Abundance

Remember that time you clicked on the wrong date when scheduling your post to go live. I do. This was supposed to go up on Monday. Rather than taking it down and reposting it, enjoy a sneak peak of this Sunday’s sermon. Given that there’s a chance we might be snowed out, this may wind up being your best chance to hear it. I was going to write up a review of Disney’s fantastic new animated featured, Encanto, this morning, but I’ll save that one for Monday instead. Have a great weekend.

This week we kick off a brand-new teaching series called, Live Big. The world calls us to a big life. It offers us many pathways to that life. But when we follow these paths, they keep taking us somewhere other than advertised. Still, though, there is this desire in us to live big. So, we keep searching. In this series, we are going to explore one important way we can live big. Before we get to that, though, we need to understand something that often gets overlooked: As much as we want to live big, Jesus wants it for us even more. Let’s start this conversation off here, then, by talking about the big life Jesus offers and how we can have it.

Abundance

Let me take you back this morning to a TV series that was truly a trendsetter. It was the first of its kind, and the first of a wave of shows like it that has yet to ebb today. In fact, we’ll make this a bit of a trivia question (but don’t worry—I don’t have any emojis for you to decipher in order to figure this one out). The show’s host ended each episode offering you “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” Any guesses? It was “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” hosted by Robin Leach. Each week, the iconic host would take viewers inside the lives of the wealthiest and most well-known celebrities around the world. It was a glimpse inside a world the vast majority of viewers would never enter on their own. It was a look at what we were confidently told was the good life. And from the look of things through Leach’s eyes, the good life consisted of abundance. Now, an abundance of what exactly depended a bit on the particular celebrity in question, but the one thing they all had in common was an abundance of money. The more money you have, the more things you can have; and when you can have more things than everyone else around you, you are living an abundant life. You are living the kind of life that is going to be featured on some media descendant of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” 

The reason shows of this genre have been able to consistently attract an audience, I would argue, is twofold. First, most of us really do want to know what it’s like to be super wealthy. And given that we probably aren’t going to ever hit that mark ourselves, we’re just fine living it vicariously through the people who have managed to ascend that particular hill. The second reason, though, is not simply that we want to know what it’s like to live that way, we actually do want to live that way. Now, sure, we won’t necessarily say that out loud because it’s bad form culturally speaking (to be an envious kind of person is one thing, to let everyone around you know you are an envious person is something else entirely). But this does not in any way mean we don’t still want that. The fact is, doing the things we most want to do generally costs money. And while we work for money to be able to do them, enjoying them as more than an occasional treat would sure be nice. That, however, takes more money than we have now. Maybe more than we’ll ever have. So, we’ll simply have to content ourselves with enjoying them from afar. 

This trend goes beyond just money. Our culture is nearly obsessed with how to live the best life we possibly can. And while, yes, that often has a great deal to do with our finances, it is by no means limited to that. We want the best relationships we can have, the best job we can have, the best hobbies we can have, the best everything we can have. Consider the song “I Want It All” by Queen from the same era as “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The chorus puts it about as simply as it can: “I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.” The whole song is about this search we are all on to get as much as we possibly can out of life. We want an abundant life and we don’t want to wait for it. And, there are few times we are more focused in this direction than at the beginning of the year. With this in mind, for the next few weeks, in a new series called, Live Big, I want to talk with you about how to live as big a life as we possibly can. 

Guiding us in this journey is going to be a very simple idea: Jesus wants you to live a big life. More than that, Jesus wants you to live an abundant life. But if that sounds very Prosperity Gospel-y of me, I’m not actually the first one to make that observation. That distinction belongs to Jesus Himself. And before we talk about the idea of living big through any other lens, I want to take this morning and establish that one fact with certainty in your mind: Jesus offers us a big life.

In order to do this, we are going to let Jesus speak for Himself this morning. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way with me to John. John, the fourth Gospel writer, was Jesus’ best friend. He wrote his story of the life and ministry of Jesus about 30 years after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The result is that He wrote with a different purpose than they did and included a number of different stories to support His aims. John wanted His audience abundantly clear on the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, and to leave them with at least a rough idea of what that meant. Along the way, John included several conversations in which Jesus declared Himself to be something. He is, among other things, the light of the world, the bread of life, the vine, the way and truth and life, and the resurrection and the life (that’s a lot of life in there if you’re keeping score). Those are scattered all across John’s Gospel. There are two of them, though, that appear in pretty close context to one another. These both occur in John 10. That’s where I want to be with you this morning. 

In order to understand John 10, though, we need at least a rough understanding of what was happening in John 9, because the conversation Jesus starts in John 10 is directly impacted by what was going on in John 9. So what was going on in John 9? That’s actually one of the funnier chapters in the Gospels. Jesus and the disciples come upon a man who was born blind. The disciples ask a really offensive question which reveals their belief that disability like this was always the result of sin of some kind. Jesus corrects their thinking and heals the man’s blindness. When he goes to report to the Pharisees, though, they absolutely refuse to accept that Jesus was the one who did this. The reason is simple: this kind of miracle was clearly messianic in nature and they were not about to admit that Jesus might be the Messiah. He didn’t play by any of their well-crafted rules. He may have done some amazing things, but it must have been a trick as He was definitely not from God. In response to this, the formerly blind man offers up a simple, but powerful, testimony: I was blind, but now I see; you guys can sort out the rest. The Pharisees, trying to get the man to admit something nefarious about Jesus, bring his parents in to grill them and they are so unnerved by the whole thing they don’t even try to have their son’s back. Finally, the man asks the Pharisees if their keen interest in Jesus is the result of their wanting to become His followers too, which just makes them even madder. After the dust has settled a bit, the man actually meets Jesus, resulting in a conversation about spiritual blindness and how Jesus came to fix that too. The Pharisees who were there following Jesus ask if they are blind, and with sarcasm dripping from His tone, Jesus essentially replies: That’s up to you. 

Seizing the moment to reveal a little bit more about Himself, Jesus mixes metaphors on them and continues into what we know as chapter 10. Look at this with me right at the beginning of the chapter: “Truly I tell you, anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t know the voice of strangers.” And, just like you might be thinking right now, Jesus’ audience responded with an enthusiastic, “Huh?” 

This whole thing was a parable, so it’s no wonder none of them understood Him. Nobody ever understood His parables. As much as they may not have understood His point, though, the imagery they could grasp. Middle Eastern shepherds knew their sheep. They still do. Sometimes sheep from multiple different flocks, cared for by multiple different shepherds, will all be kept in the same pen for a time. When it is time to separate them back out, the shepherds don’t have to rely on brandings or counting heads. They’ve spent so much time with their sheep one-on-one that they simply call to them. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and follow it willingly. They don’t need sheep dogs to herd them either. They walk in front of them, calling the sheep as they go, and the sheep follow. If the sheep hear any voice other than their shepherd’s they’ll run away in fear. 

The thing Jesus is trying to help His audience grasp is this: My posture toward you is like a shepherd with his sheep. What I want for you flows out of that kind of a relationship. In order to explain this just a bit further, Jesus mixes up the metaphor on them again. Look with me now in v. 7: “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” Sometimes a shepherd will lay down in the gateway of a pen to make sure none of the sheep escape overnight. They may wander off on their own, but they won’t cross the shepherd. “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them.” There were people who claimed to be “the Guy” before Jesus. There have been folks after Him who claimed they were Him come back. Not a single one of them ever led anyone into life. Their false claims have ever only resulted in death and destruction and lives torn away from the kingdom of God. Jesus as the shepherd, though, is not simply the gate keeping His sheep in their pen, He is the means by which new sheep are going to enter the fold. “I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus only, ever, and always wants the best for His sheep. “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” 

Did you catch that? Jesus offers us a big life. Jesus came so that you can have life in abundance. He wants you to have life to the full. The world offers a life of abundance, but only Jesus can actually give it. As good as that may sound in here, though, that’s sometimes a bit—or a lot—harder to swallow when you walk out those doors. The reason for that is simple: The world doesn’t want us to have the life Jesus offers. The world wants us to be completely wrapped up in pursuing what it insists is the good life. As a result, the world in its various forms does everything it possibly can to make the abundant life Jesus offers look just the opposite of that. 

Think for a minute about how the world portrays the church and the Christian faith more generally. Perhaps the most iconic display of this thinking came from the movie Footloose. Now, the movie itself is great. John Lithgow as Rev. Moore was absolutely outstanding. The music is terrific and the dancing is incredible. But the church? That didn’t fare so well. Do you know the reason that kind of portrayal of the church is able to gain so much traction such that it appears in all kinds of books and movies and television shows? It’s simple: Many people have experienced that church. They have experienced the church that is against. Against what? Well, sometimes it seems like everything. The caricature of the church in movies like Footloose was well-earned. 

You’ve no doubt heard the old line, “Don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with girls who do.” That kind of thinking came out of the church. It came from people who didn’t understand the freedom we have in Christ, who were scared by the rising secularity of the world around them, and were reacting to it by standing against any behaviors that might possibly serve as an opportunity for any kind of sinfulness. Rather than standing with Jesus to receive and embrace sinners, generations of churches in this country stood resolutely against their inclusion in the church or society, all in the name of purity. Eventually, because of this, the church became known as the place where you went to be bored. Christians were boring people. They looked to steal joy and stifle fun every chance they got. They wanted to make life small enough they could control every part of it. And who wants anything to do with something like that? 

The irony of this, of course, is that the world doesn’t offer anything better. Especially nowadays. If you want to get along in the world, you have to be willing to conform to its expectations. And in our culture today, those expectations have gotten pretty restrictive in terms of what you can and can’t say, where you can and can’t go, who you can and can’t associate with. Everything has been rendered political such that whether you wanted to play a game of politics or not, you’re going to get swept up in it if you try to have any experiences that might be construed as fun. The guardians of this new way of thinking have become the ancestors of the Pharisees against whom Jesus spoke in this very passage. They want sheep to follow them, but they don’t earn their trust. Instead, they drive and goad and even drag them along in the direction they want them to go. 

Neither of these two examples, however, reflect the life Jesus desires for you. The world certainly gets it wrong, but for a long time, the church did too. Any shepherd who comes along and says, “You can come this way, but there are going to be restrictions on the life you can live,” is not a good shepherd. He is a thief who is looking for nothing other than to steal your joy, to steal your abundance. Jesus, on the other hand, offers you a big life. Jesus offers us a big life. As Jesus goes on to talk about this more, He is so committed to our living a life of abundance that He was willing to lay down His life for it. Jesus offers us a big life. 

Okay, but what exactly does this life look like? Are we just able to do whatever we want? Well, yes and no. The thing about the big life Jesus offers is that it is a big life with limits. And while that kind of talk may sound like it plays right into the hands of our opponents who are waiting to insist that Christianity is just about repression and restriction, we have to face an important truth here. Every life comes with limits. If you want to think about it this way, our whole world is defined by limits. The real question is: What kind of limits do we have? What kind of limits do we want? Or, to change wording up on you just a bit, what kind of boundaries does our way of life have? 

The world responds to this question by saying that it offers us a boundless life. You can be whoever you want to be. No less an authority than the Supreme Court once released an opinion whose author said that we should be able to define our own existence. Look around at the world we are living in today. Everyone is told she can be literally whoever she wants to be. We should be able to define everything about ourselves. Everything. And this kind of thinking is catching on. I once watched a video in which a tall white guy told a series of different college students that he identified as a short, Asian woman. While the look on their faces said they knew that was both untrue and absurd, not one of them could bring themselves to tell him to his face that it wasn’t true. 

The trouble with defining our own existence is that the more we try to define ourselves in ways that fall out of sync with reality, the smaller and smaller a world we are creating for ourselves to inhabit. And before you go thinking that I’m just talking about one of our many hot button political or cultural issues, this kind of thinking goes way beyond that. We want to believe that we can do whatever we please without consequences. That’s a delusion that will make our life boundaries small. We want to believe we can say—or type—whatever we please without thought of the impact our words will have. That’s a fantasy that will eventually leave us crammed in a pretty tight box. We want to believe what we do in one area of our lives won’t translate to any others. That’s a lie that will bind us with more restrictions than we can imagine. 

My friends, that is not the life Jesus has for us. That’s not the life He wants for us. It’s not the life He laid His own life down for us to have. Jesus offers us a big life. The life of Christ has the most spacious boundaries there are. In Christ we have the freedom of becoming fully who God designed us to be—and rest assured, His plans for us are bigger than our own. We have the opportunity in Christ to explore the full range of the different ways we can bring glory to God. There’s almost no end to that list. When we place ourselves in Jesus, all of the limits of sin are removed and we can live without any of the restrictions they bring. Jesus offers us a big life. 

Can you even imagine living without any broken relationships and the chaos those cause you? Can you imagine not being held back by your own thinking and your inner demons? Can you conceive of a time when your past doesn’t hold any power over your present or your future? Can you imagine having no one’s expectations dictating what you can and can’t do any longer? As long as you try to live life on your own or according to some pathetic definition the world offers of a big life, none of those things are possible. But when you are willing to give over your life fully to Jesus, turning your back on the limitations your choices and desires would place upon you, it is all available to you once again. Jesus offers us a big life. This big life is found in Him. It is found in living the way He has commanded. It is found in aligning our lives with the wisdom of God’s word. It will become ours when we make Him our Lord. For the next few weeks, I want to talk with you about living this big life. 

Now, we could go a number of different directions with this. Talking about the big life of Christ obviously covers just about every conceivable topic. But I want to focus our attention over the next few weeks on one area that tends to rest pretty near and dear to our hearts. It rests near and dear to our hearts because it seems to have so much power to enable or disable our pursuit of Jesus’ big life. It doesn’t in actuality, of course, but perception seems to become reality all too easily here. And, efforts to live in this area in a way other than God has directed will invariably result in smaller living. For the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about our finances and how to live the big life Jesus has for us there. Jesus offers us a big life. Getting our finances right can have a big impact on whether or not we can live that life with anything resembling ease. I want to make sure we all know how to get it right. Jesus offers us a big life. Come back in two weeks and we’ll talk about one really important way to live it. 

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