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About this series
Pathways to Intimacy with God
Do you need to restore your first love with Jesus, but the "world's system" has you stopped dead in your tracks? Do you yearn for that place where you and Jesus are so close that nothing can separate you; you're on the same wavelength and everything is clicking. This series will help you examine your direct line of communication with God.More from this series
People have always longed to be very close to God and as we begin, I want to begin with an ancient Hebrew proverb. This is a proverb that is from the wisest man in the world. It’s very powerful. It cuts through a lot.
It says this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death.” There is a way that people think, “I’m on the right track, doing the right thing, for the right reason, and I’m doing exactly what I ought to do.” It seems right to them, only to find out that it’s the way of death and destruction.
But they’re completely convinced, intellectually and emotionally, “This is right, this is good.” There is a way that seems right to a man, right to a woman, right to a student but that way ends in death. And death is separation. Death is destruction. Death is pain.
Let me give you a real life illustration of how this plays out. A man comes to Jesus. He’s a good man, he’s a moral man, he’s a righteous man, he’s a religious man. He’s heard the teachings of Jesus, he’s seen the power, he’s watched people being raised from the dead. He sees the five thousand. He sees there’s something different about Jesus and he hears teaching and with authority like no one else and even though he’s a righteous man he comes to Jesus and he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? I want to make sure that all my ducks are in a row.”
And there’s a premise there. “What must I do?” There is a way that seems right to a man. There are certain things that you do and if you do these certain actions, keep these certain rules, keep your nose clean, and are religious in these certain ways then – equals – you will get eternal life.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death. And Jesus responds to him here in Mark 10. And Jesus questions first. He says, “Well why do you call Me good? No one is good except God.”
And Jesus already is starting with his presuppositions. And He want to pull out the pillars from underneath of him. Because behind his concept is there are certain things you can do, and behind calling Jesus “good” he’s saying good must be relative. I’m good compared to other people, you’re a really good teacher, you must be good compared to…
And Jesus said, “Mm-mm. Good is not a relative concept. Good is absolute. Good is pure. There’s only one that is good. You don’t know Me well enough to call Me good. There is only one and one standard and it is God who is good and is holy and perfect.”
And so in order to help him see how un-relative goodness and holiness and a relationship with God is, He goes to where Moses went – to teach that God gave the Ten Commandments to help us see not how to get into heaven, not how to have a relationship with God – to see how much we fall short so we cry for mercy, and realize we can never do enough good things, but it’s by the mercy of God, and the grace of God, by faith.
And so, Jesus turns to him and says, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we go to the basics? You know the commandments. “Do not murder. Don’t commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud; honor your father and your mother.”
If you study it carefully what you realize in the Ten Commandments, there were two tablets. The first tablet had four commands; the second tablet had six commands. The first tablet, four commands were all vertical. Your relationship with God. “No other gods before Me, don’t take My name in vain.”
The second tablet are all horizontal. Interestingly, Jesus quotes five of the six commands but He purposefully leaves one off. See if you can catch it in just a minute.
And so, He says, “So how are you doing in keeping the commands?” He says, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Compared to other people, he’s saying, “I’m squeaky clean! I’ve not murdered anybody, I’ve not committed adultery, I don’t lie, I don’t steal, I’ve honored my father and my mother.”
Now notice the response of Jesus. Notice the motivation. “Jesus looking at him felt a love for him.” He had compassion for him. He saw this good, moral, religious, sincere man who was doing what seemed right to him. Keep these rules, be a good person. Then somehow, someway you’ll get eternal life.
And Jesus felt compassion. What He’s going to say is not harsh, what He’s going to say is not to get down on this guy. He’s going to say this because He wants to unlock life for this man.
“And so, feeling love for him, Jesus said, ‘One thing you lack.’” Now, if you have a pen you might circle these key words. “Go and sell,” circle the word “sell,” “all your possessions and give,” circle the word, “give,” “to the poor,” and then notice the result, “and you will have treasure in heaven and come,” and then circle the last phrase, “follow Me.”
Sell what you have, give to the poor, guaranteed treasure in heaven, and come follow Me. Do you understand what He’s doing?
The man came and he didn’t really understand, and he said, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Eternal life is not something you get after you die. Eternal life is a quality of life now. It’s an abundant life, it’s intimacy with God, it’s joy and purpose and passion. It’s understanding exactly why you’re here, and how you’re made, and fitting into God’s plan.
And the product is love, and joy, and peace, and passion, and goodness, and kindness, and gentleness. It’s the Spirit of God living the life of Christ through you. That’s eternal life and the moment you die, then all barriers are removed, and you share that with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit forever, and ever, and ever.
And he says, “What must I do?” And He says, “You’ve got it wrong.” Everyone, at times, does something that seems right to them but often they’re on the wrong track, going the wrong direction, and they don’t even know it.
And Jesus saw that this man’s problem wasn’t external. It wasn’t about being religious, it wasn’t about being honest. But he was an idolater. He had an idol in his heart. And the idol was money.
You say, “Where do you get that?” I get that from the very next line. “But at these words he was saddened and he went away,” notice, “grieving.” You know what the word “grieve” means? Grieving is when you lose something.
Guess what he just lost? He lost the relationship with Jesus. Jesus said, “You can come be with Me. I’m offering you an invitation to intimacy. I’m offering you to be close to Me forever. I’m offering you purpose. I’m offering all the things you think someday, someway, somehow all those riches might give you. I’m offering it now in Me.”
“And he went away grieved.” He was sad because he realized he couldn’t have both. “For he was one who owned much property,” he rejected the invitation to life, and intimacy, and treasure, forever with Jesus to be heaven bound, to know the joy that’s inexpressible, and love, and peace beyond all comprehension.
He was operating in a way that seemed right to him but the way therein was death. And if we met this guy, we would say he’s probably one of the greatest Christians we’ve ever met. But you know what the last command is? “Thou shall not covet.” And see that’s an internal issue. That’s an issue of the heart.
And this man had all the externals right and the fact that when he heard Jesus he knew he was missing something, “What must I do?” Jesus said, “There’s a way that seems right to you but the end of it is death. Instead I invite you to intimacy with Me now and forever.”
And does this mean that we need to sell our possessions to become a Christian? Absolutely not. It meant this one man, in this one situation, had a barrier in his walk with God, and what he needed to do was take money off the throne of his heart, so Jesus could be the King of his life, and he rejected that because you can’t serve both.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death.” We’ve talked in this series about how to be intimate with God. We’ve talked about how to get hugs from an invisible God: koinonia. We talked about: how does God speak to ordinary people? And we learned that God speaks to ordinary people through His Word.
We learned about how to talk with God, and how we can actually pray and He’ll answer. And remember Luke chapter 11, that there is actually a way that ordinary, regular people like us can talk with God.
We learned how to rekindle our spiritual passion. How we don’t go through the motions and take unleavened bread, and a little grape juice or wine and pass it around and play games. We relive and remember who Jesus is and what He’s done.
All these ways… the Early Church were committed to, what? The apostles teaching, and to prayer, and to the breaking of bread, and to fellowship. Those were the cores of the Early Church.
I want to remind you that those practices, even by born again believers who love God, who want to have intimacy with God, those practices, those paths that can draw us into intimacy, those conduits of grace, occur in a hostile environment.
They occur in a world that is pulling you away from God, and pulling me away from God. And so, I want to talk about following Christ on the path of paradox.
I’m going to suggest that Jesus’ teaching will be counterintuitive. He’s going to ask you to do just the opposite of what you think. The world, and the world system, and even much of Christianity is going to say, “Do this, do this, do this,” and Jesus is going to say, “If you want intimacy with Me, no. Do just the opposite to get where you really want to go.” And He’s going to say, “There are barriers to intimacy with Me.”
And what I want to do in our time together is first look at the barriers to intimacy, and then second, I want to look at how to overcome those barriers, because this series is not about just developing activities to get in the Bible on a regular basis.
This is not a series about learning to pray more deeply and hearing God’s voice. This isn’t just that so the Lord’s Supper will be more meaningful, or that we’ll just have koinonia at a new level.
This is about you and your God, you and Jesus, building and developing a relationship from the heart, and the soul, and the mind, that is tight and connected, and dynamic, and revolutionary in your soul… so much so that it comes out in your mouth, and so much so that it comes out in your actions.
So much so that you treat people differently, you think differently. That more and more and more, little by little by little, you become the kind of person that we all long to become. You become like Jesus.
But that doesn’t happen automatically. Let’s look at the barriers to intimacy with God. I’m going to suggest that there’s three. First, there’s the world’s system. You might want to jot that down.
Notice what it says in 1 John 2:15 through 17. It says, “Do not love the world nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.” Well, what is this world your talking about? “For all that is in the world: one, the lust of the flesh; two, the lust of the eyes; and three the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but it’s from the world. The world is passing away and also its lust but,” get this, “the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Go in that phrase, in your notes, and every time you see the phrase “the world,” underline it. The world, the world, the world, the world, the world, the world. Notice how many times it’s repeated.
This isn’t just the actual, physical world. The cosmos, or the world, in the New Testament here is an idea for the shorthand phrase to describe a system. The cosmos is an organized system and strategy, a type of thinking. A world or a worldview.
One expert says, “It’s a shorthand phrase to describe a system of humanity in bondage to sin and resulting in death.” The actual, literal word for the word “world” here is “age.” And it’s used elsewhere, as in “the god of this age.” Anyone know who the god of this age is? Satan. Or “the wisdom of this age.” Or “the rulers and the principalities and the powers of this age.”
In other words, there is a world system. In other words, you are in a dynamic, spiritual conflict and there are three enemies. One is your flesh. The second is the supernatural enemy, Satan. And the third is in this world system.
And this world system has the development of three major components that want to draw you away from God. And what it promises to deliver is joy, happiness, fulfillment – all the things you want. But it offers it in the wrong way.
And here’s the number one way: The lust of the eyes. Second, the lust of the flesh. Third, the boastful pride of life. Every human being struggles with those at all times.
If you do a little study, think back to the Garden of Eden, the very first temptation. And if you study the passage carefully, you will find the temptation centered around three things: The lust of the eyes, “Ooh, it looks good for eating.” Then it was the pride of life, “This will make you wise, it’ll make you like God.” And then the sensual, “Mmm.” The taste.
If you go to Jesus, in Matthew 4, when He’s being tempted, how is He tempted? Same three things. See every human being, who wants to walk with God, will battle these three areas in your life. There is a world system that wants to tell you that there is a sensual means of fulfillment.
And whether that’s sex, or whether that’s food, or whether that’s hedonism and pleasure, there is a world that says, “If you can get enough of the sensual things that you want,” and if you want to figure out what that’s like just turn on the TV and watch a few commercials. Walk out the checkout stand.
The world system in magazines, TV, movies, billboards is telling you the same message. One, lust of the flesh. Lust of the eyes. What your eyes can see, you can have it, you can control it, it’ll make you powerful, it’ll make you significant. If you look like this, dress like this.
In fact, now the lust of the eyes has gone to our bodies. It blows my mind that people will allow people to do major surgery and their chin used to be like this and now it’s like this. And their ears used to be like this and now they’re like…
I mean, I mean making over a living room is one thing. You know? Making over a motorcycle is one thing. Making over a car is one thing. But when people have come to where there’s some idealized version of, “That is beauty,” and they makeover their entire bodies, boy, there’s something pretty sick and scary about that.
The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh is sensuality. The lust of the eyes is materialism and money. And the pride of life is significance through competency, power, and control.
And there’s not a day that I don’t struggle with that and there’s not a day that you don’t struggle with that. But there is a world system. It’s a calculated, organized system. Those are the areas that the enemy tempts you on.
These things your flesh automatically are drawn to. You’re a human being.
The second barrier is the world’s deception. In Mark chapter 4, Jesus has taught about the Word of God as truth, and He compared the Word of God to a seed that goes into the ground, and many of you know the story and there’s four different types of soil that represent the hearts of men.
And the third type of soil He describes here: “And there are others,” speaking of seeds that are the Word of God, “on whom the seed was sown among the thorns. These are the ones who have heard the Word but,” notice, “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful.”
Real life occurred. There was a new birth. There was a growing environment and two things are happening and they’re parallel. Real, genuine life change is occurring. The Spirit of God has come into a human heart and the Word of God is being received and it’s beginning to grow, it’s beginning to grow, it’s beginning to grow.
Life change is occurring. The Spirit of God is producing peace, and joy, and changes in relationships. But simultaneously there are thorns. And as this new life in Christ is growing the thorns are wrapping themselves around it and choking out the life.
And if you want to underline three phrases, He tells us exactly what chokes out the life in a believer. It’s the world’s deception. Notice the first, “the worries of the world.” Literally, the cares. Just the demands, the everyday stuff.
The second is the deceitfulness of riches. It’s not money. It’s not that money is bad. It’s the deceitfulness. It’s the promise that money says that you don’t even understand, I need money to get here, to go there, because when I drive that car then I’ll be…
I need money to have that kind of education, at that school, and my kids need to go there because then they’ll be successful, and then I’ll be significant, and because everyone will look at me as a parent who had kids who went to that really famous school. I need money so that… It’s deceitful. It sucks us in and we don’t even know it’s happening.
And then the third thorn is just the desire for other things. It doesn’t even mean bad desires. Just desires. The worries of the world choking in our day, if I put it in our language, it’s busyness. It’s just flat out busyness. It’s the new worldliness. We are so busy, busy, busy we don’t, we talk more about time with God than spending time with God. We talk more about loving friends and loving our family than loving our friends and our family.
And we have the right intentions, we don’t want to be that way, busy, busy, busy. And it chokes out God’s Word.
The deceitfulness of riches – I think we all don’t need a lecture on materialism. The issue has nothing to do with “are we materialistic?” The only issue is how much, and what’s the damage right now in the world that we live in, beginning with the guy talking.
And the last one here is the desires for other things. I see these just as distractions. Often they’re not even bad. They’re just distractions but they choke the Word out.
We had our backyard, we moved into a house and we had a guy come and, you know, we had this ivy. And I didn’t think much about, in fact, I thought it was kind of pretty to tell you the truth.
And there was this ivy that went all the way through the back and the fence and, you know, he walked around and said, “You got a real problem and you’ve got to get rid of this,” and so I thought, “Well, you know, well I’ll spray something.” And he said, “No, you can’t spray stuff. You can’t spray stuff. It’ll never go away. This stuff,” he said, “you’ve got to pull it out by the roots.”
And then he went around and showed me how this beautiful, little vine had gotten in our fence and just broken the boards. And I’m thinking, “How in the world can a plant do that?” And then he showed me some shrubs and how when the ivy went around, he said, “It’ll kill everything.”
And then I said, “Well, how much would it cost?” And then he told me and I thought, “Is it really that serious to get rid of?” You know? He said, “You know, I’m not fooling you. It is.”
And he pulled all that stuff up and then we sprayed Round Up and everything and you know what? Three months later, guess what, it’s starting to come back. These thorns never go away.
Busyness, distractions, materialism – that’s the battleground. It’s in this context that we follow these paths of drawing near, and koinonia, and getting into the Scriptures, but you’ll have to do something radical to pull out these thorns. You won’t subtly grow out of these.
And they’re deceitful. I mean, it’s not like it’s something bad. I’ve got a good buddy who had a radical conversion at the church in California, couple, three years before I got there. I mean this guy was like way, way out there and, God radically saved him and he grew, and grew, and grew, and just had an amazing testimony and ended up the head of one of the major teams in the life of the church that ended up, giving all this money and helping all these people. And he was put up as sort of the poster boy of, man alive, that is the kind of people we want to produce.
And about ten, eleven years into it, he and his kids got real involved in soccer. Anything wrong with soccer? Absolutely not. Well, a couple of his kids got pretty good so they got on the traveling team. Well, they got on the traveling team, well, when does the traveling team play? They play on the weekends. Well, you know, we’ve got tons of services and they go to this one, and maybe to that one, and maybe they’ll go to this other one.
And then pretty soon he and his wife found, “Well, this is good and we’re meeting some people and we want to share our faith.” So, they get on a coed soccer team. It was just a distraction.
Three and a half years later, one of the most radically committed leaders in our church is getting phone calls from his wife saying, “I don’t love you anymore, and I don’t want to stay married to you, and I don’t want to go to church,” and his kids are turned off and you know what? They are really good soccer players now, and he and his wife got a couple of little trophies on their coed soccer team, and first of all they missed now and then, and then their priorities shifted.
You know what? Is playing soccer wrong? Are you kidding me? But it was just a distraction. And he ended up as a guy who never dreamed that he could drift. Because when you’re drifting, when it’s getting choked out, you’re the last to know.
Walking with God happens in a system, a world system, that is subtle and deceitful. And finally, it’s seductive.
Notice the world’s seduction here in Luke 16:14 and 15. “Now the Pharisees who were lovers of money,” you want to hear this word in Greek? I don’t throw a lot of Greek words around but this is a cool one. “Philarguria.” Phila – phileo, the love of God; guria – money. Doesn’t that just sound like a word they, philarguria, love of money sounds kind of soft. Philarguria – that sounds like a disease.
What’s happened to you? “Man, I got philarguria. Mm, oh man, what, ooh. You know? Get an antidote, quick!”
But it’s the Pharisees, now by the way, who are these? They’re religious leaders, they’re the people that know the Bible the best, they fast every Tuesday and Friday, they are the experts in the Law, and Jesus’ adversaries.
Those are all external things but how are they described? As philargurias, lovers of money. And they were listening to all these things that Jesus was talking about and they were scoffing at Him and then here’s Jesus’ response to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men but God knows your heart,” get this, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
Is that a picture of seduction or what? Here Jesus is saying, to the most religious group, the people that have the greatest Bible knowledge, the people that everyone looked to, the people that have external, squeaky clean morality, but He looks into their heart and He says, “You have been seduced and you have been seduced by money. And internally, on the throne of your heart, you have justified, justified, justified, justified and excused your way around and really it’s all about you, and you are an idolater, and you don’t really worship Me at all. In fact, you’re a blind guide. You’re a whitewashed tomb, and you justify yourselves in the sight of men.”
And then He says this last line, “For that which is highly esteemed among men,” power, prestige, role, influence, intelligence – “that which is highly esteemed among men,” what you drive, how many letters behind your name, how many zeros at the end of your portfolio, where you live, what you’re zip code is in, what model of car you drive, how old your car, where you work, how many people report to you, how pretty your children are, what kind of grades your children get, what kind of schools are they going to – “for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
See, there’s a world system that is eating our lunch. And you battle with it, and I battle with it, and the issue here is not “Have we been deceived, or seduced, by the world system?” The only issue is how much.
And you know what the Scripture says? “Do not be conformed to the world but,” how? “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” what? “that your life or your lifestyle could demonstrate or prove what God’s will is.” How it’s really supposed to be. “That which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Jesus is speaking to us tonight with the same heart, and love, and compassion that He spoke to the rich, young ruler with. He’s not down on us, these verses aren’t in the Bible with a God going, “Bad boy, bad girl, clean up your act, shame, shame, shame.”
This is a God who looks at you, and looks at me, and looks beyond all the superficial stuff, and the world, and the world system and says, “I got better for you. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t get seduced. Don’t get deceived. Understand these paths of walking with Me, and talking with Me, and living in community, they’re done in a very hostile environment.”
And the environment is so hostile that in the American Church, nine out of ten Christians are completely seduced. The Gallup polls and the Barna polls show of all American Christians, ninety percent of them do not live differently, act differently, talk differently, divorce differently, marry differently, spend their money differently – they don’t do anything differently than the world.
And I want to ask you, “How could that be?” And I’m going to get on the solution side of this really quickly because I don’t know about you, I can’t take much more of this. But, you know, a good diagnosis is really important before you get to a good solution.
How could that be? I mean, I wish all that stuff wasn’t true and that Barna has the stats are wrong, and Gallup’s had many, many bad days.
But they are true. The divorce rate among Christians, bankruptcies among Christians, it goes on and on. You ask me, what tool, what powerful tool, what means could the enemy have to engraft this world system, in such a way, that we don’t even know it’s happening to us?
It’s a way that’s filled our minds, and our images, and it has deceived, and seduced, and the world system has been planted in the very core, in the back of our mind, so there is a way that seems right to us. We think we’re doing the right thing, we think we’re going down the right track, we think we’re doing it for the right reason, and the end thereof is death. And death means separation.
And it means the death of kids with mom and dads, it means the death of marriages, it means the death of life in people’s inner hearts and life. It means the death of purity that gives us access and power with God.
And now I’m going to unveil it. Are you ready? This is what he’s used. It’s what he’s used. Is it evil in itself? Absolutely not. This is what he’s used. We’ve enthroned it in the center of our rooms so that we can all sit around and make it the object of our worship. And we bow down to it.
It tells us what we don’t have, and what we need, and what we need to drive, and how we need to look. It tells us what’s in and what’s not in. And in the average American household it runs six to seven hours a day. It’s become the new babysitter.
And now we have little instruments that we can stick in it so we don’t have to play with our kids, we don’t have to talk with our kids, we don’t have to teach our kids, we don’t have to have family devotions, we don’t have to deal with big issues.
In fact, we don’t even have to sit around a table and talk to each other anymore. We can keep it on and it can numb us to death.
And I’m not talking about the violent, sexual, perverted, materialistic stuff that comes out of it. I’m talking about just even the good stuff. It has the power to numb your soul.
And the world system comes pumping through it, and we get deceived, and we get seduced. And if there’s any doubt in your mind just try, I used to say ten days and no one ever makes it. Just try turning it off. Go home and unplug it for three days.
And you’ll realize there is a, there’s some level of addiction. You need to turn it on. I mean you’ve got to know the news, right? Yeah, because the world won’t go on unless you know what’s happening. The names just change. It’s about the same every night.
Now is this a stick our head in the sand, never watch TV, never read the paper, and never watch a DVD? Is that the message? Absolutely not. But it is a message that says there is a world system: Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
There is deception going on and it’s powerful, and it comes through there, so you better have your game face on when you turn that on. And you better decide in advance what you want to watch, what you will watch, what you won’t watch. And you better train your kids, and you better have a huge input of truth renewing your mind, to counteract what you know is happening to you day in and day out.
Okay, let’s get on the solution side. How in the world do we overcome the world’s barriers to intimacy with God? Okay? How? How in the world can we live Christlike lives in a polluted world?
Let me give you three very clear ways. Number one, it begins with a new attitude. It all starts with, here, you know it’s a decision, it’s a new attitude, and the new attitude is Philippians chapter 2 verses 5 through 9. “Have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
And goes on to say, “Who although existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself taking the form of a bondservant and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Now get this, “For this reason also God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”
Now, have this attitude in yourself, verse 5 is followed by verses 3 and 4. And verses 3 and 4 are a command, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but consider others as more important than yourself.” Don’t think merely on your own stuff and your own things but think of others as more important than yourself.
And the example is, have this attitude that Christ had. See, the world system says, “Get, get, get,” put down to push you up. The world system says, “I’ve got to be number one.” Jesus, who had all glory, says to us, “Consider others. Be a giver instead of a getter.”
And He says, “Here’s the example.” He was exalted in glory, He didn’t think it was wrong to have His deity veiled, some of His attributes veiled, so people would look at Him differently.
And then He came in the form actual as a man, He lived a perfect life, He was obedient to the Father’s plan even to the point of death on a cross. Counter-intuitive, it’s a paradox. And what did Jesus receive for His obedience? By being a humble servant, and being a giver and a lover, instead of a getter and a gainer.
Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and God will highly exalt Him because there’s a different economy we’re going to learn about. And the different economy is God’s economy and it is counter, it is anti, it is against, it is the opposite of the world system.
Well, everything we learn from the world, if we do just the opposite will be right in the center of God’s will. And so, it starts with a new attitude.
The second is it requires a radical renunciation. This is, I think, some missing teaching in the Church right now. It requires a radical renunciation. And I, and you know, renunciation is like an old word and you’re bringing in one of those really old words but it’s such a powerful word and it’s packed with meaning.
Because to renounce something means I’ve been in step, and I’m doing this and I’m going this direction, and you realize, “Whoa, that is wrong. I renounce that relationship. I had no idea that that group secretly was funneling money that was causing slave trading to occur over in Sudan. I renounce my relationship with them. I am totally getting away from it.” That’s the idea.
And Jesus calls us to renounce our relationship with the world. There can’t be this, “I’m going to be a really good Christian and plus Jesus, plus the job I want, and everything working out. Jesus plus the socioeconomic standard that I have to have. Jesus plus,” no, no, no. Renunciation talks about, “God, I want Your way, Your agenda, first and foremost, and I trust You.”
Notice what Jesus said in Luke 9:23 to 25, “And He was saying to them all,” so this isn’t for superstars, this isn’t for pastors, this isn’t for missionaries. This is for all Christians.
Notice, “…if anyone, if anyone wishes to come after Me,” what’s this whole series about? Intimacy. Isn’t that what coming after Jesus is?
“If anyone wants to follow Me, if anyone wants to be intimate with me, if anyone wants to taste and experience My love and My passion and My power, if anyone wants to come after Me,” then notice, “he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Circle the word “deny,” circle the word “take up,” and circle the word “follow.” That’s what renunciation of the world requires. You have to deny yourself.
The world says, “You deserve a break today!” The world says, “You ought to have this!” The world says, “You can’t afford it? Charge it!” The world says, “You’ve got to put others down to get you up.” The world says, “You’ve got to get the best, you’ve got to be first, you should never have to wait. You’re the most important person in the family, you’re the most important person in the work, you’re the most important of everything. Life revolves around you.”
And Jesus says just the opposite: “Deny yourself.” And then He says – well, how do you deny yourself? “You take up your cross.” In one big, emotional event? Is that what it says? “You take up your cross…” how often? “Daily.” Why? What was the cross? I mean, we make it like this big, religious symbol.
Hey, the cross wasn’t even used in Christianity, as a symbol, until three hundred years after Christ died. When He is using it in this text, the cross, He could have said, “Take up your electric chair.” He could have said, “Take up your lethal injection.” The cross was an instrument to kill someone.
What He’s saying is, deny yourself and then you put yourself under the spiritual knife daily and you die to you, your “me first” mindset. And you have the attitude of Christ and you say, “Lord, what would You have me to do today?” And then follow Me.
But then notice the reasoning here. Boy, I love this. The words of Jesus are so cutting and so hard, but His motivation is so loving and so compassionate. Because what He knows is, as you follow the world, and I follow the world, and I have and you have, the end thereof is death.
And so, He gives us the reason. This isn’t like He’s this super demanding. This is for, what’s He say? “For whoever wishes to save his life,” do it your way, “me first” mindset, “will lose it. But whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”
And then He just, it’s logical, He says, “For what is profited of a man if he gains the whole world and loses, or forfeits, himself,” or literally it’s his psyche or his soul – the real you.
I mean, what’s the use if you end up with the great car, and the kids at the right schools, and all the money, and the 401k, and the right looks, and all the right surgeries, and you’re alone, and empty, and joyless, and have no peace, and you’re sitting in your big house with your big plasma TV, with no one that really loves you on Christmas Eve, with kids that are alienated, with a divorce or two in the rearview mirror, and no one gives a rip about you, but you sure look good on the outside.
And Jesus says, “The world system is a disastrous, deceptive, seductive plan to bring death and destruction to your life and I love you so much I don’t call you to some mild, little commitment. I call you to deny yourself, I call you to take up your cross on a daily basis and die to those desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and that need and that compulsion,” that you have and I have to be first, and to be the center, and to be arrogant, and to pride. In very, very sophisticated, Christian ways I might add. At least I’ve learned to do it in many of those ways.
And then He says, “Deny yourself.” I remember sitting next to a guy who did one of the dot com deals and sold His company and made ten, twelve million dollars and then decided to go into politics and that didn’t quite work out and as it happens with many dot coms the guy starts it and then they bring someone else in to run it and then he ends up with a whole lot of money and not a lot to do on his hands.
And we were at a banquet and I’d met him a couple, three different times. And he looked at me and he says, “You know I got a problem. I’ve got to discover what should I really do with my life?”
And I said, “Well, what do you mean?” He said, “Well, I did this and I got all this money and I want to be a good steward of it, but I want to really serve God, and then I want to be, but I want to be rich.”
And he says, “So what should I do? Because I’m not sure exactly what direction to go. So you know?” I said, “So, let me get this right. You want to serve God but you really want to be rich?” He said, “Right.” I said, “So, you’re asking me: what should you do?” He said, “Right.” I said, “Repent.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Repent.” He said, “I don’t get, what do you mean?” I said, “Repent.” It is the desire to be rich; it is at the root of many of evil that causes a man to pierce his very soul.
If God would give you blessing and resources enjoy them, be a good steward, you know, every good thing enjoy, give generously, and use it for His glory. But if your desire is to be rich, that desire and being God’s man are antithetical.
And so, we got a whole, whole group of Christians that want to follow Jesus and be rich, follow Jesus and live a certain way, follow Jesus and only do their thing, this way, at these times.
And you know what? It’s what we call the “Evangelical-American-Both-And-Strategy.” I want all that Jesus can give me, on my terms, and I want my heaven here, and my heaven there, and I want to do it my way. And God says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.”
And if He’s given you capacity and ability for wealth, He will bless you with wealth and you will understand it’s His, but it can never be the desire of your heart. It can’t be what drives you. If it drives you, there’s a god in your life and it’s like the rich, young ruler, and it means death.
And so there has to be a renunciation, there has to be a point in time where you say, “Jesus matters more than that stuff. And God, all these other things,” in and of themselves are they evil? No. But they can have no place. It can’t be both-and.
A new attitude, a radical renunciation, and then here you have to embrace a new economy. A new economy. And an economy is just how things work. It’s a new paradigm, it’s a new kingdom, it’s a new system. There’s a new set of values, there’s new priorities.
In the kingdom you live differently. In other words, the whole world is like fish going this way and you’re the spiritual salmon going upstream, going upstream, and then you get tired and actually when you see all the other Christians going down this way you think you’re nuts.
But here’s the kingdom economy: The kingdom economy is threefold. The way to life is death. It doesn’t make any sense. It feels suicidal, doesn’t it? But what did the apostle Paul say in Galatians 2:20? “I’ve been crucified with Christ,” what’s crucify mean? I died! “…and it’s no longer I who live.”
Well what do you mean, Paul? Did you physically die? No. It’s “But Christ lives in me.” And the life I now live, in other words, the life I live in my present, physical body I live in the flesh, how do I live? I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
He’s saying by faith I live in this body, my old man died, my new agenda and new economy, the way to life is death. I’m going to die to my desires, die to my will, die to my agenda, die to my future, die to my demands and my selfishness, and I’m going to say each and every day, “God, what is Your will? I want to follow You, I want to put others first, by faith, since You love me and died for me, by Your grace You will not withhold any good thing from me so I’m going to walk with You.”
The way? Surrender leads to purpose, passion, and power, If we said it in our day, that’s how I would say it. The way to life is death and death really is surrender. When you surrender on a daily basis to God’s agenda it leads to purpose, it leads to passion, and it leads to the kind of power, and the love, and the joy that we’re all looking for.
But the way to get there, I’ll tell you, is different.
The second way in the new economy is the way up is, you can write the word, “down.” I mean it’s human. God created us. We want to be honored, we want to be exalted, we want to be in a position where we influence people for good and for right, and God says that ambition is not wrong. He says, “It’s how you get there.”
Notice what Jesus said in Luke 9:48, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For the one who is the,” circle the word, “least among all of you is the one who is greatest.” Circle “greatest.” Least, greatest. You see the paradox?
If you really want life to the fullest, die. If you really want to be exalted, if you really want to go up, the way to go up is down. Be a servant. Servanthood leads to exaltation and honor.
Surrender leads to purpose, passion, and power. Servanthood leads to exaltation and honor.
Can you imagine what would happen in your house if we started outdoing one another in servanthood? “Who gets to do the dishes tonight? Mom, can I help out with that? Hey, honey, I’ll take care of that. I’ll go out and take care of that!” What would happen? “No, you watch this program, I got to choose last night.”
What would happen if servanthood became the byword of your family, of this church, of how you went to work? You know, I’ll tell you, you will be exalted. You will be the best friend of many people. You’ll be the friend that everyone wants to be around.
Does this mean doormat? No. But it means a servant’s mindset. If you want to be great, be the least.
And the final aspect of the new economy is the way to gain is to give. Jesus would say in Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given unto you. It will be poured into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. For by your standard of measure, or the size of cup, or the size of basket that you give to others it will be returned to you.”
Jesus says the whole world is about getting on top, being in the center, and gaining, gaining, gaining. And He says the way to get on top is be a servant, the way to gain is to give, and the way to discover life is to die.
Generosity is the gateway to genuine prosperity. True wealth. And, by the way, God does not mind giving financial wealth to Christians, and financial wealth is not evil or bad unless it has your heart. And you always know if it has your heart, is when He taps you on the shoulder and He wants to do something with it differently than you’ve planned.
And, by the way, the only antidote to greed is to be a giver. You need to systematically give and be generous with your time, and your talent, and your treasure. You need to give because me and you, and the rich, young rulers that are all sitting in this room, are so prone by all these ads, to get the next gadget and just the next big-sized house.
Have you ever noticed if you’re going to shop for a house, or shop for a car, that if you set a budget that the one you really want only costs about two thousand more? Right? I mean if you say, “We can afford a house like this,” I’m guaranteeing you, add about three percent and that’s the one you really want.
Why? It’s called the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life. You are human. What’s the antidote? The antidote is to say, “God, it’s not mine,” and you give generously. And not just of your money. You give your heart away and the way you give your heart away is you give your time, and you care about people.
I love the prayer at the end and we’re going to close the series and my application is to encourage you to consider praying this for seven days. Slowly. Contemplatively.
But one of the greatest radicals of his day, Francis of Assisi, was an extraordinarily wealthy man whose father was extraordinarily wealthy. And as Church history tells it he had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ and took things extraordinarily, extraordinarily literally.
And as the story goes, I don’t know how much is mythology and how much is true Church history. He left all that he had. I mean he left his father’s wealth; he left His clothes. And as the story is told he literally went naked and left all that he had and started with a group of people who said, “Let’s just do what the New Testament says.”
And so, he says, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. And where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy.”
Do you see how outwardly focused it is? This is a kingdom prayer. “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled,” get, “but to console; to be understood,” “Why didn’t anybody come up and talk to me and why aren’t they asking me questions? And I don’t really feel a part.” “…not to be understood but to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It’s in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it’s in dying that we’re born to eternal life.”
This is the path of paradox, it will go against your grain, and your flesh, and the world system. And you will do it and you will discover the life that is really life.
And you will have joy like you can’t imagine, you will have intimacy and answers to prayers that you thought were only for “famous people” out there somewhere because God wants this for us. And He longs for you to get to experience His love at a deeper and greater level than any of us imagine.