My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Camels, Needles, & The Donald" - (03/21/10)

Donald John Trump (born June 14, 1946) is an American business tycoon, socialite, author, and television personality. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Trump Organization, a US-based real-estate development company. He is also the founder of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates many casinos and hotels across the world. Trump’s extravagant lifestyle and outspoken manner have made him a celebrity for years, a status amplified by the success of his NBC reality show, “The Apprentice,” for which he serves as host and executive producer. He is especially known for his catchphrase, "You're Fired", made popular by this television series. Trump is also known for his distinctive hairstyle, which he has maintained throughout his career.

Donald was the fourth of five children of Fred Trump, a wealthy real estate developer based in New York City. Donald was strongly influenced by his father in his eventual goals to make his fortune in real estate development, and upon his graduation from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 Donald Trump joined his father's company, The Trump Organization.

Starting out with the renovation of the Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt, his greed and self-importance led him to expand too far and too fast into too many venues. This expansion, both personal and business, led to mounting debt, which eventually forced him to declare bankruptcy and virtually start over. Much of the news about him in the early 1990s involved his much-publicized financial problems, creditor-led bailout, extramarital affair with Marla Maples, and the resulting divorce from his first wife, Ivana Trump, a native of the Czech Republic. Today, Trump is popularly known as “The Donald”, a nickname given to him by the media after his ex-wife, Ivana, referred to him as such in an interview.

In the late 1990s Trump saw a turnaround in his financial situation and fame. He remains a major figure in the field of real estate in the United States and is a popular celebrity. It is estimated that his current fortune is somewhere around 2.0 billion dollars and recently listed him as the 488th most wealthy billionaire in the world.

And yet, with all his money and all his celebrity, he seems like a man without a life. He can’t seem to maintain a relationship with a woman. He’s been married 3 times. He has few close personal friends because no one trusts him. And people constantly make fun of him behind his back. He is a mere caricature of a human being. He is proof positive, in my opinion, that in this life money just isn’t that important. Money and possessions cannot fill the void in the human heart. Only God can fill that space.

Last Sunday we looked at Mark 10:13-22. In verses 17-22 of that text Jesus had a conversation with a rich, young man who came to Him with a question. The young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” You’ll remember that Jesus worked the conversation around to point this wealthy young man to the fact that only a personal relationship with Him, the Savior, can get a person to Heaven. No amount of good works, no amount of charitable contributions, no amount of religious sincerity can get a person even one step closer to Heaven. The simple answer to the man’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” would be the concise answer the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” You see it’s all about Jesus.

However, the young man was not ready to set everything else aside to follow Christ. He was still clinging to his money and his possessions. Those things were “god” in his life and there was no room for Jesus. Verse 22 ends this way: “At this [comment] from Jesus the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” In other words, his money kept him from coming to Christ. He chose earthly possessions over eternal wealth. So what happened after that? Let’s look at verse 23…

Verse 23: Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
  • As He so often did, Jesus used this rich young ruler as an object lesson. The disciples of Jesus had heard every word of the conversation between Jesus and the young man, and they had seen the guy walk away. Now Jesus uses him as an example of “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Notice that He didn’t say “impossible.” He said “difficult, hard.” That young man could have trusted in Christ as his Savior. He could have laid his baggage aside and believed in Jesus, but he allowed his wealth to keep him away. He made a choice, and it was the wrong one.
  • The “Kingdom of God” here refers to the present, spiritual kingdom, composed of the regenerated people of God. Jesus used the same term when He spoke with Nicodemus in John 3:3-5, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again." 4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" 5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”
  • I never want to end up being an object lesson for God to use to teach people how not to be. I want to live my life for Christ in such a way that I can serve as a positive example of faith, godliness, integrity, and love. By his choice this rich young man has forever been cast as a tragic example of someone who let riches choke out his opportunity to gain eternal life.
Verses 24-25: The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
  • The disciples were “amazed.” Why? Probably because they, like the Pharisees and other Jews regarded wealth as a token of God’s special favor. Now Jesus is dropping this bomb on them that wealth is actually an impediment to a person coming to know God.
  • Note that Jesus saw their growing perplexity and addressed it. And He did it gently. He called them, “Children,” a term of endearment.
  • Some have tried to say that Jesus was here referring to a small gate in a city wall through which a camel could enter only on his knees. However, although this makes a great story it is without warrant or support because the word Jesus uses for “needle” is the usual word for a sewing or darning needle. On top of that, Jesus was not talking about what man would consider possible, though difficult, but rather about what is truly impossibility without God’s intervention. Physically speaking a camel cannot crawl through the eye of a sewing needle.
Verse 26: The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
  • They were “amazed” in verse 24. Now they are even “more amazed.” Jesus’ word picture made it sound like a total impossibility for a rich person to ever get saved. But that is exactly His point. Salvation is not merely difficult, it is impossible! Without God’s intervention no one, rich or poor, could ever be saved. That is exactly what Jesus was saying.
Verse 27: Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
  • “With man this is impossible.” What is impossible? For a man to get saved by any efforts on his part. Salvation by works is an absolute impossibility! But God is in the saving business. He can take the worst vile sinner and turn him into a saint. God can take sins that be red like crimson and wash them white as snow. Jesus can transform the worse of men and make him into a man of God, a man of faith, a man of holiness. With man that would be an impossible task, but with God, all things are possible.
Verse 28: Peter said to Him, “We have left everything to follow You!”
  • All this talk about what a person has to do to inherit eternal life has gotten Peter to thinking. In verse 21 Jesus told the rich young ruler: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
  • So Peter pipes up, “We have left everything to follow You!” I think there was a bit of a question in his voice when he said that, meaning, “Is that enough? Have we done enough to inherit eternal life?”
  • The parallel passage found in Matthew 19:27 includes Peter’s statement with a question attached: “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?” Even though they had indeed left everything to follow Christ, in that moment I hear a little bit of selfishness in Peter’s voice. “What are we going to get out of this? What’s the payoff for us?”
  • Yet in that moment Jesus did not reprimand Peter for asking. He did not chide him for having a selfish moment, though He could have. He just moved on to explain that serving God is always a good deal, always a good investment, both in the “here-and-now” and in “the age to come,” meaning eternity.
Verses 29-31: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the Gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
  • These verses are a little bit confusing so let’s unpack them piece by piece. First of all, Jesus’ phrase, “I tell you the truth (Verily in the KJV)” is a solemn assurance from the Lord himself so we know that we can take this to the bank.
  • He says that any of His followers who give up the things of this world to follow Him will not be disappointed nor cheated out of their reward. They will gain blessings in this life, and also in the life to come. In other words, you can’t outgive God.
  • Notice however, in verse 30, at the end of His list of things the servant of the Lord can expect to receive in this life He inserts these words: “…and with them, persecutions.” It’s a package deal. Yes, the one who steps out to serve the Lord can expect to be rewarded in many ways, but he can also expect persecutions, trials, tribulations, and raw hatred from some people. This is not the path to popularity with men.
  • But anything you give up to serve Christ will be more than repaid. Sometimes that payment comes in another form, however. For example, British missionary C.T. Studd gave away his inherited fortune and dedicated his life to serve as a missionary, first in China, then in India, and lastly in Africa. Yet God more than made up for the things he gave up in spiritual blessings, friendships, and joys that money could never buy. Another example… Adoniram Judson left the comforts of his New England hearth and home to carry the Gospel to the people of Rangoon, Burma. While there he and his dear wife, Ann, suffered untold danger, illness, imprisonment, torture, pain, and misery, including the deaths of their two little children (and later, the death of Ann herself). Yet at the end of their lives they testified that what they gained in their service for Christ was worth much more than what they had given up. Such has been the testimony of countless servants of God. Even in this present life it pays to serve God.
  • However, what awaits the servant of God in Heaven, “in the age to come,” is marvelous beyond our ability to comprehend or even dream. The Bible says in I Cor. 2:9, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
One of my all-time famous quotes is by Jim Elliott, a missionary who along with 4 of his colleagues gave his life as a martyr in Ecuador for the sake of the Gospel. In his diary just a few days before his death Jim Elliott wrote these words: “He is no fool who gives us what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

God has called us, as His people, to reflect the values of Heaven in our lifestyle. Money and possessions have their place, but we must never allow them to usurp the place of God in our life. Money and wealth are tools entrusted to us to build the Kingdom of God and to spread the Gospel.

What stands out to you from this passage? What are you going to do differently this week as a result?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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