Menlo park presbyterian church
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church
950 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025 650-323-8600
“How to Hit the Big Time”
How are the New Year's resolutions coming? Going all right? Yeah? All right, do you want to hear…? I'll give you two from my house. First one is one of my own. So I don't know what the Chinese calendar is for 2011, but the Jim Candy calendar for 2011 might be the year of the Rogaine. I'm not sure yet, but I'm thinking it might be getting there. So Karen, my wife, has the rights to say, "Yep, it's Rogaine time, bud." So that's one.
The more audacious goal of our house comes from my eight year old. I have these two little guys, Josh and Micah. There they are. Josh is the big one. Micah is the little guy. Josh has this New Year's resolution that he is going to be the next quarterback of the Stanford Cardinal. Is that awesome or what, man? I'm like, "Andrew Luck, it's time to go pro, baby, because this guy is coming up." His other kind of dream he has talked about is, "Daddy, maybe I should just play professional baseball for the San Francisco Giants. How does that sound?" I'm like, "That sounds great! I love it!" All right?
Me just being a dad when he makes that kind of a dream about playing for the Giants, my heart just sings. I'm like, "Yes!" At the same time, it's mixed with this sadness, right? Because you and I both know the chances of him actually playing for the Giants are not very high. With 29 other baseball teams out there in Major League Baseball, he is far more likely to sign his 10-year multi-million dollar contract with one of those 29 teams. Just odds, right? So yeah, that's our story. That's our house. Those are our New Year's resolutions.
What are yours? They're interesting. I wish that when we passed the offering basket you could have put yours in because I'd love to read them because New Year's resolutions will tell you something about you, don't they? They tell you a little bit about who you want to be, what you dream of, what you want, what you define as success. You can get those by reading someone's New Year's resolutions. This morning I want to tell you two stories, give you a little surprise at the end. Two stories I think go to the core of those questions. What do you want? Who do you want to be? How do you define success?
The first story I want to share with you is a story from the Scripture, and it's from Matthew 19. It's a story about a guy who many of you have heard of. You've probably heard this story. Some of you have. The story… We just know him as the rich, young ruler. Quite a name to have, right? Rich, young ruler. I'm not sure if I'd like that title or not actually. I'd have to think about that. We know this guy was rich, we know he was young, and we know he had power. We also know he knew something was missing in his life because one day he decides he needs to find this Man he has heard about, a Man named Jesus. He goes, and he finds Him.
So listen to this story from Matthew 19, verse 16. "Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked,
'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'"
I want you to stop for a second. Not only does
this guy… He has a couple of different problems, right? We want to dive inside this Scripture. By the way, whenever you start reading the Scripture, you can't just read it flatly; you have to go there yourself. You have to be there. You have to imagine the people, what their faces look like, what they said, how it sounded, how it felt.
So I want you to imagine this guy for a second, all right? Make him 3-D. He is a person. He has really nice clothes on. He is one of the top two percent in that culture who knew where their next meal was coming from. Everybody else we think did not. He was the elite. He is dressed nice. I don't think he walks up to Jesus. I think he drives his Maserati donkey…like the nicest donkey money can buy…right up to Jesus. He has mounted speakers on the back of the donkey. He has surround sound. He has his iPhone plugged in to the donkey, and he has his Bluetooth in. People know him and are saying stuff about him as he comes in. His chin is held high.
He steps off his donkey, and he walks up to Jesus. He asks that question: "Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?" In other words, let me translate for you. "What rules do I have to follow to get into heaven?" I want you to think about that. Do you see the problem in his question? This man has a problem I think a lot of Americans have…maybe a lot of us have…that we look at God in this way, I need to do stuff to earn God's love and acceptance.
This man from his question you can tell he is on the earnings track in life. I will do this. I will do that. I will behave. Maybe at the end of my life if I've done enough good things, God is going to look at me, and it will tip the scales in my favor enough where I get into heaven.
That's his question. That's not how Jesus works. Now please tell me you know this. That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible says something totally different. Jesus says, "You know what? I came, I lived, I died for you to forgive you. That is grace. You don't have to earn it." Otherwise, as it says in Galatians, Christ died for nothing.
This guy doesn't understand that. He is coming at it a whole different angle. So it's interesting…how is Jesus going to respond to this? Now if I were Jesus, I would say to this guy, "Come on. You have it all wrong, buddy. The question is wrong from the very beginning." I'd try to explain it to him plainly. Now this is why I am not Jesus. Jesus is going to make him think. He is going to play along with the question. Watch this.
Verse 17, Jesus says, "Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you
want to enter life
[if you want to go to heaven], keep the commandments."
So in other words, "If you
think it's all about obedience, give it a shot. We'll see how far that gets you. We'll see if you can do it."
Now I actually think the story starts to get funny here because the man is not getting it.
His next question in verse 18: "'Which ones
[commandments]?' he inquired. Jesus replied, 'You shall
I'm sure this guy is thinking, All right. Check. "You shall not commit adultery…"
Check. "You shall not commit steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,
and love your neighbor as yourself." Hmmm.
Now have many of you guys taken the Myers-Briggs before? Myers-Briggs exam, test, whatever? So on the Myers-Briggs, I'm high in relationally intuitive. I'm supposed to be great at reading people and relationships. Now my wife might not totally agree with that all the time, but that's what I'm supposed to be high in. Tell me as you read the next words this rich, young man says back to Jesus what you think of this person and what is going on in his heart. Tell me if this strikes you as funny at all.
Here's what he says back to Jesus. "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?"
Does that strike anybody
else here as a little arrogant? Naïve? Maybe clueless? "Are you kidding me? You have loved your
neighbor as yourself? You've kept that? Are you sure?" That probably would have been my response to
the guy. Again, why I'm not Jesus… Jesus is going to do something masterful right here, something this
man will never forget as long as he lives. Watch this.
Verse 21. "Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect
[Mr. Perfect], go, sell your possessions and give
to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.'"
Whew! That's a tough
request. How is this man going to respond? Verse 22. "When the young man heard this, he went away
sad, because he had great wealth."
This man who a moment before had put his hands on his hips and
said, "I have followed all the rules," now his face falls, and he turns, and he walks away from Jesus
because he can't do it.
So the question is…What's going on here?
Why would Jesus say that to this man? Couldn't you read that and come to the conclusion that we all have to have empty bank accounts to go to heaven? Is that how it works? I mean, that's a little frightening to me at first, especially when I read that for the first time. It's threatening, and it was to this man. Why did Jesus say that? Well, here's what's going on I think. Jesus, like the master surgeon that He is, is cutting to the heart of this man.
Do you know what He has identified? In just a minute of talking to him, Jesus has identified what this man's rival god is. This man has been going his whole life obeying all these commandments, or at least thinking he is, and this whole time, he has been serving a different god. He has been serving the god of wealth. Actually, what he is serving is a god where he has built his identity, his self-worth, all around how other people perceive him, think of him.
I think when he walks away, it's not so much over, Hey, I'm going to have to get rid of that donkey now,
as much as it is, What will people think of me if I give up all my power and follow this unknown, random Rabbi who is in the desert?
That's a tall order. Jesus actually never says this to anybody else. He never says, "Sell all your stuff." He says it to this one man because He has found his rival god. He has found out what he really wants.
All right. I want you to take that story. Do you have it? I want you to set it on the shelf just for a moment. I'm going to tell you another story. This story has to do with me and what I wanted and how it interacts with the first story. So I grew up not dreaming of being powerful and the rich, young ruler type, nor did I grow up dreaming of playing baseball for the San Francisco Giants. I actually grew up dreaming of announcing baseball for the San Francisco Giants. I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. That was my dream. When I was eight years old, I had tapes of myself announcing imaginary baseball games, complete with commercials and everything.
By the way, if you do not know what a tape is, we will have elders after our service who can explain that to you up in the front, okay? I stuck with it. I went through high school. That's what I wanted to do. I went to college, was a broadcast journalism major. I was on that track ready to go. I graduated from college, and I was ready to get it. By God's just strange sense of humor, I ended up in youth ministry at a church in Boulder, Colorado, working with middle school kids. Not broadcasting…I was babysitting middle schoolers in a church. I was mad about it. I didn't want to do it. I went kicking and screaming the whole way. In fact, I quit halfway through my first year because I was so tired of it.
Well, I came back to it. I kept with it, but all the while plotting, How do I get out of this and get into what
I'm really supposed to do?
one night two years into my job at this church, I was sitting in my townhome, and the phone rings. I walked to my phone, picked it up. I hear a voice on the other end say to me this out of the blue: "Jim, this is so and so. I work for the Denver Nuggets (which is a pro-basketball team in Denver) and the Colorado Avalanche (pro-hockey team in Denver). I'm calling because somebody gave us your name and number. We think we want to talk to you about being our next public address announcer, our in-stadium voice of the Nuggets and Avalanche. Are you interested at all?"
Are you kidding me? I mean, I tried to play it off cool like, "Yeah, yeah. I think I have a little time on my hands.
I might be able to try out for that." I'm like, Oh! This is it! This is my dream!
The next week (a week later), I find myself in Denver at what was McNichols Arena at the time. I am in an audition with 30 other guys to become the next announcer for the Nuggets and the Avalanche. This was my dream shot! I get in there, and I audition.
By the way, these kinds of auditions are really funny because all the guys walk around with these huge announcer voices. You know, "Hey, how are you? I work for ESPN." "Oh, I work for KOA Radio. Nice to meet you." I'm like there, "Hey, I work at a church with middle school kids." I mean, the intimidation level was high. I get my chance to audition, and they cut it from 30 down to three. I make it. I'm in the final three.
I come back, and the three of us have our turn to audition. When we're done, the hiring manager stands up. He walks across the court, comes up to us. He looks at us, and he says, "Well, it's unanimous. We've decided which one of you we're going to hire. We'll call you tonight and tell you which one it is." I'm like, Oh! Killing me!
I go outside. I get in my car. I get out on I-25, the big freeway in Denver. I start driving the 30-minute drive back to Boulder. I'm driving along, and it hits me. I had heard the two other guys, and I realized, I had won!
I was better than them. I heard it. I know I was. I'd won!
I had this moment of euphoria, and I turned my radio in my car up as loud as it would go. I rolled down all the windows in my car. Air is coming through them on I-25. I took my hands off the steering wheel, put them up in the air, and I started screaming at the top of my voice, "I am going to be rich! I'm going to be famous! People are going to know me!" Now fortunately I didn't get into an accident. I kept driving. Those of you who know Colorado geography, I'm on my way back to Boulder. There's a big hill you have to go up, and then you come down into Boulder valley.
As I came up over the hill, and I looked down into Boulder, I looked in the distance. I saw my church. It hit me for the first time, Wow! If I get this, I'm going to have to spend 100 nights over the next six months in Denver. There's no way. I'll have to quit. I'm going to have to quit at this church. I can't work with the kids there anymore. Yeah, I didn't want to do that anyway. I'm tired of that.
Then I had this weird thing happen. I had these images of these kids' faces, these 12 year olds, flashing through my mind, these kids I had been trying to walk with and tell about Jesus. I pictured myself telling them I was quitting.
Then I heard this little nasty, annoying voice that whispered to me and said, "Jim, I have you right where I have you. You can't quit. Stick with the kids." I didn't like that voice. I drove back to my church, got in the parking lot, went up into my office, and another emotion hit me. You know what that emotion was? Anger. I started going, "God, are You trying to tell me I need to stay here and say no
to this dream of mine? Didn't You hear my tapes when I was 8, God? Are You telling me I have to say no
to this to stay here working with these middle schoolers? I can't!"
I like stormed around my office for half an hour angry. I kept hearing this whisper, "Jim, I have you right
where I have you." I sat down on my couch, and I prayed. I said, "God, okay. I'll do what You want me to do. What do You want? Do You really want me to say no?" I had this incredible peace come over me. Have you ever had this happen before? This peace I felt like God was saying, "It will be okay. It will be okay." I said to God, "I'll say no. If that phone rings and they offer me the job, I will say no." The phone rang. I got up off my couch, walked across the room, picked up the phone.
The voice on the other end said, "Jim, this is so and so at Denver Nuggets, Avalanche, calling to say congratulations. You're the new announcer for the Avalanche and the Nuggets. Your first game is September 23 against the Minnesota Wild." I stopped him. "Wait a second. I know you are going to think I am crazy, but I work at a church in Boulder with middle school kids. I can't quit. So I know you're offering me this job, but I have to say no. I have to stay." There was silence on the phone.
After what seemed like forever, I heard him say in a voice I will never forget as long as I live, and I hope you hear this because you have heard this voice too… He said to me almost in a whisper, "Jim, don't you understand? You have finally hit the big time! You've hit the big time, Jim. This is what you've dreamed of. Take it." Man, talk about getting nasty. That is cutting to the core of everything in my heart that wants to define what success is.
This is where Jesus has this awesome response. If somebody said that to Jesus in the Bible, He'd have some really cool thing to say. I think I stammered. I didn't know what to say. Well, we talked for a few minutes. Then he said something that surprised me. He said, "Jim, what if you did one team? What if you announced for the Nuggets and filled in for the Avalanche? That way you can keep doing your little Boy Scout thing, but you can have the big time."
I said, "Okay. That sounds good." I did it. I ended up announcing for the Nuggets and the Avalanche for about four years full-time. I found something out in those four years, something I'll bet the rich, young man struggled with as well. You dream your whole life of getting something, something you think will bring you happiness, success, respect. You find out when you get it that it's empty. You find out there's something missing. That's how I felt. I felt like there was almost darkness about it. It was unfulfilling.
I had been there four years, and I started thinking, I don't know that I want to do this anymore
. By that time, I genuinely loved middle school kids. Then Karen and I sat down one night because I had been down at the Pepsi Center like 60 nights. I was gone all the time. We had our first son, Josh. I was that
dad who was never around because I was gone all the time pursuing this thing, right? So I could tell really quickly I was going to be that person who did not know my son and had a wife who was frustrated with me. So we sat down, and we started to pray.
We said, "God, it has to be one or the other. If You want me to pursue this church thing, I will do it, God. I'll do it. If You want me to pursue this broadcasting thing, I will do that because I will meet people and know people in that arena who I will never be able to influence if I go into the church world, people who will never darken the doors of the church. God, it has to be one or the other. Would You please talk to us about which one You want?" For whatever reason, Karen and I felt like God was saying to us, "I have you where I have you. Stick with the kids, Jim."
So we decided I was going to quit. So I grabbed my phone. I walked down to the basement of our townhome, and I dialed the 10 digits to the Pepsi Center to quit, tell my boss I was done. I can still remember those 10 digits. I dialed them in, and I stopped. I stared at the talk
button. I couldn't push it. So I pushed off
instead. I walked back upstairs. The next night, I walked down to my basement, took my
phone, dialed in the 10 digits to the Pepsi Center, and I pushed off
Anybody ever have like a girl or a guy you want to ask out on a date, you know? You type in the 10 digits, and you just can't do it, so you push off.
That's kind of what's going on here, but there's something deeper at play here. I went down the third night, did the same thing. Fourth night. I did this for a week. Did it for two weeks. After 21 days of doing this every night of dialing in those 10 digits, staring at the talk
button and pushing off
, I finally went, "God, what is the matter with me? What's happened?"
Now I am not the type of person… Some of you might be. I genuinely believe God gives visions sometimes. I'm not that person. I wish He did that. I wish He audibly spoke to me like I think maybe sometimes some people get. If that's you, I'm jealous. This one time in my life, I had this moment where I had this image. I saw the face of Jesus, His compassionate, loving eyes. He was talking to someone, a man. He looked at the man and said, "You know, it's okay. You can give it up." I realized He was talking to the rich, young ruler.
This image kind of panned in my mind to the man. I got a good look at his face. Guess whose face it was? Mine. As Jesus said, "It's okay. Give it up," I saw my face fall to the ground. I turned, and I walked away. That was one of the most gracious gifts God ever gave me. You know why? I realized in that moment what had happened to me. That trap that rich, young man had stepped into where his rival god had overtaken him without him even knowing it, I had gotten swallowed up in that same trap. My whole identity, my whole sense of self-worth, had become about, What do people think about me because I do something they think is important?
You know, when you tell people you announce professional sports, you know what they do? They go, "Wow! Tell me about that." When you tell people you work at a church with middle school kids, they go, "Oh" often. You buy into that; I buy into that. We're bombarded every single day by messages that say, "This is the big time. This is what success is." I had a rival god that had grabbed me without even knowing it.
The question became…What would I do? What do I do next?
I went back to the Scripture and looked. I was kind of disappointed because all I get in the Scripture when I read the rich, young man story was he walks away. You never hear from him again. Jesus doesn't chase him down and beg him to stay. He just walks away. Who knows what happened to him? Did he come back someday? Did he stay away? You know, if I were going to speculate, my guess is he decided, This idea of following Jesus sounds interesting but far too risky. I'm going to play it safe. I'm going to keep my stuff. I'm going to keep my rival god. I'm going to go down that path further because it's foreseeable, and it's controllable.
I'll bet you 40 years later when his health started to fail, he still had the respect of the people, at least they gave it to him to his face, but I'll bet you he was haunted. I'll bet you that rich, young man was haunted by the pivotal moment of his life when he stood and looked in the eyes of the most important Person who ever walked the face of the globe, Jesus Christ. His whole life could have changed on a hinge by one word, "Yes." He said, "No."
He found out what a lot of us find out. The road that feels safe and foreseeable and controllable is often the least safe path of them all. The road that seems more dangerous and risky to open your hands wide to Jesus and say, "Okay, Man. Take me. Take me where You want to take me," ironically that's the safe route because you will go on an adventure, but you will have the God of the universe walking with you every step of the way.
Now this is all speculation. We don't know if the guy came back or not. We don't know what happened to him. I think that's kind of intentional actually. I think the author left it open for what I think is maybe the surprise I would share with you because this story is begging for an ending. Really there's another person in this story. It's not just about me. It's not just about this rich, young man. The third person in this story is you. How will you in your life end this story?
You're going to hear a lot of voices in 2011, a lot of different voices telling you what's important, who you are. You will be tempted to hang your identity and your self-worth on your position, your job, your title, your money, your home, your cars, how well your kids are behaved. That's a big rival god. All those things will scream out to you, and they will try to twist their way around your soul to the point where if you're like me, at some points, you wake up and wonder, Am I really worshiping God, or am I worshiping myself based on what other people think of me?
That's one to ponder for the New Year.
So maybe instead of a resolution this year, maybe you need to look at your life, and I need to look at my life and say, What is my rival god?
Is it money? Maybe God is calling you this next year to give like you've never given before. Maybe that's your step. Is it time? Your busyness…is that your rival god? Maybe God is saying, "Serve!" Is it a relationship you're in? Maybe God is calling you to be open to forgiveness or changing that relationship somehow or even walking away. Is it a career change? Maybe as scary as it is and a mortgage so high, you need to say, "God, I'm open. I'll explore." Is it an addiction? Maybe your next step is just, "God, I'll look for help."
Maybe it's doubt. Maybe your next step is just come next week and start in with The Reason for God
. Be open to what God might say over these next few weeks. I don't know what your rival god is, but I do know we have a Jesus who will walk beside you who has a job description for you regardless of what your life job description is at your job. Your real job description is, "Love Me and love other people and change the world for Me." I don't care if you work on Sand Hill or Page Mill or somewhere in a landfill. That's your job description. Love God; love other people. That's how we identify ourselves. We'll have a God who loves us walking with us every step of the way.
You know what? I'll end with this. I think it's funny as you look at that story of the rich, young man. The
first time I read it, I thought, Where's the love? This is harsh! "Sell your stuff," and he walks away. You
don't chase him down? Where's the loving God here?
Well, I want you to grab… In Mark's gospel, he
tells the same story. He adds an important line. When the rich, young man walks up to Jesus, Mark adds
this: "Jesus looked at him and loved him."
How do you see love in Jesus' words? Well, think about it this way. A couple of years ago I was thinking about this passage for the millionth time. It finally hit me. What Jesus said to that man was an offer he would never get ever again in his life. Everybody else admired him because of his clothes, his donkey, his power, his influence. You know what Jesus said to him? "I don't about that stuff. In fact, give it away. Give it away. You know what I like? I like you
. So even if you don't have all that stuff, I still want you. Come follow Me."
That's a kind of love he probably never heard again. If he never came back, that's what haunted him later on. That is the kind of love you have too. You're never going to get a better offer from anyone else. Jesus says that to you: "I don't care about your stuff. I love you." My friends, when we grasp that just a little bit, we have finally hit the big time. Let's pray.
God, we pray that You would speak to us, that we would grow in who we are this year that as those rival gods fly at us day after day whether that's from other people or from the media or even from family, would You make us open to listening to You and hearing Your voice that says, "Come follow Me"? We pray that in Jesus' name, amen.
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