Sunday, March 25, 2012

Getting the Big Picture

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.”  14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”  16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.
James 4:13 - 17 (NRSV)
7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  8You also must be patient.  Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.  See, the Judge is standing at the doors!   10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  11Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance.  You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.  12Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
James 5:7 - 12 (NRSV)
There are two truths I have learned about how much God is in control of everything in life:
a.           Life doesn’t come close to being random.         A cowboy applied for health insurance and the agent routinely asked if he had had any accidents during the previous year. 
The cowboy replied, No; but I was bitten by a rattlesnake, and a horse kicked me an’ broke two ribs.  The agent was amazed.  A rattlesnake bite and a horse; weren’t those accidents?  No, replied the cowboy, they did it on purpose.[1]  We never catch God by surprise either.
b.           God’s plans tend to mess with my plans.                                                     

There was the year I lost my legs

At thirteen, life was really getting good.  Sports defined my life.  I cried foul when the doctor took a look at my knees, called it a condition with a name I still can’t pronounce and put me in a chair for five months.  God had messed with my baseball!

There was the year we had our first child, Jennifer

I went from being #1 in Elizabeth’s life to, Oh, and don’t forget to pick up more Pampers when you get the groceries; and get some more of that diaper rash cream.  I needed a cream for my honey-do rash!

God’s sovereign plans mess with everybody’s plans! 

A dear friend told me about a 54 year-old friend who died.  They went to school together.  My friend’s wife had a brain tumor a decade ago; the operation was successful, but my how it changed their lives.  Superman isn’t supposed to be vulnerable.  God’s plans mess with our plans; boy, do they ever!
And so, if we listen to James – take the advice he offers, we will find two very important principles for getting the big picture on how to run life’s race:

#1 Make Your Life’s Plans With eternity in focus

And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year.  We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.”  You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.  You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.  Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”  As it is, you are full of your grandiose selves.  All such vaunting self-importance is evil.  In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.        
James 4:13-17  (TMNT)
The greatest arrogance in the universe is presuming upon God.  Stuff disappears quickly…just like our plans.  James teaches us that making our plans requires a reality check about the sovereignty of God. 
Some years ago the Florida lottery ran television ads attempting to promote ticket sales.  (Of course the chances of winning a lottery are one in several million gazillion.[2])  However, each commercial would end with an average-looking person holding up the winning ticket, saying with a smile, You never know…. 
We need to heed that saying about tomorrow for our lives – you need to include God in your plans…because you never know if you have tomorrow…or if today God will require your presence before the bar!  Friends, life is incredibly short; eternity is incredibly long. 
It may not be necessary, but I’ll say it anyway, it is wiser to prepare for eternity, than anything in the here and now. 
It is certainly not begging the issue to repeat – failing to prepare for eternity is more than dangerous – it is foolish!
James is so thorough.  He has told us to not leave God out of our plans.  Now, he turns to the other vital issue which naturally follows…how to include God on a practical level:

#2.  Carry Out Your Life’s Plans In A Manner That KEEPS Eternity in focus

Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival.  You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work.  Be patient like that.  Stay steady and strong.  The Master could arrive at any time.
Friends, don’t complain about each other. A far greater complaint could be lodged against you, you know.  The Judge is standing just around the corner. 
Take the old prophets as your mentors.  They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God.  What a gift life is to those who stay the course!  You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end.  That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.
And since you know that he cares, let your language show it.  Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words.  Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God.  Just say yes or no.  Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you.     James 5:7-12 (TMNT)

unpacking Patience – be like the Farmer

James uses the illustration of the farmer.  Prepare, plant, protect, nurture, and…….wait – then harvest!  It’s a long process, but God made it so.  When you come to the table of life, bring patience.  How, preacher?  I don’t know…you have to work that out for yourself.  But, mainly, you ask God for it, because it is not natural.  We are all impatient.
And while you’re being patient, make certain you’re working on the right kind of crop.  Remember that eternity is long, and whatever you grow is what you’ll reap.  Eddie was member of a church I once served.  Eddie practiced a different kind of “sowing” method.  I saw it firsthand one Friday when four of us played golf. 
Eddie and Jeff were in one cart; a third member and I were in another.  My partner drove his ball to the left, and the rest of us hit ours off to the right side.  After we located my partner’s lone ball on the left, we drove to where Eddie and Jeff were waiting with the other three balls. 
Crossing the fairway, we saw Eddie kicking a ball into the sand trap…then he stepped on it – hard!  He was sowing that golf ball – he mashed it into the ground!
When we arrived, Eddie had that look on his face – like when you’re about to get your pocket picked.  He said, as he pointed to the golf ball seedling, Preacher, your ball is in an awful fix.  I got up close to the ball – it wasn’t mine! 
Jeff looked – it wasn’t his; the only ball it could be belonged to our resident golf ball farmer.  Folks, believe it when the Bible says YOUR SINS WILL FIND YOU OUT.  Patience means playing fair and trusting God!

unpacking witness – Proclaim the Kingdom like a Prophet

Living your life in a manner worthy of eternity means you will stand for that which will stand in eternity.  That means sharing your faith in God with people.
It’s never been part of my “comfort zone” to go out on a limb with my faith.  Nobody likes being thought a fool or being mistaken for an offensive religious bigot.  Sharing your faith is hard work; it’s not an activity for the faint of heart.  But then, farmers and prophets are not lazy people!

unpacking perseverance – have an attitude like Job

     Job had it all – then he had it all taken away.  He went from hero to zero in an afternoon.  His wife got so discouraged she told her husband, why don’t you just curse God and die?  But Job hung in there.  He wasn’t patient like some say – he was actually ticked, and wanted an answer. 
But he did hang in there, and that’s what perseverance is all about.  You know that God is in charge, so you play by His rules, and leave the results to Him.

unpacking our language - Keep your speech clean

     James said a word about our words.  Folks, what proceeds out of the mouths of even Christians these days would have made our grandparents turn purple if they’re alive, and turn over if in their graves. 
All of your words are worship.  What James is saying is, don’t offer slop to our Lord!  He is the sovereign God of the universe – not the man upstairs.  He hears our words and attributes each of those words to us as our contribution to either praise or putrification of His name.  Be careful with your words!

unpacking the big picture:  who is god (and who is not god)

     In Daniel 4 we read the story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, one of Israel’s greatest enemies.  He was – to say the least – full of himself.  He surveyed his kingdom, and imagined (like Michael Jackson perhaps) that he had created Wonderland.  He celebrated his own greatness!  Look what my hands have made, he boasted. 
To humble this earthly king, Nebuchadnezzar, the real God of all creation, Jahweh, messed with everything the earthly king had.  Nebuchadnezzar wound up a madman, drooling on himself and grazing on grass like a wild animal.
At the end of his days, the Lord allowed the king’s mind to return to normal, and after coming to his senses Nebuchadnezzar gave God His due.        I do not believe we twenty-first century people (particularly those who call themselves Christian) have done any better than Nebuchadnezzar!  Here’s some evidence of that:
This sermon was first preached years ago on a Sunday in August, to a congregation that enjoyed a quite peaceful existence.  There was relative prosperity in the land, and a sense of God’s people enjoying the “good life”. 
Twenty-nine days later planes slammed into the twin towers in New York and Washington.  And our lives have not been the same since. 
The lone exception is the way people treat God.  For a few months churches were showing signs of revival.  But to a large extent churches are still empty – lives are just as busy with selfish pursuits and surveying our little kingdoms like so many Nebuchadnezzars enjoying our grasp on all that pleases us and makes our life “happy”. 
We fail to see the big picture…we fail to see that treating God like he is to be satisfied if we show up at church, drop a few dollars in the plate (if that), and go about our business of “what’s in it for me” with the other 167 hours a week…well that should be good enough for any God.  But…he’s not just ANY God!
Beloved…it’s like the sign I saw this week on some little church’s broken-down marquee: 
God doesn’t want your weekend visits; He wants full custody!
That’s the “Big Picture”!  It’s God’s way – it’s the good way!
Make plans for your life which honor God in light of eternity, and do your utmost to live worthy of those eternal plans.  Amen!

[1] Our Awesome God  © 1997 Ray Pritchard, 1997, Oak Park, Illinois
[2] A rather conservative and instructive (if not technically accurate) estimate!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cure for Spiritual Schizophrenia

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  9Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.  10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.  Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  12There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy.  So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?    James 4:7-12 (NRSV)
Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult to:
·         Tell the difference between real and unreal experiences
·         Think logically
·         Have normal emotional responses,
·         Behave normally in social situations[1]
Schizophrenia is a disease, and it destroys the ability to lead a normal life. 

Spiritual Schizophrenia

There is a similar malady in the Christian life:  James called it “double-minded”.  Hypocrisy, or spiritual schizophrenia somehow tells a believer it is perfectly fine to judge others, while not acknowledging, or even seeing his own faults. 
Jesus’ sense of humor put it this way; You are some piece of work – hunting specks in your brother’s eye, when you’ve got a telephone pole between your own eyelashes.  (Matthew 7.3 paraphrase).
I broke my own rule again!  For years I have been swearing-off the talk shows, call-in shows, and such.  The problem is you get so mad over the foolishness.  Then, I did it again – I tuned-in while driving; the conversation went something like this:
Caller:  Hi, This is Mike.  Why it is some people can’t keep from sinning?
Host:  Mike, what do you mean some people?
Caller:  Well, I’m a Christian.
Host:  Do you mean, Mike that you don’t sin?
Caller:  I’m not a Christian like most people you find in the world today; I do what the Bible says.
Host:  Mike, when’s the last time you did sin?
Caller:  Nine years ago.
I wanted to leap into the radio and smack Mike around a bit!
James had some strong words for the dear members of the Jerusalem church concerning their actions and attitudes.  He blistered the practice of Christ followers “speaking evil” against one another.  The words sting just as harshly today (and rightfully so). 
Perhaps the most stinging rebuke is what the radio show host finally said to Mike:  Mike, the Bible says that if we say we have no sin, the truth isn’t in is…and we lie[2].  Mike, to say you haven’t sinned makes you a hypocrite. 
(At that point I held off slapping Mike around….he’d gotten what was coming to him.)
Consider the following definition of Mike’s hypocrisy, what James calls double mindedness, or spiritual schizophrenia:
An attempt to follow two opposite and antagonistic
courses of action at the same time.
And there are many spiritual schizophrenics running around today – always have been.  You have heard it before: 
On Sunday, there is the sweet smile, spiritual-sounding talk, and lots of brother and sister talk. 
By Monday morning at rush hour the talk has changed into unrestrained expletives, and the behavior is more like Genghis Khan in an SUV, passing or running over anything in the way. 
By the time the spiritual schizophrenic gets to work he or she is in full worldly mode.  You would never know the Spirit of Christ lives in that body.  What a modulation!  What a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transformation.  What a shame on the name of Christ! 
James said this “evil-speaking” (reputation-slandering gossip) might as well be directed at God himself; to judge another person is to take God’s place!

what to do

James offered one key piece of advice that will cure spiritual schizophrenia:
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. 
                          Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.
Have you ever considered what happens when you submit yourself in humility to God – to let God have His way?
þ   Humility means you’re doing what Jesus did.  He humbled himself even unto death on the cross (Philippians 2.8).
þ   You’re letting God fight your battles.  The main battle a Christian ever faces is spiritual (against Satan). 
One author[3] suggested that Satan can never coerce man’s will; he is more like a parasite which is dependent on the host being.  When we resist Satan, as antibiotics resist a bug, he must flee.
þ   You’re in the perfect position to see eye to eye with your brother – on your knees before a holy God, with only worship to offer from an emptied heart.
You may not get up from your knees sinless (like Mike the call-in guy), but you will get up ready to live the truth.  And that’s what makes for a whole life, a real life, which is what Jesus said he came to bring for all who will trust in him.  Jesus offered a cure for spiritual schizophrenia!
This practical advice from James tells us how to realize this eternal life.  The format….draw close to God, resist the devil, humble yourself and weep over your sins…..can be expressed in one word:  “repent”!  This is where the deep transformation of our attitude toward God[4] takes place. 
In short, this part of James’ challenge to us is the recipe for genuine revival.  And there’s not a church in the land that couldn’t stand a generous dose of that.
Humility and prayer are what start revivals.
But only when God’s people desire it enough to put away the gossip and worldly living that’s so common today – and get on their knees.  If not, it will be spiritual schizophrenia as usual!

[2] I John 1.8
[3] Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary, Vol 36 James, (Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 185
[4] Ibid., 187

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How To Be God's Enemy

1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?  Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.  4Adulterers!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.        James 4:1 - 7  (NRSV)
Linus and Lucy are talking:  
Linus:  It says in my science book that the world revolves around the sun.   
Lucy:  I thought it revolved around me.  

For the Christian there are really only two choices when it comes to attitude – selfish or servant.  Let’s consider both:

The Price of a Selfish Attitude

     All choices incur consequences.  To choose a selfish attitude brings certain consequences that are set as a matter of God’s unchangeable nature.  Here are three basic prices you pay when you opt to be selfish:

1.      Distorted Personal Relationships.

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4:1 (KJV)
Wars and fightings – what a profound way to describe the human conflict caused by selfishness.  I immediately get images of the daytime shows, Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, with all the in-your-face antics.
These, according to James, are the symptoms which appear when our inner desires are out of balance.  God gave us desires for food, sex, breathing and even to possess – these are necessary to life.  But, when the desire becomes so overwhelming it takes over, it is out of balance – it is then lust.  It controls, rather than doing what it was intended – to remind of our basic needs.  It can cause life to spin out of balance.
Bedouin camel drivers in the mid-East understand how relationships can get out-of-balance this way.  Camels are notoriously moody.  Their selfish ways are legendary. 
From time to time a camel-driver senses his camel is fed-up with the owner.  Wanting to head-off an explosion, the owner will hand his own outer coat to the camel.  The camel will bite, spit-at, and trample the coat into the desert floor, until all that is left is a thread or two.  Once the camel’s anger is spent, the relationship can get back on balance.
Listen to how another translation describes the problem:
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.        James 4.1  The Message New Testament
The price of a selfish attitude includes distorted personal relationships – wars, fightings.  And,

2.      Personal Unhappiness.

2Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain:  ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. James 4.2  (KJV)
Last week James told us (3.17-18) that if we are truly seeking peace, giving in to God was the path we need to walk (Let Go; Let God).  The opposite here – selfishly wanting things so badly you’re willing to go to any length to get it – is the foundation for the opposite of peace: FRUSTRATION!
James also says we don’t ask God (or pray) because instinctively we know our hearts are selfish.  Did you hear about the two guys who were marooned on a desert island?  After a year they couldn’t stand each other.  One day Rufus found an old green bottle washed up on the shore.  He rubbed it, and, voila! – a genie appeared.  George saw what was happening, and grabbed the bottle – Gimmie a wish, genie. 
The genie refused, saying, Rufus found me, he gets to make a wish.  But, I tell you what – whatever he wishes for, money, women, power – I’ll give you twice what he gets. 
George said, Sounds good! 
Rufus just smiled and said, Okay, genie, beat me half to death!
You cannot ask a God of mercy and grace for blessings when you’ve got murder in your heart.  That is what Jesus meant when he said,
23“So if you are standing before the altar in the Temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there beside the altar.  Go and be reconciled to that person.  Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. Matthew 5:23-24 (NLT)
     The personal unhappiness, which is caused by a selfish attitude, is going to be most evident in the lack of peace you have in your relationship to others.  But it will also show up in…

3.      Alienation from God. 

3Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.  4Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?  whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.   James 4.3-4  (KJV)
There is another passage in the New Testament that is very familiar, which says the same thing.  The context is about money, but it applies, because the concept of a selfish attitude is in view:
24“No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  Matthew 6.24a
The bottom line about selfish attitudes, and the price you pay, is that sooner or later you come to the place where you don’t even pray, because you know God won’t answer.  He hasn’t given you favorable answers to the prayers you did pray, because they were self-serving; YOU were in charge. 
You weren’t praying; you were shopping!  That’s too much of a price to pay!  Besides the price for that selfish attitude, see:

The Profile of a Selfish Attitude

     What are the characteristics of selfishness?

1.      It is Powerful.

Paul describes the power sin holds in a selfish person…
17But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.  18I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned.  No matter which way I turn, I can’t make myself do right.  I want to, but I can’t.  Romans 7:17-18 (NLT)
If you say yes long enough to sin and selfishness, there comes a time when you will not be able to say yes to God.  I have some wild grapevines in my yard.  They have grown to immense sizes, wrapped around large pine trees – well, they used to be pine trees – now they’re termite food…dead! 
Those vines would have been easy to pull out by the root a few years ago.  Now they are like trees, themselves.  Selfishness allows sin a strength in you that – sooner or later – you won’t be able to defeat!  It is powerful, and…

2.      It is Personal.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from?  Do you think they just happen? Think again.  They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves   James 4.1  The Message New Testament
Notice the emphasis added on the personal pronouns.  Selfishness is a personal thing.  This is the self-contained life lived without Christ.  That’s the attitude that hears a sermon and thinks, Wow, the preacher really told ‘em that time! 
A preacher once had a member who was like that.  He always had the same comment after the sermon, You sure told ‘em today, Preacher!  This dear fellow was the most faithful member, always attending every time the church doors were open.  But, somehow he always seemed to think the sermon was for everyone else, and not for him.  The pastor prepared a sermon to speak to the issue. 
One day the pastor’s opportunity came in the form of a terrible snowstorm.  Nobody showed up except for – you guessed it – Brother Told ‘EM was the only member of the congregation.  The pastor hauled out his sermon and pulled every trigger available.  At the end of the two-man worship hour, guess what was heard going out the door?  Preacher, if they’d-a-been here you sure woulda’ told ‘em this time! 
The profile of selfishness is powerful, personal….and,

3.      It is Public.

Sooner or later, no matter how you may attempt to hide a selfish attitude, it WILL become public.  I went to serve a church where they had fired or killed the last several preachers.  Do you know the biggest problem I had in reaching people as I personally witnessed in that community?  It was the reputation of the church for being mean and cold. 
People couldn’t believe anyone representing that church had something healing to offer when the only thing that ever came out of it was gossip, hatred and murdering of reputations.
15But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.   Galatians 5:15   (NLT)
I am thankful for the genuine sweet-spirited ways of this congregation.  But you need to know the seeds are there, because we are human – the seeds are always there, and we should guard against the selfishness.  It will hurt in private, and also cripple the ministry when it is public.  The profile of a selfish attitude is powerful, personal, public, and…

4.      It is Perverted.

3And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.   4You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God?  I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God.  5What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?  James 4:3-5 New Living Translation
Do you know what the worst kind of lie is?  A self-lie; it is the kind with which we create a kind of fantasyland in which we can live without God’s control.  
There is an old story about a happy little boy who went out into the field.  He had on his baseball cap and was carrying a baseball and bat.  And on his face there was a look of tremendous confidence.
Cocking his bat, he tossed the ball into the air, saying, I’m the greatest batter in the world!  Then he swung and missed. Strike one, he said.
He picked up the ball, examined it, and then threw it into the air again.  As he swung, he repeated, I’m the greatest batter in the world.  Once again he missed.  Strike two, he said.
This time, he stopped to examine his bat to make sure there wasn’t a hole in it.  Then he picked up the ball, adjusted his cap, and tossed the ball into the air for the 3rd time.
He repeated again, I’m the greatest batter in the world, and swung with all his might - and missed for the 3rd straight time.  Wow he cried, What a pitcher. I’m the greatest pitcher in the world![1]
We may tell ourselves many things, but selfishness is a hard pill to swallow.  However, if the stakes are big enough, we may be convinced.  Have you seen the movie, The Matrix?  I can’t really recommend it because of the violence and language.  However, the point is made about how perverted the human mind is willing to go for personal comfort:
In the movie computers (called the Matrix) take over the world. The computers keep their human slaves in bondage by plugging wires into their minds and creating for them a false reality. The humans think they are free, but they are actually entombed in little pods where the computers feed off their energy.
A few humans have escaped and are battling the machines, but life is hard in the real world.  Instead of the dreamland of the Matrix, the world is full of sweat and stress and combat with the computers at every turn.
In one scene a human, named Mr. Reagan, who knows the truth and has spent nine years on the side of freedom, considers going back over to the side of the Matrix.  Even though he knows it's not the real world, it is an easier life.
Sitting at a table in a fancy restaurant, Reagan negotiates with a computerized agent about the decision.  The Matrix agent, dressed in a suit and not eating a thing, asks, Do we have a deal, Mr. Reagan?
Reagan, looking like a balding motorcycle gang member and eating a juicy steak, says, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? — he bites the steak and sighs — Ignorance is bliss.
Then we have a deal, says the agent.
I don't want to remember nothing, says Reagan, nothing! You understand? And I want to be rich. You know, someone important…like an actor.
Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan.[2]
            The biggest self-lie is the lust for comfort, power or things.  That is because lust is never filled.  Jesus told that to the woman at the well:
13Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  John 4:13 (KJV)
Howard Hughes, the first of the billionaires, was asked one time, How much money is enough?  His answer described the profile of selfishness:  Just a little more.
Choices, like living in airports, are like friendships.  You can get on the plane – or not; you simply cannot do both. 
The same can be said of Christ – you can go to Him, or you can live a worldly, comfortable, selfish life…you just cannot do both!
If you choose Christ and His way, the next part is for you…

The Priority of a Servant Attitude

I want to share with you a few principles about how to have a servant attitude…, which is about as far opposite from a selfish attitude as you can get:

1.      Conflict is normal

Genesis to Revelation is all about conflict.  From the time Cain killed his brother…to the Corinthian Christians who sued each other in the courts…to Euodia and Syntyche, sisters in the Philippian church who were constantly sniping at each other, probably over who was going to wear the purple dress on a given Sunday…right down to today…conflict is normal.  The question is, How are you going to deal with the inevitable conflicts in life?

2.      Conflict management is critical

In God’s economy there are only two ways to deal with conflict, selfishly or as servant.  Cain was the selfish example.  He didn’t like the approval his brother got from God, so Cain got rid of Abel.  He killed him – the first murder in the history, recorded on the pages of Genesis.
The servant model is found in many places.  The prototype for us, however is Jesus.   In John’s Gospel (Chp 13) we find Jesus dealing with the selfishness of the disciples.  Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, and preparing the disciples for life without his physical presence to comfort and guide them. 
What were the disciples doing?  They were dividing up the executive perks – arguing over whom was going to sit in the seats of power in the kingdom.
Jesus got up from the table, put on a towel and – to the amazement of his followers washed twelve pairs of dirty, stinky feet – even the feet of Judas!
You say, I can’t do that!  I say, You’re plumb on target!

3.      You need GRACE to live like that,                                                                      and grace only comes to the humble.

6But he giveth more grace.  Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  7Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  James 4.6-7
Humility isn’t an easy thing.  The word humble in the language of the New Testament comes from a few words linked together which mean, literally, face in the dust.
When Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency, by the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sam Rayburn took him aside.
From here on out, you're going to have lots of people around you.  They'll try to put up a wall around you and cut you off from any ideas but theirs.  They'll tell you what a great man you are, Harry.  But you and I both know you ain't.[3]
There’s a human tendency to hide our low-down ways, and exalt our more noble attributes.  Where I was raised we had a good, old fashioned term for that – braggin’. 
To receive grace is to put your face in the dust.  It is to turn everything upside down from the way the world gives its approval.  It is to recognize the truth about you and sin…and agree with God.
Thomas Linacre was king's physician to Henry VII and Henry VIII of England.  To say the least, he was among the most respected men in all of English society of that time.
Late in life Linacre decided to enter the Catholic priesthood.  In those days the common people did not read the Bible – only the priests were allowed to read.  As Linacre entered the monastery, he was given a copy of the Scriptures.  He began reading the four Gospels for himself. Linacre was amazed and troubled.  His remark:
Either these are not the Gospels, he said, or we are not Christians.[4]
So, the question before the house, then, is, am I ready to follow Christ all the way?  Am I ready to exalt my low ways (confess my sins), and hide my good points (not depend on my self-goodness)?  Am I?

[1] MELVIN M. NEWLAND, in a sermon,
[2] The Matrix (Warner Brothers, 1999), rated R, written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California,
[3] Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker)
[4] Citation: Os Guinness, The Call (Multnomah, 1998), pp. 109-110