I have to tell you, I have really enjoyed this series so far. We kicked off 2018, and our church with this idea of making a commitment to being different in 2018 and beyond. So by now you are probably picking up on the idea that here at MRC we want you to be engaging God in such a way that you are different from your encounter with Him. That is a really big deal to us, because life change means this is more than just a Sunday morning thing for you, it means that this is real and that is what we are all about. I think that is why the first few commitments that we had to look at if we are going to be different spiritually had everything to do with love, and the heart. If you remember we have built this series intentionally, starting slowly and laying a foundation for life change. That foundation was brokenness and faith. Then the series really was able to heat up as we began this journey through different commitments that we can make to actually be different Spiritually and it started with two that really tie together…loving God and loving others. I mean it makes sense to start there right? Jesus did say it was the two most important things we can do. As simple as that thought is we learned a couple things through that portion of the series…
- Loving God first is easier said than done in the world we live in today.
- God focus is not easy to keep in a world full of distractions and things that pull us from God.
- We show our growth or lack of growth in our relationships and our ability to love others.
- Jesus raises the bar on loving others…telling us to love people that aren’t all that easy to love so as simple as He makes all of spirituality to understand, it’s hard to live out! Which is intentional because it means we will need God in it.
Those two Sundays were a lot of fun…then last week we really continued in the idea of growing spiritually as we looked at the commitment to follow Jesus. So many people think that the moment they ask Jesus in to their hearts, and start doing the church thing that life is over. The fun days are all behind them, but that just isn’t true. In fact it means life is beginning not ending. Jesus always pulls us away from comfort, and to follow Jesus will mean we will step out of safety and comfort and into a life of faith…it isn’t an easy or a boring life, but an adventure with risk and ups and downs…remember Jesus never told you it would be easy, and he never apologizes for how hard it will be.
Matthew 7:13 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. 14 The way to life-to God!-is vigorous and requires total attention. MSG
Remember the guy who wanted to follow Jesus, he doesn’t dress it up for the guy does he?
Luke 9:57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. 58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” MSG
Jesus isn’t unclear is he? Following Jesus is often going to mean stepping away from everything we know to be comfortable and clear and safe so that He can lead us in a new way. Jesus pulls us away from comfort and I wanted you to see that, I believe this is done in love. He is protecting us from the number one blocker from you experiencing that whole life to the full thing that Jesus told you that He came to give you. John 10:10 is very important because Jesus tells us why He came to this Earth remember that?
John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV
Jesus says that He came to give us life and life to the full. We looked at how that life to the full thing happens in us…it happens as we step out, as we follow Him, and as we actually do something for God…even if it’s a little risky or scary. Sometimes steps of faith are scary aren’t they? Something happens to us when we step out of our comfort zones and follow Jesus, we find that life to the full thing that Jesus told us that He came to give us, and today we are going to keep building on this concept because it is that important! We want this life and life to the full thing that Jesus came to provide for us, this is going to require our focus to stay on Him right? We are to love God first, which is hard to do in a world that seems to pull our attention off of God and on to anything and everything else. Jesus says the way to life to God is vigorous and requires our total attention and He is constantly trying to pull us away from safety and comfort as we follow Him and today we are going to keep putting this all together.
Do you know what Jesus talked about a lot? Money. Do you think that is because he thinks that money is evil and that you shouldn’t have any? No, that isn’t it at all. You can have money. You can and should work hard, and be successful at what you do, frankly if you follow Jesus’ leadership principles it will lead you to success in life and business and there is nothing wrong with that! But Jesus does talk about it a lot, because He knows if we aren’t careful it can become more of a distraction than it should in our lives. So right now you may be getting a little nervous because up until today you haven’t heard me talk too much about money here at MRG, and you were just waiting for the day for the money shoe to drop and here we are! Well give hang in there and give me a chance today, I want you to hear me…God is not after your wallet. God isn’t chewing His finger nails right now hoping that you give money to MRG today. God loves you and He is after your heart…and often times your pocket book says a lot about your heart. Jesus will tell you if you want to know where your heart is just look at where your money goes…
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. NIV
And here’s the thing, there is a tie between where our time, energy, and money goes and our heart condition…and God is after our hearts. God loves us, He wants us to be growing. He doesn’t want to see us stuck spiritually, and there is not quicker way to be stuck than to lose God focus, or place something above God in your life, and nothing slides into that place quicker than your treasure. I would like to keep moving in this area of God focus.
So let’s just talk for a little here. I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life where I really wonder what God is up to, have you ever been there? I can look back at times in my life where things weren’t going all that well, and can remember wondering if God is there at all. Have you ever been there? You know what is really interesting about that? If I really stop and think about those times I can see two things. First when I find myself in a spot like that it isn’t when things are going very well for me…it means I’m in a bad spot, there is stress or hurt, or tension building in my life for one reason or another. And second I realize when I’m in those difficult times of life…I really understand how desperately I need God in my life. I have a lot of God focus and passion to pray when I really, really need God to come through for me for one reason or another, how about you? It’s amazing how sometimes the toughest moments in my life push me to God focus…I mean I’m extremely focused on God in the moments I need Him to come through for me, and sadly the flip side of that is true too. When things are going well…when the bills are paid, the cars are running well, and Mashawn and the kids are healthy, and everything is going smoothly, God can kind of slip to the back ground. So when life is a mess God is very central, when life is singing like a song, I can lose my focus. I mean in the good moments what do we really need God for right? This becomes a major issue for us as a people, why trust God when you have all your bases covered right? I mean why trust God when you have everything under control? It’s hard to focus on God when we have more than enough, which leads us back to the danger of comfort.
Warning here! I’ve offended people in the past when speaking about the challenges we have to focus on God here in the United States of America, in the culture we live in, because we have more than enough. I have had people upset with me, which I know shocks you, but I have had people tell me that I don’t understand how hard life is today here in Central Pa. So I know I need to tread somewhat lightly here, and I will just say this…we live in a land of more than enough, with cars, and internet, and houses, and left overs…we aren’t dying of starvation, or lack of clean drinking water, so comparatively we do hae some comforts that others just don’t. I mean we can worship freely here in our Country, and there are places in the world where people are killed for being a Christian, so culturally I know this is insensitive because life is hard for everyone, but we do have some comforts that others do not. We have different problems for sure but I think the stress of which sport camp or my child should attend, and can we get faster internet somehow in the home show that my problems in my culture are different than some other areas of the world where they are just trying to survive. Now I’m not telling you that it’s wrong to have these comforts, but I do think it’s easy in the world we live in to really slide into comfort and lose sight of just how desperately we need God. It is one thing if I’m sick, starving, or in need…because I can see I need God there…but it’s kind of hard sometimes to have God focus when we have more than enough. We have been touching on this God focus thing, and there is also real danger here for us because in all our nice things, and in all of our more than enough of our focus can shift onto these things of today, and off of God…you know the eternal things that last forever. Remember eternity is a very long time, and our focus needs to stay on it! I think in our lives of more than enough it can be easy to slide into the place where we lose sight of God. We can get to this spot where we think, we are doing pretty good on our own. This is a very dangerous place to be…even as comfortable as it may feel. We pride ourselves in this world for being independent but the brutal thing is that we can forget God gave us all of that, right down to the air we breathe. It’s easy to lose sight of God when things are going so well. So where in the world would we be without Him, you know since it’s all His? I think this is something we need to really look at today, Jesus says this in John…
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV
Oh this is so good, Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing” which is really opposite of what our culture would say isn’t it? Why is it always so opposite? Many people are not walking through life connected to Jesus in a real way, and they seem to be doing ok right? When we look around at the cars they drive, the jobs they have, the homes they live in…they seem more than ok right? So what does Jesus mean apart from you I can do nothing, I’m fine on my own! Well maybe in a worldly way it seems to be going well, but in the end they are just collecting stuff…and they are missing out on experiencing life with God. So it’s empty. Remember Jesus came to give us life and life to the full…and life to the full is more than a collection of things isn’t it? It’s a life WITH God…everything we have is from Him. Every breath we breathe is a gift from Him. What is really tough is that when we have so much, we can forget just how much we need God. We can forget our desperate need of Him and in the end we miss out on the very thing that Jesus told you He came to give you. Why? Because in all the good, in all the success, in all the material possessions…in all the comfort, we can lose sight of just how much we need God. We must stay connected to the vine…a part from Jesus we can do nothing. Our eyes must stay focused on God and eternity rather than today…and it isn’t easy. You know we haven’t hung out in the Old Testament much in our time together but I wanted you to see this…one of the coolest stories you can read is Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery…it’s an awesome story, with all kinds of stuff going on…there is a time after years and years of wandering the wilderness where God warns them of what could happen when they reach the land He plans to give them…this amazes me.
Deuteronomy 31:20 For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. ESV
This is a great example of what we are talking about today. These people have been led through the wilderness, for YEARS and YEARS! They have been forced to lean hard on God and He has provided. He has literally keeping them alive as they wandered around the desert, dropping food from the sky for them to eat. They are completely dependent on God in every way. And now God is saying, that when they get to the Promised Land, they will all have more than enough, and forget Him. That is amazing isn’t it? How could someone forget there need of God when He brings them through the wilderness right? Well, we do this all the time. We lean on God in our hour of need, and then forget our own “wilderness” moments with Him as soon as things get better. This is what I was talking to you about earlier…I’m not proud of it but I see it in my own life. I have a laser focus for God in the challenging times, and when things are going well, I don’t quite have that passionate focus for Him. Do you see why Jesus would pull us away from comfort?
I have four children, my youngest is about to be ten years old, which is hard for me to wrap my mind around. It does not feel so long ago that we were running to Harrisburg Hospital for our children’s births, it felt like we spent years over there actually. It’s funny because with our oldest two I wasn’t too aware of anything but my wife and I as we would head into the Hospital. I was terrified, and excited, and worried and let’s just say those moments in all my emotion I didn’t look around a whole lot! But by the time our younger two were born, Mashawn and I were veterans to the process. We knew everyone in hospital by name. We knew the best places to park, where to eat, even when to leave and get to the hospital…so we were pro’s by that time and it was during this time that I had a little more composure and realized something about the Hospital that I hadn’t before. I was amazed at how spiritual it was in there. Mashawn and I were going in with joy, and happiness to meet our child but that isn’t everyone’s experience in a hospital is it? Some people are not getting good news in there, they are struggling. For every life, there may also be pain, or even death and I began walking around the hospital and really had something hit my heart. The most spiritual buildings in our Country aren’t our churches…they are our hospitals. I heard more people talking about God and prayer there than anywhere else and that really struck me. It amazed me, I’m not sure there is a place with greater God focus than our Hospitals, and I think that says a lot about us as a people.
Do you see why Jesus would pull us away from comfort? God said it was coming as He led people out of the wilderness way back in the day and think about this, we have a lot more going on than they did! They were distracted by milk and honey, they didn’t even have I phones, internet, and all the stuff we have today! Let’s face it, there isn’t really any difference from the people all the way back in Biblical times, and us today outside of the fact that we have a lot more distractions. When things are going well, and we have more than enough, it is pretty easy for us to forget just how much we need God. If you read the stories, God they are literally seeing God physically move in ways that we just don’t. He is coming to them in the form of a pillar of Fire at night and a cloud by day to lead them through the desert to the Promised Land. He is dropping food out of the sky for them…and moments later, they forget Him! With half our distractions. So in many ways with all our wealth and distractions we have today, this is a serious problem for us in the culture we live in…if milk and honey can distract people, I’m thinking the wealth and extra that we have may make it even harder for you and I to stay focused on Him. It’s easy for us to seriously question why we would need God when we’re doing so well on our own. So let’s personalize this for a moment…I wanting you thinking about this, when it comes to your own life.
- When are you most aware of God?
- Is it when you need Him for something, or when things are going well?
- How often do you pray when things are going well compared to when something is happening in your life where you desperately need him to come through for you?
If you aren’t liking where you are coming out on this, don’t be too hard on yourself, you are not alone in that. It frustrates me on a personal level because I can see that I can lose my focus in the good times, and find it in the bad times. This is why Jesus pulls us away from comfort, because it is such a blocker from our Spiritual Growth. This is why Jesus warns us so often about money and our material things…because they pull our attention off of God and onto things that have no eternal value. This comes up a lot in Scripture, The Bible tells us that we aren’t alone in this, it has happened since the beginning of time. God is responsible for all of our lives, He is responsible for our successes, blessings, and wealth. God is responsible for every breath that we take on this Earth which is easy to forget at times…especially when we have more than enough and things are going well.
So we need God focus in the good times, and the bad. You know, there is a great example of this found in a parable Jesus told about a farmer. It’s found in Luke 12, and Jesus is really addressing greed here in this story.
Luke 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” NIV
So here we go, isn’t it interesting how this parable comes to be? It starts with someone coming to Jesus and tattling on his own brother and Jesus goes right to the big warning we see over and over again in Scripture to be careful to guard against greed and remember our lives are bigger than our stuff! Then Jesus tells this story.
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ NIV
So the farmer has a problem, and it’s a great problem to have. He has so much, that he doesn’t know what to do with it all! While you and I probably aren’t stressing over the size of our barns this is the type of problem that is very popular in our culture today. We have so much that we don’t know what to do with it. So Jesus continues the story, and we see how the farmer decides he will solve his big issue…
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. NIV
So what is he farmer’s problem? He is doing so well that he doesn’t know what to do with it all. We also see that the farmer has a plan on how to fix his problem. He is going to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. I will say this seems like a reasonable thing to do doesn’t it? He needs to figure out what to do with all this wealth, so he decides to build bigger barns, which makes sense. I guess we could argue with why he tore the old ones down and started over verses just putting additions on the old barns, but hey this seems to make sense right? He needed space, so he makes space. Well here is where we see the big mistake…
19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
Once again, I’m not sure any of us would think he is doing anything wrong here right? I think it sounds like a great plan! Big crop, build bigger barns and kick back and live the good life! This guy has done it right? In so many ways doesn’t this sound a lot like the American Dream? Build your little world, then kick back and enjoy your successes. This farmer in many ways has made it! He has arrived! He has so much wealth that He can live off of it the rest of his life. But the problem is he is assuming something about the rest of his life. Jesus continues…
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
This farmer made a big mistake by assuming a couple of things. First he assumed he had years to enjoy this world, and he didn’t. He also assumed that his wealth would bring him some sort of fulfillment. This man trusted in himself for living. He isn’t looking at things through eternal eyes, and like the snap of your fingers it’s all gone. It’s over. In many ways you can understand why he would look in the mirror and feel pretty good right? He has done well! He’s made it. He is very blessed, and is building wealth. He is a success by any standard we people would set for him. But if you notice pride started to push in a little bit and he sees what he has done and look at how Jesus ends this parable and as quick as he built up all his wealth, he is gone! He never enjoys his earthly success and now he is looking at eternity, rather than today…a bit of a reality check. Jesus concludes this way…
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Jesus is right back to trying hard to get us to stop focusing on today, because eternity is a really long time…and it is coming. This is such a hard thing to do because the farmer seems to have done everything right. I mean we look at what he has done and it is the American Dream. Build up the wealth, and live the good life! Work hard, play hard, enjoy the day right? This looks right doesn’t it? You know as I read that parable and think about how normal this looks, it really reminds me of something Solomon talks to us about with this idea of what look’s right to you and I…
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. NIV
There is a way that looks right to us, but in it doesn’t lead to life! We live in a world where we take a lot of pride in our independence and pulling ourselves up by our boot straps and making something of ourselves. That looks really good, but we have learned over the last two weeks that if we aren’t leaning out on God, if we stay warm, and cozy and snuggled into comfort we can miss out on all that Jesus told us He came to provide us…which is life and life to the full. Jesus is always protecting us from comfort not moving us towards it but pulling us away from that type of lifestyle. Why? It’s because it’s too easy to lose focus on God when we are focused on things that just aren’t eternal. We will not experience life to the full if we lose our focus of God, and there is no quicker way to lose our God focus than to get comfortable, to have more than enough. This is why Jesus brings up wealth and money and greed so often. It isn’t because money is evil, and it isn’t because God needs your money, it’s because greed blocks us from intimacy with God…the things of today distract us from God, and the things of eternity. Greed blocks us from life and life to the full, because in all our stuff, and all our lives of more than enough, it can be hard to realize just how much we need God. I find it amazing how much people in Biblical times struggled with God focus because they didn’t have half the distractions that we do today and they struggled with this in a big time way, which scares me for our generation because that means there is no doubt we will struggle with this too.
- Can you see how challenging it is to find God focus in the world we live in?
- As you think about your own life do you see a major increase in God focus when you are struggling?
- Do you see a lack of God focus when things are going well?
Listen if you do, I want you to know that you are not alone in this, this is a struggle for all of us. Which is why Jesus warns us of comfort because it pulls our focus off of God and back onto us. We must see this, and I know it’s not all that easy to talk about but nothing pulls your total attention off of God faster than your money, and material things of today, it’s really about comfort…which is weird because you would think our goal is comfort, and lots of stuff…no our goal has to be God.
It’s amazing to me how making a commitment to be different spiritually will really lead me to the live life so opposite of the ways of this world…we must focus on eternal things because eternity is a much, much longer time than today.
I want you asking yourself this question as we leave here today. When times are good do I really see my need of God? Do you see your need of God or are you doing ok on your own? We must learn to focus and depend on Him. Every breath is a gift from God. It is so easy to look at our wealth, and all our stuff that we are acquire and forget this, but in the end, it isn’t ours…it is all His! We must understand that we need God…it sure is easy to focus on Him in the tough times, but we must focus on Him in the good times too. This world and the things of this world will always have me focused on today. But today is a very short time when we compare it to all of eternity to come.
Eternal focus over focusing on right now is a very different way to live and I think when it comes to material possessions and wealth that is exactly what Jesus is trying to help us with as he pushes in on our wallets. As people we must stay focused on eternity because it’s just a much longer time than today.