Imagine a bull’s eye, the kind you use in target practice – ever-expanding concentric circles.
Now imagine the names you would put in the bands, giving priority to those most important to you – close friends near the center; distant acquaintances on the fringes. You get the picture.
Now, ask yourself: Who’s in the center of the circle? Who’s in the bull’s eye? That’s what I’d like for you to think about this morning. And to give you a heads up, here’s the bottom line: The secret to a full and abundant life is to put God in the center, to be Christ-centered.
Make no mistake about it, there are lots of other of possibilities:
First, there’s self. Face it: We’re all a little egocentric, some more than others. Inside each of us there’s a little two-year-old crying, “But it’s all about me!”
Consider it part of the package. According to Genesis, when God created Adam, he took a lump of clay, fashioned it into a little man and blew into his nostrils the breath of life … and he became a “living soul,” which translates, a bundle of appetites. (Genesis 2:7)
That’s who we are – a bundle of appetites. So, it’s only natural that we want the things we see; that we want to taste the fruits of God’s creation; that we want to claim the attention others. It’s when wanting turns to craving, and tasting turns to lust, and getting attention turns to narcissism, that there’s a problem.
God made this clear to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. He gave Moses ten simple commandments to live by, and the first was, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
Jesus echoed the First Commandment when a lawyer asked him, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus said,
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the first and great commandment.
A second likewise is this,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
The whole law and the prophets
depend on these two commandments.”
He went on to say,
“You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them,
and their great ones exercise authority over them.
It shall not be so among you,
but whoever desires to become great among you
shall be your servant.
Whoever desires to be first among you
shall be your bondservant,
even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
He summed it up by saying,
“If anyone desires to come after me,
let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow me.”
To live as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ – and to claim the promise of life in all its abundance – is to give up your egocentric nature, to get yourself out of the center of the circle.
So, if you are not in the center of the circle, who is?
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Another possibility is someone you’re close to: Your husband or your wife, your children or your grandchildren, your parents or your best friend. All these are worthy of a place of importance, a place near and dear to your heart, just not the center of the circle.
Kathy gave me this little bracelet she picked up not long ago. It reads, “I am second.” If you didn’t know, I Am Second is a group of business leaders, athletes, celebrities, former drug addicts, as well as ordinary people like you and me, who are willing to share their faith and tell others how they’ve come to put God first in their lives.
So, Kathy gave me this bracelet reminding me to put God first. It also reminds me that I’m not the primary person in her life, Jesus is. That’s how it should be in any healthy marriage. As for me, I’m honored to be second.
Apply this to your own life:
• Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands, but give your first allegiance to Jesus Christ.
• Parents, love your children, but understand it’s not all about them; and children, understand it’s not all about you. It’s about Christ and his kingdom.
• Children, honor your parents – and what better time than Father’s Day to say don’t put them on a pedestal. They’ll fall off every time. Honor your father and your mother, but worship God alone.
• Love your grandchildren, your brothers and sisters, your best friends – all those who are dearer to you than life itself; just don’t forget Who is Number One.
Who’s in the center of your circle?
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) You’ll never experience that promise in full as long as family and friends are in the center of your circle.
The same is true of your work or your avocation, or your hobby, or your passions in life.
Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, came close to getting it right when he said, “I believe in God, family, and McDonald’s.” If only he had stopped there. But no, he went on to say, “And in the office, that order is reversed.”
I’ll be the first to say work is a good thing. We all need to feel productive. At the end of the day, we’d like to have something to show for ourselves. The problem comes when you lose perspective. Can you spell w-o-r-k-a-h-o-l-i-c?
The same thing is true of hobbies. There used to be a whole line of bumper stickers that said, “I’d rather be …” Pick out the one that fits you: “I’d rather be fishing … hunting …flying … boating … skiing … skydiving … snorkeling … knitting, scrapbooking, etc.
Hobbies are wholesome. They give us an outlet to do what we most enjoy. Like work, it’s a matter of perspective. Hobbies can never satisfy that basic longing for meaning and purpose that only God can fulfill.
Augustine said it long ago: “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
This is why addictions are such a trap – they can never quench the hungering and thirsting of your soul for real life. No matter how high you get … no matter how much you drink … no matter how much you win at the casino or how often … you’ll never get enough, you’ll always want more.
For example, let me tell you about Pete (not his real name). He’s the best tree man in Hope. He trims trees the old-fashioned way. He climbs up the tree bare-handed with spikes on his ankles, ties a rope to a branch near the top, then swings around like a monkey with a chainsaw in hand, taking out branches as he lowers himself to the ground. If you want your trees trimmed to perfection, Pete’s your man.
There’s just one problem: Pete’s hooked on methamphetamines. Whatever he makes trimming trees he goes out and spends on drugs. It’s sad. Instead of having a life, he has a habit. Instead of getting that bucket truck of his dreams, he makes do with a rope and harness and an old worn-out chain saw that he somehow coaxes to start.
Who – or what – is in the center of your circle? Who or what is your Number One?
And know this: The way you answer the question is not by what you say, but what you do: Where you spend your time; where you spend your money; what you think about the most; where you’d most like to be and what you’d most like to be doing.
This was Paul’s beef with the Christians in Galatia. They worshiped the Torah instead of God. They sought to justify themselves by doing good works, rather than by devoting themselves to Jesus Christ.
At first blush, you’d think God would be pleased … that God wants us to excel in doing nice things for others … that we should strive to be like Eddie Haskall on Leave It To Beaver: “Here, Mrs. Cleaver, let me clean out the sewer trap for you.”
That’s the irony: God doesn’t call us to be perfect and pious in every way; God calls us to a close, personal relationship with himself.
Did any of you learn the Shorter Catechism when you were being confirmed? If so, this is old hat to you. “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy him forever.”
You can be the most religious person on the block, always doing good deeds for others, but it won’t mean a thing apart from knowing God in your heart and enjoying His companionship, day by day. Only then will you be able to sing,
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
So, Paul called their hand. He said that a person, “is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16)
This is the crux of it all: Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins in order to redeem us from sin and set us free to live in communion with him, now and for all eternity.
The technical term is “justification by grace through faith.” It’s what Paul alluded to when he told the Romans, “God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
We were talking about this one night in elder training, and I asked the elders-elect, “What does this mean to you? Can you put it in your own words?” I’ll never forget what one woman said. She said, “It means God counts us as righteous, even though we’re not.” I’ve never been able to improve on that.
God counts us as righteous, even though we’re not. By the blood of Jesus, the debt of our sinful nature is cancelled; the slate is wiped clean. God claims us as his own and loves us as we are, warts and all. This is what Isaac Watts had in mind when he penned the words,
“Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I!
Was it for sins that I have done he suffered on the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!”
Good deeds follow what God has already accomplished in Jesus Christ: First you experience the joy of salvation; then, as a gracious response, you reach out to others in deeds of loving kindness.
But it doesn’t stop here. The more you accept the gift of God’s grace; and the more you show your gratitude by pouring out yourself in service of others, the more you will grow into the likeness of Christ … until he becomes the center of your circle and you’re able to say with Paul,
“… it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.
That life which I now live in the flesh,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave himself up for me.”
Remember where the sermon began? Who’s in the center of your circle?
One of my favorite hymns is “Be Thou My Vision.” It comes out of the 8th century, which is a long time ago, before some of you were born. We don’t know who wrote it. It’s attributed to an Irishman named Dallan Forgaill, but that’s just a guess. It was later translated from Gaelic by a woman named Mary Byrne. All we really know about the author is that his faith was centered on Jesus Christ. Just listen to the words:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
Let us pray: Gracious God, forgive us for getting our priorities mixed up, for losing perspective and for putting other people and other things before you. Give us grace to put you first and foremost in our hearts and trust you to bless us with the fullness of life you promised in Jesus Christ, for we ask it in his name. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.