The Offer Of A Lifetime : Trading Up

At Gateway Church in Austin, we kicked off our new series, The Offer Of A Lifetime.

What do you perceive as valuable—God, your family, your friends? The people around us, including our children, spouse, co-workers, friends, and other loved ones all often have a front row seat to see what we truly prioritize and what we’re willing to do in order to keep the things we value. Are God and His will among what you treasure most?

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.



Happy Father’s Day, everyone.  I get a little nervous about this holiday, especially if I know Steph and the kids have been shopping.  I’m afraid I’m going to be given a present I can’t afford.  One Father’s Day my family furnished me with a Big Green Egg smoker.  I vacillated between sheer joy that I get to make fire and roast raw meat, and terror asking, “Uh, how much did this cost?”  This year my son wants 50% of my Father’s Day gifts. He says, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t even be a father.  Touché.  This is a day to think about family.  And at Gateway we recognize that this can be a bittersweet holiday, especially for those who have lost a father or a husband or a child.  Some of us had terrible fathers who left a void in our heart.  And some of us on this day are reminded of how divorce can be so far-reaching and painful.  So I don’t want to crack a bunch of jokes and gloss over the reality that Father’s Day is hard for some of us.  You need to know your church stands with you today.

I had kind of a fun fatherly moment this week. My sweet daughter turned 14, and we hosted a birthday party for nine of her loud, pubescent teenage girlfriends in our backyard.  And we wanted to make it special.  We did decorations all over the yard.  There were water balloon fights.  Giant bubble making competitions.  Tables of food.  There was popcorn bar, an Oreo bar, an ice cream bar, a candy bar.  We rigged up a huge movie screen between two trees, and pulled together a project and outdoor sound system.  And we had constructed all of these homemade padded lounge chairs for all the girls to sit on to watch the movie.  And as I stood on the porch with Steph and surveyed this festive “Lord of the Flies for ladies” event and all the fun they were having, my wife asked me, “What do you think?”  And I couldn’t help myself, “Uh, how much did this cost?” But after it was all over and the girls had gone home, and the cops had issued me my noise citation, Melia, my daughter came up and thanked me.  She said, “Dad, you are so extra.”  And I said, extra?  That sounds fantastic.  You’re better than good.  You’re better than what someone would normally expect from a loving father.  You’re extra.  My daughter thinks I’m extra.  The next day I was feeling so good about myself, online to the urban slang dictionary, and looked up extra.  Here’s what it said: “If someone calls you extra, you’re either trying too hard or being over the top. Anyone from a teacher who gives too much homework to that loud, drunk birthday girl stumbling around in a plastic tiara can be described as extra.”

We parents do want to be extra.  We think if we make our kids happy, then they’ll grow up to be good people.  The other night I was having dinner with a group of friends who are a bit older than me.  They have adult children, mine are all in high school, so I thought I would ask them for some parenting advice.  And I was shocked.  They kind of went around the table, and one-by-one told these stories of how far away from God their adult children are now.  Sure, some of their adult kids had turned out spectacularly, but other offspring had taken a wayward path or lost their faith in college.  One couple wept and mentioned that they hadn’t heard from their son in years.  Others told of adult kids in rehab or in abusive relationships.  Of the five families around the table, four of them had kids they raised in the church, but are no longer walking with God.  But I couldn’t bring myself to ask my friends the question that was burning inside of me.  I couldn’t say it, but I was thinking, “What happened?  How did it get to this place with your kids?  You all are godly people.  You are outwardly successful.  Your kids had every advantage.  How did it come to this?”  And of course, there is no simple answer.  You can’t blame parents for the how their kids turned out spiritually?  Actually, the research says, parents, you play a big factor.  One study found that 59% of kids who considered themselves as “born again” before college, no longer would describe themselves that way in their senior year of college.  Recently, the Barna Group reported on the spiritual involvement of twenty-somethings. The findings: only 20 percent of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29.  What happened?  According to researcher and Christian writer Sean McDowell, there are a lot of external factors related to our culture and secular humanist orthodoxy on campus.  But McDowell notes that one of the biggest factors in kids losing their faith is that they look back on their parent’s faith and don’t see that it was real.  They see the innate hypocrisy.  Faith was modeled as a belief, and there parents were good people.  But kids who didn’t see their parents trusting in prayer, sacrificing to serve others, letting Bible guide them in areas related to their character – these kids will later, when confronted with peer pressure and atheistic teaching – will question whether or not Christian faith is real.   How authentically devoted to Jesus your parents were – not that they were perfect, but they were daily devoted – factors into who your kids are growing up to be spiritually.  Dads, they watch you day in an day out, they hear your prayers, they watch to see what or who you rely on, what decisions you make when things get tough.  Do they see that Jesus is really all you’ve ever wanted?

One of the central questions of the gospels is not what you believe.  Not do you believe in Jesus, but is he really what you want with all your heart.  While Jesus was on this earth, one of the most common criticisms leveled against him was that he over-promised and under-delivered.   Sure, he worked miracles and cast out demons and told really cool stories, but in many people’s eyes, he would get himself into trouble when he started talking politics.  In Mark chapter 1, we are introduced to the central theme of Jesus’ message.  It’s called the Kingdom of God.  Let’s read about it.  After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  “The time has come,” he said.  “The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!”  (Mark 1:14-15)  In the gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus uses the word “kingdom” 53 times to talk about a new reality that he was attempting to usher in.  Kingdom is odd word for us today in the 21st Century.  It conjures up images of knights and castles and kings and queens.  In Jesus’ day, the word kingdom was all about power and politics.  For over a thousand years, the nation of Israel had been ruled by one oppressive kingdom after another.  The Babylonians, the Persians, the Syrians, and now the empire of Rome.  But throughout the Old Testament, a blossom of hope sprouted up through the cracks of hundreds of years of despair.  Through his prophets, God promised the Israelites that one day a new kingdom would come.  It would be a kingdom of peace and prosperity and dignity for all people.  It would be God’s kingdom.  God would rule, and everything that would happen under his reign would be exactly as he planned.  It would be like heaven on earth.  Everything would be the way it is supposed to be.

Just look at some of this Old Testament imagery.  He will judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  (Isaiah 2:4)  In other words, there will be no more racial hatred, no wars.  In fact there will be no need for weapons so everyone will convert their swords into something more useful.  There will be peace, no more animosity.  Another kingdom image from Isaiah:  The wolf will live with the lamb . . . The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child will put his hand in the viper’s nest.  (Isaiah 11:6-7)  Remember, this is a metaphor for the coming kingdom of God.  Animals and people who normally don’t mix, will find community.  This is an ideal world.  There will be no political parties.  Israelis and Palestinians will sit down for a cup of tea.  Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland will raise a Guinness together.  Life will be happily ever after.  There would always be an open parking spot at Chuy’s.  The lion will lay down with the lamb.  The dog will make peace with the rabbit, and cats will exist no more.  Okay, you get the picture.  For centuries, Jew awaited the arrival of God’s promised kingdom.  They thought it would be a tangible, physical, political revolution that would throw off oppression and there would be no poverty, no sorrow, no pollution, no suffering.

Then one day, a miracle-worker and Rabbi named Jesus shows up on the scene and starts proclaiming, “Guess what everyone?  I’ve got great news.  The kingdom of God is here.  I’m bringing it directly from God to you.  And when people heard his message and saw his miracles, they thought, “Wow, this it.  He’s going to lead us in a political revolution.  We’re going to kick some serious Roman butt.”  It wasn’t long before Jesus disappointed people.  He rebuffed their efforts to raise an army and make him into a king.  He started teaching crazy things like love your enemies and turn the other cheek.  First the Hebrew religious leaders labeled him as a fraud who was stirring up false hopes among the people.  Then his own followers began to turn on him.  Many argue that the reason Judas betrayed Christ was that he was frustrated with Jesus’ lack of political action.  The book of Acts records that at Jesus’ ascension into heaven, his disciples were still confused about his message about the kingdom of God.  They asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (Acts 1:6)  Jesus left the earth, and he left a lot of disappointed people behind.  There was still war, still hunger, still sickness and disease, still violence and hatred.  Wasn’t he ushering in a new kingdom?  Maybe Jesus had over-promised and under-delivered.

Don’t you hate that feeling – when you get your hopes inflated, and then the actual experience doesn’t measure up to all the hype?  Think of some things that you looked forward to in the past year, and they ended up being total duds.  Anyone here see the new Star Wars movie about Han Solo?  Hello, Disney, it’s called dialog.  You really should check into it.  There was all this hype and build-up.  Think back to your childhood.  Maybe there was a certain toy you had to have.  And your hopes got inflated, and then you finally got your wish, but it wasn’t near as exciting as you had anticipated.  Remember your first kiss?  I don’t mean a little peck on the cheek.  I’m talking about the major leagues.  Your first serious lip-lockage.  All through adolescence, you had seen kissing demonstrated for you on television and in the movies.  It looked like it might be fun.  And so you imagined what it would be like when your day finally came.  You practiced by yourself in front of the mirror.  I mean, I heard somewhere that people did that.  But do you remember your first real smooch?  I mean, what a letdown.  I’ll never forget mine.  It was with Amy Bastl, and I had selected the perfect location for us to share this important moment together.  It was at Six Flags on a ride called the Time Tunnel.  You got on a little boat and when into this dark cavern that took you through different epochs of time.  I decided that I was going to make my move somewhere between the Ice Age and the Pirates of the Caribbean.  I actually couldn’t work up the nerve until Abraham Lincoln.  But I finally did it, and I thought I was doing pretty well until I noticed that I was drooling down my chin and her chin.  Nobody told me you were allowed to swallow your saliva when you are kissing.  Well, it was really embarrassing.  She got grossed out and told everyone at school.  For the next month, everyone called me “Ted the Tongue.”  Sometimes you get your hopes built up, but . . .

Many people in the first century were let down that the kingdom Jesus was talking about wasn’t political.  They wondered, if he truly was the Son of God, why he didn’t just wave a magic wand and make everything perfect.  I want to give you a chance right now to be honest with yourself.  I want to ask you a hard question, and it’s a question you’ve probably never heard in church before.  Some of you here are going to be very uncomfortable about me asking it.  Do you, personally, ever feel like Jesus over-promises and under-delivers?  The idea of Jesus and his kingdom sure sounds good – peace, spiritual growth, loving relationships, hope, excitement, assurance of what you believe in, strength to face the day, healing.  But is your life really like that?  Since you’ve been walking with him or since you have been investigating him, has he swooped in and made everything perfect the way you had secretly hoped?  What does the slide show of your spiritual life look like.  Some beautiful, wonderful pictures to be sure.  Also some other image.  Images, perhaps, of unanswered prayer.  Images of feeling lonely – on the outside looking in at life.  Images of frustration at work.  Maybe images or repeatedly slipping back into the same old sin.  Images of a relationship that is broken.  Somewhere, deep in the recesses of your heart, do you ever feel like Jesus is over-hyped and yet he underperforms?  I do – in the sense that he usually doesn’t fix my world the way I had hoped for.  I’m a pastor. I should know better.  But sometimes I wish that the kingdom of God was more visible, that’s God’s power and reign would come more powerfully and noticeably to my little world.

My problem and your problem and the problem of the nation of Israel back in the first century is that we misunderstand what Jesus meant by his message, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  It was never God’s intention to come to earth and say abracadabra, and puff, the lion lies down with the lamb and there is no more poverty, and Rome doesn’t rule over Israel.  And it was never Jesus’ intention to come into your life and flip a switch and instantaneously dispose of all of your baggage and pain and frustrations.  This series that we begin today is called The Offer of a Lifetime.  It’s about what it means to truly want Jesus and his life, to live in his kingdom.  And I think you are really going to grow and be challenged in this series, but first you must understand what Jesus is talking about when he says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  What’s so funny is that Jesus never defines exactly what it is.  Instead, he tells parables to give word pictures of what the kingdom of heaven is like.  We’ll look at a couple in just a second.  But let me give you my best shot what the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven” means.  There’s a passage in the Lord’s Prayer that you are probably familiar with:  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:10)  The brainiacs in seminary define God’s kingdom as the scope of his effective will.  In other words, God’s kingdom is where what God wants to happen actually happens.  There things are done rightly.  God’s will takes place and as a result, everything prospers.  And, according to the Lords Prayer, if the kingdom came to earth, things would run down here just like they do in heaven.

The confusion comes because most of us infer that the kingdom that Jesus is talking about is heaven.  Life on this planet is going to really stink, but when we go to heaven one day, that’s when we will fully experience God’s will.  After all, Jesus does call it the kingdom of heaven.  So we just need to tolerate the pain and disappointment of this life until we make to the next life.  That perspective is wrong.  Unfortunately, most of us our versions of the Bible mistranslate the word “heaven” in the kingdom of heaven.  In Greek, the word actually means air or atmosphere.  And what Jesus is trying to get across is that God’s power, God’s reign is not far off in the clouds somewhere, it is in the atmosphere.  It’s as near as the air that we breathe.  You don’t have to wait until you die to live an extraordinary life within the power of God.  That kind of life is available to you and me and everyone who breathes the atmosphere.  It is possible for ordinary, sinful people like you and me to have access to the kingdom, access to living rightly.  And the way we do that, Jesus says, is we allow God’s kingdom to begin to penetrate every aspect of our lives.  In this series, we’ll tell you how to let that happen.

But let me go back to this feeling that Jesus’ kingdom over-promises and under-delivers.   Because some of us here thought we were signing up for a wonderful life in Christ, but it hasn’t all shaken out the way we desired.  Jesus says, you’ve misunderstood the way my kingdom works.  And he tells little parables, he gives little metaphors to help us comprehend how his work in our lives really happens.  We all need metaphors.  I love some of Jim Gaffigan’s metaphors about parenting.  When asked what it’s like to have a fourth kid.  “Imagine you are drowning, and then someone hands you a baby.”  Another time he used the metaphor of a roommate to talk about babies.  “”Babies are the worst roommates. They’re unemployed. They don’t pay rent. They keep insane hours. Their hygiene is horrible. If you had a roommate that did any of the things babies do, you’d ask them to move out.”  I looked for metaphors guys were using on Twitter this week.  One dad wrote, “Watching my son eat rice with chopsticks, 3 grains at a time, and I can’t think of a better metaphor for parenting.”  Another guy tweeted, “Doing homework with your kids really shows you what you’re made of. Currently I’m made of tears, rage and wine.”  Sometimes a little word picture helps to explain something profound.

Jesus creates word pictures or metaphors to explain how his kingdom works.  Let me quickly run through two.  First, the Kingdom of Heaven is slow.  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and perch in its branches.  (Matthew 13:31-32)  One source of disappointment with Jesus is that he never operates on our time schedule.  As soon as pain or fear consume us, we ask God to remove it immediately.  Or, we want to kind of microwave our spiritual growth.  We want to experience God and leave behind sin and grow into maturity and have all kinds of faith right now or in the near future.  But it doesn’t happen and we grow impatient.  Jesus says, my kingdom is like a tiny little seed that starts out small, and then, over time it grows into this enormous, living wonderful thing.  Friends, are some of you here this morning kind of ticked off that God isn’t operating according to your schedule?  Has his kingdom over-promised and under-delivered.  No.  His kingdom moves slowly, because it has to establish roots.  It has to do the hard work of building trust between you and God.  Trust happens slowly, over time, day-by-day as you come to believe to believe that God will ultimately make good on his promises to you.

A second message that comes in the form of a metaphor, the Kingdom of Heaven requires an unambiguous response on your part.  The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold all that he had and bought it.  (Matthew 13:45-46)  The greatest spiritual danger that you and I face is not that we would renounce the faith or turn our back on God or commit some kind of heinous, unforgivable sin.  The biggest peril to your relationship with God is that you would just coast.  That you would just kind of dabble.  You would dabble with reading the Bible.  You would dabble with prayer.  You would dabble with getting into community in a small group.  You would dabble with honoring God with your finances.  The reason people dabble is that they want to keep their options open.  They don’t want to get so far involved in something that it diminishes their freedom.  Friends, Jesus says you cannot dabble in the kingdom of God.  You either going to seriously pursue it or you are not.  That doesn’t mean you accept everything blindly.  That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect and sin-free.  But what it does mean is that you are willing to say, “God, you are what I honestly want.  I don’t need anything else to truly satisfy me.  I want your kingdom, your will to take root in my life.  Maybe it will start out small like a mustard seed, but God, I want to be committed to allowing you to come in and remake my life.”  Jesus gives a picture of a pearl broker who discovers a pearl that he must have, that he has to have, so he goes and sells everything to obtain it.  The point of the parable is that the kingdom of God is ultimately a no-brainer.  When you truly understand the offer that God makes, when you realize that he is what you have been searching for all of your life, of course you would sell everything.  Of course you would do anything that needed to be done to come near to God.  Friends, you will never live in God’s kingdom if you dabble and keep your options open.  You will never realize the full wonder and beauty of a life under God’s reign until you do the math for yourself.  On this side of the equation is all of the stuff in life I thought would make me happy, but it hasn’t.  On this side is my chance to live in the kingdom of heaven.

One of my favorite stories in the gospels is in John 6.  Jesus has just walked on water.  He has just performed a miracle and fed 5,000 people.  And people are talking.  They are excited that Jesus is ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Any minute now they think he’s going to flex his political muscles and make everything perfect.  Instead he dashes their hopes and tells them that they have the kingdom all wrong.  In the real kingdom they must do the math.  They must decided whether they will surrender their life to God and be obedient to his commands.  And it’s so funny.  The crowds abandon Jesus.  They all go home.  They say, “We had high hopes for that guy’s kingdom, but it turns out that he has over-promised and under-delivered.”  I love this scene.  After all the multitude has melted away in disappointment.  Jesus turns to his disciples, and says, “Well, now that you guys know how hard this is going to be, I suppose you’re going to leave, too?”  And Simon Peter replies – this is so classic, this is so profound – Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) Peter says what you and I already know.  Christianity is hard.  It always doesn’t meet our expectations.  But what is the alternative.  Many of us in this room have lived the alternative.  It’s not Jesus that over-promises and under-delivers.  It’s this over-hyped world that we live in that promises happiness through wealth and prestige and really great sex.  But haven’t you noticed, friends, the world has under-delivered to you.  These next few weeks, let’s see what the kingdom of God has to offer.

And dads, your kids are watching to see what you believe about this kingdom.  If you live for it.  If it’s what you truly want.  I remember years ago when my kids, Gray, Aiden and Melia were young. I was sitting at home trying to read something for church, and my four year old was attempting to get my attention.  Honestly, I don’t remember what he was trying to tell me, because I wasn’t really listening.  But then he said something that awakened me.  He said, “Dad, Jesus is taking me to heaven before he takes you to heaven.”  I put down my papers.  What?  Why?  “I don’t want you to go to heaven, because I’ll be on earth and miss you and be so sad.  So I asked Jesus to take me first.”  And I pulled the kid onto my lap and explained to him that the saddest thing in the world for me would be to have Jesus take him first.  Gray said, “Good, maybe he can take Aiden first.”  That’s kind of twisted.  Dads and moms, we’re not responsible for our kids having perfect theology.  But they’re watching to see if Jesus is really what we want.  Every day they look to see that there’s this pearl of great price that we would pay anything for. When they watch, what do they see in you about the kingdom?

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