In case anyone is interested, here is some notes from my most recent sermon, which happens to be my “last sermon” (a.k.a., what I would preach if I were going to die tomorrow). Quite honestly, the sermon doesn’t excite me that much…none of my sermons seem that great. But we persevere and pray for victory nonetheless, right?
God Is No Hobby
Is it easy to follow Jesus?
When I was still in high school, my cousin asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to become a pastor. She replied, “It’s nice that you believe in God, but you have to be realistic, you know.”
One of my former coworkers shared a short story about his parents, who were Catholic. At first, they were not very enthusiastic about attending church, but once they started going to a Lutheran church instead, they “really got involved”, he said. As evidence, he cited that they started going to the pancake breakfasts and church potlucks.
A few years ago, I was counseling someone in our youth group at HOC3 and she mentioned something about her parents becoming concerned about her involvement at church. She said, “I come to church because I’m a Christian and I believe in God and stuff, but it’s not like I’m really going to live it out for reals, you know?”
The way we talk about God is often no different than the way we talk about sports, or hiking, or reading, or playing piano. It’s nice to do all those things, but it is nonsense to live for those things. Reading is a hobby; playing piano is a hobby; playing basketball is a hobby; and God is a hobby. And the reason why we talk about God as if he is a hobby in our life is because that is precisely what he is to us: just a hobby.
But have you ever wondered what your life would be if God was no longer just a hobby in your life, but the center of your existence and being?
In light of all this, let us consider how the apostle Paul responded when he was asked to treat God as a hobby.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
What would you have done if you were in Paul’s shoes? A prophet of God tells you straight up that if you go into Jerusalem, the Jews are going to beat you up and send you to the authorities to be killed. He not only tells you, but he acts it out in living color!
I think all of us would like to believe that we would have taken the same path that the apostle Paul did. We want to live for Jesus. We want to follow him all the way. We want to fulfill God’s destiny for us. But we also realize that most of us would probably have chickened out and decided to just stay in Caesarea.
Why is it that we are unable or unwilling to live our lives fully for Jesus? Why is it that we can become so excited when others decide to give up their lives for Jesus but when the same challenge comes to us, we would rather sit silently or find some other “safe” way of being a Christian? Why is it that we would rather treat God as no more than a hobby, a footnote, a side-thing in our lives?
Why do we treat God as just a hobby?
We are sinful and our hearts are bent on living our lives for ourselves, not for Jesus.
– Jesus’ closest friends, in the Garden of Gethsemane, could not stay awake to support Jesus has he prayed tears of blood. Jesus, both angry and sad, said of them, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” – Matthew 26:41.
– Robert Robinson, after years of ministry, fell into immorality. Once, when on a stagecoach, was asked by a woman, the meaning of a poem. After resisting to answer multiple times, he finally cried, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them to enjoy the feelings I had then.” His song was prophetic: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
– After bringing my cousin to church multiple times, I asked my cousin if he would like to become a Christian. He refused because he said it would mean giving up his pleasures, all the things that he enjoys.
– Conclusion: it is too hard because our sinful nature is constantly fighting us.
We live in a world among family and friends that say we’re fanatics if we live a life that is too radical.
– What would your coworkers say about you if they found out that you protest at abortion clinics on weekends? They would ask you, don’t you think that’s a bit extreme? And then they would call you a fanatic behind your back. So you decide not to do it.
– What would your family say if you decided to stay around here to go to Ohlone or Chabot college instead of going to Berkeley simply because you believed that God has called you to a specific ministry around here? They would tell you that just because you believe in God, it doesn’t mean that you should give up on your educational goals. And then they would call you a fanatic behind your back. So you decide not to do it.
– What would your coworkers think if they found out that even though you make $100k, ever since you made $75k, you decided that any additional money you made would be donated to missions instead of upgrading your car, house, image, etc.? They would ask you, doesn’t God want you to enjoy life too? And then they would call you a fanatic behind your back. So you decide not to do it.
– What would your friends say if they found out that even though you and your girlfriend has been dating for over 2 years, you haven’t had sex yet even though you’ve really wanted to? They would tell you that it’s unnatural to deny your desires. And then they would call you a prude behind your back. So you decide not to do it.
– Conclusion: even though it is less honorable, sometimes it is easier to live our lives without the scorn of our family and friends.
We have been hurt and feel betrayed by those who represent God.
– Stanley decided to meet with a discipler on a regular basis. One week, he is late and his discipler yells at him, telling him that if he was serious about God, he would have been on time and that if he was not serious about being discipled he should not have agreed in the first place. So Stanley, in tears, stopped going to discipleship meetings…and to church. He learned that God was not a compassionate God, but was demanding and mean.
– As a new immigrant from Taiwan, Sau-Wai was excited to come to America, but when her parents brought her to church, all the Christians her age either made fun of the way she dressed, her English accent, or worse, completely ignored her. She learned that God was just for Americans and those who were popular, not for those who were insecure, felt lonely, and didn’t fit in.
– Cynthia, Christina, and Marcia all of something in common. Over the past seven years, they have all been molested by their pastor at least once. They have all shared with the church elders and deacons and all were accused of lying. Years later, when the pastor was finally caught, it was too late: Cynthia, Christina, and Marcia’s faith had already been maimed. They learned that God kept the peace by protecting those who were in power rather than those who are hurt and powerless.
– Conclusion: it is hard to follow God when it seems like he doesn’t care.
While all the above reasons are all true and valid, they don’t really touch at the heart of why we treat God as just a hobby. To say that sin and peer pressure are at the heart of why we don’t allow God into the center of our lives is a bit moralistic. Following Jesus is not about falling under a set of strict rules all over again. And to say that pain is at the center of why we leave God on the sidelines is not enough because nearly every person who has committed their life wholly to Jesus is a person who has suffered severe and intense pain. After all, the apostle Paul warned his disciple, Timothy, that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”, and unfortunately, much of the persecution is from other Christians.
So what is the underlying reason why we are content to leave God as a hobby in our lives? The reason is fear.
However, please don’t get me wrong. Sin is a major hindrance to following Jesus, and it must be dealt with. Social pressure is very powerful, and we must have the inner assurance to overcome it. And deep scars are painful and severe, and we need to find healing in Jesus. But what I am saying is that we will often find that all of these things are often either connected to fear.
What are we afraid of? We are afraid that if we give up our selfish ways in order to invest wholly into the kingdom of God, it might not pan out to be all that great.
– Dot.com bust – now investors are afraid to invest in dot.com’s because they might go under and the investors will have lost all their time, effort, and most importantly, money.
– My cousin did not think it was worth giving up his pleasures for God because he was afraid that if he sacrificed his worldly pleasures he would just be left with a dull life and nothing more.
– When you decided to keep instead of give 25% of your income away, you were afraid that you might not have enough and that you might miss out on greater opportunities and pleasures.
– Sau-Wai believed that God existed, but was afraid that if she got in too deep, he would find pain again instead of healing.
We are afraid that if we really dedicate our lives to Jesus, we might miss out on something more exciting or worthwhile. We are afraid that we might not be able to provide for our family or buy a house or a decent car. We are afraid that it we won’t be able to pursue our dreams. We are afraid that it will be a waste of our time and our life. We are afraid that it will not be worth it.
As God is listening to us right now, what does he have to say about our fears? Does he have any good news for us?
The key to answering this question is in God’s commandments. Do you know what the most repeated commandment in the Bible is? Is it “love your neighbor?” Is it “do not murder?” Is it “do not worship other gods?” Is it “to pray more often?” No, the most repeated commandment in the Bible is “do not fear”…“fear not”…“don’t be afraid.” Throughout the Bible, angels of God appeared before his people and one of the first things they would say was “don’t be afraid.” When the Israelites heard from God’s prophets, even when they were pronouncing judgement, they often brought the message: don’t be afraid. When people lacked faith because they were afraid, Jesus told them, “don’t be afraid.”
Why does God surround us with this commandment, “don’t be afraid”? Is it because that good Christians trust God and therefore have no reason to be afraid? Is it because if we really filled our heart with the belief that “if God is for us, who can be against us,” we won’t have any room in our hearts for fear?
The answer is a resounding NO! To say that we lack faith to act because we are afraid and then to say we are afraid because we don’t have enough faith is not only circular reasoning, it is misses the whole point.
When the apostle Paul, facing certain persecution and death, remained resolute that he would continue into Jerusalem saying, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” he saw an image in his head. The author of Hebrews (12:2-3) gives us glimpse of what the apostle Paul saw, “Consider him who endured opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” He’s referring to Jesus. If we move back one verse, we can see what the author is talking about, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” The image that the apostle Paul has in this episode is not the cross. Because if the only image was the cross, he may very well have stayed in Caesarea. No, the image in his head was the resurrection.
Why the resurrection? Because the resurrection is about hope, it is about the joy that was promised to Jesus. This joy, this promise of new life was what kept Jesus going. The resurrection clues us in that Christian sacrifice is gain (not loss), because Jesus gave up his life only because he knew he would get it back! Not only did he get his body back, but it was a glorified body now…100x better! Now he could fly, walk through walls, disappear and reappear, and best of all…he could never die again.
When we think about our lives and how God is often just a hobby, a side thing, Jesus gives us some good news. And that good news is not: Surprise! You better not be afraid anymore because I don’t like it. No, it’s: Surprise! You better not be afraid anymore because YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AFRAID ANY MORE! I have overcome death and I’m letting you in on that victory.
The image of Jesus rising from the grave tells us that whatever we give up for the sake of Jesus, we’re not only going to get it back, but we’ll get something even better in return! If you give up gratifying sin for the sake of Jesus, you will find even greater pleasure in your freedom from it. If you give up the security of having “enough” money, you will receive even greater spiritual riches from God. If you put your dignity on the line to live the real Christian life before your non-Christian friends and family, God will give you so much more glory than your friends and family could ever give you. If put your very body at risk of suffering and death, God will give you an even stronger and more glorious body, one that will never see pain nor death again.
The image of the resurrection is more than just about the final judgement. No, it is about us finding God resurrecting us every time we pick up our cross. It is about resurrecting everyday.
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you traded in your guarded life for the exciting life of living for Jesus? Can you imagine the impact you would have on your family and friends as they see the living Jesus in you? Can you imagine how curious strangers and enemies would become when they see the radical life that you live? Can you imagine how confused the media will be when they try to fit you in the box? Can you imagine how governments will be dumbfounded at the power of a small group of Christians who give their lives selflessly and think nothing of it because they know that they will receive way more than they could ever give? This is the power of life without fear. This is the power God when we move him from being just a hobby in our lives, to the very center of our existence. This is the power of the resurrection.