I don’t know about you, but I had a lot of fun last week. I know we were talking about a subject that can be a little touchy when it comes to church, but I guess that was really part of my point last week. Why is it so touchy? Why is it so unnerving to people to talk about money, and our material possessions in church? You see that was really part of the bigger issue we were hitting on. I wanted to get us to a place last week where we understood something really important about that area of money and finances and all of our stuff. God loves us. God wants what is best for us. I think the money thing gets weird quickly because we forget what I just said. God loves us and wants what is best for us. Listen, you may or may not believe this but God doesn’t actually need your money! He isn’t sitting in heaven right now chewing on his finger nails, hoping that you will cut Him a check so He can pay His bills. God is so much bigger than that. So if He doesn’t need our money, then it has to be something else, because money and our material possession come up so often in Scripture. It’s because God is after your heart, and we have learned that if we want to know where our hearts are, we simply look at where our resources go.
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NIV
You want to know what matters to you? Just look at where your time, your money, and your energy goes! This is a very important thing to think about it, and it can be a very different idea for so many of us! So often when it comes to the area of money, and our material possessions so many of us think the church brings it up because we are after your money…but what if it’s actually bigger than that? What if the biggest challenge to money, and having so much comfort is that it actually can pull your focus off of God and onto you, and the things of this world? What if the church isn’t greedy but actually cares about you? Scripture tells us often that it’s our hearts that matter to God. Jesus pushed in on money all the time, and it isn’t because He is stealing from you, it’s because there is no quicker way to get stuck spiritually than to focus on the things of today. It’s all about your heart. Listen, it’s always about your heart to God. Money and nice things can slide into the wrong spot in your life really quickly. This was so important for us to really sit in last week, and I think it may have been a new idea for some of us, to think it’s bigger than just a talk about my pocketbook, it’s about my heart and not being stuck spiritually. This is why Jesus was always pressing in on this area of greed. It blocks my spiritual growth…
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” NIV
So we really hammered on this idea last week that money, material possessions, all my comfort, are not evil on their own, but actually are very dangerous because they pull my focus off of God, and eternity and onto today…and remember the big articulate statement from last week? It was that eternity is a really, really long time. Isn’t it interesting how different this way of thinking is? In fact when it comes to spiritual things, God just seems to view everything very differently than we humans do and one of the things I love is just how real God wants things to be, yet church is often a very challenging place to find people actually being real isn’t it?
Let’s talk for a moment, because I think this is something we need to get out in the open. So throughout this series we have been establishing something about being real haven’t we? What is God after? We know by now it isn’t our church attendance. We also know it isn’t our money and I’m pretty sure we have seen it since week one of MRG, that God is after our hearts. He wants it real, He isn’t really concerned with how we look to other people, but who we are on the inside. Because let’s be really clear here…it is actually pretty easy to fool people. It’s easy to look one way on the outside, while living a completely different way on the inside, and that is so opposite of what God wants for us, this is so important. Let’s look at the exact same scripture we just saw but this time let’s hit it from the Message version…
Luke 16:13 No worker can serve two bosses: He’ll either hate the first and love the second Or adore the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and the Bank. 14 When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. 15 So Jesus spoke to them: “You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance. What society sees and calls monumental, God sees through and calls monstrous. MSG
So this begins to bring out something that I really want to hit on today. Look at what Jesus says here…you look good in front of others but God knows what is going on, on the inside. What people think is amazing, God sees through and calls monstrous. Whoa! This is pretty intense, but also something very important for you and I to see, when it comes to people can we be really honest here…we can fool each other right? I mean this type of thing happens at church a lot doesn’t it? I can come in here, close my eyes during the worship songs, paste a smile on my face, and look really good on the outside, and everyone can think I’m ok, even when I’m not ok! I can fool you…but from day one we have been looking at this idea that God isn’t just after us showing up and doing the church thing, it’s our hearts that matter to Him because He loves us that much! Scripture is pretty clear about this, and it comes up a lot…just to pile on that idea check this out in Isaiah…
Isaiah 1:11 “Why this frenzy of sacrifices? “GOD’s asking. “Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? 12 When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that — all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? 13 “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings — meetings, meetings, meetings — I can’t stand one more! 14 Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. 15 When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. MSG
So this is pretty intense but I want you to see something here. This is God speaking through the prophet Isaiah and what is God saying…what is He tired of? He is tired of people pretending. He is saying quit faking it…quit all these worship charades and fasts, while nothing is different on the inside! This is such an important thing for us to understand, God is all knowing, which means He understands your heart condition, your motives on everything from what you are doing at church to why you would serve, even to how you handle your money like we got into last week. So God is after the real thing, and if you notice he really guides us towards how we would know if we are doing the real thing or not, did you catch that? Towards the end of that whole thing about not faking the church thing there….did you pick up on it? I think we need to look at this, because it is very important. Jesus is always fighting with the Pharisees over religion, right? They did everything right and their hearts were so hard towards people. And why do we see God upset with all these religious acts in Isaiah? He told you, towards the end of that chunk of scripture…
Isaiah 1:15 When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. MSG
So there is something very important for us to see here. God is saying that regardless of what you are doing on Sunday, if it isn’t coming out well during the week, it isn’t real…and what comes out during the week really ties to loving others. You can do everything right in church but if you are not loving others well something isn’t right. So this goes back to something we have been hitting for 5 weeks straight, Jesus told us to do two things well, that was to love God, and love others. Basically God isn’t concerned with your fasts, and your sacrifices if your heart isn’t where it should be which is really interesting because I think we would all agree that we would rather eat, than not eat! We would rather sleep in than get up early and do the church thing! So if I’m not getting the credit from God, I might as well stop right? I mean I’d rather not sacrifice than sacrifice! I don’t get it God, like I’m trying really hard here! I’m at church for crying out loud. I am doing everything I know to do! Now you’re saying you don’t like my righteous acts? I mean let’s be real here, I could do without working so hard at them myself! I mean can we get real here? Well you know what, I believe that is exactly what God is after, you and I getting real! Well this is where we go today, because once again there are things that look so right to you and I, but in the end they just don’t match up with God’s desires for our lives.
Today’s commitment has everything to do with loving others well. Today we answer the question, how do I become a well disciple Christian on this planet…should I study? Should I do more small groups? Is it Sunday school classes or church programing? Well as always God has a different thought here…today’s commitment is to break out of the world’s thinking and to serve others. There actually is no higher form of discipleship. You know what I think this is where the rubber really meets the road for us today. God isn’t interested in how we appear, and if we are honest, we know we can fool each other on who we actually are, but we can’t fool God. He wants us to center our lives on Him! He wants our words and our actions to line up! He wants us to love Him, and love others. Check out Jesus’s words here…
Matthew 23:1 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. 2 “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. 3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.4 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. 5 Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. 6 They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, 7 preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ 8 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. 9 Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. 10 And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them — Christ. 11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. (MSG)
So there is clearly a difference between what we people see as successful or what we look at as greatness and what God sees as greatness or success isn’t there? Look at the big chunks of scripture we have read today. God through Isaiah being absolutely repulsed and exhausted by our righteous acts, while we are acting that way at church then tearing people to pieces behind the scenes! Look at Jesus’ words here one more time…If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. So this is where we build today, out of this concept that again is just so opposite from our thinking. God is after our hearts, He wants things real and our core scripture for today is found at the end of that moment where Jesus really is bagging on religion and is once again going after those Pharisees…
11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
The greatest thing you could ever is serve. The answer to discipleship is to serve others, there is no greater form of discipleship than to serve others. You see as people we think ok, I am a Christian now, so the church needs to build programs and classes for me to grow and becomes a better Christian…but remember Jesus simplified everything and I know this isn’t the status quo, but you need to see something really important. You can take classes, and learn everything you would like…there is nothing wrong with those types of programs. I’m not trying to mock small group studies, or discipleship courses or church programing, I’m in different courses right now myself, but in the end, they are very empty if the things you are learning stay in your head and don’t come out in your actions. If the information doesn’t leave your brain and enter your heart, and come out in your actions, it’s empty. My challenge for you would be to serve. Why because that was what Jesus told us to do. This is the highest form of discipleship, serving others…and as you do, you will help others feel God’s love. John wrote that we literally show God physically in this world through loving others well, but here’s what you may not be prepared for as you serve and help others. It will help you too! You will grow in ways you didn’t know were possible. But once again, it doesn’t look like you and I thought it should does it? But isn’t that what Jesus keeps telling us?
I haven’t had a lot of time yet to tell you much of my story, but today I would like to take a moment and tell you a little about where I have come from. I grew up around church. My father was and still is a Pastor, so I can’t remember life without church really, but I have to tell you not everything I experienced in the church was very positive. In fact probably my biggest hurts came inside the church setting, at a young age just struggling with the gut punches that religion can bring. I watched my father who was one of my hero’s walk through a lot. You see I grew up a Youth Group mascot of a church that was fun, and alive, and my father was very passionate, church was fun back in those days. When I was in grade school my father was offered the Senior Pastor role of small church in Mechanicsburg. I can remember him sitting us down and telling us we were moving to the big city, and I was both excited and terrified. We were from a tiny town in Juniata County so I terrified for the “big city” life. But also very excited because my father and our family would have the chance to bring this amazing Jesus message to a whole new town. I had this idea of what it would look like in my mind…and it was exciting, but I will tell you, what we experienced wasn’t at all what I thought was coming. I wasn’t prepared for the push back of some of the church people back in the day. My father had this vision to take Jesus outside the church walls to the people of that town…and to spare you the gory details…not everyone was all that excited about it. I watched my father deal with a lot of very religious people who didn’t want to see there little church change and it took a huge toll on my family. Everything changed for me and my family and I got angry and eventually left the church all together. I couldn’t do it. It was so opposite of what I believed could and should be that I just turned from it all and I fell hard. I had this rage in my heart that I couldn’t handle, and most of the time I took it out on myself, sometimes on others, but it wasn’t pretty. I was so beat up by religion and church and I just couldn’t see my way through, and my life really spiraled out of control for years. I was so hurt, and just so angry, and so done with the whole church thing…so what happened? Well eventually I realized that I needed God in my life, and I will tell you as I pulled out of my mess one of the greatest times of my life was spent serving a group called Habitat for Humanity. My brother and I would go work on these homes, at a time in my life when I was not a big fan of myself, and something happened that I never expected. My heart that was so angry, so hard towards God, and my heart just melted as we would serve these people. I would be working shoulder to shoulder with the person who would eventually live in the home, and they would thank me over and over, and I didn’t feel deserving of that. It was such a humbling thing for me but it impacted my heart in a way that I’m not sure I can even verbalize. With every thank you from the young family we were working for, I felt something that back then I couldn’t identify, but I can now…it was God’s love washing over me, and it happened as I served them, so by helping them I was finding me…interesting isn’t it? I went to build a home for someone and found something I never dreamt of, God’s love and it began to melt and heal my broken heart. Makes me think of Jesus saying weird things that all of a sudden started making sense…
Matthew 10:39 If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. MSG
You know so many people come to our church and are trying to figure out this whole God thing, and in the end Jesus would say quit trying to find yourself, look to me and you will find it all. This is why we really try to push and challenge people to serve because there just is no higher form of discipleship.
It’s funny when I first came into full time ministry I jumped feet first into the discipleship class thought process. I developed a few classes, marketed them, and I would teach the men’s groups and my wife teaching the women’s group and we were gaining a lot of momentum through those times in the church! I mean it looked great. We would have like 50 or more people out to the classes and everything looked right…Christians were happy! But I wasn’t. I can remember standing in front of those men praying that the class would not just be head knowledge for them but would lead them closer to Christ…and by the end of that class, I felt a real conviction about it, because it felt so empty. I was a bit confused in it really…weren’t we doing everything right here? We were teaching people about Jesus, but I was watching these people fill in the blanks on their outlines, but I wasn’t seeing it land in our hearts. Yes it made me look good, and like I was doing my job as a Pastor to us people, but something was really convicting me. What were we actually doing? What was the product of that time? Was I seeing life change, or just going through the motions? What was happening because of the time spent there? And it changed my thinking. If it isn’t engaging our hearts and is just staying in our heads, something is wrong there…remember what Jesus said about the Pharisees?
2 “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. 3 You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.” MSG
Do you see it? They talk a good line but it’s not coming out in their lives…remember God is after our hearts and as Jesus warns us about this idea of knowing what is right but not living it out He actually shows us what we should do…this solution comes up all the time in our Bibles.
“There is only one Life-Leader for you and them — Christ. 11 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. 12 If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.” MSG
So what is the solution to religion? Serving. Remember that super intense warning God gave us in Isaiah…watch the solution to that warning too…
Isaiah 1:13 “Quit your worship charades: I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings — meetings, meetings, meetings — I can’t stand one more! 14 Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. 15 When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. 16 Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. 17 Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” MSG
Do you see it? What is the solution to religion? It’s serving. Do something for someone else. I am not saying that you shouldn’t go to small group studies, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn and be educated in church but time, after time God challenges us to serve. There is no higher form of discipleship. I will tell you from experience that my own hard, and wounded heart was changed most through serving someone else…and I never saw that coming. Do you catch where we are headed today?
Today we are talking about growing in Christ, and finding discipleship. Most people see discipleship as sitting in a class and learning more about God. Listen to me, there is absolutely a place for that! You should learn, and grow, and study, but if you want your heart to be transformed at some point you have to do something.
Isn’t it interesting? God is after your heart, not your church attendance, not your pocket book or your bank account, He isn’t even after your religious acts. I think it is very easy for you and I to fool each other. We can walk in and out of here every Sunday and look the part, but God doesn’t care what we look like, He cares about our hearts…which should show you just how much He cares about us as people. God is after the real…not the status quo. As a people there is a way that looks really good to you and I but it just isn’t leading to God…in fact it leads to death, and we love you enough to talk about it.
All through scripture we see this challenge…serve! We want this to be real right? Well this is what God would call real, it’s found in loving Him, and loving others. His solution to religion and being stuck spiritually is to serve. What is amazing is that when you serve you are helping someone else, but it will do more for you than you realize! The biggest challenge is breaking out of the status quo to do it.
Can you take all your God given abilities, and serve? I know, I know you need more discipleship…well I love you enough to tell you, that the greatest form of discipleship is actually to do something, to step in and serve.
I would like to end today by looking at these words from Paul found in Romans.
Romans 15:1 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. 2 Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” 3 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. 4 Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. MSG
In the end it’s always about the heart, and nothing will shape your heart like taking your strength and serving. There is just is no higher form of discipleship, but you have to break out of the status quo to see it.