Ever had to make a choice – a choice you knew would bring negative consequences – a choice that would cost you, whichever path you took?
Let me share a couple stories to set the mood for the start of a Sermon Series God has given me for the next month.
But before I share the first story, a deer hunting story, please see the humor in it. I know I can because I am a deer hunter. Though I’ve never had to make this choice, I understand the choice completely.
A group of friends were deer hunting. They separated into pairs. That night, one hunter returned alone, staggering under a large eight-point buck. The other hunters asked, “Where’s Harry?” The lone hunter replied, “Harry fainted a couple miles up the trail.” The others couldn’t believe it. “You mean you left him lying there and carried the deer back instead?” The man answered, “It was a tough call, but I figured no one was going to steal Harry.”
To this deer hunter it was simply a matter of priorities. And one of the secrets in life is to have your priorities in order.
The second story is a true story of a professional football player.
In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Chris Spielman was an awesome linebacker for the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. Football was his passion, or so everyone thought. But in 1994, Chris gladly gave up football when his wife, Stefanie, was diagnosed with cancer. He moved into his wife’s hospital room and waited on her hand and foot. He ate only what she ate, only slept when she slept. When Stefanie lost her hair to chemotherapy, Chris shaved his head. He became the primary caretaker for their two children. And Chris has no regrets about giving up his career. As he says, “This is my family. This is my responsibility. This is my duty.”
Both stories required a decision. One story probably cost the man many of his friends, especially the one left behind, but it gained him a trophy mount on the wall. The other cost him fame, fortune, and a career he loved, but it gained him love – love from a spouse and family that cannot be broken in any trial.
Well this is what Jesus wants us to look at over the next five Sundays: What balls are you juggling? And what happens if you place too much or not enough focus on one of the balls?
So let’s define these balls with another story.
Some anonymous writer put it like this: Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them: work, family, health, friends, and faith, and you’re keeping them all in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and faith – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.
Jesus says in Luke 14: 7-24, Prioritize the Balls of Life.
How do I get that from the parables we just read?
Jesus taught that if a person wants to be exhalted, he/she must first be humble. “Don’t take the seat at the head of the table. Take the seat where the servants sit, and then when you’re asked to take the seat at the head, you will be honored.
Jesus taught that if a person wants to be blessed, he/she is to reach out to those who cannot repay the good deed. “When you have a banquet, have one for those who are poor; for those who are strangers; for those who won’t honor you with an invitation to their party. Give expecting nothing in return.”
Jesus taught that if a person wants to participate in the eternal banquet being prepared, he/she better prioritize – he/she better quit making everything else more important than faith. “Enough with the excuses. Property, family, work, fun, whatever it may be, cannot take preference over Me. You will miss out if they do.”
And so Jesus teaches clearly through all three parables that life is about choices, and we must get our priorities straight before we can make the choices He desires we make.
Though all five balls of life are important and must be balanced in order for the balls to remain in the air, the most fragile and the most important ball is the ball of faith. Without it being the #1 ball, our focus will waiver and we will drop the other balls – even if we think we are the greatest juggler in the world.
And the best way to focus on all the balls equally is to concentrate on the most important one, faith.
Concentrating on faith helps us to see: that we need to work hard at our jobs, that our bodies are the temple of God and need to be cared for, that strength comes through our friendships, and that we are to genuinely love our families and care for them.
But if we place our concentration on something other than God, something other than the #1 ball, we’re asking for conflict and trouble.
Pastor James W. Moore tells the story of a church member who came to his study one day. The pastor could see that the man look deeply troubled.
The man said “Pastor, I need to talk. I am so empty – so dried up inside – I’m scared.” His voice began to quiver just a bit. He said “Pastor, I have just come from the doctor’s office – and he told me that I only have six months at best to live. After I left his office I realized that I have no spiritual resources, no inner strength to cope with this. There is nothing to fall back on, to lean against. Many people would be surprised to hear me say that, for I have made lots of money, and people think I am a success not only at making money but at being a strong powerful person.”
He then fell quiet, and the pastor waited in silence for him to go on. Finally the man said, “You know I’m poor in the things that count the most. I see it now. I’ve put my faith in the wrong things, and the truth is I’m destitute, spiritually destitute. I could pick up the phone and call any bank in Houston and borrow any amount of money to do whatever I want to do. Just on my name, Reverend, just on my name! Do you understand? I could borrow it on my name only.”
The man leaned forward and put his head in his hands, and said softly through tears, “I guess there are some things you can’t buy or borrow.”
There are some things you just can’t buy or borrow. Family, friends, health, and faith – those glass balls.
But even if this man were to have to have poured himself into his family, his friends, and his health, he would still have been spiritually destitute.
There are 3 other glass balls, but you better prioritize them according to the #1 ball – FAITH.
Why? Because the Faith ball provides a God who is teaches you how to live eternally in a finite world; the Faith ball provides a God who teaches you how to live heavenly in an immoral world.
And yet we even have to be careful with the Faith ball, and this is a catch 22, because if our focus is extremely on religion and duty, building something in our own strength, and not on what faith teaches us about the other balls, we will certainly drop the other four.
This is why you are seeing and hearing of so many moral failures that are sexual within the church, why 50% of marriages among those claiming Christ as Savior are ending in divorce, why money is embezzled and misused by some within the church, why those working in the church are burning the midnight oil to make ministry happen, why……….
The Faith ball must not be all about doing. The Faith ball must focus on Jesus – literally sitting at His feet and taking in His every word.
God wants faith to be the #1 priority, the #1 ball in juggling the 5 balls of life. But He also wants us to know that focusing too much on one ball, or two, will cause us to lose track of the others, thus causing them to fall to the ground and possibly be shattered.
Faith must be the #1 ball. Is it in your life? Are you making excuses why everything else in life takes precedence over faith?
Jesus says “Put Me first and all the others will fall into place.” I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want.