Measure of Success

September 4, 2011

When I was in High School I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, sometimes even today I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  However I had plenty of dreams and aspiration, and whenever I visualized myself doing any of those particular things that I dreamed of doing I was always a success.  I never pictured myself as an also ran, I was always the very best, I had always a succeeded in whatever field it was that I had chosen. 
Most of us are driven to succeed, somehow in something we want to be more than average. Well in most cases, I remember during the 2004 Olympics I heard a competitor in the women’s triathlon say “I don’t expect to place in the top three but it’s be nice to come around 10th or 11th.”  Aim high, but think about it, half the people you know are below average.  And half the people your friends know are below average.
We all want to be successful; we’d like to have an Oscar for something, anything, gracing our mantel.  And if we don’t feel that we’ve reached our goals then we live vicariously through our kids, pushing them hoping they’ll will succeed where we didn’t and they’ll be the next Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods or J Lo, well maybe not the next Tiger Woods.   If we can’t have our own Oscar then we will just have to make do with our kid’s Oscar knowing deep within our hearts that during their acceptance speech they will tell everyone how much they owe to us.  Maybe. 
And maybe at that point we are confusing success with fame.  You will hear the media talk about a successful actor or actress or musician or media personality and then they’ll tell how they’re dealing with their anger problems, substance abuse or their seventh marriage.  And you think “Oh so that’s success.”
This is fame (picture of Madonna) and this is success (picture of mother Theresa).   Madonna once said “I won’t be happy till I’m as famous as God.”  You see becoming famous is just part of the journey, you only think it is a destination.  Don Johnson said “Once you become famous, there is nothing left to become but infamous.”  Which I think is where Madonna is probably at.  And a hundred years from now nobody will know who Madonna or Don Johnson were but people will still talk about the Mother Theresas and the Helen Kellers and the Albert Schweitzers and Billy Grahams. 
Davie Crockett said “Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!” 
But what is success if it isn’t fame.  And what do we have to do to be successful and how do we know when we’re finally there?  If we were to venture out onto the street and ask people those questions what would the answers be?  Let’s listen in and find out.   Clip from e.ssentials vol. 4 #5 What does it mean to be successful?)
How would you answer that question?  What does it mean to be successful?  A boss I had many years ago used to tell me that “Luck is what failures call success.”  How would you define being successful? Would you talk about your job, how much money you make, your great title and all the perks that come with your position.  Maybe you’d talk about your family, your marriage, how much you love your spouse, how proud you are of your children.  Or maybe you’d speak in terms of your hobby, what your golf score was, how big your sailboat is or the size of the buck you shot last year.   What does it mean to be successful?
And what if we were to narrow that down and ask, what does it mean to be spiritually successful?  What would your answer be then?  Would you talk about how often you attend church, how much you give, how many of the Ten Commandments you’ve been able to keep, how you have tried to do everything required of you and of all the things that you’ve sacrificed for God?
That’s what the people were doing in Micah’s day; they wanted to know how many sacrifices they would have to make to please God.  Micah has just done the prophet thing, you know “Turn or Burn” and the people seem more interested in the first option then the second. And they ask the prophet, Micah 6:6-7 What can we bring to the LORD to make up for what we’ve done? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?   Should we offer him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of olive oil? Would that please the LORD? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for the sins of our souls? Would that make him glad?  
   
They wanted to know what they could do to achieve spiritual success. And I’m sure that their first born children were hoping that Micah wouldn’t pick number three.
I wonder if Micah stood there thinking, “Hmmm, this might be a good time to ask for a raise.” Or maybe he was tempted to say “Put more in the offering plate, treat your prophets better and send the missus and I on a cruise, that should just about do it.”
Instead he looks at the people and says Micah 6:8 No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good. . .
This story is recorded in the book of Micah which is the 33rd book in the bible and was written by . . .Micah, to warn the wicked and encourage the righteous. 
And so the people were asking “What do we need to do to appease the lord, to right the wrongs that we have done and to make up for our evil behaviour.”  And they were thinking that maybe it was simply a matter of doing.  When in reality Micah tells them that it was a matter of being.  Which I’m sure was a bit of a downer for them because often doing is a lot easier then being.
If the church could tell people today, “What you are or who you are is irrelevant, how you behave toward God and others doesn’t matter all that matters is that you give us your money.”  We’d probably never have another financial concern, just pay your tithe and then eat drink and be merry.  I’m sure there would be people thinking “Cool, it’s like paying premiums on eternal fire insurance.”  But listen to what God’s word says in 1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams.”  
And so Micah responds to the questions that the people had by saying “You already know what to do, now do it.”  But just in case they had forgotten what is was there were supposed to do Micah lays it out for them,  Micah 6:8 No, O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.  
I’m suspecting that the guidelines for finding spiritual success are the same today as they were 2500 years ago.  And these are guidelines for God’s people, they aren’t a plan of salvation, this isn’t how to get saved, it’s how to behave after you are saved.  This isn’t a check list to get you into heaven, “Wow if I do 1, 2 and 3 then I’m in.”  Nope not at all, God’s word is very clear that you cannot earn your way into heaven.  That’s why Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his special favour when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  
This list is for you as a believer, as one of God’s children and it is a guideline for spiritual success. 
So here they are 1) Success Means Doing the Right Thing.
Now what is right is not necessarily what is permitted or what is lawful, it is what is right.  It’s doing the right thing for the right reasons.  And Micah implies that the people already knew what they needed to do.  Throughout the Old Testament we see the people of Israel’s actions described in a couple of different ways sometimes we are told that they did what was right in their own eyes and sometimes we are told that they did what was right in the eyes of God and by implication these were different actions.  And for those people they knew what was right in the eyes of God because they had God’s word, the Torah and they had God’s prophets.
And so they had this choice they had to make in their lives, follow God’s direction or do what they wanted to do.  Now those two are not always mutually exclusive, I would hope that as a Christian, a Christ Follower that the decision you make would be line with the word of God. That when you look at decisions that you have to make that you would ask yourself, “I wonder what God would have me do here?”
And once you have that figured out that you would do the right thing.
Now sometimes it’s fairly easy, we have scriptures that give us fairly strong direction in our life.  The Ten Commandants, tell us things like Don’t worship other Gods, Don’t take God’s Name in Vain, which by the way if you are wondering what that means, if you are not talking to him or about him, then don’t use his name.  Saying “Oh my God” or simply “My God” simply as an exclamation, those are taking God’s name in vain.  And by now you have probably figured out what OMG means.  That was what was technically called: an aside.  Back to the message.
Don’t have idols, keep the Sabbath, honour your parents, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t covet what other people have and don’t murder anyone.  So for the people of Micah’s day they shouldn’t have had to think too hard about committing adultery or murdering someone, those were no nos.
In the New Testament we have scriptures like Galatians 5:19 – 21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.      
So if we have the opportunity to engage in say impure thoughts, perhaps something we see on the internet or television and we think “golly I wonder if this is what I ought to be doing?”  The answer should be clear.  Maybe it’s not as clear cut as that, maybe it’s hostility or quarrelling.
There are other scriptures as well, like the words of Jesus in Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” 
In most cases doing the right thing begins by not doing the wrong thing.  Doing the right thing means loving one another, forgiving one another, helping one another and standing up for one another.
But Spiritual Success is more then simply doing the right thing 2) Success Means Loving Mercy.  When we think of God showing us mercy, of reaching down into our sinful lives and forgiving us, of giving us the opportunity to being a new creation and granting us eternal life in heaven we are overwhelmed.  And if he shows that much mercy to us how should we respond?  Perhaps by showing that mercy to others?  Maybe, but what is mercy? 
When we look into the bible we discover that mercy is almost always synonymous with forgiveness within the New Testament.  James 2:13 For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God’s mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you.  
Does that sound familiar?  Pretty close to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15  Jesus said “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
      
And in Matthew 5:7 God blesses those who are merciful,   for they will be shown mercy.    
As a matter of fact Jesus tells us an entire story about mercy in the book of Matthew, maybe you remember it.  Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us, “seven times” he asks, which seems pretty generous.  To which Jesus responds “no seventy times seven.” 
I don’t think that Jesus meant that we should forgive a person 490 times but not 491, I think he meant that we are to show the same type of mercy to others that God shows to us. 
Then Jesus tells the story.  There was a man who owed the King millions of dollars with no means to pay it back, when he asked the King for more time the King said “tell you what, why don’t we just forget the entire thing?”  And the man’s debt was forgiven.  Well as you might imagine the man was ecstatic. 
On his way home to tell his wife his good fortune he ran into an old acquaintance who owed him a couple of thousand bucks, when he asked for his money and the man couldn’t pay he had him arrested and thrown into jail.  When the King heard he was furious and he ordered the Man arrested and brought to him and then he asked him Matthew 18:32 – 33 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”
  
And the King ordered the first man thrown into prison until he could pay back every nickel of his debt.  And Jesus finishes his story by saying Matthew 18:35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”  
We need to love mercy if we are going to be spiritually successful because if we don’t not only will God not show us mercy but we will be consumed with anger and bitterness.
And thirdly 3) Success Means Doing Walking Humbly. There are those who would say you could in theory accomplish the first two without the third.  You could live rightly, do all the right things and love mercy and forgive others without walking humbly with your God.  But in reality and in life that breaks down.  My favourite philosopher, Yogi Berra said “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice there is.”   Which is probably why the word of God says Romans 3:10 As the Scriptures say,     “No one is good—   not even one.”
    
The prophet Isaiah paints a word picture which is very appropriate for this time of year, he writes in Isaiah 64:6 We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall. And our sins, like the wind, sweep us away.  
The only thing we have going for us goes back to a scripture I read earlier Ephesians 2:8-9God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.   Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
 
If you were with us through the summer weeks you will recall that our series was entitled “No Ordinary Family” and we looked at Hebrews 11 where we read about the champions of faith from the Old Testament, it is a Hall of Fame for Bible heroes.  People like Sarah and Abraham, Noah, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses, David, Samson, Gideon and Samuel.  All names that we are familiar with from Sunday School and reading the Old Testament Stories.  They built arks, killed giants and pulled down temples.  They believed God when he promised the impossible. Do you remember who we looked at first in the series?  Sure you do, his story is found in Hebrews 11:5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—”suddenly he disappeared because God took him.” But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God.  

So who was this Enoch and what was it that he did?  If we go back into  the book of Genesis we discover that he lived seven generations after Adam, that his father was Jared and his first child was Methuselah and the sum of his heroic actions are recorded in Genesis 5:24 He enjoyed a close relationship with God throughout his life. Then suddenly, he disappeared because God took him.   In other translations it tells us that “He walked with God.”

When we walk with God we acknowledge that he is smarter than we are and we let him take the lead.
A Scripture to close, as you read this with me make it your prayer Psalm 25:4-5 Show me the path where I should walk, O LORD;   point out the right road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.