In this episode, we look at two more challenges that come with prosperity: Fame and spiritual highs. Our success can be a catalyst towards our destruction or towards a truly meaningful life. The key is in the choices we make. With a healthy perspective around fame and mountaintop experiences, we prevent them from becoming idols and can use them as resources.
The second big thing that we have to avoid is chasing fame. Another word for fame is prestige. The word prestige comes from a Latin root that means to create an illusion to trick someone. And so it is with fame.
If we seek fame even in small areas, we always end up molding ourselves to be that which we think other people want us to be. And when we do that, we actually end up losing ourselves.
So let’s look at Romans 2:5.
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
So here we are standing before God. What’s God going to do then? He will render to each one according to his deeds. That’s a quote from the Old Testament.
And here’s what he’s going to give. Here’s what he’s going to give out. On the one hand, he’s going to give—
eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
Now that verse rocks some people’s world, but it’s not that hard because again eternal life is a gift and a reward. We’re not talking about the gift component here. You don’t have to seek anything to get that gift. You don’t have to do anything to get that gift. You just believe. It’s received totally freely.
But if you want that gift to have the maximum benefit, then you have to exercise it. And you exercise it by one of the three things that you can do: making choices to do what God’s asked us to do.
And what is it you’re supposed to do? You’re supposed to seek three things. We’re supposed to seek glory.
Now, wait a minute. I thought we’re talking about fame as a mountaintop experience that can destroy us. Well, that’s if we seek fame the wrong way.
One of the great shaping forces of Western civilization is the book The Iliad. It was the narrative of the Greeks that shaped their whole culture, and it spilled right on through to America.
And the key figure in the Iliad is Achilles. And the gods come to Achilles and say, “Achilles, you get a choice. You can either go to this war and fight and die and be remembered forever, or you can stay here and live a long and comfortable life.
And Achilles says, well, that’s a no-brainer. Short and glorious! Because nothing matters about life if you’re not remembered. And this was the Greek belief that glory was the thing that was worth seeking; and they conquered the Eastern Empire with that notion.
Unfortunately, their notion of glory was kind of stunted—maybe more than kind of stunted—because Achilles was nothing more than a self-seeking, selfish brat.
There’s another character in the story that actually is quite noble. So they had the mix there.
But seeking glory is actually something that is appropriate if you have the glory defined correctly. And look at what it is we’re supposed to do because we can see by the contrast.
Verse 8: but to those who are self-seeking—this is Achilles—and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—what do they get?—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil—
So this is the reward part of standing before God. And if we seek self, not too happy of a deal; but if we seek glory—from whom?—from God. Because what glory is is when an observer sees our true essence. That’s all glory is. And here we are; we’re standing before God. And when God says, “What you did was awesome!” That’s what we’re really after. When God says “Hey, I want to talk to my dad about you. I want to confess you before my Father.” That’s what we want. An immortality, legacy.
We visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s really cool! I love baseball! And I saw the plaque there for Babe Ruth; and I saw the plaque for Mickey Mantle. It was really neat.
And then I saw all these other plaques. Probably two-thirds or 75 percent of them I had no idea who these people were. Never heard of them! They’re in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m a baseball fan. I’d never heard of them. They’re forgotten.
And you know what? Most of the rest of those guys, you skip one more generation, they’ll be forgotten too. I knew the ones that I had experienced; and, ultimately, almost everybody’s forgotten. But not in God’s Hall of Fame.
You know, if you have made any money at all, somebody from your alma mater will come, at some point, and say, “We can name something after you! We can even have you take out an insurance policy, and for only $9.99 a month, you can donate a million dollars to the university when you die, and then after everybody’s forgotten about you and nobody cares, we’ll put your name on a building that everybody will walk by and pay no attention to. But you’ll be famous! You won’t be forgotten!” And, boy, people sign up. And you go to the university, and you walk by, and say, “I wonder who that was.” Yeah. They’re forgotten.
But not in this one! So we have true fame; we have false fame. False Fame is a mountaintop that doesn’t deliver.
Well, there’s another aspect to fame. That is heroism. One of the ways we can get famous is by being a hero. That’s what Achilles was trying to do. I think a lot of guys who are athletes put themselves in jeopardy—I mean, some people do some pretty crazy things to try to get fame. Some of it borders on self-destruction.
But, you know, again, if we define this correctly, it can be incredibly powerful.
Last week, when I did the sermon, I showed you this Revelation 21, this string of adjectives that goes into this group of people who are going to have their part in the lake that burns with fire: unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, idolaters, sorcerers; and the first word in that string is cowardly. So God doesn’t like cowardice. He loves heroism.
But what is the heroism that he asked us to do? What’s the Snow White thing he asks us to do? He asks us, when we get abused—like the stepmother abused Snow White—to keep a cheerful attitude, and say, “Boy, this is just what I needed.” The Job experience.
And then he asked us every day after we keep washing the clothes of all of dwarfed humanity and fixing meals for people that aren’t really particularly thankful for it, he asks us to maintain a cheerful attitude and say, “Well, this is just what I needed.”
And then we have when we have mountaintop experiences, he asks us to keep our head, not to glory in those experiences but to remain humble, not to trust uncertain riches.
David Dunn is about to release a new song and it’s called Ready to Be Myself, and it’s a biographical song because he is a guy who loves to seek fame, and fame can be sought in very small circles. It doesn’t have to be broadly spread. And he says this:
I’m tired of the way, the way that I change.
I rearrange myself to be the man that everybody loves
so I become someone I’m not.
I’ve been someone else, and I’m ready to be myself.
Well he realized, in his little circle, by adapting and morphing to be someone people liked, he was actually losing his own identity. He didn’t even know who he was.
I’ve looked at a little bit of the biography of Elvis Presley, who grew up in a strong church. He took a gospel singing group with him everywhere he went. He made gospel albums. There’s no reason for me to think that Elvis Presley wasn’t a devout believer.
But he chased this fame thing. And when he died, he was rich and famous and lonely and miserable because he lost himself.
Well, by letting go of trying to become who we think others want us to be and instead seek excellence and serving others and actually deflecting instead of being self-seeking, seeking what God wants from us, to seek honor from him and glory from him and immortality from him, when we lay down our life for others, we actually are creating real fame and being true to who God made us in the first place. And we’re also being grateful for who we are.
How many of you would be willing to say that you’ve never said I wish I was something other than you are? I always wished I was taller. I wanted to be a really good basketball player. And I wasn’t very talented. So you need to have some kind of competitive advantage if you’re not fast and dexterous, you know.
Everybody always wishes something, and then you get older and say I’m really glad I’m not taller, you know.
But this is what we tend to do, but by having this proper perspective, we can actually enjoy who we are and be chasing that which God planted in us, fame that will last forever by laying our lives down and serving others.
The last thing that we can talk about is experiential prosperity, spiritual highs. And this is a particular problem, I think, in evangelicalism. I’m afraid that we often construct our services to try to create these every week.
So let’s look at Matthew 17:1-9. In my opinion, this is a comedy routine here that we’re going to see. Matthew 17:1-9
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves. So we’re going to have a mountaintop experience that occurs on a mountaintop here. This is literal and figurative, both.
and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
So here you are. Just try to put yourself in the mindset. You’re a Jewish fisherman. By the time you’re 15, you know the Old Testament word for word. Your dream was always to be a rabbi. You didn’t make the cut. You became a fisherman. You’re a rough, tough guy. You kind of just join the Zealots so you’re going to overthrow Rome. And then along comes this rabbi and says, “Follow me.”
So you get to follow. Your dreams come true, and not only that, this guy is the king. So you’re going to get to overthrow Rome and put this king in.
The main thing you want to be is the secretary of state not the secretary of labor. You want to sit on the right hand, you know, that’s the main thing. This is your mentality, and you’ve heard all these things. And, all of a sudden, here you are on the mountain, and there’s Moses and Elijah and the King transfigured. Would that be the best day of your life, or what?
And here’s what they do:
Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
What does he want to do? Yeah, let’s just stay here! This is awesome! This is my best day ever! Now that you brought us up here and I see what the plan is, I’ve got a plan for us to stay here! And this I think is hilarious.
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
Peter, shut up. Okay, you’re talking. This is a really cool time, and you’re talking. You should be listening.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
Peter went from, “Hey, I’ve got a plan!” to on my face.
And then Jesus picks him up and says, “Hey, don’t be afraid.” And then he took them back down the mountain.
So this is a great picture for a mountaintop experience. How did they get up to the mountaintop? They followed Jesus up there. He took him up there. Did they go up there and then invite Jesus? No, they didn’t manufacture this mountaintop experience. God gave it to them. They got there by following Jesus.
And the minute they get there, what did they do? Stop following and stop listening. Isn’t that what we do? They stop following and stop listening.
And what Jesus did immediately after the mountaintop experience is, what? Lead them back down. Now did that mountaintop experience have an impact? Yes, it did. Look at 2 Peter 1.
If we look at 2 Peter 1:16, you will actually see here, probably 2 Peter, when he writes this, he’s thinking about this event.
2 Peter 1:16. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Chris—we didn’t make this stuff up!—but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. I saw this with my own eyes! I’m telling you a first-hand account!
For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
You think those words were etched into his mind? “Hey, why don’t we do this!”
He got that, don’t you think? And this made a huge impact on Peter, which is why God takes us to the mountain to give us experiences. It’s so that we can be shaped and then go back to the plains and live everyday life. We’re not supposed to seek to find these things. God will sometimes lead us to them. But then he’ll lead us back down again because just staying on the mountaintop is not what Christianity is supposed to be about.
Well if we go back to 1 Peter 1, we can kind of see why this is so, and I’ve mentioned this already. 1 Peter 1:12.
To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
And this Greek word look into is the word like an archeologist stooping down studying something very carefully.
So the angels are stooping down trying to look into this stuff. It fascinates them.
There’s a similar verse in Ephesians 3:10. We talked about this in the Job passage.
—the manifold wisdom of God is revealed by the church—by us—to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,
The angels are watching us to understand about God. Well, is it because God’s an insufficient teacher? I mean, they’ve been in his presence for eons. Is it because they’re blind, and they don’t see? No, they can’t be blind because then they couldn’t look down and stoop and see.
There’s only one thing I can think of that they would need to learn through us that they can’t learn from God directly and that’s what it’s like to know God by faith.
This ability to know God by faith, it’s a once-in-an-existence opportunity. And if we blow it, I believe, we will be sorry forevermore, until the tears are wiped away because we don’t get another chance. There’s no faith and no hope in heaven. You can’t have faith in what you see. You can’t hope for what you have.
So we have this amazing opportunity to overcome materialism by having faith that acquiring things that we don’t yet see that are stored for us in heaven are more real than the things that are passing through our hands and going to someone else. And by having that faith, we gain something that, really, God says I’d tell if you could understand it, but you can’t even understand how awesome this is. The angels are trying to understand! They’re smarter than we are. And by seeking honor and glory from God, a fame that will last forever and ever, but it’s fame that we can’t really see. It fame that’s beyond our threshold of our eyes. We’re seeking it by faith.
And by doing that, something incredible is happening to us that we can’t even understand. And then by allowing the spiritual highs to be that which God gives to us rather than something we try to manufacture—like, hey! Let’s do this! And this! And this! By just following Jesus—we follow him wherever he goes. We follow him up to the top of the mountain; we follow him back down.
By continuing to listen to him and following him, then we are walking by faith. And when we do that, we get to know God.
We can close with Revelation 3.
Verse 18. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness—instead of shame, we want honor—may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
How do you buy gold from God? That’s the question. Well, now he’s going to answer it.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice—
If anyone hears my voice. We started with don’t glory in your riches, or don’t glory in your wisdom. Glory in knowing me.
And look what happens if we hear his voice and open the door: I will come in to him and dine with him—
We get fellowship and knowledge with Jesus. This is how you become truly rich, by walking with God.
Well, that’s typically going to happen in valleys. In valleys, we’re going to have a real opportunity to know God; but it’s harder on the plains of everyday life because we don’t see that—we think everything’s just routine there. Well, it’s the routines of life where we really get to exercise what it means to be a servant. And then when God does take us up on the mountaintop, if we’ll just keep following him and follow him right back down, we can get preparation for life on the plains and in the valleys because ultimately what we want is to know God by faith and take the maximum opportunity of this life.