We are starting a new series this month called Things People Say. It’s what it sounds like – we will be looking at some common statements we’ve heard from time to time that are usually said with good intentions, but are not entirely true and/or they don’t get us to where God wants us to be. An example would be the statement, “God helps those who help themselves.” We’ve all heard this one before. And while there is an element of truth to it, it is not really a Gospel idea. The Gospel says, “God helps those who can’t help themselves. God saves people who know they need a Savior.”
This morning the statement I want to look at is not a common truism like that one. It is more just a statement we have heard in conversation with people in the community from time to time. The subject of the church, this church, will come up and they will say, “Oh, we love that church.”
That’s not a bad thing to hear about your church. I much prefer to hear “we love your church” than “meh, your church is a drag.” So why do I bring this up? Because it’s often said by people who are not actually, you know, attending church. It’s a substitute for commitment. It’s a nicer way of saying, “we slept in, for the last three months”; or “if we were going to go to church, we would go to your church.” That last one represents a certain number of people, and honestly, this sermon is not for them. Because they’re probably not here. This sermon is for those of us who struggle to find any consistent commitment to Christ and His Church. It’s for those of us who have heard the Gospel and believed it on one level, but continue to live our lives as if the Gospel has made little to no impact upon us. If you’ve ever made excuses as to why your commitment is weak, this sermon is for you.
Jesus was very direct in teaching that there is a cost to following him. Here is one of those direct teachings:
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14.26-27
Let’s get the obvious out of the way right now: Jesus is not telling us to hate anybody. He is using hyperbole, exaggerating to show how huge the difference is between how much and how deeply our love for God must be in comparison to our love for every other person and thing in life, including life itself. He is rejecting the notion that following Him can be just another thing in your life along with all the other things. Seek the Kingdom first. Period. All others need not apply. That doesn’t mean we have to get everything right. It doesn’t mean we are performing our way to God. It doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes. It means that God must have first place in our hearts and in our minds.
When I was a kid doing sports and music and other activities, our church activities still took priority over those other things. For example, when I was playing junior high basketball the coach decided to have a practice on Thanksgiving day. He scheduled that, that is until he received multiple phone calls from our parents saying, “Go ahead and have your practice but our kids won’t be there.”
You might think we didn’t take our sports seriously. But we did. It’s true I was a bench player but my friends were starters. Those same friends would go on to win the high school state championship in Quad A, which was the largest category of high school at that time. The coach at my high school during that period, Pete White, was a basketball legend in Pennsylvania. Many of us who came up through his program and went to his summer camps still remember his famous speech on how you only have so many blocks of time and most of them should be spent on basketball. But here’s the thing, even as kids we didn’t believe it. Because we were taught to believe something else. We were taught to believe in Someone Else. We ran in sports. But Sports didn’t run us. It’s not a coincidence that our Sunday children’s classes and youth groups were vibrant and they didn’t have to go begging for volunteers to lead them.
Now you’re thinking, but that was so long ago.
Things have changed.
Yes, things have changed. We uncritically accept everything the culture and Joe coach or Jenny instructor tells us. As soon as we hear the words competition or travel team, we lose our brains in dreams of glory for our kids, and vicariously, for ourselves. I’m asking us to regain our brains. I’m asking us to rethink what it is we are prioritizing our family life and our kids around. My argument is not with sports, dance, music, or school activities. My argument is with allowing them to run our lives to the detriment of our faith. My argument is with putting these activities ahead of your faith. Whatever we put first is what we love.
Let’s talk about our kids and their faith. When I was kid, it seemed easier to believe in God. People and things made it easier. Today, it’s so hard for kids to believe! There is so much conspiring against them! So if you have a kid who wants to go to church and they want to learn about Jesus and grow, you must do everything you can to help that happen. If they want to go to youth group or elementary group; if they want to go on retreat or go to church camp, do everything in your power to make it happen. Because we have a window of opportunity with our kids. The scripture puts it this way:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. . .” Isaiah 55.6
Because if we don’t seek the Lord, and we don’t help our kids seek the Lord, the day will come, sooner than we think, when our kids don’t want to go to church, don’t want to have anything to do with faith, and maybe don’t believe in anything more than trophies or success. They will only believe in achievement. They will believe that because that’s what we’ve taught them to believe. And then, we wake up one day, again sooner than we think, and we will wonder why our kids don’t believe in God anymore.
I’m not saying you have to drop all your sports and dance and music from your lives. When have I ever said that? I’m not saying you have to be at the church five days a week, or every time the church doors are open. I’m not asking you to withdraw from the world. When have we ever been that church? I’m asking you, the name of Christ, to be in the world but not of the world!
You may disagree with what I am saying. You may be irritated or even angry by what I am saying. That’s not my intention. But if it is so, I’m okay with that. I would rather you be angry with me if that means you will wrestle with the Holy Spirit around your obedience to God. I would that rather than you continue to say we love that church and that pastor is such a nice guy as you or your kids quietly walk away from the Lord.
There is so much at stake here. Our souls are at stake here. I want you to believe that. And I want you to act accordingly. Count the cost. And then follow Jesus in whatever he tells you to do.