LIVING IN REVERSE, PART 8
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If Jesus is really going to live his life through us, it can’t be only on Sunday mornings. It can’t be just when you have your quiet time with God each day. It can’t be only Sunday mornings, quiet times and small group meetings. It can’t be only after work. It can’t be only on weekends or mission trips.
You see, in America especially, we tend to have our own goals and ambitions, and we try to wedge God into our life as one piece of a very full pie. We’d be quite happy to let Jesus have more of us, but we just don’t have the time. Our plates our full. Our time and energy is used up.
I want to challenge you to be honest with yourself for just a moment. What is it all for? What is your time used for? What do you spend your energy on? What is your busyness accomplishing? Jesus said:
“My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36, HCSB)
Yet, we seem to be fighting and struggling to make ourselves and our loved ones a comfortable place in this world. We can’t have both our own agenda, and the agenda of Jesus.
When I graduated from High School, the senior class had an official all night party. To make things more fun (as the organizers said) we were given fake money. We could beg for more, play games for more, or make trades. At the end of the night we could use the fake money to bid in an auction for real things, like a $100 gasoline card or even a motor scooter.
A friend of mine set his heart on the motor scooter. He spent all night working like crazy to get more fake money, so he could bid on the scooter. He hardly saw his friends. He hated card games, but he played endlessly to get more fake money.
At the end of the night he had a nice little pile of fake money. Even so, a few other people pooled their fake money, and outbid everyone else, including my friend. When it was all over, he threw his fake money in the garbage, and walked away with nothing but the memory of a wasted night.
There are several key differences between my senior class party and life as we know it. One of them is that, at the end of it all, you cannot use this world’s money, goods or accomplishments to bid on anything real that lasts for eternity. What we “gain” on earth is worth even less than the fake money at that party was worth. Remember what we learned through this series on living in reverse: “Don’t work for food that perishes!” (John 6:27)
Many of us who are grown ups, and particularly Christians, have started living for our kids. We aren’t living selfishly, we are truly not. We are sacrificing our time and energy and possessions for our children. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?
I want to be compassionate and flexible here, but also bold and honest. Sometime we say we are sacrificing for our children, but we are simply using them as an excuse for why we need to work longer hours or make more money. A lot of kids would be happier with less stuff, fewer opportunities and activities and more time with their parents. Some kids know this consciously. Others don’t know they would be happier that way, because everyone else runs around busy too, and they’ve never known anything different.
Some of what we say we are doing for the sake of our children doesn’t make that much sense in the long run. When my son was nine years old, we got him involved in a local community baseball team. They practiced for two hours every Saturday. They played two evening games a week, each one usually lasting about 90 minutes. By the time we drove back and forth everywhere, we were spending about eight hours a week for a nine year old child to play a game that was he somewhat indifferent about. If we had done that for every child in our household at the same time, we would have spent almost the same amount of time as a full time job, just keeping our children in sports.
99.8% of people will never be professional sport players. The skills we encourage our kids spend countless hours developing are for playing games. I know sports teach things like hard work and teamwork and integrity. But do you honestly think that kids can’t learn those things from you, in your family at home? I guarantee you that as a child, Abraham Lincoln did not play on a school team, nor a traveling team for any sport. I am certain that the apostle Paul didn’t either, nor Jesus himself, nor Martin Luther or Florence Nightingale or any of the people who truly shaped the world in which we live today.
Sometimes sports may be a way to college scholarships, I understand that. I can’t say too much about that, since I have no idea how my kids will pay for college. But I do know this: If Jesus, living his life through them, wants to go to college, he’ll go. He’ll make a way for them. But if I haven’t taken the time to teach them about Jesus, to let them develop an life that comes from within, from His Spirit, then even if they get a fully paid scholarship to Yale, I’ve failed.
I want to say one more thing. It isn’t uncommon for a family to spend ten, twenty or even more hours per week on activities and sports. If that is you, let me ask you, what are teaching your kids, by focusing so much on external activities? Do you spend an equal amount of time teaching them to read the bible and pray and listen to the Lord? Do you teach them how to be content and to draw life from the Lord when there is nothing going on externally?
Sometimes the reason we are so busy is because we are trying to get life out of external things. David Wilcox has a great line in the song Hurricane. He writes: “When hope is gone, she confessed, that when you lay your dream to rest, you can get what’s second best, but it’s hard to get enough.”
When we try to get life externally, we need a lot of external activity, a lot of external things going on. It’s hard to get enough, because it isn’t real life. Our busyness is often a cover up, a way to avoid dealing with the fact that we are missing the internal life. And by our busyness, we often are teaching our children to seek life externally also.
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We don’t have a lot of activities on a weekly basis at New Joy. Part of the reason for that is because there is no life in busyness. There is no life in activity for its own sake. Since we don’t have a regular Wednesday night set of programs, how about you look at Wednesday nights as a family program with Jesus? Prioritize like you would any sports or school activity. Make a commitment to be home with your kids and Jesus, and hang out every Wednesday. Read. Play games together. If you watch a movie, make it an uplifting or thought provoking one, and talk about it together afterward. Or, if Wednesday doesn’t work for you, pick another night, and keep to it as faithfully as you keep to softball practice every week.
We have spent eight weeks talking about living life in reverse. That’s not just a cute phrase. If we seek life in the spirit from the Lord, if we actually recognize that we are dead to sin, if we truly buy into our identity as new creatures in Christ, if we really allow Jesus to live his life through us, we will be doing the opposite of most of the people around us. It may even look backwards. We might not blend in.
It also involves hard choices. There are so many good opportunities. Jesus does not want to be one of the many things in your life. He doesn’t want a place at the table. He is supposed to be the table, the whole thing. He doesn’t want to be a wedge of pie in the circle of your life, not one of many pieces. He wants to be the whole pie. Think about a whole pie for a moment, with all the pieces in it (control yourself!). Picture trying to shove the pieces against each other, to make room for a slice from another pie. You end up with a bit of a mess. Everything gets kind of mashed, both the old pieces and the new one. The bigger the new piece, the worse it is. You can’t really do it. You need to remove an old piece to make room for the new one.
But Jesus doesn’t want just one section of your life. He doesn’t want to live through you only on Sunday mornings, or Thursdays afternoons. He wants to be the entire pie. Not only can we not wedge Jesus into our old pie without making a mess; we can’t even keep the old pie.
Let’s be honest. It’s a painful thing to throw away a delicious pie. But Jesus consistently called his disciples to painful choices, and he does the same thing with us. Listen to what he says here:
Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and that of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26, HCSB)
That doesn’t sound like “work me in somewhere.” That sounds more like “if you want in, your whole life belongs to me now.”
Now, I don’t think this means that we should just sit under a tree being Jesus. He wants to live his life through you. This is a beautiful thing, where the life force of God is expressed in unique and wonderful ways. Through some people, Jesus will want to express himself with lots of energy, and maybe at times activity. Through others it might be more quiet and thoughtful. But you can’t wedge him in. You can’t say, “I have time to let Jesus live his life on Sunday morning and Tuesday afternoon at three.”
There is an aspect here that really means, “do what you have to do, but let it all belong to Jesus as you do it.” He wants to work though most of us at the jobs we do, and through the relationships we already have. But at the same time, we need to be responsive when Jesus says, “I want less busyness in your life, and you will have to sacrifice to get it.” Sometimes we are doing many things that Jesus really doesn’t want to do as he lives his life through you. I don’t mean just sins – I many good things that keep you from doing one or two “best” things. Letting Jesus live through you may mean responding to him by giving some or all of that up.
We all know the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus, asking what he needed to do. Jesus told him to give up everything he had and give to the poor. I don’t think that passage is primarily about wealth – I think it is about anything in our lives that we hold on to; anything that we seek life from, anything that prevents Jesus from living his life through us.
I have one final thought. Throwing away a delicious pie can be painful. Giving up things that Jesus doesn’t want to do through your life can be equally painful. There is definitely a cost to be counted. But the new pie can taste pretty good too, and the life that Jesus wants to live through you can be more amazing and fulfilling than you can imagine.
Right out of seminary I had the opportunity to keep my pie and pursue what I thought my future should be, or to throw out my pie and let Jesus have his way with my life. He was calling us to start a church in the city in Minnesota. Minnesota is a nice place, but I never particularly wanted to be there after seminary. I definitely never wanted to live or minister in a city. And the type of church that Jesus wanted to start through me was also a challenge. I could see I would really have to be engaged in the lives of people, and open our home to others and give up some privacy. None of this was appealing to me. But by the grace of God, I let Jesus live through me. And strangely, for the duration of time that we were called to that ministry, I didn’t mind the Minnesota winters so much; I found myself living in a city neighborhood that felt more like a small town; I loved the people that the Lord brought to our church, and I rejoice to this day that I got to share my life with them at a deep and intimate level.
I thought my pie tasted pretty good. But the Lord’s, even though I wasn’t sure about how it looked, actually was much, much better. This is why the Psalmist writes:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! (Ps 34:8-9, ESV)
Living Life and Reverse, when viewed from the outside, can look – well, backwards. But what if it is everyone else who is living life wrong-way-round. I bet you’ve tried it how everyone else is doing it. Why not try doing it in reverse – God’s way?