The altar flowers are placed today in memory of Mr. & Mrs. D. B. Aycock Sr. and Bill Aycock.

Simply Christian: Obsessing Over the Spiritual

(Matthew 5:6)

Today we continue talking about what it means to be simply Christian. The fourth statement of Jesus in Matthew 5 says, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." Because we arenít personally confronted with people who are hungry and thirsty let me show you some pictures that can help us. (Show Pic 1)This first one is of a woman in Haiti who is selling "dirt cookies". Because the price of rice and grain has skyrocketed the people go into the mountains, dig out yellow clay, mix it with shortening and salt, form it into "cookies", let them dry and sell them on the street for food. They are hungry. On the island of Cyprus and in the Sudan in Africa they are experiencing life threatening drought. (Show Pics 2 and 3)

Hunger and thirst like this is hard for our minds to understand unless we have experienced it. Let me try another word for "hunger and thirst" that may help: obsession. Technically an obsession is a persistent preoccupation with an idea and feeling or in a broader sense it is a compelling motivation. It is something that takes over our lives and begins to affect the quality of our lives in a negative way. The list of things that our modern American culture is obsessed with is endless. We obsess about our image, pleasure, all things sexual, material, trivial and often ridiculous. We may not know what it is to be hungry and thirsty but we know what it is to be obsessed.

Maybe we can restate what Jesus says this way, "Godís approval comes to those who are continually obsessing over all things spiritual because they are the ones who will understand Godís deep satisfaction." This statement of Jesus sounds so strange to our ears yet it describes how a disciple is to live any time. We call them "simply Christian". A follower of Christ who chooses to be simply Christian has certain attitudes or perspectives that mark their lives. They have declared spiritual bankruptcy, are confronting life seriously, seeking to gain the most with what everyone else sees as the least and they are people who know what it is to be obsessed with the spiritual.

What should be the object of our spiritual obsession? Jesus says it is to be what he called: "righteousness". Jesus said we are to be obsessed or spiritually discontent about "righteousness." This word has many uses that we will discuss but it essentially means what is right spiritually, legally, morally and socially. It is an obsession with conformity to Godís will. It is living out in our lives the prayer of Jesus, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10) It is a total discontent with everything that is contrary to Godís will or is unlike God. This is not an obsession over empty religious routines or ridiculous religious trivia. D. A. Carson says that a person who is obsessed with all things being in conformity with Godís will is someone who, "Öwants to be righteous, not simply because he fears God, but because righteousness has become for him the most eminently desirable thing in the world." (Jesusí Sermon on the Mount, p.23)

We must admit that this makes us uncomfortable. We like things balanced, calm, middle of the road especially when it comes to matters of faith. We see people who are extremists and radical about their religion. When we see that it causes us to want to restrict the intensity of Jesus words that those who have Godís approval are those who are obsessed with the spiritual, with life conforming to Godís will. Jesus words were not spoken to reinforce our comfort but to tell us how to live in a world that doesnít conform to his will. What are those things about which we are to be obsessed?

We are to have a spiritual obsession for what doesnít conform to Godís will personally. In other words you are dissatisfied with your own spiritual condition. You know that where you are is not where you need to be. You own the reality of sin in within your life that grieves the heart of God and are willing to admit that it is something he abhors. That there are things in your life that you know are unlike God and you are obsessed with them becoming like him and conforming to his will at any price. I believe that this verse can be used as a test to examine the foundation of our own salvation experience. If we are never discontent with what is in our lives that doesnít conform to his will then we need to question the stability of that foundation

We are to have a spiritual obsession for what doesnít conform to Godís will culturally and socially. I wish I could find better words for that because when some of you hear that you write it off as political or unspiritual. When I use those words I mean the world, the life beyond our own skin. One way that this word is translated is the word "justice" meaning justice for those who are downtrodden or oppressed. God has never removed the passion we should have for what is not like him in our world. It should be that there are believers who are white-hot for Jesus who cannot rest because people are eating "dirt cookies", that innocents are treated cruelly for the debased pleasures of people, that as a culture we are dishonoring the natural resources that God has given us to sustain our lives. Does what doesnít conform to Godís will, what is unlike God, beyond your front door bother you? It is to do more than irritate you-- it is to obsess you!

We are to have a spiritual obsession for what doesnít conform to Godís will totally. The way Jesus uses this phrase grammatically it means a desire for total righteousness. It would be someone who isnít content with a piece of bread but wants the whole loaf. It is someone who wants not just a sip of water but the lake. It is a person who obsesses about conformity to Godís will in every conceivable area of life. That there would be no place untouched! This person is discontent about Godís will being realized in all the earth not just one block of it. It is a person who aches for the Gospel to be proclaimed to every person. Who knows that Jesus said that as his followers we are to make disciples of "all the nations" (Matt. 28:19), that the Gospel is to be "proclaimed in his name to all the nations" (Luke 24: 47) and go to "the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8) because God is "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9)! A person who is simply Christian is obsessed with what doesnít conform to the will of God, for what is unlike God: personally, socially and totally.

If what doesnít conform to the will of God is to be the object of our spiritual obsession, how intense should this obsession be? Jesus said we are to "hunger and thirst" for it. In other words the intensity is to be painful. For those to whom Jesus spoke they could never have a day where they were physically content. If you didnít work then you didnít eat. They would labor for less than 18 cents a day, which came to about $60 a year. Meat for them was almost non-existent. Water was a precious commodity because it was life. Lack of water was not just an inconvenience, death was certain for those who had no water. You cannot be obsessed with what does not conform to Godís will, for what is unlike God and not feel pain. We soften it today and use the word "discomfort". Really the way Jesus says it this is someone who is starving and dehydrated for food and water. It is an intensity that is way beyond "discomfort" it is an obsession that is so intense it is painful. We are to hurt for righteousness.

This kind of intensity though is to be continual and persistent. Jesus uses a present tense verb here and it means that this hunger and thirst, this obsession is to go on and on. You can never be really content or satisfied until all of you, all of your world and all people are conformed to Godís will. This kind of obsession creates a deeper hunger and a deeper thirst. Wherever there is still a need to rise higher, grow deeper, while there is still anything, anywhere or anyone that doesnít conform to the will of God, we are never at rest.

The intensity of this kind is to continually hurt but it is also a consuming priority. For a person who is hungry and thirsty only one thing is important: survival. Our culture is so filled with conveniences that getting food or water takes only a small amount of time and energy. Yet for those to whom Jesus spoke they spent a large portion of their time daily just securing what they were going to eat or drink simply to survive. When hunger and thirst are primary, every other appetite disappears. Now take that idea and apply it to the spiritual. Imagine having a hunger and thirst for something that is so basic that it overcomes every other desire in life. It changes everything that you thought was important. Obsessing over the spiritual is to be an all-consuming priority. Instead it is for us just like fast food: we want to drive through some sort of spiritual contact with God and then move on to what is "really" important. Choosing to be simply Christian will mean obsessing over the spiritual, hungering and thirsting for life to conform to Godís will and purpose that creates an intense constant pain in our souls that alters all of lifeís priorities.

When you understand the level of spiritual obsession about life conforming to Godís will that Jesus is describing you begin to wonder can that obsession, that hunger and thirst ever be satisfied? How can you sustain such a level of intensity and all consuming focus? Will we always desire something that can never be satisfied? Jesus said that those who have this kind of spiritual obsession "Öwill be filled." How does he do this? The word for "filled" that Jesus used was the same word that described the process of fattening cattle for market. In other words it would be an over-flowing filling. He satisfies our hunger and thirst beyond the capacity of our hunger and our thirst. He satisfies us generously.

If this is true, then can I only be satisfied or cease obsessing when everything and everyone is conformed to Godís will? No, because what God does is give us places of satisfaction or filling our hunger and our thirst that are generous and beyond our capacity. Think about this in relationship to your own personal spiritual life. God shows you a place where he wants to change you, a place that must conform to his will and for a period of time that is your focus. You have a certain sense of satisfaction that at last you "Get it!" and you feel a peace that is overwhelming. It maybe that some area outside of your own personal life that is out of conformity to Godís will and that becomes your obsession. For instance the Pregnancy Resource Center is raising funds to secure an ultra sound machine to enable them to have a medical clinic to perform ultrasounds on those who come to the center. Why do they want to do that? Because 80% of those with an unplanned pregnancy, and have an ultrasound, will choose to deliver their child instead of abortion. One of our Adult womenís Sunday School classes raised over $200.00 toward that purchase. There is a satisfaction in knowing they are part of helping a mother choose life. This summer several of our students will serve in mission opportunities in the US and over the world. Whatever they may do there is a satisfaction that is overwhelming knowing that they are connected to Godís plan for sharing the love of Jesus around the world.

Does this mean that I will reach a place where I can say I have "arrived" spiritually? No, because as soon as you finish one place where God is working there will be another and that becomes your obsession and focus for conformity to Godís will. Does one ultrasound machine alter the choice for every unplanned pregnancy? No, because as soon as one chooses life there will be another who needs the same opportunity. Does one student save an entire world for Christ, or right all the injustices of a culture? No, because there will always be more and more. What Jesus is describing for us is a cycle where when we obsess over the places that need to conform to Godís will and it happens then that creates a hunger and thirst for more places to experience that. The more you hunger and thirst for righteousness the more you are filled. The more you are filled the more you hunger and thirst for righteousness. Again this is not some wasteful pursuit of obeying a set of rules that you can tick off your list. It is an obsession for conformity to all of Godís will. It is an obsession that never ends but is continually satisfied! "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled."

Cast Away is the story of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) a top engineer for FedEx. While flying over the South Pacific, a violent storm damages the company jet causing it to slam into the ocean. Noland survives the crash, but everyone else aboard is killed. Clinging to a yellow life raft, he rides out the raging storm and washes up on a small deserted island. For the next four years he struggles to survive before escaping the island and returning to civilization.

The day after Noland first sets foot on the island, the only concern greater than his fear is his desperate need for water. He is dangerously thirsty. (Start clipÖ) After he discovers coconuts falling from the trees, Noland frantically attempts to open one. He repeatedly throws a coconut against a boulder, but the hard shell is unmarked. Using all his strength, he pounds the coconut with a rock but without success. He tries to drill a hole into one and then flies into a fury when he still cannot access the juice locked inside the fibrous seed.

Eventually he employs a sharp rock as an axe and is able to cut into and remove the outer husk. Left with the hard shell, he finally breaks it open only to watch as most of the milky juice spills out on the ground. Noland lifts up a fragment of the shell and drains the few remaining drops of liquid into his mouth. Cast Away (Twentieth Century Fox, 2000) Satisfying his thirst became his single obsession and focus.

Jesus describes a person who is simply Christian as someone who is obsessed with the spiritual. They ache for righteousness like a person dying of hunger and thirst. They are desperate for life, all of life to conform to Godís will. They are the ones who are willing to experience the intensity of such an obsession to discover in some way the satisfaction of having that longing relieved. Whether it is a drop or an ocean they know the deep satisfied filling of God. This statement of Jesus is one that is the most disturbing because it asks us how badly do we want to conform to Godís will? How much do we want what is wrong to be right? Jesus said until we are obsessed with a spiritual discontent with all that is unlike God then Godís blessing, his approval, will elude us.

Are you obsessed with what unlike God within you? Then it will be obvious. Are you obsessed with what is unlike God in our world? Then it will be obvious. Jesus is saying, "Be obsessed about something that matters." Jesus said an obsession with the spiritual is what matter most. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."

Sunday, May 4, 2008 a.m.

Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor

First Baptist Church

Jonesboro, Arkansas