The Main Thing Is To Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing
On the second Sunday in September of 1968, I preached my first sermon in my first church! Since that day, every Sunday that I preach, before I start into the service, I always spend some time alone. It is not a time when I go over the sermon to make sure that I have it in my head and in my heart—that’s done on Saturday and in the pre-dawn hours on Sunday. Nor is it a time when I just relax and marshal my strength to face our three congregations that morning. Instead, it is a time of prayer, a time for me to be very still in the presence of God. And let me tell you what always happens to me in those times alone. God’s Spirit comes to me and reminds me that there will be people listening to the sermon who need a word of hope and encouragement and grace and salvation. He reminds me that there will be people here who feel that life has hit a dead end, and they don’t quite know what to do next. He reminds me that there will be people here dealing with some great fear in life, and they don’t see how they can ever overcome it. He reminds me that there will be people listening who have been hurt or wounded in life, and they don’t know how they will ever find healing. And He reminds me that there will be people present for whom life is going swimmingly well, and they know that that’s when it is easiest to lose your grip on God. That’s why in those moments alone before I head into a service to preach, I always pray, “Lord help me to remember in my preaching that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And with God’s help, that’s what I have tried to do for 24 years now…
Dr. Robert Elliot, a cardiovascular surgeon, has written a book about the relationship between stress and heart disease. It’s entitled Is It Worth Dying For? The book revolves around what Dr. Elliot calls his “Two Rules For Life.” Rule Number One is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Rule Number Two is: “It’s all small stuff!” Now, of course, Dr. Elliot doesn’t mean to be taken literally at that point. He knows perfectly well that there are some things, a few things, a very, very few things worth dying for in life. But he is making the point that the things that so often do us in are the little things. It’s the small stuff that kills us. We can become so obsessed with the little things, the trivial things, the things that do not matter that we miss the main thing in life.
Well the question for us today is obvious “What is the main thing? If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, then what, pray tell, is the main thing?” Jesus gives us the answer in Luke 10:25. A lawyer approached Jesus and asked: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, the lawyer was asking: “What’s the main thing in life? My life is consumed by small stuff, so, tell me, what’s the main thing in life?” Jesus responds by saying to him: “The answer will be found in the Scriptures. What do the Scriptures say about this?” The lawyer replies: “The Scriptures tell us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
“That’s it! Jesus said, “You’ve got it! That’s the main thing. Do that and you will really live.” Isn’t that something? The answer is right here in this Book. We have had it in our hands all along. Jesus is saying to us that the main thing in life is to love God unreservedly, to love people unconditionally, and to live life unselfishly. Let’s look at each of those three thoughts, taking them one at a time.
First of all, Jesus makes it plain that the main thing is to love God unreservedly.
He said that we are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. No reservations, no restrictions, no holding back, no hesitation. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—that’s the main thing we are to do in life. That’s why every Sunday in one way or another I preach love for God.
G. Campbell Morgan, the great British preacher, tells how one day word came to him that a woman in his community was in dire straits. She was a widow with three small children. She had run out of money. She was about to be evicted from her rented home. Dr. Morgan’s heart went out to her. He told his congregation her story and they were moved to compassion. They took up an offering and the people gave generously. Dr. Morgan was thrilled by the response and he couldn’t wait to go to this woman’s home and present her with this gracious love gift. He knocked on the front door. No answer. He went around to the back and knocked again. No one came to the door. He shouted through the windows on the side of the house. No response. Dr. Morgan was so disappointed because he had this wonderful gift, but no one would come to the door to receive it! That evening Dr. Morgan received a phone call from the woman. Someone had contacted her and told her about the purpose of the pastor’s visit. She said: “Dr. Morgan, I’m so sorry. I was inside the house when you were calling and knocking, but I didn’t come to the door because I was afraid. I thought you were the landlord coming to collect the rent.”
Think about that! What a parable that is for us. God comes knocking at our door, calling out our name. He has a wonderful life-saving gift for us. And what do we do? We hide. We run. We try to avoid Him. We won’t open the door to our hearts because we are afraid that He is the landlord coming to collect the rent. My friends, the Good News of the Gospel is that God is not an angry ruthless landlord. He is the best friend we could ever have and He comes bringing to us a gracious saving gift. He stands at the door and knocks but we have to let Him in.
Have you opened the door of your heart to God? If not, do that today. Let Him in. He has a priceless gift for you. Welcome Him into your life gladly—with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The main thing is, first of all, to love God unreservedly.
Secondly, Jesus makes it plain that the main thing is life is to love people unconditionally.
He said that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love with no conditions and no strings attached. That’s why every Sunday, in one way or another, I preach love for other people.
Karl Menninger has a book called The Vital Balance. In that book, he says that he has discovered that there are basically two groups of people in life. He says that one group is negative. He says for them the glass is always half-empty…the sun is always setting…it’s always about to rain or it’s too dry or it’s too hot or it’s too cold…their parents or their kids never write…nobody ever calls…nobody ever pays them any respect. He says that the other group of people is different. He says for them the glass is always half-full…the sun is always on the rise… if it’s too dry then they think it is going to rain…if it’s too hot they think it is going to turn cool…if their parents or their kids don’t write or call it’s because they are engaged in something of great importance. Dr. Menninger says that he has discovered that people fall into one group or the other.
Then he tells a story. Once when Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States, he went riding through the woods on horseback with several of his advisors. It was springtime and they encountered a stream which had been swollen by the rain. There was a man there who had been trying to hitch a ride across the rushing stream all morning long. Yet every time someone came by on a horse, they just hurried on across. Suddenly, there rode into the clearing, Thomas Jefferson and the little band of men with him. The man ran straight for the President and said: “Sir, could you give me a lift across the stream?” Jefferson immediately reached down, caught the man by the arm, lifted him up onto the horse, and rode on to the other side. Jefferson then helped the man down—and then the President and his party rode on their way. A fellow who had watched this whole thing said to the man: “I can’t believe you ran up to the President of the United States and asked him to help you across the river.” To which the man replied: “Is that who that was? I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was the President.” The other fellow then asked: “Then why did you choose him to approach?” The man answered: “Because all morning I had been refused. But when I saw that man, I saw that he had a ‘yes’ face!”
Jesus said: “God wants you to have a ‘yes’ face for other people in life.” Think what it would mean if we could move through life so marked by unconditional love for other people that it showed in our faces. That is precisely what Jesus has called us to do. The main thing in life, He says, is to love God unreservedly and to love people unconditionally.
Thirdly, Jesus makes it plain that the main thing in life is to live life unselfishly.
Some years ago, Albert Schweitzer was speaking to a graduating class at a prestigious college in London. He said: “Some of you will be highly successful, some of you will make a lot of money; some of you will rise to places of prominence, some of you will be adorned with titles. But I promise you this: only those of you who learn how to serve will be happy.” Here in Luke 10, Jesus makes it plain that the main thing for us to do in life is to learn how to serve, to learn how to live unselfishly. That’s why every Sunday, in one way or another, I preach the value of giving your life away in love.
Here’s a life-principle for you: I believe that in the long run what life does to you is dependent upon what life finds in you. What life does to you is dependant upon what life finds in you. True story. A young girl who grew up in this country was told by those who loved her that she had a good singing voice. She got a little training, and was told that she might be good enough for the opera. She went to New York. There were some people there who looked at the town from which she came and the list of people with whom she had studied and they said: “Sorry, you are not up to our operatic standards.” After repeated frustration, she finally made her way to Europe. She fought long and hard to gain acceptance. In time, people flocked to hear her sing. At last, she returned to this country. Though by now she had achieved a measure of fame, she never forgot who she was and she never stopped giving herself away in loving service to other people. She married, had two children, both born with significant disabilities. She bought a house out away from New York City and put her rising career on hold, believing that away from the distractions she could help her children develop to as much potential as possible, disabled though they were. Then tragedy struck again. Her house caught fire and burned to the ground. She never let that alter the loving, serving spirit which is hers. Still more difficulty came. She was diagnosed as having a malignancy. Yet for all that, do you know what the people who know her call her? They call her “Bubbles”! Her real name, of course, is Beverly Sills. Do you know why people call her “Bubbles”? Because they say, no matter the difficulties of her own life, her love and joy bubble over in service to others.
That’s the main thing for us to do in life—to love God unreservedly, to love people unconditionally, and to live life unselfishly.
All those 24 years ago, Jesus said to me what Hamlet said to Horatio: “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, then absent thee from felicity a while, and in this harsh and cruel world, draw thy breath in pain to tell my story.” I hold Jesus in my heart. And I have tried to tell His story. There has been pain—yes—the pain of pressure, of inadequacy, of fear of failure. But for 24 years now, I have tried to tell His story. You see, the main thing I must do in my life is to bring you to encounter that Christ of Calvary in your own life. Why?
I think the movie “The Pawnbroker” holds the answer. Did you see it a number of years ago? It won for Rod Steiger an Academy Award. Steiger played an old Jew named Naserman who ran a pawn shop. He saw his wife and children die in a Nazi concentration camp. It left him a bitter man. Not only that, but everyday in his work he had to deal with people selling their most precious possessions just to keep body and soul together. Seeing so much suffering and hurt, he built all kinds of walls and barricades about him until he felt nothing. Then one day a young Christian boy named Jesus, J-E-S-U-S, Jesus Ortiz came into Naserman’s life and loved him, but the pawnbroker would not let the boy into his heart. Then Jesus saved the old pawnbroker’s life. He stepped in front of him and took a bullet which had been aimed at the pawnbroker. The boy dies, his head being held in the hands of the old Jew. The pawnbroker then gets up and with every step he takes you can see what is happening—how the walls are being torn down and the barricades broken away and the darkness dispelled. He goes back into his shop and on the counter there is a paper spike—you know, a metal base with a spike that sticks up and you put papers on it. It’s sitting there on the counter. He looks down at it and you can see the light of a new love being born in his face. Then very deliberately, he takes his hand and he plunges it down, down, down until the spike runs it through. When I saw that I knew that he had been taken to Calvary by a shot Jesus, and there on Calvary he had encountered a spiked Jesus. And when I saw that, I knew that he would never be the same again.
The hands of Jesus are very frail,
For they are pierced with a nail,
And only those reach heaven at last
Who by those frail hands are held fast.