There are friends and then there are “friends.” Most of us have friends that love us, have stood with us through the difficult times of life, and who have weathered the trials and turbulence that all friendships encounter, but which most friendships don’t survive. The Bible describes these types of friendships in Proverbs 17:17 where we read,
17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17 NIV)
These kinds of friendships are few and far between. These types of friends are treasures, gifts from God that are priceless, and should be treated as such.
The truth of the matter is that for many people there is another kind of friend that is much more desirable. You all know the kind of friend I’m talking about. She is well connected with friends of her own in positions of power. He has deep pockets and is seen as the exception to the old adage we were taught as kids. You remember when you’d ask for something and your mom or dad would say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know!” The rich and powerful are on the secret wish list of many people who want to get somewhere in life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The desire of people to become friends with the rich and powerful has been going on as long as there have been people on the planet. Let me share just a couple of examples from the wisdom of Proverbs. In Proverbs 19 we hear that things weren’t any different in Solomon’s day as in our own. Solomon says,
4 Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them. (Proverbs 19:4 NIV)
6 Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts. (Proverbs 19:6 NIV)
“Wealth attracts many friends.” “…everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.” We don’t need the Bible to teach us that these truths are true. It’s a truth that has been lived out in every generation. Back in the 90’s MC Hammer was larger than life. Each new song he’d release sold millions of copies and brought him piles of money. He had a fleet of cars, a $30 million dollar mansion, and an entourage of 200 leeches, I mean people, who were getting part of the $500,000 he spent each month on those who huddled around him for a handout. Over and over again we hear stories of those who are rich and powerful attracting a crowd of folks who want more, more, more…and can never get enough.
I went to a man’s office one day for a meeting. There was another man there meeting with him at the time. When it was my time to talk with him he began telling me about the “opportunity” he had been presented by the guy who had just left his office. He said he has lots of folks, friends, who come to him wanting him to invest in their ideas that promise to bring him even more money. I asked him, “How do you really know which of these people are really your friends and who is simply wanting to take advantage of what you have?” He said, “That’s the great question.”
If you will remember back a few weeks ago, then you will remember that a crowd of folks had gathered to listen to Jesus. They had followed Him because they had seen Jesus heal the sick. It was a massive crowd, 5,000 men, but when you combine the women and children who were present, the crowd has been estimated to be up to 15,000 people. The people were hungry so Jesus asked, “Where can we find enough bread to feed them?” The disciples didn’t know it, but John tells us that it was a test to see how they would respond. Finally, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, found a boy with five small barley loaves and two little fish. To make a long story short, Jesus gave thanks, handed out the bread and fish to the disciples so they could hand it out to the hungry people, and when everyone was full the disciples gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus knew what they wanted next, they wanted Him to be their king, so He got out of there as soon as He could.
In the next section of Scripture, John 6:16-21, we learned about Jesus going to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, Peter slipping beneath the waves when he took His eyes off of Jesus, and Jesus calming the storm. Our Scripture for this morning picks up on the next day. If you will open your Bibles to John 6:22-29 and read along with me.
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:22-29 NIV)
The crowd, those who had been fed by Jesus, were still looking for Him. He had fed them dinner and now they were looking for breakfast. They left the place where they were and went to Capernaum, Jesus’ adopted hometown according to Matthew 4:13. When they arrived they found Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Did you notice Jesus’ answer? He didn’t answer their question. Instead, Jesus said,
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. (John 6:26 NIV)
Why are you following Jesus? Jesus knew why the people had followed Him to Capernaum. It was because He had filled their bellies. They hadn’t followed Him because He had filled their hearts. Jesus knew they wanted more from Him. Why are you following Jesus? Before we answer that question too quickly we really need to stop and think about it for a minute. It’s only natural for us, when asked “Why we follow Jesus,” to say that we follow Jesus because we love Him, because He has saved us, and because we want to honor and serve Him with all of our life. Let me ask you a question, “How do you respond to Him when He doesn’t give you what you want? How do you respond to Him when the fiery trial persists? How do you respond to Him when your child continues to struggle? How do you respond to Him when your loved one dies though you have prayed and prayed? How do you respond to Him when your accusers get away with it? How do you respond to Him when it seems like the dark clouds will never lift?” We are to love Him with an everlasting love, a passionate love, in the darkest times of life, not just when our bellies are filled, everyone on the job appreciates us, our children are thriving, and life is good.
I’m afraid that in our self-help saturated society we have taken Jesus and made Him the consummate self-help guru. Jesus is Tony Robbins, Jillian Michaels, Dave Ramsey, and Oprah Winfrey rolled into one. Jesus can help you with everything in life! Got a weight problem? No problem, Jesus can help you turn that flab into rock hard abs. Got financial problems? No problem, there’s a preacher who will teach you how to unlock the vaults of heaven. Having problems with your kids? Tension, rebellion, and chaos have replaced love, tenderness, and joy as the description of your relationship? Relax, if you will just follow these 6 simple principles all of your parent/child problems will disappear and your children will rise up and call you “blessed!” Got health problems? No problem, I’ve been told that if we’ll just pray about it and claim God’s promises that He has to deliver us a clean bill of health.
Are you willing to continue to follow Jesus, to love Him with all of your heart, and share His love with others even if you don’t get what you want? Are you willing to love Him, cherish Him, and worship Him even if life is dismal and never gets any better for you? I don’t know of anyone who could give a more powerful testimony of loving Jesus and finding joy in Him alone, regardless of the circumstances of life, than Annie Johnson Flint. You’ve probably never heard of her so let me give you just a brief glimpse into her life.
Annie Johnson Flint has written some of the most beautiful poems you will ever read. She didn’t write poems for others, she wrote them to help her deal with the struggles she encountered in life. Some of her poems have been turned into beautiful hymns, but most don’t know her story. Annie was born on Christmas Eve 1866, in New Jersey. She was just five years old when her mother and father died. She and her sister were orphaned. The Flint family adopted Annie and her sister, loved them as their own, and taught them about the love of Jesus.
Annie taught school for three years after graduating from college. She had to quit her job because her rheumatoid arthritis progressed so rapidly that she was no longer able to work. Two years later she was bed fast and would spend the rest of her life, until her death in 1932, incapable of walking. If that were not bad enough she lost control of her internal organs, was incontinent, and had to live for years in diapers. Then Annie lost her sight and contracted cancer. The author of her biography, “The Making of the Beautiful,” said that the last time he saw her she had seven pillows cushioning her body to try and lessen the agony of her bed sores. Out of such pain she wrote with a withered hand,
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction, He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed e’re the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving has only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth,
and giveth, and giveth again.
I read the words of Annie’s poem this past week over and over again. Annie loved Jesus. She didn’t love Jesus because He could get her out of bed and restore her health…she loved Jesus. He wants you and me to love Him too. Let’s take a look at John 6:27-29. Read it again with me.
27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:22-29 NIV)
We need to understand that Jesus isn’t telling the people that they should quit their jobs. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 we are told, “If a man won’t work, don’t let him eat.” What Jesus is talking about is the emphasis we put on making sure we take care of our material wants and physical needs and the neglect we show towards our relationship with God, our spiritual life. Each and every day we are standing at the crossroads of the flesh and the spirit and we must choose which way we will go. Make no mistake about it—we can pay lip service to our love for God and work to fulfill the desires of our flesh. This is a very real struggle that each of us, regardless of what income bracket we are in, face each and every day.
As I try to take stock of my own life and allow the Lord to search my heart to show me if my love is authentic and sincere, I’ve learned that there are better indicators than how many times I attend church on Sunday or if I’ve had my quiet time. I’m not saying that these are not important, but they are only part of the equation. Some additional indicators that I find helpful to consider are my time and my money. By “my time” I’m not talking about the hours I work every day. I’m talking about how do I spend the hours I have outside of the hours I work each week? Do I value “my time” so much that I spend it only on what I want to do for me and my family or am I willing to spend my time with the Lord, reading His Word, meditating on His truth, and helping and serving others? By “my money” I’m talking about how Connie and I spend the money the Lord has entrusted to us through our jobs?
If you were to take a look at our checkbook then you would see what matters most to us. I could do the same with your checkbook. If I thumbed through the past several months of your check stubs what would I find? Oh, there’s a check to buy snacks and supplies for Study Buddies, and another to provide scholarships for kids going to Kids Across America, and another to pay for uniforms for kids in Awana who can’t afford their own, and another to buy racquets for kids in the BCC Tennis Academy. Without even talking to you I already know what’s important to you—you love kids. Someone else hands me their check book. I notice that the very first check you write each month is to the church. There it is…1/1, 2/1, 3/1 all throughout the year. I know what’s important to you—you believe the first check goes to the Lord. Then another hands me their checkbook. Hmmm…I thumb through the pages and see you’ve bought a lot of new clothes. I bet those new Callaway irons are sweet. Did you take them with you when you went to Pebble Beach, Maui, and Fort Lauderdale? I didn’t know you were a member of the Neighborhood Association? Do you know Mary Fallin? I see you’ve sent quite a bit of money to the Republican National Committee. I had no idea you loved animals so much…Humane Society, PETA, and Free To Live. I can see you love steak—Red Prime, Cattleman’s, Mahogany, Mickey Mantle’s. Great choices!
Do you see what I mean? People can tell what we value by what we invest in with our money. Jesus told the people of His day, “Don’t work and labor and exhaust yourself for stuff.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus put it this way.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus urged them to invest their lives in “food” that will never spoil. It’s interesting because those who were gathered around Jesus and heard Him say these words really heard one word more than any other. Read verse 27 with me once again.
27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27 NIV)
The word they heard was, “work.” You may wonder how I know that? Well, look at the very next verse. “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (John 6:28 NIV)
“What must we do?” That question is still with us today isn’t it? What must I do to get in good with God? It’s the same question asked by the rich young ruler in Mark 10. The rich young ruler asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV) It’s the same question asked of Jesus in Luke 10, when the lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25 ESV) It’s the question that is at the forefront of many people’s minds even to this day, “What do I need to do to be right with God, to be on good terms with God, to have everlasting life?” The answer to the question is, “There is absolutely nothing you can do to earn your way to God.” Now, Jesus’ answer was, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” That answer eliminates any possibility that there is something we have to offer God which will so impress Him that He will look down upon us and say, “Now, there’s a first round draft choice! That’s a guy I need on my team. She’s so good that I feel compelled to bless her.” The reason Jesus says that the work that God desires for us is to believe in the One He has sent, to believe in Jesus, is because He is the One who has done the one thing that could be done for our redemption.
As followers of Jesus we are called to do good works, but our good works are not for the purpose of earning anything. Our good works, our love for others, including our enemies, the grace we show to those who desire to hurt us, and compassion we show to all people—all of these come about as a response to what God has done for us and an evidence of what God is doing in us. Good works will never unlock the door of heaven my friends. Paul makes that clear to us in Titus 3:4-5.
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:4-5 ESV)
Salvation is a gift earned by Jesus through His sacrificial death on the cross and offered to sinners like you and me who are, by our very nature, the enemies of God. God’s offer of salvation is present for someone here this very morning. He’s holding out His gift to you right now and it’s not because you’ve impressed Him with anything you’ve done or because of what you have. He’s holding out the gift of salvation for one and only one reason—He loves you with an incomprehensible love. I was talking to someone this past week who told me, “I resisted God for so long because I thought I wasn’t good enough for Him, that I had to get my life straightened out before I could become a Christian.” Maybe that’s what some of you are thinking this morning. I want to encourage you to come as you are…that’s just the way He desires for us to come to Him. Come as you are and let the Lord begin to work in your life. Won’t you come?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
June 8, 2014