Welcome to the third week of our first series of 2015. This series is built around a simple truth…2015 has the potential to be your best year ever.
And like I’ve been saying for the last two weeks, I understand if you have a hard time buying that. If things aren’t looking so good in your life right now, I understand why you would think that I’m just blowing smoke about this being your best year ever. If things are really hard and painful in your life right now, it can seem almost cruel to suggest that somehow this could be your best year ever.
But here’s what I’m going to keep hammering home every week in this series…if we decide that this year is all about Jesus and NOT about us, that changes everything. If it’s all about Jesus, then my year is based on Someone greater than me. Someone who is more powerful and mighty than anything that happens to me.
That’s why I’m not kidding when I say that 2015 has the potential to be your best year ever.
Let’s take a minute to ask God to lead us, and then we’re going to jump into the third week of this series.
So as Dan Robinson mentioned earlier, there was a football game this past week. And for a lot of people in this room, 2015 is already the best year ever because the Buckeyes are national champions.
Now, I’ll admit that I really don’t care that much about college football. It’s pretty low on my list of sports priorities. BUT…I was with the Bucks all the way in the playoffs. They had an incredible season, and winning a national championship with a third-string quarterback is absolutely amazing. It’s more than amazing, it’s historic. So, I was all about the Buckeyes winning in the playoffs.
Now that I’ve said that, I expect a little reciprocation here from Ohio State fans. I scratched your back, now you scratch mine. I jumped on the bandwagon and supported your team all the way. So today, I’m purposefully making room on the Colts bandwagon and I FULLY expect you all to jump on! Are you with me?
You know, it will take a lot more than championships to make this the best year ever. In fact, it will take more than anything our culture tries to sell us. It will take more than anything we can provide for ourselves.
For 2015 to be the best year ever, we’ve got to listen to someone much higher, much more powerful, and much greater than our culture or ourselves. We’ve got to listen to Jesus. That’s what this series is all about.
This series is based on this passage from Luke 4. “[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV)
This is such a powerful scene. Jesus is in the Jewish synagogue, and He stands up to read a Scripture that He purposefully chose from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. And then after He reads it, He sits down and says, “This Scripture is all about Me. This is what I came to do.”
And when we submit to Jesus and let Him do what He came to do in our lives, it ushers in “the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, it can make it the best year ever.
And here’s where our focus is going to be today in week #3 of this series. Jesus said that He came to give “recovery of sight to the blind.”
This obviously refers to the way Jesus healed physical blindness. Jesus often healed people who were blind. But there is an even deeper reference here. Jesus didn’t just come to heal physical blindness. He came to heal spiritual blindness.
The problem is that a lot of us don’t necessarily think that applies to us.
Listen to what Jesus said to the church in Laodicea in the book of Revelation. This applies to so many of us today. Jesus said, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, NIV)
Jesus gives us a very clear warning here…it’s possible to be blind and not even know it. Not physically blind. If you’re physically blind, you know it. You don’t need anybody to tell you. You’re quite aware of it.
But spiritual blindness is different. We can be spiritually blind and have absolutely no idea. It’s actually a really scary thought. But the good news is that Jesus came, not just to point out our blindness, but to heal it.
And the way He heals it is by knocking down our idols. Now, if you’re not sure what that means, it’s actually pretty simple. If anything takes Jesus’ place in our lives, the Bible calls it an idol.
And here’s the hard, unvarnished truth…if you are more committed to an idol than Jesus, you are blind.
That’s what idolatry does. It blinds us. It blinds us from seeing who God really is. It blinds us from seeing who we really are. It blinds us from seeing what our lives are all about.
But Jesus came to do something about that. And that’s what we’re chasing after today.
Listen to what God said through the prophet Isaiah. “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.” (Isaiah 42:16-17, NIV)
God gives us a choice: let Him lead us out of our blindness, or stay blinded by our idols. And it’s a choice every one of us has to wrestle with, because everyone in this room has an idol. You do. I do. Maybe you think that’s an ugly thing to say. Maybe you’re offended. But it’s true. We’re all idolaters, but we also all have hope because Jesus came to lead us out of that blindness and into the light.
But before we can get to the light, we need to talk about what is blinding us. What is my idol? It’s a hard question, but it’s a question that we all need to wrestle with. What is my idol?
Everyone is going to have a different answer to that question. So the only thing I can honestly do is talk about some of the idols that I have had in my life. And some of the idols that I’m still hanging onto.
Some people don’t like it when a pastor gets really personal. If that’s you, then you’re going to hate this message. And you’re probably going to want to find another church, because being transparent is the only way I know to be. I simply refuse to stand on this stage and put on a show. The guy I am on this stage is the same guy that I would be in your living room. I would be honest with you at your house, and I’ll be honest with you on this stage. And today, I’m going to be honest about some of the idols that have had a grip on my life…and some that still do.
One of those idols is religion. That might sound really odd. How can religion be an idol? Actually, it’s scary how easy this idol can get a grip on us.
It happens when rules and rituals and regulations take the place of a relationship. It happens when faith becomes all about what I do instead of being all about what Jesus has done. It happens when I set myself up as the standard of morality and righteousness, instead of seeing myself simply as a sinner who desperately needs a Savior.
And I was the master at this. It started in late high school. It grew while I was in college. And it blossomed in the early years of my ministry. I was supposed to a minister of Christ, but I was an evangelist for my idol…religion.
Instead of setting people free when I preached, I would heap more burdens on them. I would show them standards that they would never be able to live up to, without showing them a Savior who met all those standards for them.
In a lot of ways, I mirrored what Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Matthew wrote, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.
They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside,
and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:1-7, NLT)
That was me. I didn’t wear robes and tassels and stuff, but that was me. That was my idol. To show everyone just how religious I was, and to have people praise me for it. And it worked. Big time. Little old ladies would pat me on the head and tell me what a fine young man I was. People would tell me of all the great things I was going to do. The Cincinnati Enquirer even chose to follow me and write two stories about me every year while I was in college.
And all the while, I was living my life absolutely blind. I was blinded by the idol of religion.
In fact, a little later on in Matthew 23 when Jesus was ripping the Pharisees to shreds, He said, “Woe to you, blind guides!” (Matthew 23:16a, NIV)
That’s what religion turns us into. And that was me. And maybe that’s you, too. Maybe you grew up in a church that drilled religion into you. Maybe you grew up in a culture of judgment and condemnation and fear. Maybe you learned, either explicitly or implicitly, that you need to put your religious game face on. Wear the right clothes. Say the right words. Do the right things. And even more importantly, avoid the wrong things. Just look religious in every way, and you’re good.
And all the while, your heart withered away. You got very good at keeping the rules, but you have no relationship with Christ. The truth is, you can be very good at religion and still be terrible at Jesus. I know…because I was.
But the idol of religion blinds you to that. You don’t need to know Jesus, because you’re good enough on your own. You’re moral enough. You’re religious enough. Just keep the rules. Just look the part, and you’re good to go.
And it’s all blindness. It lets you see the sin of others very well, but it blinds you to your own. You don’t give grace to others because you’ve been blinded by your own need for it.
But Jesus came to give recovery of sight to the blind. He came to open our eyes to something much better, much deeper, and much more real than religion.
I love the way Max Lucado said it. He wrote, “Religion complicates. Jesus simplifies. Religion requires. Jesus releases. Religion gives rules. Jesus gives rest. Religion traffics in guilt. Jesus distributes grace. Religion says, ‘do.’ Jesus says, ‘done.’ Religion fosters fear. Jesus casts out fear. Religion says, ‘Try harder.’ Jesus says, ‘Trust me.’ Religion says, ‘Pay your way.’ Jesus says, ‘I’ve paid it all.’”
It took me years and years to see this. And now, I’m committed to being a different kind of pastor. I am committed that one of the hallmarks of my ministry now will be setting people free. If you don’t get anything else out of my preaching, I’m fine with that. As long as you walk away seeing the freedom that we have in Christ, then I’ve done my job.
I want to help you take the blinders of religion off. I want you to see the freedom that you have in Christ. And if you don’t know Christ yet because you’ve been turned off by religion, I want to help you see who He really is. What He has really done for you. And what He really wants for your life.
Here’s another idol that I’ve wrestled with in my life, along with religion. Perfection and accomplishment.
I’ll be very honest…this idol still haunts me. I wish I could say that I’ve kicked this one out of my life, but I haven’t. This idol is still with me. And this idol still blinds me. And I know I’m not alone in this.
I wasn’t going to share this story because I’ve already used it in a previous message. But it’s been a while, and with Ohio State winning it all this past week, I really wanted to include it today.
The story is about Urban Meyer, who of course is now the coach at Ohio State. But before He became the coach of the Buckeyes, he took a pretty hard fall in his life.
I read the story in a blog post by Tullian Tchividjian. He wrote, “Legendary college football coach Urban Meyer tells a remarkable story about his father. During his senior year of high school Urban was drafted by the Atlanta Braves to play major league baseball. Soon after arriving in the minor leagues, however, he realized he didn’t have the necessary talent and called his father to tell him he was quitting.
His father informed Urban that if he quit, he would no longer be welcome in their home. “Just call your mom on Christmas,” he said. Needless to say, Urban finished out the season and ended up embracing the incredibly conditional world of his father, a world in which failure was simply not an option…
Urban went on to win back-to-back national championships as the coach for the Florida Gators…But it turns out that these victories were short-lived, at least as far as Urban was concerned. The screws only got tighter; once he had won those titles, anything but perfection would be viewed as failure. After the 2007 season, Urban apparently confessed to a friend that anxiety was taking over his life and he wanted to walk away.
He was quoted in 2011 as saying, “Building takes passion and energy. Maintenance is awful. It’s nothing but fatigue. Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful.”
One commentator described him as “a man running for a finish line that doesn’t exist.”
Soon the chest pains started, and then they started getting worse. A few hours after the Gators winning streak finally came to an end in 2009, Urban was found on the floor of his house, unable to move or speak. He had come to a breaking point. Soon he would resign, come back and resign again.
Paul Zahl calls [it], “the law of capability”—the law that judges us wanting if we’re not capable, if we can’t handle it all, if we don’t meet the expectations that we put on ourselves or that others put on us. Zahl describes it this way:
‘If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my value. Identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still pursue my dreams, then I will be somebody. In Christian theology, such a position is called justification by works. It assumes that my worth is measured by my performance. Conversely, it conceals a dark and ghastly fear: If I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.’
After Urban Meyer’s very public collapse, he took some time off. He went on a road trip with his son. He attended his daughter’s volleyball games. He made peace with his father. He even rediscovered the reason he got into football in the first place: love of the game.
Eventually he took a new position as coach for Ohio State, and above his new desk he hung his contract—not the contract he signed with the university, but the one he signed with his wife and children, the one which prioritized his family and his health. An expression of love rather than judgment.”
Now, obviously this past week would tell you that Urban Meyer is still having success, but not because he’s worshipping at the idol of performance and perfection anymore. I’ve got a lot to learn from him, because that idol still haunts me. It still blinds me.
And maybe it blinds you too. Do you have to have the perfect house? Everything has to be in immaculate order, always? Anything less than perfect just isn’t good enough.
Do you have to have the perfect body? You watch every bite you take, you exercise like a fiend, etc. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be healthy, but you can have a healthy body that springs from a very unhealthy motivation. Is it because anything less than perfect is just not acceptable to you?
Does your family have to be perfect? Perfect spouse, perfect kids, perfect life?
If so, I want to tell you something as lovingly but as directly as I can…you’re running for a finish line that doesn’t exist. And it will blind you from the truth that Jesus wants you to see. The truth is that Jesus lived the perfect life for you. You’ll never be able to do it, but He did it for you.
When you read Scripture, you see that God demands holiness. Righteousness. Perfection. But you also see that none of us could ever live up to that. So God, in His grace, sent His own Son to do what we could never do. Jesus lived the sinless life that we could never live. And He died the death for our sin that we should have died. And He rose again to give us a new life. We can never be perfect, but Jesus was perfect for us.
But that can be so hard to really own in our day-to-day lives. I understand the struggle far too well. I am so driven for perfection that it has had a backlash effect on me. It has taken a toll on my health. It has warped my perspective. It has robbed me of joy. It has absolutely exhausted me.
This drive for accomplishment and perfection has blinded me from the truth found in Psalm 62, where David wrote, “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God [NOT on me. NOT on my accomplishments. NOT on my ability to be perfect];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62-5-8, NIV)
A lot of us need to start seeing God as our refuge instead of our referee. So many of us are just waiting for God to throw that yellow penalty flag whenever we don’t measure up. Whenever we fall short of perfection. But here in Psalm 62, David reminds us that God is our refuge. He calls us to find rest in Him.
Perfection never lets you rest. Ever. And let me show you why that’s a problem.
It’s a problem because of what God said in Isaiah 30. “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15, NIV)
Our strength, our salvation, is found in repentance and rest, in quietness and trust. Perfectionism and performancism never allow for that. Ever. You can’t stop. You can’t rest. Which means you are perpetually blinded to what Jesus wants to do in your life.
But here’s the freedom that He offers. And believe me, I’m not there yet. I’ve got a LONG way to go here. But this is what I’m trying to learn myself. Jesus sets me free from the need to be perfect. To impress other people by my perfect accomplishments. Jesus was perfect for me, so I’m free to rest in His perfection.
And so are you. You can stop the insanity that perfectionism brings. You can rest. You can let things go. You can be less than perfect because perfection isn’t the requirement. Jesus is the requirement.
Which really dismantles the last idol in my life…me. I am the biggest idol in my life.
So often, I want everything in my life to center on me. I want it to be all about me.
Really, if there is a sin that I’m struggling with in my life, that’s where it all comes from. It comes pride. It comes from wanting everything to be all about me.
And that completely blinds us from seeing Jesus. In Colossians 3, Paul wrote, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:3-4, NIV)
My life is now hidden with Christ. It’s not found in anything that I can see here. In fact, Paul said that Christ IS my life.
That means that my life is not about me. It’s not about what happens to me. It’s not about my ability to keep external religious rules. It’s not about me achieving perfection.
My life is about Jesus. Your life is about Jesus. In fact, Paul would say that our lives ARE Jesus. He IS our life.
And when we know that, the blinders come off. We can see Him for who He really is. And that’s where we find freedom. That’s where we find joy. That’s where we find peace. That’s where we find life.