Date: November 25, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
The Packer/Viking game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay was completely sold out! One Viking fan was sitting high up in the stadium, surrounded by rather obnoxious Packer fans. All through the first half, he kept noticing one empty seat, about ten rows up from the 50-yard line. At half-time, he was able to sneak down toward the field and found the empty seat.
He asked the older man beside it, “Is anyone sitting there?” The man replied, “No, that is my wife’s seat. We’ve had two season tickets for over thirty years, but she recently passed away.” “Oh, I am sorry, but weren’t there any family members or friends who wanted to come with you to the game today?” “No, they all decided to go to her funeral.”
Friends, that is an example of confused priorities! And though the story is obviously fictional – I don’t think there are any “obnoxious Packer fans” – I did read this true story: A woman in Philadelphia broke away from firemen to go back into her burning house to rescue her season tickets to the Phillies baseball games!
Confused priorities! Yet, we need to be careful because though we often recognize mixed-up priorities when we look out the window, we often fail to see them when we are facing the mirror. We usually find ways to rationalize and justify even our most foolish choices. And that, folks, can get us into big trouble.
Today in our journey through the book of Luke, we return to chapter 8:1-15 (page 864). We explored the first part of this text two weeks ago, but today we will focus on the importance of having our priorities in the right order. Let’s pause and pray the Lord would use His Word to help us make the best choices for our lives.
This passage is usually called the Parable of the Sower or Farmer, though the story is actually about different seeds he plants. Jesus tells the story in Luke 8:5-8 and then explains what it means in Luke 8:11-15.
The focus is on four different responses people have when they hear God’s Word and are told the great news of salvation through Jesus and his death and resurrection.
The first response Jesus mentions – we talked about this two weeks ago – is when there is really no response at all. For some people the truth basically goes in one ear and out the other. In His words:
Luke 8:12 – The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
We noted how only through the Holy Spirit working in our minds and hearts are we able to become believers in Jesus. That is why we pray for friends and family members who are not Christians. We want the Lord to open their spiritual eyes so they can see the truth and beauty of the Lord Jesus.
Last week, we also discussed the second type of seed or response. This involves people who make some form of profession of faith in Jesus – maybe are even enthusiastic about it – but are not truly believers. Jesus describes them this way:
Luke 8:13 – And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy. Having no root, these believe for a while and fall away in a time of testing.
I think having no root is the same as having no genuine faith. We talked two weeks ago about how painful it is to have friends and family members who, at one time professed to have faith, but now want nothing to do with the Lord.
OK, that is kind of a review. Now, today’s topic is the third and fourth response to the gospel. In the story, Jesus says:
Luke 8:7 – Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns grew up with it and choked it.
Luke 8:14 – As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard the Word, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit.
The implication is that after they hear God’s truth, these folks make some type of positive response, but never make it a priority in their lives. A lot of other things get in the way of following Jesus. There is just too much else to do.
If thorns and weeds are left to flourish in a garden, they can consume most of the moisture and nutrients from the soil. As a result, there is not enough for the regular plants to grow. Jesus says, the same thing can happen to human beings. Life’s worries, riches and pleasures can consume so much time and energy that we spiritually starve.
So, who exactly is Jesus talking about? Is He referring to genuine Christians, people who are truly saved? If so, then these folks, even though they don’t produce “mature fruit,” will still end up in heaven. They will miss out on any rewards.
Or like the second group with no root, are these people who profess to be Christians, but really don’t possess genuine faith in Jesus? If so, then instead of ending up in heaven without rewards, these people may be in hell.
My answer: I am not sure. Bible scholars make good arguments for both. Yes, in John 15, Jesus indicates those who don’t bear fruit are destroyed because producing fruit is a sign of spiritual life. But that is a different story and analogy.
Perhaps it’s best to put it like this: If you are someone who claims to be a Christian, but there are a lot of things more important to you than Jesus, I am concerned for your soul. Oh, I am in no position to say, “You are not really a Christian.” That is up to God, not me. But you cannot be spiritually healthy if worries, riches and pleasure are the focus of your life and following Jesus is something you only think about on Sunday mornings.
Friends, I think it is a perversion of the doctrine of assurance for someone to say, “I know my priorities are wrong. There are a lot of things more important to me than Jesus. But I am OK with that because I am still going to heaven.” Believe me, friend, God is not OK with that!
When we allow the worries, riches and pleasures of life to crowd out the Lord from our lives, we are rebelling against God. As I said, I am not the judge. God is. And I am not trying to scare anyone. I just want to make sure we recognize what a horrible tragedy it is when “thorns” are growing up and choking out your spiritual life.
Pastor Dan, do you really think that is happening with people? Yes, I am afraid so. When I think about folks I know, when I look in the mirror, I think Jesus kind of hit the nail on the head with this analogy.
I see a lot of thorns growing in our spiritual gardens. I see spiritual growth being choked and stunted because people have a lot of other priorities, and they often don’t seem to have the time and energy needed to follow the Lord Jesus.
I often see some of the same thorns that Jesus mentioned. Frequently the worries of life or, as the KJV says, “the cares of the world,” consume our lives and seem to take everything out of us.
I know some mothers feel that way. By the time they get done cooking meals, cleaning the house, paying the bills, getting the two older kids to school plus everywhere else they are supposed to be and taking care of a little one at home, they feel they don’t have time to breathe, much less time to read their Bible. And that is when everyone is healthy. When someone gets the flu, or you all have the flu, then things are completely overwhelming!
In theory, technology makes modern life more convenient and gives us much more “free time.” It certainly should. However, that additional free time doesn’t seem to be a reality for most folks. Many people truly believe the reason they seldom read the Bible or pray, the reason that their church attendance is sporadic and the reason they don’t volunteer to serve on any church committees is that they simply don’t have enough time to do those things. However, in most cases, it is really mixed-up priorities that is the problem.
For example, my friend Joe has been on a health kick the last couple of months. He has been spending an hour exercising every day, has been very careful about eating a healthy diet, and has read tons of articles about improving one’s physical health. Now, that is certainly not bad. I should be paying more attention to those things.
It is sad, however, that Joe is way more focused on his physical health than his spiritual health. He has time to exercise, but he doesn’t have time to pray. He is careful about what he eats, but not careful about what TV shows and movies he watches. He reads articles about staying healthy almost every day, but seldom takes time to read his Bible. Joe’s priorities are a bit mixed up.
Riches, or the pursuit of riches is a thorn that thrives in many gardens. People volunteer to work overtime and do all sorts of wheeling and dealing in an effort to obtain a little more money.
As Charles Spurgeon said, “The last part of a man to be baptized is usually his wallet.” By that, he meant someone can seem to be a pretty godly person until the topic of money comes up. Then, greed tends to take over.
Ray Kroc used to say that his priorities in life were “God, Family and McDonalds,” and when he got to the office he reversed the order. Well, Kroc did start perhaps the most successful franchise in history, but I am not sure about his priorities.
Yet, plenty of other folks seem to follow a similar philosophy. Some folks are pleasant, kind, even gentle when dealing with people at home or church, but then they go to the office and turn into a whole different person. They are focused on one thing – the bottom line, money – and are willing to run over anyone who gets in the way.
Again, having money or riches is not wrong. Making it your top priority in life is. As Jesus says (Matthew 6:24) you cannot serve both God and money. If your #1 goal in life is making money, then following the Lord cannot be. And serving money is a total dead end.
Psychology professor John White says, “Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet many wealthy people. Those whose goal in life was to become rich are never happy people. Those who happened to become rich while focusing on other goals, especially godly goals, often are very happy.”
The third type of thorns Jesus mentions are the pleasures of life. I am afraid many spiritual gardens are being overrun by “pleasures.” For many people, their family, church or job and yes, the Lord, sometimes take a back seat to having fun. Recreation and personal pleasure are their top priorities.
Vacations, hunting, fishing, quilting, crocheting, watching sports, playing sports, spending time on Facebook, playing video games and a host of other hobbies can start to crowd out what is really important.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Many pleasures – including the ones I just mentioned – are in themselves, not only harmless, but actually beneficial. It is good to go on vacation sometimes. Hunting and fishing can be very healthy activities. It is good to be involved in sports and have other hobbies. As long as these things are kept in their proper place. As long as they do not interfere with our relationship with and service to the Lord Jesus.
Friends, I enjoy sports – both as a spectator and participant. I still enjoy playing softball. I have been the oldest player in the Hibbing Men’s Softball League for the past two seasons.
And I really like to play pickle ball, where I am not the oldest one. And, of course, I love to watch football – especially the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers. I believe it is good to have these things in my schedule, but if my priorities start to get mixed-up, it is a problem. When I am watching a Saturday night football game when I should be working on the sermon, that is a problem.
Some of the most mixed-up priorities occur when our children are in sports. Three of my four sons were very active in basketball and baseball. Overall, it was a good thing. Yet, there were a few times when priorities would get a little confused. And most of those times it was not the boys, but me who got confused. They were usually playing to have fun; but once in a while, I was too focused on their athletic success. And I am afraid, I sometimes unintentionally communicated that doing well on the court or field was more important than being a godly person. I hope they were not paying attention.
A few years ago, a mom told me, “Pastor Dan, the biggest mistake we made was having our son play hockey instead of making sure he was involved in the church youth group.” Now, the two are not mutually exclusive, but involvement in sports – especially hockey – can interfere with our involvement at church, if we let it.
About five years before that, that same mom said to me at about this time of year, “Pastor Dan, we won’t be seeing you for a while. We will be out of town on Sundays for twelve of the next thirteen weeks with hockey.” When I reminded her of that, she said, “Yeah, I think our priorities were a little mixed-up back then.”
Friends, sports and athletics are good things. But remember – “Good things make the best idols!”
I saw a meme which said, “Football is not just a game; it is a religion.” And it had a picture of a soccer ball! Friends, I think that is a weird sport. It is not real football. Yet, even if you don’t agree with that opinion, I hope you agree with me that soccer is a really weird religion!
Yet, when any sport or any hobby becomes more than a game or form of recreation and instead becomes the center of your life, your priorities are mixed-up. And even worse, you have fallen into an idolatry where you are denying God the glory He is due and instead give it to things which are simply not worthy of that type of devotion.
Jesus concludes his parable with a fourth type of response to God’s Word:
Luke 4:8 – “Still other seed fell on good ground; when it grew up, it produced fruit: a hundred times what was sown.”
Luke 4:15 – “But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, produce fruit.”
Friends, you don’t need to be a Bible scholar to figure out this is the response we should have and want to have to God’s Word and to the great news of Jesus Christ. There are a couple of important things to remember:
#1 None of us by nature is good soil. It is only God, through His Spirit and in grace, that can cultivate our souls and make us the good ground in which the seeds of truth can grow.
#2 When the Holy Spirit works in our minds and hearts, it is our responsibility to make good choices. The most important choice is to not be the first soil, the hardened path. We must not ignore or reject God’s Word. We need to listen to what God says, ponder what it means, receive God’s truth by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
And you must not be that second type of soil, making an empty profession of faith, but not really trusting in the Lord Jesus. It is your job to make sure your faith in Jesus has a root, that it is sincere and genuine. You need to make sure your Christianity is not just something you grew up with, not just ritual or habit. You need to make sure you are not claiming to be a Christian just to make family members or friends happy. You need to make sure you are not trusting in your own righteousness, but are truly relying on the Lord Jesus to save you from both the penalty and power of sin.
If you are doing that, if you really are a believer in Jesus, a Christian, then it is your responsibility to not be like that third type of soil. You need to make sure that your life isn’t full of thorns, full of other things that are choking out your spiritual life and preventing you from really trusting and following Jesus.
If those thorns are there, you need to get rid of them, and then you need to make sure they don’t grow back. In other words, you need to get your priorities right, and then, by God’s grace, keep them that way.
So how can we make that happen?
#1 We need to start by recognizing the things in our lives that are hindering our spiritual growth and the health of our souls.
If you don’t think you have enough time to read the Bible or get to church, there is a problem in your schedule. You need to figure out where your time is being expended and then make some adjustments.
Now, some of you will find that fairly easy to do. A few hours less of TV or Facebook each week would give you plenty of time to read the Bible. For others, it will be more difficult, but you will need to evaluate priorities.
Friends, your spiritual health is too important to neglect. The question Jesus asked is always relevant: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”
#2 You probably should talk to your spouse or other people close to you about getting rid of those thorns and keeping the priorities straight. For one thing, these people can maybe help you see some things in your life which are hurting your spiritual health that you really didn’t notice. Though it isn’t always pleasant, it is good when someone who cares about you helps you realize that your priorities are a little mixed-up.
More important, however, we should have these conversations because sometimes our priorities get confused when we are trying to please another person. For example, when decisions are made about what sports the kids are going to participate in or when is it time for Dad to take a second job, it is good to have everyone in the family be on the same page.
And it is important that family members and friends remind each other that things in our lives which are keeping us from being spiritually healthy are things that we need to change. And we need to work together to make those changes.
The worries, riches and pleasures of life – these are all a normal part of life, and these are all things which can keep us from living and experiencing life as God intends. May the Lord enable us to get rid of the thorns and make sure our priorities in life are honoring to Him and beneficial for our souls.