FIRST & 10 SERMON SERIES
MINE OVER MATTER
MARCH 7, 1999
The concluding commandment is different. The first nine deal with our behavior and this last one hits on our attitude, our disposition if you will. It is easy to pinpoint nine specific behaviors but it is another thing to get our arms around our disposition. It is difficult, also, to call number ten a sin because this deal is so tethered to our times. I want you to listen as I read God’s word in Exodus 20:17. “You shall not covet….” To covet means to have an obsession with someone else’s possessions. It is when our needs feed into greed.
Now a lot of us after reading this text are probably concluding, well, I guess this means that we are to be desire-free. I guess this means that we are not to have any goals or objectives. I guess God wants us to be vacant of vision, void of any productivity. No. That line of thinking is false. We are to be goal-oriented, vision-minded. We are to achieve those objectives. What God is driving at, though, is simply this. He is looking at that desire which when left unchecked can turn into a raging fire and thus cause us to covet. He is talking about a desire that is excessive. So don’t walk out of these doors and say that you should not have any desire. Desire is God-given. It is the excess, the getting involved and emersed in it that messes up all of us.
Our culture has cut its teeth on consumerism. Everywhere we turn, people are talking about possessions. It is hip these days to say that I want the simple life. I want to scale down. I want to have just basic things. I want to buy Gap clothing for the rest of my existence and consume a kind of bland vegetarian diet. We say that but talk is cheap. I believe that today’s session is tailor-made for the metroplex. We are into covetness, aren’t we? Texans are known for the big hair, the big houses, the big cars and the big diamond Rolex watches. Coveting. What is it that turns your heart and turns your head? What is it that makes you a little bit vulnerable, that causes you to want something? What is it that changes this God-given desire into a raging fire? What is it that causes you to tread on number ten and to become obsessed with someone else’s possessions?
Maybe cars are your thing. Maybe clothing is your thing. Maybe antiques, maybe hunting supplies, or golf. I don’t know what it is, but we all have something that, if left unchecked, can really mess us up. Let’s read the remainder of this verse. I just read the first four words to you. This is how I read it this last week as I was preparing for this message. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…” I said to myself, I’m good there. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…” All right, good there. “…or his man servant or maidservant…” Ehhhh, irrelevant. I am great on that one. “…his ox or donkey…” oh, boy. This next one though steps on my toes. “…or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
When I covet something, “wouldn’t it be nice” turns into “I’ve got to have what you have”. Anything. Do you covet anything? I want you to say this word with me. Covetness. And don’t laugh when I mess it up later on because I know I will. Covetness. It is hard to say, but it is harder not to do. Wouldn’t you agree?
As I was preparing for this message I began to pray to God and ask Him to give me words to say. I prayed for you this entire week. I asked God to help me articulate this message in a memorable way. One of the things I try to do when I speak is, I try to give you something to take home that you can grasp and make real so that two, three or four months from now when you think about covetness you can remember a little word picture object from this message. Well, as I was praying, God began to give me a bunch of rhymes. So I am going to do the Dr. Seuss thing as we talk about covetness. As we go through these series of rhymes, I believe they will help us get into the antithesis of covetness, which is contentment. The core of this commandment is contentment.
Let’s look at the first rhyme. We have to learn how to admire without the acquire. What is it that turns your heart? What is it that turns your head? We have to learn to admire that something without the acquire. We have to learn how to say, I appreciate that. That is great. Good for you. That is incredible. Without those thoughts, it can turn into that raging fire. If it turns into a raging fire and we begin to covet certain things, we end up burning up the focus of our faith and wasting a lot of time and energy on things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
It is fascinating when you think about the historicity of this sin. If you look in the book of Isaiah 14:12, you will see the biography of Satan. Before Satan was called Satan, he was known as Lucifer, the star of the morning. It was his objective, day in and day out, to lead worship and adoration toward God, Himself. Well, one day Lucifer began to have that desire to acquire and it became a raging fire and he tried to elbow God out of the way. Because of this sin of covetness, God booted him out and he descended to earth. So we are talking about an old and ancient sin. But we are talking about something that we all struggle with. I would be lying to you if I said that I had number ten wrapped up. And you are going to be lying to yourself if you say the same thing. So the next time you feel all of those marketers and those advertisements and commercials trying to rev up those engines to possess, the next time you feel that, learn to admire without the acquire.
Have you ever thought about all the billions and billions of dollars of research and marketing that all of these highly educated people do in order to get us to drop our self-control guard down for just a second? There are probably executives from Ivy League schools somewhere in New York or LA dreaming and strategizing ways to make you and me covet. They know when we love it, we will covet.
Let’s go to the next rhyme. We have to make a confession about our obsession. Have you ever felt a fire begin to rage in your life? I can’t believe he got that promotion. I can’t believe they are having a baby. I can’t believe…. Whenever you feel that, you start telling God that you deserve that and you begin to blame God and have a pity party for yourself, to enter the moan zone. Don’t even go there. The Bible will tell us to make a confession about our obsession. All I have to do is just peruse the pages of scripture and discover that I don’t deserve a thing. I deserve a Christ-less eternity. I deserve hell. I deserve to have this giant cosmic chasm between myself and God because of my sinfulness. Yet, I have got it made if I am a child of God. And so do you. I have got clothes on my back, food on the table, a roof over my head. I have got forgiveness. I have got eternal life. I have power over my weaknesses. I have a clear conscience. I have an incredible deal going on. So who are you to give this weak stuff to God. “Well, God, I can’t believe you helped them and not me. God, I can’t believe they got that inheritance and no me. God, I can’t believe they are driving that car and not me.” Give me a break. Isn’t that sad? I get mad at myself for doing that.
Well, when we feel that going on, remember the rhyme. Make a confession about your obsession. I Timothy 6:7. “For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.” Paul is telling Timothy that we brought nothing in and can take nothing out. We started with zero, we end with zero. Just for a second I want you to imagine a long continuum on stage. On this side of the stage just think about a giant zero, nothing, a big zero. On the other end lets just put another big zero. You got it. Zero here, zero there. For example let’s say the first zero on that end of the continuum represents my birth. When Edwin Barry Young was born, March 16, 1961, I was born with zero. Naked. Nude. I didn’t have a wallet, didn’t have a green shirt, didn’t have black pants. I didn’t have a thing. I am not going to show you pictures, but just trust me. All of us were born with zero.
One day, only God knows when, I am going to die. I will keel over; my heart will stop beating. I don’t care how much health food I eat or carrot juice I drink, I am going to die. And then I will leave the earth with what? Zero. So I am born with zero and I end with zero. Now here is where most human beings miss it. Here is what really trips us up. As we are beginning to develop, we begin to figure this deal out from a humanistic perspective. Oh, I have got to collect a lot of possessions. That’s the deal. That is the way I score points. So I will accumulate all these things.
Then we begin to compare ourselves with others. I have this possession and that possession. I have more possessions than you do. Oh, look at this. My possessions are building interest, they are compounding daily. Whoa. Look at my portfolio. Everything is cool. I have got a lot of stuff. But I die. And I end up with zero. Nothing.
A close friend of mine married into a family and immediately became worth a couple of hundred million dollars. He kids around and says, “The best financial decision I ever made was when I said I do.” When he was attending the funeral of his father-in-law, the man who had made it all, he was sitting in a comfortable chair at the graveside. My friend is a Christian, a great guy. Someone turned to him while the pastor was reading the twenty-third Psalm and said, “How much did the old man leave.” My friend turned to him and said, “Everything.” Isn’t it amazing how we are duped into thinking that if we score all of these points with possessions we are somehow going to hit Nirvana, get into life and discover what it is all about. Yet we start and end with zero. II Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves….” You see there is a big difference with competing with everyone and doing your best. “…when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” Thus, we should not
toy with the tendency to try to fill all the space between these zeros with possessions. This segueways into the third rhyme. Are you ready for it?
Change the measure of your treasure. That is what we are to do. We are to get off scoring all these points with possessions between the zeros. We are to change the measure of our treasure. Matthew 6:20. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven….” Christ is saying to score points in areas that matter. Light up the scoreboard in heaven. “…where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.” I am born with zero and live life. Yeah, I am going to own stuff, will have possessions, will be goal-oriented and have desires. That is cool. But, if I am really going to light it up, really pass the treasure test, if I am going to do the Matthew 6:20 thing, if I am going to change the measure of my treasure, I have got to score points in things that really matter. Like my personal relationship with Christ. Like daily private worship. Like corporate worship in the local church. Like spending time with my spouse. Like investing in my family. Like important things. Have you made the choice to change the measure of your treasure?
Let’s go to another rhyme. Turn resentment into contentment. Did you hear me say earlier, the antithesis of covetness is contentment? Let me tell you what contentment is not. Contentment is not this. Ahhhh, I am just content. That is not contentment. Contentment is YEAH, I am content. It is not passive, it is active.
The Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:12 said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” It is not instantaneous. It is a process. When he said he had learned, what was he driving at? Paul was saying that a long time ago he was not content. He was into things and obsessing about people’s possessions. He was saying that he had learned how to be content. And Paul was content with a bunch and he was content when he didn’t have a bunch. He was content when he was free and he was content in prison. Paul with content with his contents.
You want to be content? Start with where you are right now. I don’t care how much you have between the zeros, start with where you are. That was the biggest hurdle and the biggest stumbling block for the Hebrews. They were not into contentment. They were into resentment. They were into covetness. For forty years after they left Egyptian slavery, the entire nation wandered around in the wilderness. I have been to the Middle East and seen where they wandered. It is wilderness, a bunch of sand and rocks, snakes and stuff. They just wandered for forty years. How boring seeing the same old, same old day in and day out. And after awhile the Hebrews entered the moan zone. “Oh, God, I wish we were back in Egypt. It is better to be in slavery than here in the wilderness.”
If you want to go around and around and around, see the same old, same old day in and day out, just live with the spirit of covetness instead of contentment. Learn how to be content where you are right now. I don’t care if you have two hundred million dollars or twenty dollars, learn contentment.
We have to understand several things about contentment though. The things that we are chasing, the things that we obsess about are temporal. They will rot, rust, devalue and depreciate. God had our safety in mind. Don’t you love God for this? God had our safety in mind when He put this one in print. God was saying that He wanted to save us from all the time that we will burn up and all of the let down and pain and suffering we will experience when we think things will do it for us. He tells us to have a light grasp on our possessions.
Another thing we need to understand that the things we are chasing are very heavy. They are burdensome. They will weigh us down. Case in point would be Psalm 51. Do you remember David saw Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife? He lusted after her and had an affair with her. Didn’t Barbara Walters interview Bathsheba? Kidding. Anyway, after this act of adultery, David began to feel the weight of covetness and he could barely hold up the heaviness of it. And if you read about his family, it was plagued by rape and incest and murder and rebellion. It is too heavy to mess with. Don’t even think about it. Those objects that you covet will weigh you down. They will do it every single time.
Let’s look at the last one and then we will wind it down. This is my favorite. Master the task of the ask. Sunday night, Monday night and Tuesday night of this week I was in Sea Island, GA with eight pastors from around the country. We met together in a forum-type setting. We talked about issues that senior pastors deal with. Now several of these senior pastors that I got to know are outstanding leaders. There is one thing I have noticed about great leaders. Great leaders ask great questions. They are always asking question, after question, after question. Have you noticed that? Always probing, always asking things that kind of put you back on your heels. We, as Christians, have to master the task of the ask. If we are going to live in contentment, if we are going to kick covetness out the door we have got to master the task of the ask.
So here is what I want you to do. Write down three words. Response. Reaction. Record. Here is the first question I want you to ask yourself. What is my response when something turns my heart or my head? What is my initial response when I see that car, that outfit, that home, that plane? Do I have this desire that begins to rage into a fire or do I throttle back and say to myself, sure does cost a lot to buy that. I wonder what those payments would be. I wonder what it would cost to insure it. Then think of all the people who would try to buddy up to you so they could use it.
What is my reaction when a peer gets a promotion or receives a windfall or gets a really good deal? Ask yourself that question. I don’t have a problem with breaking the tenth commandment if someone in residential real estate gets a promotion. I don’t have a problem if a coach does, or a teacher, or a doctor or a lawyer. But I can feel those engines begin to rev and the passion to possess begin to overtake me when it is another senior pastor. Isn’t it interesting how we usually struggle with this issue with like people? One mother with another mother. One CEO with another CEO. One manager with another manager. One nurse with another nurse.
If I am content, then I say, good for you. Let me give you a secret. If you are really competing and getting after someone and you secretly want one of your friends in your peer group to kind of fail or fumble or mess up, pray for that person. That is what I do in my life. When I am really beginning to covet, I decide to start praying for them. And when I pray for them, God has a way of turning that resentment into contentment through the task of the ask.
What is my record? How is my score? Between the zeros am I getting into scoring points with possessions that I am missing the whole deal? Am I so into competition that I have forgotten about doing my best before God? Every time we compete with someone else, we are making a mockery of God’s genius. We can’t compete with other people because we are all unique. We are all different. We all have unique skill sets given to us by our skillful lover and maker, God.
A friend of mine used to play professional football. He was in the NFL for ten years. He led the league in penalties for half of his career. I will not give you his name. He told me that his weakness was that he took everything personally. He said that he was so dad-gum competitive that when someone hit him, he wouldn’t worry about the offense any more, he would just want to get that person back. Watching the game films the coach would tell him, hey you are so fast, so strong, so good, you could be all-pro but you take it too personally. You are trying to get that person back and missing the flow of the game.
That is where some of us are. We are so into competing, into keeping score, into keeping records that we are missing the flow of the game. We are missing what God wants to unfold in our lives.
Let’s get into contentment, church. Why don’t we? Let’s make the call. Let’s remember the rhymes. Say I want to be a person who is content with my content. I want to be a person who is lighting up the scoreboard in heaven. I want to be a person of love and grace and tenderness, a person who reflects the true nature and character of God.
Is it mine over matter for you? I hope not. I hope that you are proud not of your possessions but of who possesses you. When we have that mentality, every single day will be first and ten.