(You have to understand that there were a few additions that were spur of the moment that aren’t in here. I will gladly accept any constructive criticism anyone has. If it’s “Get out of ministry” I will be a little upset.)
When I was a boy, I watched way too much television. My parents would put me to bed early so I would wake up at five in the morning and watch my cartoons like Scooby Doo and Captain Planet. During the summer I would spend most mornings in front of the tube until I found something better to do with my day.
One of my favorite morning shows was Matlock with Andy Griffith. In each episode there was always a crime committed, there was always someone that seemed guilty that Matlock would have to defend and prove their innocence, and there was always a defeated prosecutor that would be quite disappointed after Matlock would win through a clever string of questions.
What I liked about the show wasn’t so much that a man in his early seventies was showing up young lawyers or even that Matlock always won. I enjoyed seeing the whole thing unfold as the two lawyers pleaded their case, each trying to show that his side was right, always trying to convince and sway the jurors.
You might not be aware of this but there is an epic fight going on between two sides. There are arguments and accusations flying and the sides are vying for the approval of the jurors. If you can gather from the title of this sermon, the representatives in this debate are Jesus and The World, where Satan has power to kill and destroy. You, friends, are the jurors. While each side is pleading its case and trying to convince you what is true and right, you make the final decision for yourself and that decision decides what happens at the end of the day. You cannot choose both or neither, because when you do you side with the World. I want to take a look now at some of the arguments the world makes and how Jesus responded, leaving you to pick a side.
I feel like some of the major issues people face, besides how poorly their brackets are doing, are things like happiness, success, power, status and personal comfort. The world can warp these desires and make them entirely unholy. That’s why the first argument the world makes is that to have success, you need to be at the top. Jesus’ response is that the people at the top are to serve and that the last shall be first.
There was a show on television a few years ago called “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump. The point of the show was that people would compete against each other to become Trump’s apprentice, which would in turn put them in charge of a great amount of real estate and skyrocket them close to the top of the corporate ladder. These people had three traits in common: they were intelligent, they were very qualified to work in real estate, and they were all willing to stab anyone in the back to gain any amount of position. That is exactly what the world dictates you need to do to succeed. You have to be cutthroat and step on people to get to the top and then you’ll be happy.
Jesus had a different approach. Jesus, who was God in human flesh, had a higher position than anyone could ever attain. Instead of running a hotel or being the leader of a nation, Jesus was set to receive the world as his inheritance. In fact, in Matthew 4 when Jesus is in the desert and being tempted by Satan, Jesus is offered all the nations of the world if he would just bow down and worship Satan. He was offering Jesus a fast track to his inheritance without having to suffer persecution or death on a cross. By resisting Satan, Jesus proved that he was worthy of leading the world.
So, what model did Jesus give us for someone with authority? Matthew 20:20-28 says: Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Before His death, we see Jesus living out this example once again by taking on the role of a servant and washing the feet of his disciples.
The world says you must get past other people no matter what the cost to get to the top. Jesus, who was at the top, said to be like him and to achieve greatness you have to serve others to the point of slavery—selflessly serving them without asking for anything in return.
James 4:1-10 says: What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
The second argument the world makes is that to achieve happiness you have to accumulate as much wealth as possible. Jesus’ response is that to whom much has been given, much will be required.
One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is that of the rich young ruler. In Mark 10 Jesus is encountered by a wealthy young man that wants to follow Christ. Jesus says “That is great! All you have to do is give all your possessions to the poor and follow me.” The man went away sad because he had a great amount of wealth and was not willing to part with it. Jesus then told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
One interesting thing about this passage is the potential double meaning of “The eye of a needle.” You see, in the mountainous region near Jerusalem there was a pass that travelers would have to go through. At one point on their path there was a small rock formation that they would have to pass through called “The Eye of the Needle” because of its shape. In order to pass through this formation, the rider would have to get off his camel, take all of the goods the camel had been carrying off to enable it to essentially crawl through the opening.
You can see the symbolism here. In order for someone who has accumulated much to make it into the kingdom of heaven, he must first discard his goods and assume a humble position before God.
It doesn’t seem possible to focus on accumulating great amounts of wealth and focus on serving God. The Bible clearly states that you cannot serve two masters. You will always end up loving one and hating the other.
For this reason it always bothers me when some ministers try to tell people that you can have it both ways. They like to say that if you are doing God’s will then He will bless you with great amounts of money. I can’t tell you how much that frustrates me.
I once heard a man preach a sermon about Elijah and how God led him into the desert and then used birds to lead him onto the next place he was supposed to go after he had done his work there. He had said “Is God leading you somewhere else in your life?” Not a bad point, really. What bothered me was the example that he used.
He said a friend of his had been working for a company and that he had a very comfortable life and made enough money to support himself and his family. He felt unsettled, though, and felt like God was leading him to leave the comfort of his job and start a new company. Even though he took a risk, very soon he had a very powerful consulting firm and was making seven figures a year. Clearly this man was being blessed because of the immense amount of money he was making.
To truly believe the main avenue for God’s blessings is money is incredibly short sighted and ignorant.
Is it wrong for Christians to have money? I don’t believe so. I don’t think it is a sin for me to have five dollars in my pocket. What matters is how you get the money and what you do with it.
I am so proud of my uncle Ron for being a great example of this. He runs a very successful tree service in Kansas City that has thrived since he began it. Over the years he has accumulated a reasonable amount of wealth through honest and fair practices. Instead of hoarding his wealth, he decided to open an orphanage in Mexico that he funds entirely, including paying a full time staff and sending supplies to them. What matters the most is how you get the money and what you do with it.
Still, the fact remains that you will not be able to enjoy God’s blessings until you can realize that God will take care of all of your needs, but not necessarily all of your wants. God is not a genie! God will give you what you need to sustain your life so you will be able to be aware of and appreciate the greater blessings like peace that surpasses all understanding, joy, love and fellowship with other believers. You won’t be able to realize that until you are able to get past your love of money.
James 5:1-6 says, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
The world says that you need to focus on money to be comfortable. God is saying to focus on Him and he will take care of the details.
The final argument the world makes is that the best way to live and have success is to be an island and not depend on anyone but yourself. Jesus says that we are made for a relationship with God and with his people. Furthermore, God will never leave us or forsake us.
Have any of you ever tried to live a life of solitude, away from other people entirely in order to attain something? Be it success, focus or an unbreakable heart, the world dictates that this is crucial to being the best you can be. You are not to rely on anyone but yourself for anything because other people will let you down. The fact is, if you truly isolate yourself from everyone else you will be incomplete and incredibly depressed.
We as people were made for relationships. I’ve spoken before about the creation narrative and how after God made man, man was lonely and needed a companion. Genesis 2, starting in verse 18 says: The lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.
So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
When looking at this passage, it’s hard to me to imagine that God didn’t know beforehand that man wasn’t going to find a suitable helper from the animals. It’s likely that this was for Adam’s benefit to see that none of them matched his criteria.
Close to a year ago now, I got a dog named Gilly. Even though Gilly is very intelligent and is the canine equivalent of Harry Houdini with her escaping abilities, I can’t have the type of personal relationship with her that I can have with another human being. I can talk all day to my dog and she will not give me any feedback whatsoever. If I am happy or sad or angry or frustrated or confused, Gilly can’t sense that or even understand it. If I’m sad about something, the only thing that’s going through her mind is “I need to pee and I want some food.”
In the book of Genesis we see that we need relationships and that we were created to have them. We can also see the hierarchy of relationships based on the order they occurred. The first relationship man had was with his Creator. After that comes his relationship with his wife and family and then comes his relationship with his job. We need to keep that order because both function and disfunction trickle down from the top. With a healthy relationship with your creator, you will be able to sustain a good relationship with your family and that will positively affect your working environment. If you are having problems with your family or your job, go to the source and examine your relationship with God.
The world is saying that you don’t need a relationship with a God that doesn’t exist. God is saying that you were created for a relationship with him and he will never leave you or forsake you.
The word forsake literally means to abandon or to give up. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 31:8: The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. How can we know this with certainty? Because we see in Mark 15:34, Jesus crying out from the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? Which is Aramaic for “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our sins upon himself and was forsaken by God so that we would never have to be.
I learned this lesson in a very personal way four years ago. I was living in Manhattan and going through a very dry period in my spiritual life. My thoughts were far from God and I was not seeking him, content that he had the same feelings for me as well. One Sunday morning, upon which I had skipped church once again, I received a call from my dad. His words pierced my heart like I didn’t think possible. He said, “Jake, I’m not sure why, but I feel like God wants me to tell you something. He wants me to say that He loves you and that your mom and I love you as well.”
I immediately broke down into tears at this revelation. Even though I had turned my back on God, he had not turned his back on me. He will never leave you or forsake you. God will always love you.
So, which side will you pick when the arguments have been made and the case is closed? I choose a God who loves me enough to die for me. Let’s pray.
Two five year old boys were lying next to each other in hospital beds. The first boy says to the second, “What are you in for?” The other boy says “I’m getting my tonsils taken out and I’m really nervous about it.” The first boy says “That’s not so bad! I had that done last year. All you do is go to sleep and when you wake up you get all the free ice cream you can eat!”
The second boy was quite pleased when he heard this. He asked the first boy “Why are you here?” The first boy said “Well, I’m supposed to get circumcised.” “Oh man, that sucks!” said the second boy. “I had that done when I was born, I couldn’t walk for a year!”
Recently I have been dealing with the concept of failure. For both of the KSU fans that will read this blog, I am not talking about the incredible failure of the Kansas basketball team on Valentine’s Day (though it was conveniently timed).
Throughout most of my life I have dealt with failure by simply avoiding it. Being one of the shortest and least athletic guys in my class until late high school (I only grew, my skills stayed pretty low) I would often weigh a potential activity based on whether I thought I could achieve it or not. When all of my friends were dunking basketballs on the incredibly towering 7’5” goal, I found something else to do with my time because I knew I would just be embarrassed. When I did play sports, I usually made a joke out of my failure to hide the fact that I couldn’t come close to being the best.
Recently I’ve had to deal with failure in ministry, a place that I always thought would be safe. I have always felt like I was made for ministry because I relate to people well and have a pretty solid knowledge of the Bible, much less a degree in Youth Ministry. To be less than good at any facet of ministry caught me off guard.
When my serious flaw was pointed out to me, I immediately felt less of myself. To know that I had let down a kid that had depended on me crushed my spirit and made me wonder if I was really doing the right thing with my life. Am I truly meant to be a youth minister or would I be better at selling cars? I had failed and I was content to just wallow in the stench of it.
At some point I realized that if I kept myself in this position, Satan would take hold of me (even more so than he had at that point) and I would talk myself out of a great position and a loving church family. I had to figure out how to handle the failure though, not only this time but also the next time and the time after that. From that I learned three things to deal with failure:
1. Accept it. You can waste a great amount of time wishing you could have done things differently when there is no way that you can. If that were the case, I would have been able to tell my preteen self to work out some more and I would have been able to trip Jacob Pullen before the KU v. KSU game so he would be injured enough not to play in that game. Since that isn’t possible either, I have to accept it.
2. Learn from it. If I do not take anything significant away from the anguish that I have experienced in this situation, I am setting myself up to fail once again. I have to adjust myself and the decisions I make from this situation so I can grow and mature to become a better youth minister and leader. Similarly, if KU doesn’t learn from their failure, they won’t be able to make it to the Final Four like we all know they will.
3. Make it right. This was the hardest and most important part of my failure. I had to face up to my failure and admit that I had done wrong to the person that I had hurt. It is not about making excuses and trying to wriggle your way out of an awkward situation to shed less of a bad light upon yourself. It is about humbly admitting that you had done something wrong and needed to reconcile the situation.
I know that there will be more times in my life when I will not do my best and I will fail. I hope that I will be able to look back at what I learned from this situation and know that I do not have to remain a failure.
So, I’m just starting out at this whole blog thing. You’ll have to bare with me as I pretend to travel back to a time when blogging was not only popular, it also didn’t seem so pretentious. I would like to get a good combination of humor, seriousness, spirituality and monkeys going with this. I can’t guarantee that I’ll post often, but when I do I expect it to be worthwhile and adored by millions. Leave me some feedback if you have any tips for blogging for me!