Yesterday’s message …
- Came on the heels of both a record-setting VBS week and a chill worship set of unusual power;
- Gave shout outs to both Dave Ramsey and the American Dream;
- Pivoted on the “left the boat and left their father” double punch in Matthew 4:18-22;
- Concluded with a terrific ministry video;
- Had this bottom line: Escaping average isn’t about what you get; it’s about who you grow.
One of the things I have noticed is that I essentially live a WHAT life. It’s almost how I gauge my days. Wake up: “WHAT are we gonna have for dinner?” A bit later: “WHAT are you gonna do today? A bit later: “WHAT did you buy at the store?”
It’s so much of how I get to know people. I think it’s how all of us, both consciously and subconsciously, categorize people. WHAT kind of work do you do? WHAT kind of car to you drive? WHAT neighborhood do you live in? WHAT kind of music do you like? WHAT church do you go to? WHAT school did you go to? What what what what. Sheesh, it starts so early. A little boy was so excited about all the WHAT he was going to get his mom for gifts. That just how much he loved her. Mama, when I grow up I’m gonna get you an electric can opener, an electric toaster, an electric stove, and an electric chair!! Well, three out of four ain’t bad. WHAT.
And the thing is, most of this is completely normal, understandable, and even honorable. What you drive and what you study and what work you do all matters. Makes me think of Dave Ramsey, whom I love and who says that debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid off home mortgage has replaced the BMW as the status symbol of choice. Love that. Wish everyone lived it. I love him so much that if you ask me how I’m doing, I’m likely to say, “better than I deserve.”
And the WHAT life, the good & honorable life is very much at the center of this apparently innocuous scene in Matthew 4. If you have been with us at all during EFA, this scene bears a lot of similarities to early ones: Jesus is early in his ministry, assembling his team, and notice especially something about how this scene begins: READ 4:18a. So subtle but so brilliant, especially for Matthew’s first audience familiar with the geography he is talking about. The narrator IS WITH JESUS. Not with Peter and Andrew, as if from their perspective they look up and WHOA! THERE HE IS IN THE DISTANCE! Nope, it’s the opposite of that. We’re walking with Jesus along the sea shore (which was really like a lakeside!). But Matthew is letting you know up front: this scene is about Jesus. More than anything else, it’s told from his viewpoint, in close proximity to him, so you’ll know who is the center. Subtle. Masterful. Some people are fixin’ to escape their average, but this is, as always, more about the Caller than the called. One of those things you notice when you know it’s a library!
After that, check 4:18b-20: READ. This is Matthew’s version of what we already saw John tell about Peter and his brother Andrew. Both of them drop a who lotta WHAT – family, business, nets – and follow him. Hmmmm.
Because then the scene gets REALLY interesting. Two more brothers in 4:21a&b: READ (read through “their nets”). Now this is great. Notice: they are fishermen. Notice it’s with their Daddy. Notice they’re in a boat. In our day, we’d even say they are a family with a franchise of sorts. Fishing was and is honorable. Dad has built a noteworthy business – with a boat!! – and no doubt he intends to pass it on to these sons. I know some of you sons are working in businesses that your dad started and others of you dads would love to pass on what you’ve built to your boy(s). (Riley is in the family biz!) So there is no hint that this is some kind of drudgery that the J & J boys would be itchin’ to ditch; it is instead entrepreneurship of the finest kind.
Goodness, I really do hope a lot of you are doing this kind of thing. Our daughter in law called us awhile back and said they were in a Dave Ramsey-type class on biblical finances and it listed the importance of an inheritance. Turns out we’d given some when they needed it; not making them wait til we die (!). Anyway, she had learned what a biblical concept that is & was thanking us. I didn’t even trace it to the bible but was grateful for her gratitude. All a way of saying that all this WHAT with James, John, and Zebedee is good, good stuff.
And into all that goodness steps Jesus. What does he do in 4:21c? READ. He calls them. What did he call them? A name? I’m sure not. Instead, he offered the same summons as with Peter and Andrew: fish for men. Follow me and help me get others to follow and grow with me and towards me. But it is the next sentence that stuns. Check it out: READ 4:22. LEFT BOAT. LEFT FATHER. Not by accident. Painful repetition. BOOM BOOM. Everything that was honorable. All the WHAT of a productive life. The boat. The relationship. The stability. The security. The 401k.
And the more I thought about it, the more bothered I became. Why in the world drop all that is good? It’s not like their leaving a life or sin or a family mired in dysfunction! Why? And then – just when I had about all the Jesus I could stand – I realized. It’s the massively small shift from a WHAT life (which is good) to a WHO life which is better. Because the main word in the call is not “fishing.” It’s “men.” It’s “people.” That’s the shift, that’s the appeal, that’s why these guys could leave such stability and security for such monumental risk. Because it wasn’t WHAT. It’s now WHO. Here it is: Escaping from average isn’t about WHAT you get. It’s about WHO you grow. Yeah, it’s when you realize that God has put deep within each of you, yeah you!, the ability not just to accumulate stuff but to activate souls, that’s when life goes from average to abundant.
It makes me think of this pic (me & Joe Lyon). We happened to be at a wedding full of 12 Steppers (I presided, thank you very much). But I hadn’t really had a chance to talk to him before but I’d already done the you’re man and wife thing so we talked. About some mutual friends. Turns out he is an AA sponsor and his first two sponsees are IN OUR CHURCH, SOBER, AND IN MINISTRY. That’s this guy’s legacy! I don’t know WHAT he does for a living or WHAT kind of house he lives in or WHAT kind of music he likes but I DO know he has helped grow from wrecked to recovering. And it’s a glorious thing to see. REFRAIN.
And I can say with sort of a kick to my stomach that I used to be better about this, bolder about this than I am now. Not too long ago, I got this message from a not-so-young-man-anymore from Monroe NC about his own son making a college decision: AV Tice tweet. Woah. In 1991 I was a young preacher still naïve enough to think I could impact people. REFRAIN and see the ripple effect? When you’re dumb enough to think you can make a difference … and then you DO? REFRAIN
Because you know WHAT about a life of even really good, really honorable WHAT? Somebody is always gonna have more WHAT than you. It’s inevitable. More and better clothes, car, house, spouse, degree, trophies, all of it. You’re gonna have more of the WHAT than some, or even most, but that won’t prevent the fact that there are a lot of folks who will have more WHAT than you.
And even if you happen to win it all and win because you die with the most toys – like you’re the Jeff Bezos of accumulation – all the WHAT is going to one day burn. All of it. There is no greater equalizer than death, where the billionaire and the beggar stand equally naked before God. Where the Ivy grad and the grade school dropout are at long last on equal footing before their maker.
Now: don’t hear what I’m not saying. I want you to do well. Work hard. Pay off your house. Leave an inheritance. All that is a lot better than people who are a burden on their family, their church, and their government. A lot better. But just know that your real legacy will never be in the WHAT but always in the WHO.
I believe in all this so much because at this church we’re all about a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And what do living things do? They breathe. And breathing involves INHALING & EXHALING. Well, a lot of you have a relationship with Jesus that is half alive because all you do is INHALE. You take in. Teaching, blessing, care, friendship. But you don’t EXHALE anything into the lives of others. And that’s a shame not because you’re BAD OR LAZY OR SELFISH. It’s a shame because you’ve got ability, you’ve got gifts, you’ve got impact that you’re bottling up underneath a life of permanent inhale (HOLD BREATH til explode!)
So: who is it for you? Who will you empower to grow? Is it the kid growing up with an absent mom or a missing dad? Is it the kid from the intact family who needs one more voice in their lives? Parents, as they should be, are the primary influencers, but they need that one extra voice growing them in Jesus? (Makes me think of …. A STUDENT MINISTRY VIDEO A LA SHUG HOPPER AND GRACE HOVING) Is it a member of your LifeGroup whom you know needs encouragement? Or is it that person in your 12 Step group who you KNOW needs a sponsor? My gosh, there are opportunities surrounding us if we’d simply stop inhaling & begin exhaling.