ANIMAL PLANET SERMON SERIES
June 6, 1999
[Live video of Ed Young arriving in the parking lot of the church on the back of a camel]
How many of you have ever ridden a camel before? Will you please lift your hand? If you haven’t, you have missed something. Free camel rides after the service. Only at Fellowship Church! Kidding, only kidding.
Today I want to talk to you about one of the hardest sayings of Jesus. This statement that I am going to read from our Savior doesn’t go over too well in the Metroplex, the place famous for its materialism. But I have got to read it. Matthew 19:24, “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.” Think about it. Of all the animals Christ could have chosen to illustrate materialism, He picked a camel. He chose a common, ordinary creature of the day.
Camels are big animals. They are not that pretty. They don’t smell that nice. They can store, though, amazing amounts of water. And later on as they are going through the desert, they can tap into this water and it can quench their thirst. A lot of us are kind of like camels. We store all of this stuff along life’s journey thinking that it will quench our thirst. But it doesn’t.
Why did Jesus make this statement? Why did He turn to His followers and talk about a camel and the eye of a needle and a rich man? What precipitated this comment from Him? Well, let’s scroll back a little bit and set up the context. Jesus had just gotten into an intense interchange with a young man who was galloping through life on the back of the camel of materialism. This heavy hitter had a death-like grip on the reins and he was riding it hard.
Could it be that some of you, even I, struggle with materialism? Could it be that sometimes we want to grasp the reins of our camel so tightly, our possessions so intensely that it causes us to miss the great things in life? Jesus, when He talked to this young man, introduced the first camel filter. Now I am not talking about some tobacco deal. Jesus introduced a camel filter. He said to this young man in no uncertain terms, put your possessions through the filter of faith. Let’s see where they come out and then we will let the chips fall where they may. We will get back to this young man in a second. But are you ready to do that? Do you have stuff or does stuff have you?
I am in the middle of a series called Animal Planet. We have been taking various animals from the pages of scripture and seeing the potent parallels for your life and mine. The Holy Spirit chose, through the writers, to record these word pictures, these illustrations about animals for our benefit. So to talk about the benefit of this camel, let’s dissect the intense interchange I referred to earlier when Jesus met this young man.
This man mentioned in Matthew 19 was young. He came to the Lord at the right time, at the right juncture, during the defining moment of his life. God loves all people to come to Him at any stage, but He especially loves to see young people come to Him. Why? Because young folks have their entire futures ahead. I will never forget what a man who became a Christ follower in his sixties told me. He walked up to me after a service with tears in his eyes and said, “Ed, if only I could have made this decision earlier. I burned up so many years.”
So this young heavy hitter, galloping through life on the back of the camel of materialism came to Jesus at the right time. He also was living the right lifestyle. Jesus talked to him and the young man said that he was keeping the big 10. He said he was living the life, was a moral person. So he had a lot of things going for him: He was young. He came to Jesus at the right time. He was living the right lifestyle. Then in Matthew 19, he asked the right question. Check this out. He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That is the best question. That is the ultimate. And as you read the text, you are sort of cheering for the guy. You feel that cross pull. You feel him tightening down on the reins of the camel. You feel him considering what he needs to do. And then Jesus says something to him. Now don’t head for the exit while I read this verse. But if you want to, they are marked there in red.
Matthew 19:21. The man was at the zenith of his life. He would be very popular in the Metroplex. Here is what Jesus said to him, “Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” Ed, you mean to tell me that Jesus is telling me that I’ve got to liquidate, to sell it all? I have to give all my possessions to the poor and then follow Him? Jesus will probably never ask you to do that. This is the only time He ever asked anyone in the Bible to give all of their stuff to the poor. He didn’t ask Bartimaeus to do it. He didn’t ask Zacchaeus to do it. He didn’t ask Simon Peter to do it. He probably won’t ask any of us to do it.
But what happened? What did this rich man do? You see, Jesus saw to the core of the issue. Jesus saw the real deal going on. Jesus knew that this man was galloping through life on the camel of materialism and materialism was his god. Look at this tragic verse. Matthew 19:22, “But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved for he was one who owned much property.” The word “owned” in the original language means “he held tightly.” Wow, that is a powerful verse.
Then Jesus followed it up again after the young man walked away dejected. Look at Verse 24, “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.”
You know what is tempting? I deal with it. You deal with it. We like to listen to that camel, don’t we? The camel of our culture, the camel of commerce, the camel of stuff lies to us. Jesus challenged this young man with the camel filter. And the camel filter tells us that stuff will rot, will wane, will rust. But the camel says that stuff will satisfy. Most of us go through life thinking that stuff will satisfy. So during this message, if you hear some moaning and groaning going on, pay no attention to it. It is just the camel being filtered.
Here is what happens to most of us. Money has a way of making promises to us that are very, very empty. Money says, if you get a lot of it, you will have significance, power, autonomy, and then you can forge your own future. You can plan out your own path. And it is the same struggle that Adam and Eve dealt with. This sin to be a little god goes all the way back to the soils of the garden.
Just for a second, think back. For some of us with gray hair, we have got to think way, way back. Think back to the playground, back to those monkey bars. We are swinging on the monkey bars having a good time. Boys were not even thinking about girls. Girls were not thinking about boys. We were just existing. Pretty much our main deal on the playground was to have significance, to be good at something. To be the best on the money bars, to be first on the kickball team, to be the best jump roper, or to collect the most candy. I like what Seinfeld said. During the first ten years of a kid’s life he has one motto: get candy.
Well, what happens? Those of us on the playground were lurking and watching for significance. We are trying to find out what really matters, what gives us meaning and pleasure, and we think that being the best is it. Well, if you scroll forward three or four decades, you have a man or woman who has been bombarded by our camelistic culture and Madison Avenue which tells us we have got to drive this, got to wear that, got to live over there. We reason to ourselves that if we are going to do all that, we have got to make and burn up a lot of money. So that is what we do. We get on that treadmill, make that money, burn through that money. We buy this, buy that, acquire this, and think that it is it. But after a while, after a long, long, long, long while, talk to someone who has been on the treadmill for three or four decades when they discover that it is not it.
It is a tough deal. It is a sobering thought. We go through several different positions. Some, when they discover it is not it, just bail out on life. They move to the mountains or the shore. Or maybe they just buy a bed and breakfast in Brenham. They check out, but they don’t realize that presents a whole new set of problems. Others do the robot thing. Remember Michael Jackson? My imitation is pretty good for a pastor, right? But a lot of people realize that the same people they were trying to impress on the monkey bars in the playground don’t really love them, don’t really care about them, three or four decades later. And they find themselves just swinging from the monkey bars again. Some bail out, others do the robot thing. They just go through the monotony of life. They are living but they are dead. Died at 38, buried at 72. And then they go through very destructive behavioral patterns to try to deaden and numb out all of their frustrations and feelings. Some just turn to a robotic existence.
Some, though, are brave. Some put it on the line. Some go through the camel filter. They begin to ask the hard questions. “Lord, here it is. I am going to put it up there for you. You show me what the deal is.” I have gone on this search in my life. I have been searching during certain seasons of my life for it. When I was a kid, I thought it would be to own an Ambassador 5,000 fishing reel. And I will never forget what happened on the Christmas morning when I bounded down the staircase and there it was in a leather pouch. An Ambassador 5,000 fishing reel, the same reel Roland Martin used. I thought it was it. But guess what, the Ambassador 5,000 reel wasn’t it.
Then I thought that it would be a car—wheels, transportation. I had my eye on this beautiful babe, Lisa Lee, who is now Lisa Young. I thought, if I had the car…. So when I finally got that 1967 puke green Delta 88 with snow tires on the back, I thought it was it. But it wasn’t it. Then I said it would be starting in a major college basketball game. My freshman year I played 17 minutes the whole year. I didn’t even letter. My sophomore year, though, man, I worked out in the summer with Five Slamma Jamma. I was playing really good. I had impressed the coaches. We had a big game against Auburn, 18,000 people watching. Right before the game started, Coach Joe Williams walks in and says that I had been playing great and would start that night. I though, “Whoa, this is it!” And there I was right before the game sitting down with the starters waiting for my name to be called out over the PA system. “Starting at guard from Houston, Texas, he is 6’3” (I am really 6’1”), 178 pound sophomore, Ed Young.” I remember walking through the line high-fiving. I stood out there in my tank top and shorts. I remember just like it was yesterday, I looked down on the floor and said to myself, this is not it. Then I thought, it would be to have a house. Do I need to continue?
I have a friend who is a pastor in the Northeast. He knows a lot about airplanes. He tells an account of how it wasn’t it. He said one day a very wealthy friend of his invited him on a little trip on his private jet, a G2. Now if you don’t know very much about planes, the G2 sells for about $10,000,000. They flew to Washington, DC. He said while they were pulling up at the private terminal after landing, the businessman tapped him on the shoulder and pointed at another plane out the window. He added that it was a G4 and that he had his eyes on one of those. My pastor friend told him, it was nuts. He asked when he was going to come to the time in his life when it is not another plane, not another $5 million deal. That it is not it.
Are you there? Are you there? Well, let’s do something brave and put our possessions through the filter of faith. How do we do it? We have got to come to several rapid realizations. The first is this. We have to come to the realization that God carries title to all of our stuff. God carries title to all of our stuff. You don’t own anything. I don’t own anything. God carries title to every toy, every possession, everything we think we have. We are just managers. God is the owner.
Now some are saying that they are already there, buying into that. Yes, you might buy into it. You might give it lip service. You might talk it but do you walk it? It is like having someone say to you that he is a great businessman, that you had better watch him close the deals and wheel and deal. Or like the woman who says she is a great tennis player, that she has power and the groundstroke and serve. But then you see the businessman in the business world and you realize that he is a joke, that he talks a good game but doesn’t walk it. Then you watch the tennis lady try to serve, and you realize that she talks it too, but doesn’t walk the game. A lot of believers talk the smack, but a lot of them don’t really walk.
Who made you? God. Who gave you the creativity and the savvy, self-made woman and self-made man? God. Who owns it all? God. Are you living that way? That is the first realization.
The second realization is interesting. God also wants us to enjoy our stuff. Do you ever feel guilty when you are blessed? God gives all of us a certain amount of resources. To some of us He gives a small pile. To others He gives a medium pile. Still to others He gives a large pile, an extra large pile. To some He gives a Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Ross Perot pile. God does it. God has given us all certain piles of stuff.
We have the choice whether we understand He owns it or not. If we understand God owns it, then we ought to enjoy our stuff. Don’t feel guilty if God has blessed you. I don’t care if you have a 120-foot yacht in the Caribbean, if you realize God owns it all and you are just a manager, God smiles. His heart beats fast when you are having a blast on your yacht. I don’t care if you own an inflatable boat like I own. My wife gave it to me 17 years ago. It is a cool boat. And when I blow it up and put a motor on the back of it, God smiles. He blessed me with a Zodiac. I have had better boats than that, though.
1 Timothy 6:17-19—the Apostle Paul is penning this letter to young Pastor Timothy. And check out what Paul wants Timothy to do—“Instruct those who are rich….” Now let me stop here. Instruct those who are rich. I know what you are thinking because I am the same way, I am a human being too. You are sitting there thinking, “Instruct those who are rich. Well this message isn’t for me, but I know somebody in the other section who needs to hear it. And in this bull market, baby, they have cashed in and I know where they live and what they drive. Oh, Ed, thank you so much for preaching to them. Get ‘em. Go.”
If we have more than a couple of changes of clothes, we are rich in the eyes of the world. So this is for everybody. I think that everyone here has two or three changes of clothes. Maybe you don’t, but most of us do. So don’t do the reverse snobbery thing. There is snobbery from the rich for those who don’t have very much. But there is as much snobbery from those who don’t have as much as the rich. You know, the ones who walk in and say, “Must be nice….”
“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited (that is saying that we know who carries title) or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy….” Don’t feel guilty when you are blessed. “…instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Don’t miss that word “share.”
I have written a lot of messages. I am in the process right now of writing a book with Thomas Nelson. But I am going to make a confession right now. I am also a songwriter. I wrote a song several years ago about my children. I watched them and happen to love them. I noticed that they were having a difficult time being generous with things like a doll or a basketball or Nintendo 64. So here is a song that I wrote. The lyrics are complicated, but follow me.
Let’s say, for example, LeeBeth was not sharing her Barbie with the twins. I would sing this song. “Share, share, share. LeeBeth likes to share. Share, share, share.” Then I would have LeeBeth share the Barbie with the twins. Now let’s all sing that together substituting Fellowship Church for LeeBeth. That’s the way to do it. Stan, I know that our talented band and our singers are cutting a CD this next year. Would you give me 15 seconds on the end to do my share song with the church?
Do you share, share, share? Are you a generous person?
So, the fact that God carries the title to all of our stuff is the first realization. God wants us to enjoy it is the second realization. The third one, and this may surprise you, God wants us to save our stuff. And God is so good. I cannot believe what He does as we study His word. Here we are in the midst of a series, Animal Planet. In Proverbs 6, the writer says, “Go to the ant and watch his ways.” The ant stores. The ant saves. We are to be like an ant. We are to save. Are you saving? You should save at least, at least, 10 percent of what you make. And you can’t just drift into a plan of money management. Wow, I have a plan now. You have got to have some intentionality about it. You have got to be strategic about it. You have got to get some counsel about it. Take some courses about what the Bible says concerning money management. We teach those courses regularly around here. These are issues that we counsel people on time and time again. God wants us to save.
Now another realization that will really blow your doors, rattle your cage, God wants us to invest it. That is invest, i-n-v-e-s-t. Everything that God has given us, every good gift, every spiritual aptitude, He wants us to invest and multiply and to give back to him as a sign of worship. We are to invest our money. Matthew 25 is a parable, a word picture. It is about three people who had certain piles of stuff given to them by their manager. Two of the three took their stuff, invested it, made a great return on their money. They each were given a high five by the manager. The third one just sat on his stuff and didn’t do a thing. He was rebuked. Are you investing? Are you getting your money working for you? It is part of the camel filter.
Let’s talk about the final realization. We need to come to the realization that generosity keeps the camel in check. I struggle with this because I am basically a selfish guy. But the Holy Spirit has worked on me for a long time. And one of the attributes of God and of a true Christ follower is to be generous. So let me tell you what I do personally to break the back of materialism. I regularly give stuff away. Good stuff. Stuff that I can wear. Stuff that I can fish with. I give it away. And that helps a lot. Are you generous?
I have had an interesting life growing up as a preacher’s kid yet living around a bunch of hell-raising people. Now let me tell you what I am talking about. I’m not talking about my parents. I grew up in a very, very rough public school system. Through sports I have been around a lot of inner city kids, a lot of drugs, the whole nine yards. I didn’t do any of that stuff, but I have been around it. I had to fight a couple of times just to survive. But I thank God for those experiences. Black, white, green, orange, purple, pink collar, blue collar. I got a chance to know many.
When I moved to Houston my senior year, suddenly I was exposed to a culture that I had never been around before. I was exposed to a lot of people who were loaded. I’m not talking about just a few millions, I am talking about big bucks. Now that wasn’t everybody I knew. But I did know one guy who was a billionaire. Let me tell you something that I have learned about people in general. People are people. They have the same needs. But I have noticed this about the rich, generally speaking. Generally speaking, the wealthy are selfish. They are selfish. They get into pseudo-generosity but they never really give something to others that costs them something. They never really give to people in need, to the poor, to the downtrodden, even to the local church. It has been amazing. I didn’t say all.
Last night I met a friend of mine from this church who does extremely well financially. He is one of the most generous people I know. I know some here who have a real heart for generosity. And I want to just stop here and thank the Fellowship Church for something. Tomorrow morning I am leaving, but the buses are pulling out tonight with 330 junior high students. A total of 450 people are going to Gulf Shores, Alabama, on a beach retreat. We are going to talk about the real issues of life. It costs a lot of money to do that. But because of your generosity, and I am talking to the core people here, we have pretty much paid for the whole deal just by taking two offerings. I want to thank you for your generosity. I am so thrilled that many are growing in this. But don’t let the camel lie to you. Don’t let the camel bite you. ‘Cause you are going to be blessed. Don’t grasp the reins too tightly. Do you realize that God is blessing some of you right now just to bless others? Just to help build this church. We are out of space right now in a lot of areas. We will have to build again pretty soon. What are you going to do?
I go back to Malachi 3:10. God hit me with this one. I have talked about this many times here but one word just hit me recently. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse….” I like that word “whole.” That is the word that hit me. Now why did the Holy Spirit pick “whole tithe”? Why didn’t the Holy Spirit say “tithe”? Seventy percent of Christ’s parables were about stuff, money, material possessions. I think that the Holy Spirit chose whole because He knew that a lot of us would be tempted to play financial games with God. The word tithe means ten. We are to give the first 10% of everything we make to our local church. Those are not my words, but God’s words. But He knew we would play games. “Let’s see, I have earned $60,000 this year while my investments made me $200,000, but I will tithe on the $60,000.” Well, that is embezzling money from God.
You can talk to counselors about it but they won’t tell you what the Bible says. You can talk to financial counselors about it, but if they are not Christians, they won’t tell you that. But I am telling you that and also that you will be robbing yourself of a blessing.
We will either be a dam or a river. We will either say to God that He is sending a lot our way and that we will let it flow it on to others, back to the needy, back to the church; that we will be a river. Or we will be like Grapevine Dam or Hoover Dam saying that what we have is ours and we will ride the camel the rest of our lives. This is something that I deal with. It is not always easy for me.
Let me share some things that I have done and understand my spirit when I say this. This is about the whole issue of giving. Several years ago I saved up a lot of money for me due to a lot of speaking and other involvements. I had $29,000 in one account. To me, that is a lot of money. Some of you are saying that is pocket change. But for some others, it is probably a lot of money. But money is relative. Here is what I did. I began to ride that camel. I began to do the Harpo thing. I was protecting it. It was mine. Then one day, after a prayer session, after studying Malachi 3:10, after thinking about this whole dam versus river thing, I said to myself that it was time to kick the camel. So I got my checkbook out. It was not easy. I wrote a $20,000 check and gave it to the Fellowship Church. I don’t tell you that for you to say what a spiritual giant you have for a senior pastor. Hey, I have got a long way to go. But I tell you that to show you how I meet this stuff regularly. I have to go head on with the camel day in and day out. But I am going to tell you something. After I wrote that check, after about a day, it took about a day, I really felt the blessings and the smile of God like words can’t describe. So that is from me to you.
But the bottom line is that it is not just the giving thing. It is not just an investment thing. It is about the totality of our resources. It is Biblical money management.
I have got one last thing that I want to share with you. And this is real insider information. We had arranged this whole camel deal a totally different way. Harpo, the camel showed up yesterday a 3 PM. We had this thing rigged where I was going to ride down the aisle on Harpo. Harpo was not walking into the Fellowship Church, Jack. Harpo locked up. And the trainers were coaxing him with carrots, sugar and even a Pepsi. You should have seen him trying to get the Pepsi down. I am really, really wired right before I preach. I go through PMS – Pre-Message Syndrome. I did something I should have never done. I got behind Harpo and I began to push him and he whacked me one time with that tail. That was it. We called in an audible and arranged to do the video of me arriving in the parking lot.
I think that God allowed that to happen because this is what He taught me through this whole ordeal. The whole thing rides on what happened to Harpo. God is saying to a lot of us here, “Come on, camel, come on in. Ride the camel of materialism through My house, through My filter, through My flow chart. Come on, come on, come on.” But a lot of us are just locked up like Harpo. We have our necks stretched out and we can smell those blessings but we are not going to do it.
Are you going to be like Harpo, or are you going to allow God to do a camel filter?