Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keep Your Eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3)

So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us.  Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.  He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.

Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up.

What you see is what you get.  When you look at the moon, what do you see?  Humans are programmed to look for and recognize faces, and so most people see what we call “The Man in the Moon.”  Now, we know that’s not really a face, it’s variations between light and dark patches on the moon’s surface, but most people can recognize a face.

What you see is what you get.  Is it just me, or does anyone else see fried chicken in this picture?

Be sure you grab the
right one after your next shower.

They’re past season at this point,
but who doesn’t love a good straw-bear------y?

How’s this for a church with a birds-eye view?

What you see is what you get.  Often, we see things because we expect to see them.  One of the reasons you saw funny things is because you expected to see funny things.  After the first image or two, once your brain caught up to what we were doing, combined with the reality that those around you were seeing funny things and I was setting the stage for you to see funny things, guess what – everyone expected to see something funny.  And so everyone did.

Often, we see things because we expect to see them.  We are intentionally looking for them.  I had lunch with Betty West last week, and she told me something I already knew about her – that she looks for the best in people.  And since she’s looking for the best in people, can you guess what she sees?  The best in people, of course!

I know other people who always look for the worst in people, and can you guess what they see?  The worst in people, of course!

What we see in people, in circumstances, in life in general is so often a product of our perspective and our expectations.

That’s true in the life of faith, too.

The Scripture today says to “fix our eyes on Jesus.”   No matter what happens, no matter where we go, no matter what we do, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus.  Look for Jesus, expect to see Jesus, lock our sight on Jesus and nothing else.

When I do a wedding, I give every groom the same piece of advice.  After everyone has been seated, and I and the groom come in, his groomsmen, the bridesmaids, the ring bearer and flower girl – we’re all in place, and we’re waiting for one person to make her entrance – who is that?  The bride.  And whether we’re in a church or outside or somewhere else, there’s that moment where a bride pauses before she starts her walk down the aisle.  I tell every groom, “There’s a lot going on in that moment, but I want you to lock your eyes on your bride – look at her and nothing else.  Take a mental picture of that moment, and you’ll treasure it forever.  When you hit a rough patch, have an argument, or some difficulty in the marriage, I want you to recall that moment in time – Keep your eye on her because no matter what else happens in your journey together, she is what matters most.

Likewise, as people of faith we keep our eye on Jesus because he is what matters most.  Whatever else happens, whoever else is around us, Jesus is the most important.

The problem, of course, is that we let other things become the most important.  Our eyes wander, and that’s not a new problem.  It was obviously a problem when our Scripture from the book of Hebrews was written – you wouldn’t tell people to keep their eyes on Jesus unless they were prone to look elsewhere.

That begs the question of each of us – “what are you looking at?”  And when we’re not looking at Jesus, we’re usually look at ourselves.  That’s not a new problem or a unique problem, humanity is naturally a self-centered, naval-gazing bunch.  We each spend far too much time looking at ourselves, looking out for ourselves.  The goal of faith is that we come to see things less our way and more in the way of Jesus.

Does that new way of seeing happen overnight?  Not usually.  It takes training.  Any long-distant runners in here?  I am not a runner – I know you’re shocked – but I know enough about running to know that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon.  What do you have to do?  You have to train.  Serious long-distance runners train for months, sometimes years, for one big race, slowly building their endurance and capacity, not trying to get there in one fell swoop but growing, growing, growing.

Being a follower of Jesus is very much the same.  We may commit our lives to Christ in an instant or over time, but being a disciple is something we train for and commit to over a lifetime.  Runners are constantly setting goals for themselves – run a certain distance in under a certain time, always improving and getting better.  It’s said that the only way to reach a goal is to have one.  Then, you envision that goal and reach for it until you achieve it.

For Christians, the goal is fairly straight-forward: to be like Jesus.  And so, we keep our eyes on Jesus.  We see who he is, what he’s about, what matters most to him.  We keep that as our singular focus so that the things that matter most to Jesus take on meaning for us, and his character becomes our character, his heart transforms our heart.

Fair warning - following Jesus will change your life because it will become your life.  It’s not like going on Nutrisystem – do it for four months and then you’re good.  Following Jesus isn’t something that we dabble in.  Following Jesus isn’t a hobby or a passing fancy or something we can do in our spare time.  Following Jesus isn’t an extracurricular activity to round out our resume, nor a good luck charm we pick up when needed, and following Jesus certainly isn’t something that we only do for an hour or two every other Sunday.  Following Jesus is a 24/7 full-contact sport.

And, it’s a team sport.  We follow Jesus in the company of a great cloud of witnesses.  The Christian faith is lived out in community.  There is no such thing as an isolated Christian making a solitary journey in faith.  We live out our faith in groups.  Jesus chose twelve.  We offer similar settings – Bible studies and Sunday School classes and prayer groups and other small groups – friends, those are the places where our faith is nurtured and grows.

Following Jesus is very much like going “all-in” in poker – if you’re gonna do it, you gotta go all the way.  Until you get all-in with Jesus, you may be a fan of Jesus, but you’re not yet following him.  Friends, Jesus doesn’t call us to be fans; he calls us to be followers.

Many are called to be followers of Jesus, but few are chosen.  Even so, Jesus still calls.  Who here has what it takes to be a follower of Jesus?  Who will be content to simply be a fan of Jesus, and who will go the extra mile, pressing on to follow him completely?  Who will commit to going all-in with Jesus?

A disciple is someone who follows Jesus so closely that we become like him.  High goal?  You bet.  Difficult?  Challenging?  Absolutely.  And yet, we press on toward it; we are not done in our faith journey until we are filled with love as Jesus is filled with love.  We are still growing and deepening and changing and reaching until God’s love has filled us so much that there is not room for anything else within us – all that stuff that’s more about loving ourselves more than we love Jesus – all that gets crowded out and taken to the curb and all that remains in us in Jesus.  We keep our eyes on Jesus in the faith that his love and grace will have its way within us and eventually we will become like him.

So, not only do we keep our eyes on Jesus and nothing else, the Scripture also tells us to throw off extra baggage.  Ashley and I just got back from the beach yesterday; I can tell you how much extra baggage can weigh you down and wear you out!  We are fairly light packers – and yet, there were still things we carried up three flights of stairs last Saturday, didn’t use for the whole week, and carried back down yesterday.  My brother’s family was with us, as well – they had even more extra baggage than we did!

Why did we take that stuff with us?  For the same reason we accumulate so much in our closets and garages – we think we might need it.  We like having it around.

All that extra baggage can weigh us down.  This week, many of you worked in our yard sale – a lot of you got to get rid of clutter, others of you came and picked up a bargain or two.

In our faith, it’s important for us to have a yard sale from time to time, because along the way, we pick up baggage and clutter in our spiritual lives that aren’t about Jesus.  Before long, they’re weighing us down and wearing us out – maybe we find ourselves putting a lot of effort and energy into lugging all that stuff around because we think it’s important, and maybe to us it starts to become more important than Jesus.

In the life of faith, that stuff becomes what we focus on. We fool ourselves into thinking, because it’s at church, that it must be holy stuff, never realizing that it’s just extra baggage but we go ahead and cram it in anyway, and we’ve gone and filled up on what we think is holy stuff but it’s just our stuff and we’ve made it so crowded and cluttered we don’t even realize that Jesus was just left out.

No, we need to have a spiritual yard sale from time to time, because when life gets so cluttered that we can no longer see Jesus, we need to get rid of the rest so we can focus again on him, so Jesus will always be the main and most important thing.

No doubt you’ve heard the story of the pastor who was giving the children’s message one day, and she said, “I’m thinking of something that has a big bushy tail, lives in trees, and likes to gather nuts.”  The kids were quiet for a minute, and one boy finally put his hand up and said, “Well, pastor, to me it sounds like a squirrel, but I’m sure the answer is Jesus.”

We would do well to learn from that child’s wisdom.  The answer is Jesus.  The answer is always Jesus.  Let’s put the rest aside, for it is nothing more than extra baggage that weighs us down and wears us out.

This morning, just one question to consider: What are you looking at?

The more we look to Jesus, the more we’ll look like Jesus, and the more people will see Jesus in us.  Friends, that’s the goal.  That’s what this is all about.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.  He endured the shame of the cross for the joy that lay beyond it.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the one who loved the world enough to die for it, and who is looking to us to love the world enough to reach it.

Keep your eyes on Jesus – the fount of every blessing, the one who is looking to us to bless the world in his name.

What you see is what you get.  Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus.

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