June 2: Making Jesus Priority #1

June 2: Making Jesus Priority #1

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June 2 – Graduation Sunday

Scripture Readings: Genesis 25:27-34 & 2 Timothy 4:1-8

When it comes to hopes and dreams, what is it you most want to see unfold in your life in the years ahead? Every stage of life tends to bring about a different set of hopes and dreams. At a point later in life, it’s probably interesting to look back and review those different stages of what you most hoped for, what you thought was the most important thing to either gain or attain at that point in time. And like I said, those hopes and dreams tend to change over time as the circumstances in one’s life changes.

There was a span one year between my graduation from college and when I started seminary. During that year I worked at Dexter United Methodist Church in a part-time ministerial position designed to help me figure out if ministry was something I’d enjoy. Part of my responsibility was to assist the high school Sunday school teacher with his class. I recall that on the first day of class, he asked each of us to share what we most wanted to happen that year. I remember him asking that question, but I’d forgotten what my answer was until many years later. As it was, I happened run into the man who taught that class and he told me he never forgot what I said, because what I said actually came to pass that year. According to him, when it was my turn to share, supposedly I said that my greatest desire for that year was to meet a woman and marry her. And that’s what happened! That fall, Caroline and I started dating, and we were married ten months after that, just a couple of weeks before I started seminary. Isn’t that wild?

So, what is it you most want to happen in your life in the months ahead, and even into the future, 15 or 20 years from now?

Here’s another question: to what extent is Jesus intentionally included in your hopes and dreams and life plans? Let me ask that a little differently. Compared to everything else in your life, how important is Jesus Christ to you? More to the point, how important to you is your relationship with Jesus compared to everything else in your life?

I’ll let you in on a reality—which you may already be aware of. It’s quite easy to assign Jesus to the proverbial “back seat,” whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. That’s because tons of things are important to us. And the fact is more often than not, those other things tend to rise to the top of what’s important. Whether you’re graduating from high school or college or even graduate school, you’re at a point in life where life moves fast and things change quickly. And as life unfolds in this manner, our focus changes and our desires evolve. What was important to you yesterday is replaced with something new today. In my case, once my great hope of meeting someone and marrying her was realized, it was replaced with something else, probably the desire that our marriage flourish, and that I do well in seminary, and that we make new friends, and that she get a job, and so on and so forth.

To what extent is Jesus intentionally included in your hopes and dreams and life plans?

When you consider your own situation, where does Jesus fit in. And that’ just it; is he having to “fit in” somehow or will he be front and center through all of the changes that lie ahead? Like I said, it’s easy to crowd Jesus out of your life, especially when things are going well! But even if you’re not necessarily crowding him out per se, it’s easy to keep him in the back seat…like making him your Sunday friend, giving him an hour of your attention when you happen to go to church. It’s been my experience that settling for little to no kind of relationship with Jesus is our default. That is, moving him from the back seat or, worse, from the truck, is something we have to consciously do. Cultivating a relationship with our Lord doesn’t happen automatically. You’re going to have to be intentional about making Jesus your #1 priority in life and not trade in the riches of your faith for that which doesn’t satisfy and provides limited happiness at best.

In the Scripture story we heard a few moments ago, a young man by the name of Esau did just that—he traded the riches of his birthright for a bowl of artificial and momentary happiness—and it had dire repercussions later in life. As the story goes, after a particularly tiring day of working out in the fields, he was really, really hungry. When we get that way, we might say we’re “famished.” We might even declare, “I’m starving!” Even though we’re not truly famished or starving according to the definitions of those words, they nevertheless convey the sense of deep hunger we feel at the moment. It’s called hyperbole. In a similar fashion, we often use hyperbole to describe how desperately we want something. For example, we might say, “I’ve just gotta have it or else I’ll die!” Or “I just can’t do without it!” Or the most common one, “I can’t wait!” (as in, “I can’t wait until Christmas” or “I can’t wait until I see you again” or “I can’t wait another minute; tell me now!”). Obviously, we can wait and we will wait for Christmas, or to see our loved one again. It just feels like we can’t, and that something bad will happen if we have to wait.

That’s probably what Esau was experiencing. He’d been working hard outside and was really hungry. And when he smelled what his younger brother, Jacob, was cooking up, for reasons we’ll never quite know, he decided getting some of that soup was now life’s #1 priority. When Jacob realized what was happening, he took advantage of Esau’s vulnerability and demanded his birthright, which Esau willingly handed over… All for a bowl of stew.

Birthrights are not a thing in our culture. But they were very important in Middle-Easter cultures in Bible days. A birthright was the special privilege given to the firstborn son of the family. The eldest son became the leader at the death of his faither, succeeding to his father’s rank and position as head of the family or tribe. In terms of inheritance, he received a double-portion of his father’s property. It wasn’t just a position of power, but of influence and responsibility for the well-being of the family, and maybe even beyond just the family.

For a bowl of soup—food that would satisfy his hunger for a couple of hours—and gave his birthright away. He traded all of the privileges that were his rightful inheritance for a short-lived moment of pleasure. At that moment in time, physical pleasure meant more to him than anything else. That choice cost him dearly; it set into motion actions that resulted in great sorrow and bitterness, deception and family conflict later in life.

While this is true for all of us here, I want to speak specifically to you graduates. What I want you to know is that the world has a similar kettle cooking for you. If you allow your appetite to get strong enough for the pleasures of this world, I’m telling you now that you’ll be tempted to cash in the riches and fullness of Christ for a morsel of temporary happiness and shallow satisfaction. Life is full of exciting and alluring opportunities to put your faith—and Jesus—on the back burner. This is true for college life and post-college life.

[story of Rachel on first day of classes at UofM]

But the fact is living a life in relationship with Jesus is far more satisfying, far more exciting—although, admittedly, it’s a different kind of “exciting” than what the world offers. But what’s true is that all the pleasures the world can provide ultimately amount to dissatisfaction. Seeking the pleasures of the flesh will always leave you wanting more. It never satisfies. But Jesus satisfies. Jesus fills. Jesus fulfills. That’s the truth. And what I’m encouraging you to do is not make the same choices Esau did such that you look back later in life and realize that what you thought and believed was so important earlier in life turned out to be not all that important after all. And that you missed out years of being filled and fulfilled by a daily relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul understood human nature. And he understood how we have to actually work at choosing the right way of living. Listen again to what he told his young protégé, Timothy, a pastor in the early church. It’s a kind of heads-up for what he can expect to have to address as a pastor. He tells Timothy that “there will come a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. They’ll turn their back on the truth” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). In other words, people will always be tempted to forgo what is right and whole and beneficial—Jesus Christ—and instead choose to believe that they’ll be fulfilled by the ways of the world. But it’s a lie, and they’ll never be satisfied. It’s nothing more than a bowl of warm soup.

So, while it’s my hope and dream that each one of you will make Jesus #1 from this day forward for the remainder of your days, it’s probably more likely that your walk with Jesus will be an up and down, up and down experience. There’ll be seasons of life when he’s important to you, when he’s front and center in your daily walk. But there’ll be other seasons of life when you hardly give him a glance in the rearview mirror. I think most of us who’ve been followers of Jesus for many years can attest to this. But here’s what I really want you to know in all of this. It’s never too late to turn back to Jesus. Never. Even if it’s the last day of your life—and by God’s grace, may it not be that way for you, but even if it is—it’s never too late. God is always standing there with his arms wide open, ready to welcome you back if need be. He’s a God of grace. Full of patience.

Whatever the path of life looks like for you, my hope and dream for you is that when you come to the end of that path, you’ll be able to affirm for yourself what Paul was able to say about himself when he reached that point: I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last, the champion’s wreath that’s awarded for righteousness is waiting for me” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Remember, though, that getting there only happens one day at a time. And every new day offers you a new opportunity to choose Jesus over the pleasures of the world.

Let’s pray…

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