Monday, June 27, 2011

How To Empty Your Cup So It Can Be Filled

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only one who is good.  If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?”  And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”  But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?”  Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.                                                Matthew 19:16 - 30 (NRSV)
On the pages of Scripture we find a commonality of human experience; except for Jesus there isn't a single hero in the Bible…or our day.  I'm so glad we see all the imperfections, the “warts” of Biblical heroes such as Moses, Abraham and Peter.  Because their sins were real, each of them experienced that "what's the use" feeling from time to time. 
The “rich young ruler” was not excepted from having the blahs.  He recognized how empty he was inside and came to Jesus, looking for an answer – something - ANYTHING he could do that would fix his “empty cup”.
Aimlessness, or purposelessness, is tied very closely to man's innate need to know, and experience the presence of God.  That’s what the man was looking-for.  He didn’t understand that, because, in reality, it is the lack of that close relationship with God that causes the void in your inner-life.  It’s when you feel empty that you most understand your need to be filled.  But that empty feeling doesn’t come with a looping MP3 sound file that tells you, “Hey girl, it’s God you’re looking for.”
Now, when an unbeliever (or pagan) experiences the void, it is understandable; his need can be filled by being born again. 
But what about when a professing Christian is aimless and empty?  Does that mean he really isn't saved?  That may be so in some cases.  More likely it is simply a signal that the believer has dropped the ball in his relationship with God.  After all, God is never the one who drops the ball! 
God is our purpose and reason for living.  Without Him as our focus, we tire of life's toys and distractions and begin to feel empty.  The rich man knew that – all the toys in the world can’t satisfy a soul’s need!  The hole in the human heart is God-shaped; He is all that fits in there!
What do you do when you experience that void in your daily life? 
What if you’ve filled your life with all sorts of things, activities, accomplishments, awards…and you still feel empty?  You’ve tried, like it says in Ecclesiastes, getting bigger kicks in your life, better this, or that, or any new version of the other…and it’s all vanity – all so very empty!  You’ve filled your cup with everything the world has to offer and you’re so empty inside you wonder why you were born in the first place. 
I’ve got some Good News this morning; the One who designed humanity, and gave us this life as a gift has the answers for our empty cups. 
First, remember…
The human experience that is common to all of us is that nobody is immune to the void – that empty feeling in life.  In the account of the young ruler, it was that restless feeling – that there was something he'd left undone with his life.  It was that horrible emptiness which prompted him to go to Jesus with his question. 
It's very much like attending your wife's high school reunion . . . somehow you feel like you just don't fit.  You’ve done so much, maybe climbed to the top of the heap…grabbed the brass ring of success…but, like the rich young ruler, it wasn’t enough.  You’re still empty just like he was still empty.
Jesus talked to the man about all that God had said about behaving yourself.  But the man wasn't content with superficial "rules-keeping."  He'd done that all his life.  He was rich, obedient; he had everything you could want, but inside…there was no peace.  Keeping all the rules was just empty!
Nearly fifty years ago Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sang about this rich young ruler in the all-time #1 favorite rock song, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.  Why was it the most popular song?  Simply because it resonated with what is singularly THE most common human experience – emptiness!
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Emptiness is what the human soul feels when disconnected from that for which we are created.  We were MADE for fellowship with God, and for His good pleasure!  We can't be fulfilled outside of a close, loving fellowship with God. 
The tragedy of the drug culture, booze, materialism, "showbiz," New Age fruitcakes, and career criminals is that the frantic race for a higher high, a longer lasting popularity, and different experience is just what Mick Jagger sang about:
"I try, and I try, and I try, and I try; 
                           …and I can't get no satisfaction!"
Grammar aside, Mick Jagger expressed what the whole world should know – apart from Jesus, you can't get no satisfaction!
Those who've never been born again have never known genuine satisfaction.  Those who have been born-again should know better than to slip away from that close fellowship.  But we do; it’s a popular condition.
Secondly, it’s not only a popular condition…
The reality about emptiness is that we often choose it.  Jesus wanted the ruler to choose a relationship – to be friends with Jesus.  The only requirement was to remove whatever stood between them.  The man had already dealt with the one thing that trips-up most of us – pride!  Just coming to Jesus with his questions shows the ruler wasn't prideful.  The problem was his materialism.
Choices are a part of everyday life.  We choose to get up in the morning.  We choose the clothes to wear.  When given the choice - Jesus or wealth - the ruler was sad.  He was sad, having glimpsed the one thing that would give him peace, and choosing the opposite. 
It’s not that money is bad; the young man had allowed his wealth to get in-between God and himself.  That’s the description of an idol:   Whenever anything, material, physical, relationship or habit…anything, gets in-between you and God.  It is the one thing God will not tolerate…he’ll have no other gods blocking his relationship with you.  You can choose to have Him in your life, or that other thing….but NOT both!
We are strange people indeed, when we choose death over life.  Pagans choose to remain separated from God eternally.  Believers choose to wallow in the emptiness of unbelief, of little gods blocking out the big one, just like you’d hold up your hand to block the sun.  Substitute anything there for your hand – career, affair, family – anything that comes between God and you is an idol, and will make you as sad as that rich young ruler!  Reality is that you cannot have new life when you refuse to let go of the old.  Poor choice!  What's a good choice?  
Peter (ever the inquisitive) marvels at Jesus' statements, and asks, "What's in it for those who follow?" Jesus stated it bluntly, and with no strings attached.  For those who are willing to let go, God is willing to bless.  Your positive claim to all Jesus is willing to offer, is to cut ties with the old life and follow Him.  The reward is the promise of fulfillment. 
·        You trade in your emptiness; you reap contentment. 
·        You give up control; you gain power. 
·        You stop living for self; you begin living in the presence of God. 
·        You turn in useless chasing after the unknown; you begin knowing! 
Good choice!
For 36 years Chuck Colson has been in prisons – to minister to the prisoners.  He says every year, every month, every week, almost every day, I see or hear about God utterly transforming the lives of men and women who have been abandoned by society and placed in the world’s darkest holes.  You would think you’d get used to hearing the stories.  Not so!
Take the story of John Jennings. He grew up in North Carolina, and he’d be the first to tell you he was a little wild growing up.  He went to college, was a real math whiz, but he dropped out in favor of selling drugs.  He supplemented his earnings by preparing people’s taxes in ways that beat the law.
Then he started robbing banks.  At age 37, John landed in prison, facing 165 years for armed robbery and other crimes.  Imagine the emptiness and despair a man feels when he’s sentenced to 165 years behind bars.
In the midst of that despair, Prison Fellowship volunteers entered John’s life.  John heard about PF Bible studies they were leading at the prison.  He decided to join in.  And there he was introduced to Jesus Christ.
Then, not long before one Christmas, Bruce Williams sang a song that stopped John in his tracks.  The song went like this:  “When others see a shepherd boy, God may see a king.  Even though your life seems filled with ordinary things, in just a moment He can touch you, and everything will change.”
John asked for a copy of the song, and Bruce mailed him a cassette recording.  Soon, Bruce began meeting with John, and when John came up for parole, Bruce was there to vouch for him.  And when John was set free, Bruce took him into his home, dressed him in new clothes, and gave him a job in the family’s business.  Out of gratitude to God, John, convicted felon, bank-robber, bad guy… founded a ministry for ex-prisoners, helping meet their spiritual, physical, and financial needs.
Jesus gave John a new life. And He stood by John even as John went through an ordeal greater than prison.  After John was released from prison, his son was murdered by a man who had been a friend.  In the courtroom, John faced his son’s killer, tears streaming down his face.  John said, “God told me to tell you He loves you, man...And the only way we win today is if you give your life to the Lord.”
John struggled to get the words out:  “God loves you -- and I love you.” Leaving the courthouse, John heard God speak to him:  Now, son, I can use you.[1]
Appearances are deceiving.  There will be some surprises on judgment day!  Only God sees what is in the heart.  Jesus looked into the heart of a young man and saw materialism had enslaved his heart.  He couldn't bear to let go.  It was not the ruler who owned his money; it was the other way around.
So, how do you get your cup filled?  Empty it!  The encouragement of this text is "...with God all things are possible”. 
Whatever causes your emptiness is the very thing that is gripping your heart.  Jesus has promised He will set you free if you will let Him do it. 
Empty the cup; let Jesus fill it up with passion and a purpose for you that will overflow your life into everyone who meets you.
Beloved, let Him do it!
Father, the cups our hearts are sometimes so empty.  And yet they’re really quite full…full of stuff and activities and cravings for all the world’s applause and play toys…that stuff crowds you out! 
Help us to empty our cups of all that stuff we chase, so you can fill us up – with joy unspeakable and full of glory!  We pray in the Name of the Father, Because of the Son, Cooperating with the Spirit…Amen!

[1] Charles Colson, Holy Impact, Our Work Behind Prison Walls, on Breakpoint, June 22, 2011

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