribbles, and earlier this year on that podcast he talked about he sees floccinaucinihilipilification as being a real problem in the Church. In fact, he says we in the Church are absolutely addicted to floccinaucinihilipilification. He says we tend to be down on ourselves and negative about everything.

And you know what? I think he’s right. I think Christians do have that reputation, and at times it’s been earned. Because it’s easy for us to judge others. It’s easy for us to complain and gripe about what’s going on in the world. It’s easy for us to point to the problems in other people’s lives. It’s easy and even fun for us to gossip and tear others down.

A few years ago, the American Heart Association printed an article that argued that despair has the same effect on the human heart as smoking a pack a day of cigarettes. A lot of followers of Christ are smoking a pack a day… not of cigarettes but of despair and negativity.

Now, I don’t think that’s a major problem here at Sunrise… In fact, I think we’re very positive and affirming of each other and we even love and accept those who don’t share our faith.

But the problem with the disease of floccinaucinihilipilification is that once it starts spreading, it can be hard to contain. It’s contagious, and it can spread quickly throughout the entire Body leaving us in a state of despair.

Let me give you an example. The economy right now is struggling. There’s been a worldwide meltdown. Now, some of that is just bound to happen from time to time in a free market economy. It’s like a built in correction.

But when the recent problems began to manifest themselves, how quickly did the fear and the despair and the negativity spread throughout our entire society? The despair took over and made the problem that much worse.

Same thing happens with politicians. One minute, a politician may be very popular. The next minute, everyone’s turned on them. Is there any particular reason? Sometimes. But mostly, I think it’s because this negativity – this floccinaucinihilipilification – is contagious.

And what’s sad is that it even happens within the Church, among followers of Jesus, where we should be the most positive, most hope-filled people on the planet.

Let me ask you this: What’s the opposite of despair? It’s hope, right? Well, every study that has ever been done on the subject of hope has shown that people who have hope live longer than people who live in despair. Living in despair is killing us. This floccinaucinihilipilification is killing us. It’s a disease that’s going to do us in.

But that’s not the way it should be. That’s not the way is has to be. Hope, not despair, should define a Christ-follower. In fact, at about this time last year in the Catholic Church, the Pope in an encyclical argued that hope should be a distinguishing mark of a Christian.

Take a look at this verse…

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

What’s the underlying assumption of that verse? The underlying assumption of that verse is that you do have hope. That you have an obvious hope that will be evident to others. Do you have a hope like that?

PLAY SONG – “Just what makes that little ant think He can move a rubber tree plant? But he’s got high hopes.”

You and I should have high hope. In fact, our hope should be the highest of all because it’s based in the One who has the name about every name, the one who reigns on high.

So what I want us to realize this morning is that we don’t have to give in to floccinaucinihilipilification. Instead of living in despair, we can live with hope. Instead of living in negativity, we can be positive about life. Instead of tearing others down and treating them as worthless, we can add value to peoples’ lives and build them up.

Okay? So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to look at six areas where we tend to be negative, but the truth is we can and should have high hope.

I Can Have Hope in…

1.    Myself

How many of us get down on ourselves? I think we all beat ourselves up over something once in a while. Some of us have it down to an art. We belittle ourselves, think we can’t do anything right, and see absolutely no worth in ourselves. Some of us don’t really struggle with it that much, but others of us can be overwhelmed with this kind of low self-image.

But that’s completely counter to how God sees you and how He wants you to see yourself. Listen, you are a child of God. He created you in His own image. He has equipped you with gifts and abilities and passions that no one else has. He cares about you specifically and calls you by name. He loves you so much that He was willing to enter into His own creation and die for you. That’s how much worth… that’s how much hope He sees in you.

So when you start to feel down and start to wonder why you’re here and what you have to offer, remind yourself of that. The writer of Psalm 119 reminded himself of that…

Psalm 119:14,17-18 (NLT)
Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. …
How precious are Your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!

And then over in the New Testament, Jesus tells you that God cares so much about you that He even knows the number of hairs there are on your head. Admittedly, that’s a greater feat for some of us than for others…

Look, you may struggle to think highly of yourself, but God thinks very highly of you. And you can have confidence in that. God doesn’t want us to become proud and arrogant, but He does want us to recognize the value He places in us and have a confidence and assurance and hope because of it.

2.    My present circumstances

You think you’ve got problems? You think you’ve got it tough? Let me tell you, you’ve got it easy compared to what some have had to endure around the world and throughout the centuries. Back in the first century, there were plenty of reasons for despair.

Back then, you had 50% of people living as slaves. Most people were malnourished. You’d be paying 50% of your income to Rome in taxes. There was violence everywhere, there were insurrections, rebellions, demonstrations… You had people be crucified, even thousands at the same time just strung along the roadside.

But in the midst of all this incredible reason for despair, you find these disciples of Jesus who were people of hope and that’s all they talked about. That was a distinguishing mark of a Christ-follower. And every book in the New Testament is in some way a book of hope.

We’ve talked before about the apostle Paul. Paul endured all kinds of suffering. He was shipwrecked, he was nearly beaten to death, he was imprisoned, he had people conspiring against him, he had death threats against him… Yet this is what He wrote….

Philippians 4:4,12-13 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!...
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

That’s a man who knew how to live with hope.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Regardless of his circumstances, Paul was always able to live with a hope. Why? Because his hope wasn’t based on his circumstances. His hope was based in Jesus Christ. His hope was based on the enduring Word of God. His hope was based in the everlasting King who is completely trustworthy, who keeps His promises, and who never changes.

3.    My future

Now, we’re talking about hope, so it’d probably be good to say what hope is. Because for the Christian, hope is not just wishful thinking; it is a sure expectation. It’s the assurance that God is going to come through on His promises. And there’s a great promise in Jeremiah 29…

Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Do you trust God? Do you believe that He has everything under His power? They what reason do you have to despair, even when you don’t know what’s going to happen down the road? Even when you don’t know how things are going to turn out, does that make God any less trustworthy? No, of course not. So there’s no reason to despair about your future.

That’s true for this life and the life to come. God is entirely trustworthy and He will come through on all His promises.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 17-18 (NLT)
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going…
For our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.

4.    The way I see others

Let me ask you this: Who’s the most positive person who ever lived? Jesus, right? I mean, he was never a pansy and He never shied away from confronting people about the sin in their lives. But He was also able to see beyond that to see the value of the person.

Here’s something I read online this week…

“[Jesus] saw potential in prostitutes, possibilities for lepers, and promise in the hearts of fishermen. Jesus always seemed to find the good in the people with whom he came into contact. He treated Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector… like he was the most important person in town that day. He touched people who were “unclean” and hadn’t been touched in some time. He fed people when they were hungry, healed them when they were sick, and showed them the love of God even when they felt (and were probably told) that they were unlovable.”
~ Joe Iovino

And that was true even when Jesus was hanging on the cross. Even when He was in total agony, he was able to see the worth of the thief hanging on the cross beside Him. And He even offered forgiveness and prayed for the people who nailed Him there.

Jesus had an incredible way of seeing the value of people, even through the mess they may have made of their lives. You and I need to learn to see people the way Jesus sees them.

You know, it’s easy to point fingers and blame people for the problems in their lives. It’s easy to look down on people, telling everyone what’s wrong with them while at the same time acting as if we’ve got it all together. And it’s tempting to join in on the conversations when a group of people begin to gossip and slander someone else.

But this is what the Bible says…

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

And Jesus said…

Matthew 7:1-2 (Msg)
“Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”

5.    The Church

Look, a lot of people are down on the Church today. They call it irrelevant, they say it’s full of hypocrites, they say we’re intolerant and bigoted and narrow-minded. I don’t think that’s particularly accurate, but that’s the impression a lot of people have.

And throughout history there have been people connected with the Church who have done some terrible things. There have been worse things done by people outside of the Church, but still…

Even today, the Church is full of fallible people who still make mistakes, who are still prone to sin, and who at times can do terrible things. You know it’s true because you’re one of them. And so am I. And it’s easy to get down on the Church because of these things.

But the Church has also been the source of many great things. Humanitarian organizations, hospitals, the great universities and colleges of the world, contributions to music and art and literature… That’s on a grand scale, but even on a smaller scale…

Christ-followers are more generous, they’re more likely to help out someone in need, and as they grow spiritually they become increasingly loving and accepting of others.

And then there’s the greatest reason of all to have hope in the Church. God has equipped the Church with the mandate of reconciling people to Him. And there is no plan B, we’re it. We are God’s choice to bring a lost and hurting world back to Him.

2 Corinthians 5:18b-20 (NLT)
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.

Listen, there are lots of reasons to get down about the Church. But there are even greater reasons to celebrate the Church and have high hopes about what God can do through us. God believes in us, so let’s believe in ourselves.

I believe with all my heart that with God working through us the Church is the hope of the world. There’s no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed about being part of the Church. That’s a reason to celebrate. You can have hope about the Church and your role as part of it.

6.    Telling Others about Jesus

Now, for some reason, there tends to be a shyness or a fear connected with telling others about our faith in Jesus. I don’t know what it is – maybe we just know the stakes are so high that we freeze up. But it’s exactly because the stakes are so high that we need to tell people about Jesus.

Romans 1:16 (NLT)
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes…

The Good News about Jesus is the power of God working to save people who otherwise will be lost for eternity. Could the stakes be any higher? We’ve got to be about the business of telling people about Jesus.

And there are a couple ways you can do that. One way is to tell your own story about what God has done in your life and why you’ve placed your hope in Jesus. That’s the most effective way. We just recently had a seminar called “Go Fish” to help you know how to do that in a more comfortable and authentic way. We’ll offer more training like that in the future.

But another thing you can do is just get people in a setting where they will hear the message about Jesus. Invite them to Church. With our 100% Sunday coming up next week, that’s one of the things we ask you to do… invite someone to come with you. And then perhaps you’d like to go out with them for lunch afterward or have them over to your house in case they have any questions.

Now, we tend to be afraid to invite people to church because we’ve already conceded that they’re going to turn us down. But the truth is 82% of unchurched people are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited. They might not show up uninvited, but with an invitation they’re at least going to consider it.

Can you comprehend that? 8 out of 10 of your friends and co-workers would be at least somewhat likely to come if you invited them. But the sad fact is, only 21% of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. And even worse, only 2% of us invite someone who’s not already attending another church.

Think about this… In Charlottetown and the surrounding areas, we’re looking at about 40,000 people. Statistically, only about 15% are attending church on a regular basis. So on any given Sunday morning, only 6000 are attending a church… any church. That means that 34,000 are shoveling their walkways, taking their kids to hockey or just sleeping in.

And of those 34,000, 27,880 of them are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited… many are very likely. There are people just waiting to be invited to church. They’re eager to come, but nobody’s asking.

So let’s not get down on telling people about Jesus and exposing them to His message. The potential response is incredible, if we’ll just start to do it.

Floccinaucinihilipilification. It’s a mouthful, but it’s a word we need to learn (or at least learn about) so we can throw it down, stomp on it, and get rid of it once and for all.

“We don’t have to fear and fret, to be distracted or consumed by despair. We are already living in light of the victory that has already been won. What hope we have. We ought to be the people who are known for, whatever is going on out there… we are people of hope.”
~ Leonard Sweet

Maybe something we’ve talked about has resonated with you this morning. Maybe you’ve been experiencing feelings of hopelessness or despair in one of these areas.

Or maybe it’s not in one of the areas at all. Maybe it’s in another area altogether. But you’re still losing hope and you’re giving in to despair. Understand, it’s not God’s desire that any of His followers live in despair.

So what do you do about it? Well, I think it comes right back to the basics. One thing you need to be doing is spending time in the Word of God. Discover the wonderful promises God makes to us there. And believe that God will do what He says He will do.

And then be sure to spend time in prayer. Let Him reassure you personally that He’s in control. And ask Him to fill you with His hope.

When Jesus told His followers that He was going to be arrested and executed, and then that He would rise from the dead, come back and see them, and then return to Heaven, He told His followers not to be afraid because He would be sending someone else to help them. Who was He talking about? He was talking about the Holy Spirit.

And Jesus kept His promise. And the Holy Spirit is here with us now… guiding us, helping us, convicting us, empowering us. But there’s a specific word that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit that you’ll find in some translations of the Bible. It’s the word “Comforter.”

If you are living in despair, then you need to experience the ministry of the Comforter. So when you pray, ask that the Comforter will comfort you. That He will infuse you with hope. And then begin to live out that hope.

•    http://thebody.tlumc.org/blog/ blog by Joe Iovino
•    “Addicted to Floccinaucinihilipilification” by Leonard Sweet (Napkin Scribbles podcast for February 21, 2008)



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