Beyond the Pursuit For Things

Introduction

Would it be an understatement if I said that life is hard?  It’s hard enough that we have to work in an unstable environment with regards to our place of employment, health, and the circumstances that surround us.  Then you throw in the concept of being righteous and then it really becomes hard.  Now add to the mix the whole area of health and life becomes almost unbearable.

The things that we might do to “escape” it all are many times the things that we shouldn’t do within the context of some area of our life, e.g., moral.  What are we to do?  How are we to live?  What is it all worth anyway?  Life is too hard to worry about being good.  Instead, why not just look out for number one and seek happiness at any cost.  Sometimes it appears that the bad guys have the right idea.  Sure the criminals get caught and some even kill each other, but in the end we all die.  So why not just do what we have to do in order to live as happily as we can here and now?  Why not eat, drink, and be merry and enjoy ourselves?

The notion of letting it all go may seem attractive, but there is one thing that we forget many times in our lives.  We forget that life is more than the short time we spend on earth existing in our flesh suits.  Life is eternal and we should therefore measure worth with eternity not a short glimpse of happiness now.  We think like that many times when we make decisions.  For example, we may decide not to steal something in the department store that we can’t afford because we know that that one glimpse of happiness could bring many years of misery in jail.

Therefore, we may also consider that the pursuit of mere happiness on the earth could very well lead to eternity in darkness.  What is it worth to you?  It is an easy decision for those who do not believe in God or do not believe that God even exists.  For them life is the time we have on earth and therefore nothing really matters so we might as well enjoy it while we can.  To others, life is everlasting and the decisions that we make now may have eternal consequences.

What are we to do with our lives?  Where are we going?  No one really knows where he or she is going.  We make our plans and we intend on accomplishing them.  However, at any moment life can throw a curve ball so to speak, and all of those plans and intentions go right out of the window.  So we find that perhaps life is bigger than us and if so where should we go?  What should we pursue?

The religious people in Christianity say that we should pursue righteousness.  They say that we should be good and loving and all of that stuff.  However, what does that get you?  I can tell you from my own experiences that sometimes being the nice guy brings more pain than it is worth.  It is better to care for yourself and not be concerned about others than to waste a lot of time being “good.”  Why be good in business when it gives people the opportunity to use and abuse you?  Why be good at all when it can’t pay the mortgage?

We listen to the religious teachers in hopes of happiness since riches and fame seem to allude us regardless of how good we have become.  However, even there we find problems.  Our safe haven in religions sometimes is like a leaking toilet.  You hear water running, but the toilet works for the most part.  However, you notice every month that your water bill is sky high.  Your toilet is wasting your money and yet you depend on it and need it so much.  A lot of us are like that about religion.  We go to our churches Sunday after Sunday hoping to be rejuvenated and yet year after year we don’t realize that it is the church that is also stealing our lives.  We are so dedicated to it and yet it produces nothing in our lives.

What’s the point?  Why not stay home and enjoy yourself?  Watch television all day, play cards or whatever you like to do.  Go to the bar, smoke a pipe, sit back and relax.  You only have a short time to live so you might as well enjoy yourself.  The church isn’t doing anything for you so why bother.  Where is God anyway?  I thought going to church and doing my religious duty would earn me some points with him.  Perhaps I should have at least received a new car or something.  What was the point of all those years of service when all it did was take my life?

Religion has let me down.  My job has let me down.  People have let me down.  Some would even say that God let me down.  We’ve worked so hard our whole lives and what do we have to show for it?  What does it all mean?  What was it all worth?

We are going to investigate these questions in this sermon in light of normal everyday life and the things pertaining to it. We are going to look at the possibility that the things we have means more when we do something with it according to the will of God or in accordance with God's way.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV)

What if?

What if God doesn’t exist?  What if some of the scientists are correct in saying that all life pretty much came from a random act of nature throughout billions of years?  What if our life today is not directed by anything and everything that happens is by mere chance or cause and effect?  What if all of our religious pursuits were meaningless?  Why pursue religion when God is not here?

To me the notion of God not existing is ludicrous.  It seems totally implausible that the complexities of nature could have happened by chance and progressed for billions of years.  Our world tends toward chaos, not order.  The order of the universe doesn’t seem to me like it could have been caused by a chance encounter in nature.  Besides, where would all of the stuff come from that were involved in the chance encounters?

The notion of God not existing is only a way to justify our sins.  If I can convince myself and especially others that God doesn’t exist or otherwise is not involved with us and therefore doesn’t care about us, then I can do away with any moral responsibility that I might have had.  If I can destroy God in my mind then I can do whatever I want and the pursuit of happiness by any means is totally wide open to me.

What if God does exist?  What if some of the scientists are right in assuming that there is an intelligent being that created the universe?  We then become accountable because surely he expects something of us.  Why did he create us and what does he want?  Well if we assume that the Bible is indeed the word of god then we have a great deal of information regarding what God wants from us.  We therefore are held to those principles and cannot escape them.  We either do what is right or we have to answer to God.

But what is right?  I might assume that the Bible is the word of God, but I might also assume that my interpretation is the truth everyone else are idiots.  How can I be assured that an interpretation of the Bible, which was written in a language that I do not know, is indeed what God really revealed?  How do I know that fornication is sex outside of marriage instead of prostitution as some propose these days?  Life becomes so complicated because regardless of how good we strive to be or how much we strive to do the right thing, the more we are weighted down with guilt for not following someone’s rules.

What if God doesn’t care?  What if God did create the universe, but has since abandoned humans because we are so evil?  What if the things that happen on the earth are truly random acts of nature?  What if God isn’t doing anything in the earth now and is allowing us to live our own life until we destroy ourselves or he gets so tired of us that he wipes us out himself?

One thing that we have going for us is that we have only been around for a moment when we compare human history with the history of the universe.  God has only put up with us for a couple of days or so (Psalm 90:4).  Perhaps we just haven’t been around long enough for got to get sick of us.

If God truly doesn’t care then the bible is meaningless.  The bible tells us to love God and love each other (Matthew 22:37-40).  Why bother doing that if God doesn’t care?  The whole bible becomes meaningless if God doesn’t care.  That is just another excuse to pursue whatever we want to make us happy.

God does care else Jesus would not have come (John 3:16).  God does care else he would not have provided his word to us and for us.  God does care and we should therefore care—but about what?

What if we stopped following the ministers? Many people spend their time trying their best to please the pastor.  Many others spend many thousands of dollars to appease a television evangelist who doesn’t even know them.  What if we stopped listening to them and did something else?  What if we convinced ourselves that we will not go to hell because we didn’t do what the pastor says?

That is a scary thought for some people because to them, the pastor is God.  Some people pursue the pastor thinking that they are pleasing God.  They don’t realize that here again, their life is being drained out of them and sprayed on the floor.  They waste their time trying to appease a man or a woman.

Personal Pursuits

If God exists and cares about us then we have some responsibilities.  We are created by him and therefore should strive to carry out his will.  Why should we pursue our own interests if God did not intend for things to happen that way?  What if God’s directive to love him and each other has a more profound purpose than just a rule to live by?  What if the creator really knows what he is doing and hasn’t told us?

The problem is that we pursue happiness without pursuing God.  How can we be truly happy in a world of sorrow and pain?  How can we experience true happiness if we are going against our creator day after day?  What if true happiness is not found in the abundance of things, but somewhere else?

If we think of life as the time that we spend on earth from the time we are born to the time we die then life truly has no meaning and therefore it is in our best interest to do what we can to enjoy the short time we exist.  However, if life is seen from the perspective of eternity then life perhaps has meaning.  If we further believe that we are indeed accountable to God over and above being accountable to people then life surely has meaning.

Faith preachers argue that we can enjoy riches and glory on earth because we are children of God.  They tell us that our faith can bring an abundance and we can enjoy the things in life—the things in the world.  We try all kinds of things to make more and more money.

My wife and I have tried several things in hopes of becoming financially independent.  Most of what we did was a complete waste of time to that end, but useful in other contexts.  For example, we spend several years in the Amway business and it was a complete waste of time with regards to gaining financial independence.  However, there were some things that we learned during those days that are still with us to this day.  We also owned our own Jani-King franchise for five years.  That was one of the most successful things that we did with regards to moving closer to financial independence.  However, it was a lot to bear given a full-time job and dedication to an oppressive church.  Many days I wish we had stayed with Jani-King.

Many people try many get rich quick schemes in hopes of making millions of dollars.  Some people are just lazy and would rather abide by the faith nonsense then get out and do some work.  People pursue things simply to get rich.  What is the purpose of being rich?  The purpose is simply to have lots of things.  The bible of course warns us about seeking to be rich.

Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! (Proverbs 23:4 NKJV)

He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like foliage. (Proverbs 11:28 NKJV)

Our personal pursuits are sometimes just that—personal.

The Underlying Purpose

However, if God is real and the bible is his word to us then the mere pursuit of worldly things is meaningless.  Why?  The mere pursuit of worldly things is meaningless because you can’t love God and love others if all you want are things for yourself.  After all, anything that we pursue on this earth pertaining to material possessions will one day perish.  Nothing on this earth lasts for ever.

Does this mean that we should be poor and reject any worldly possessions?  I don’t think that is the answer either because God works through the things and people on the earth.  If a person is poor then someone will help him by giving him what he needs.  It is unlikely that God will drop something from the sky to meet that need.  For example, if someone needs $100 for an emergency then that person is going to have to find a way to get that $100 or someone will give it to him.  Let’s say that John comes along and gives him the $100.  That presumes that John had the $100 to give.  Therefore, rejecting worldly possessions would have made it impossible for John to have $100 to give.

What should we pursue then?

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)

The things that I have are not my own.  They belong to God and I possess them.  I can use them to meet my obligations and satisfy my own desires or I can use some of what I have to help others.  Perhaps I could use what I have to love God and love others.  Somehow I can honor God with what I have, but that means I have to have something first.

What if I pursued things in order to do more of what God wants?  What if I asked God for a million dollars so that can pay off my brother’s home and get my parents a new home?  What if we thought like that instead of just thinking of ourselves.  What if my prayers truly included reaching out to others with what God has given me?

But so what?  What difference does it make if life is but a short time?  The poor shouldn’t complain because they will die and go to heaven if they put their faith in Christ.  I don’t have to help anyone if all Christians will spend eternity with God.  However, Jesus seems to indicate otherwise.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV)

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22 NKJV)

What if we are pursuing the wrong thing?  What if the treasures on earth are only a means to a greater treasure?  What if we are so deceived that we are clinging to a golden coin while starving to death?  The coin is worth a lot of money and probably considered to be a great investment object, but it could give us the food that we need.  What if our possessions are more than mere possessions and objects that we can use to meet our obligations and have some pleasures during our lives?  What if what I do with my possessions is more important than the possessions themselves?

What are you pursuing and WHY?  It is OK to want a new care, a new home, and a new computer.  However, is that all you want?  What about something to give or seed to sow.  When the faith teachers talk about seed to sow, they typically are referring to money that you can use to get more money for yourself.  What if I ask God for money to, not only meet my needs and desires, but also to meet someone else’s needs and desires?  What if I shared?

What if you don’t have possessions to share?  What if you are struggling to make ends meet yourself?  Well for one thing I think this is where the church has fallen short.  We should aid those who are in need in our own communities.  No one who is a member of a church should go hungry, without heat, without the necessities of life if that church can afford to share.  However, I have seen just that many times.  People fall on hard times and are afraid to go to their church to which they have “tithed” for so long.  What was the point?  While the church gets your money, you get nothing so what’s the point.

What if I gave my money to someone in need instead of to the local church?  Now of course if I’m part of a church community then surely I will support it.  However, there may come times when I decide to give my weekly budgeted church offering to someone in need.  No one should be condemned for doing that.  I’d rather the church not be able to get a new pew than for someone to go hungry with the new pew.

We have the wrong idea about our possessions folks.  First pursue God and then allow him to guide your life.  You will pursue things because God will use those things.  You will pursue nice things for yourself because you are human.  I admire the Amish for their commitment to their faith, but I believe that their faith is misplaced.  Rejecting the things of the world makes you an isolated and ineffective community.  What if they tried to spread their concepts to others?  Perhaps there are many that would benefit from it.  I benefitted from the concepts that I learned of the Amish.

If we just keep to ourselves then we become ineffective and useless.  If we share then we can accomplish much and truly do the will of God on the earth.  God uses me and you to carry out his will.  He uses you and me to feed the hungry and care after the sick.  So we shouldn’t pursue things just for the sake of having things.  We should pursue things keeping in mind that those things can be used to serve God by serving others.

What can you do to help others and carry out the will of God even for your own life?  Perhaps God has provided financial security and independence for you, but you have to go out and get it just like the Hebrews with the Promised Land?  Go beyond mere things and see the will of God that they can accomplish in your life.

 


Beyond the Pursuit for Things
By William R. Cunningham
November 11, 2007