For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Danger of the Successful Life

Many people are goal-setters. Books are written about how to set and achieve goals. Motivating stories are told about people and companies that set "big, hairy, audacious goals" (BHAG) and then succeeded wildly in meeting them. Some people seem to be born with a talents and determination that allow them to achieve whatever goal they set. Success seems to follow them
wherever they go. Their stories provide illustrations of the principles of whatever book is currently popular.

In almost every society the ability to achieve goals is rewarded monetarily. Managers who hit production targets are promoted. Athletes who surpass statistical goals are given larger contracts. Salesmen who achieve certain standards win luxury vacations. Prestige, power, respect, money follow in the wake of the successful goal-achiever.

But there is a danger in meeting your goals.

Think about that statement for a moment. Isn't meeting goals a good thing? Don't I feel good when I cross things off my to-do list? Isn't that a successful day? Isn't success the opposite of failure? What dangers could lurk there?

I want you to consider the encounter Jesus had with a successful goal-achiever. This man was achieving his goals. It appears that he did it with integrity. His life was exemplary and his talents had brought him great wealth at an early age. I am sure that mother's pointed him out to their children and said, "You can grow up to be like him."

He was wise enough to realise that short-term goals ideally lead toward a long term goal. The long term goal needs to be worthwhile. He picked a good worthwhile goal: eternal life. It was the ultimate goal. And he came to ask Jesus how to achieve it. In asking Jesus he showed a great deal of wisdom.

Jesus's response is fascinating. He tells the young man that he needs to keep the moral law. He shouldn't lie, commit adultery, murder, or break the Sabbath. Many times people will fail at this point. They realise that their lives have not been exemplary. But not this man. "All these I have kept since I was young." Jesus doesn't argue with him. Perhaps he did live a morally upright life. We all know "good" people and he might have been one of them.

Jesus looked at him and smiled. "You only lack one thing. There is only one thing between you and your big, hairy audacious goal of achieving eternal life and I am about to tell you what it is."

The Account of Jesus Talking to
to the Rich Young Man is found in
The young man almost involuntarily leaned closer to make sure he didn't miss a word.

"Go, sell all of your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then come, follow me."

What do you think when you read those words? What was Jesus doing? Was he daring him or making an incredible offer?

It is possible that Jesus looked at all of his success and saw it like a huge spiritual problem. The man's life had been built on the wrong foundation and Jesus was telling him that his life was really messed up and he needed to start over. Or it could be that Jesus saw the earnestness of the young man and offered him the chance of a lifetime. After all, it was the same opportunity he extended to the hard-working fisherman named Peter, "Come follow me and I will make you a fisher of men." What an invitation!

Whether it was a dare or an invitation, the result was the same: an open challenge to obey him. The way to eternal life was to be found in whole-hearted following of Jesus. Nothing less would suffice. The Bible says that the man "went away sad, because he had great wealth." All of the goals that he had achieved had created a prison and he didn't want to tear it down. Jesus didn't run after him. He let the man walk away.

One of the keys to understanding the Bible is putting yourself inside the story. Imagine Jesus sitting at your table. You've just finished dinner and are about to serve dessert when Jesus looks around at the things around him and then looks at you and says, "Leave it all. Come, follow me." How would you respond? I've been asked more times than I can remember if Jesus really means we need to sell everything to follow him. "It's just a heart thing, right?" they always ask.

I'm never sure how to respond. Jesus is after our hearts. He wants whole-hearted obedience, so not everyone needs to literally sell everything that they have. Yet whenever I say this, the person always visibly relaxes as if to say, "whew! that was close! I thought for a moment that I really had to sell my stuff and I don't want to do that!" I am left wondering if I answered the way Jesus would have answered. Even more troubling, I worry that my answer has left them living in their self-built prison of success rather than answering the call.

Jesus had been asked by the young man how to attain eternal life and his response was that he needed to sell everything and follow him. Jesus was looking for 100% sold-out commitment. Jesus was demanding to be the centre of his life. Jesus was upsetting everything this man had been building. He wasn't saying "give 10% to the church, show up on Sundays and squeeze some type of volunteering into your schedule." He was demanding everything be devoted to him. For the successful young man, that was a lot of stuff to walk away from.

What would cause someone to say "yes" to the invitation of Jesus?

In order to say yes to the invitation, you need to see the beauty and magnificence of Jesus. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven was like finding a pearl of great price. It was like discovering that there was treasure hidden in a field (Mt 13:44-45). Or in modern terms, it is like finding a VanGogh at a flea market. You would sell everything you had to by the pearl, the treasure, or the painting because you realised the incredible value that they held. To sell everything you have to comprehend the incredible value and beauty of Jesus.

It may seem strange, but I am convinced that the simple desire to get into heaven isn't motivation enough to say yes to Christ's invitation. In fact, if you aren't wild about Jesus, heaven isn't the right place for you. Because the main feature in heaven is Jesus. He is everywhere. His presence lights up the place. The worship of him is non-stop 24/7, 365 days a year, year-after-year forever. If you aren't wild about Jesus, heaven isn't the place for you!

There are three problems with achieving your goals and the earthly success that comes along with it. First, all of the glittering success makes it difficult to see the incomparably great beauty of Jesus. Having gorged ourselves on junk food, we have little desire for the bread of life. Second, the more we have the more difficult it becomes to give up everything to follow Christ. Third, we become proud of our ability to conquer obstacles to achieve our goals. We do not realise that we cannot conquer heaven the way we have defeated everything else in our lives. It is sobering to realise that as he watched the young man walk away Jesus said, "How difficult it will be for those who have great wealth to enter the kingdom of God!"

Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make
you fishers of men."
Immediately they left their nets
and followed him. Mk 1:16-17
Two thousand years ago, Jesus called people with the simple words, "Follow me." He called rugged fishermen and government workers. He called the rich and the poor. Whoever they were, the call was the same, "leave everything and follow me." He told people to leave their friends and family. To make himself even more clear, he said that if you wanted to follow him you needed to carry your cross.

He is calling again today.

How will you respond?

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