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I brought a little collection of some things I love today; things about which I know the phrase has come out of my mouth: “I love that!” First, of course, is my cottage cheese and my Nutrageous bars. In bulk! Then my Maxima which is comfortable, quick, and reliable and suits me. And here is this of Roger Federer, on whom my wife claims I have a man crush but it’s really just an appreciation for the surreal way he plays the sport that shaped my life. And finally, my edger, which just ensures my yard has the neat edges and trims that I, well, love. But you know what I noticed about all these? I spent a lot of time pursuing, purchasing, following each of these things, but none of them love me back. In the grand scheme of things they’re kind of trivial and they have never once returned the love I have showered on them.
You probably have some of the same thing, mostly harmless. Maybe it’s the TV show you can’t miss – for Julie, it’s “Family Feud,” but only if Steve Harvey is the host. But you may spend a lot of time pursuing fantasy football, a vacation condo at the beach, the iPhone 6. But really, think about it: none of those love you back.
Sometimes things we love turn a bit more sinister. The comfort we value so much that it hardens our hearts to ministry. The attention of that pretty young woman at work; the eye contact with the strapping young man. The nice buzz of alcohol, the manic energy of cocaine. Those things, some of them trivial but most of them devastating, never love you back; they just demand more of you.
Something tells me that’s what happened to Demas, the anti-hero hero. Here’s the deal. In Colossians 4 – the source of all our hidden heroes – Pastor Paul refers to him with complete neutrality in 4:14: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.”But this is the second of three New Testament references to Demas. And taken chronologically, the three references paint the most interesting picture. Look at Philemon 1:24: “And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.”
Whoa! He’s not only a “fellow worker” but look who he is hanging with! Just the all-time titans of the Christian faith. It’s like he is part of a posse that hangs around the celebrity pastors of the day! He has access. So clearly, at this stage, in terms of his living relationship with Jesus Christ, judging by his LifeGroup, he is moving to maturity!
You might have been at a place like that or, better yet, you might be there now! You know the right songs, your friends are good, your prayers are getting answered, you can understand the Bible, and all is right in your world. First reference.
But at the second reference, things change a bit. We read in Colossians 4:14 again: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.” Demas is the only one on the Colossians 4 list who simply gets his name with no description. Like,“oh, meet Talbot. Bleh.” And then the third in the chronology at Second Timothy 4:10: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.”
From inner circle believer to AWOL deserter. And you know what fact about Second Timothy I can’t get out of my mind here? Second Timothy is Paul’s “death row” letter. And when you’re on death row – or in hospice – you’re not really concerned with trivial pursuits, are you? Paul wasn’t dwelling on trivialities; he was dialed into eternities. That’s why it was particularly devastating for Demas to desert him. Because look at what Demas did: he loved this present world – its comfort, safety, and reputation – and in so doing ignored the next one. That contrast is implied in Paul’s wording. And Paul, who because he is on death row is dwelling on eternities more than at any other time in his life, knows something deadly: Demas has sacrificed what is eternal on the altar of what is trivial. He has traded the assurance of the next world for privilege in this one.
And you know why that is such a bad deal? This:
Everything we own – from my Maxima to your iPhone; from my edger to your Lake Wylie yacht – will one day be junk. All of it. This is where it will end. It’s temporary and because it’s temporary it is so very trivial. You love and pursue all this stuff that proves trivial – and oh, by the way, never loves you back – and it just demands more.
I bet we have some Demas’s here (I said Demases). Some of you got there accidentally. Others by design. You are so dialed into this world that you’ve never really given much of a thought to the next one.
Did you know, for example, that five times as many people in the United States worry about their insurance than worry about the possibility of hell? And so some of you are realizing with a sense of dread that after being swept up in the early emotion of following Jesus a few years ago, you have now crept away from him. But others have more of a sense of pride about it. You tried the Gospel, found it lacking, and you know you’re currently having a lot more fun that those guys who are taking it so seriously. And I confess: that’s alluring. Attractive. So much easier to not believe in this stuff you can’t see and you’ll never prove, so why not just pursue what you can?
Yet for those in that place, let me tell you: a lot of you will come back to believing in a few years …just with bodies buried in the back yard. And I see so much of my preaching as regret prevention. I just want you to see now, today, before it’s too late, that the whole world is a giant iPhone 6: it does not, will not, cannot love you back. Its only purpose is to get you to want iPhone 7!
Because here’s what Paul knew as he observed Demas’ trivial pursuits. He (Paul) had been pursued. Chased. Caught. Changed from murderer to missionary, from persecutor to preacher. He knew where Demas’ desertion would ultimately land him: in the dustbin of eternity. Here’s what Paul knew from both experience and observation: Trivial pursuits never love you back. The Eternal Pursuer loved you first.
Everything you pursue on earth just wants more of you. It’s why they say no cocaine high is ever as good as that first one. And addiction is the endless quest for what is simply not available. Trivial pursuits never love you back. The Eternal Pursuer loved you first.
Listen: when Demas sacrificed what is eternal on the altar of what is trivial, he turned his back on God’s pursuing love and put his soul in peril. You love this world and ignore the next one and you are in danger of the same. If you reject or ignore the love of God in this life you will be separate from it in the next. We call that hell. Yes, we believe in it here. My gosh, any God who wouldn’t punish and separate Osama bin Laden, Isis, Hitler . . . what kind of God is this?
And just when you are feeling secure, like “I ain’t near as bad as those guys!” comes the question: but where is the line? And you’re hoping way over there! but you don’t know.
Here’s something I do know: what happened to ER physician Dr. Richard Rawlings, who as a skeptic investigated a great many Near Death Experiences. Listen:
I resuscitated a man who came back from the edge of death, and he was terrified. He had a grimace of sheer horror, he was trembling, his hair looked as if it was on end, and he called out, “I am in hell!”
In my research, almost 50% of Near Death Experiences involve imagery like lakes of fire, menacing figures, and the darkness of hell. Just listening to those patients has changed my whole life. There is a life after death, and if I don’t know where I’m going it’s not safe to die.
It’s not safe to die. Yikes.
And what might hell look like? Something like this:
After all, what did Jesus say? Why have you forsaken me? And that’s what hell is. The utter absence, complete forsakenness of God and by God. Something like that pain and regret is what happens when you sacrifice what is eternal on the altar of what is trivial. I don’t want anyone hearing my voice today to go there.
Why? Because what you are pursuing isn’t loving you back. But you have been loved first. What’s that over-familiar verse say? For God so loved…We didn’t start that ball rolling. You were loved first. That’s why God doesn’t have to love you back; he loved first. And although God has to punish evil ultimately, he is doing everything in his power to see that hell is as empty as possible. God is using every bit of influence at his disposal, including this worship gathering. Because look at the cross again:
… yes, it shows what hell is like, but more importantly it shows what Jesus went through to keep you out of it.
He went through hell on earth so that you wouldn’t have to go to hell after earth. It’s all because he wants to love you into his kingdom. He longs for you to come to that place where you’re tired of pursuing those trivial things that will never love you back – from minor stuff to major stuff like the affair that’s ruining your marriage – and so you surrender to the pursuit of the one who loved you first.
Where you give Jesus your life without reservation, without crossing your fingers, without delay. It’s so much like the friend of mine who had some health concerns – scary ones – and he decided that if his time was short he did not like what he would be remembered for. He took some personal inventory and found himself lacking, so began reconciling relationships and restoring connection with the Lord. I get a front row seat to ongoing redemption; to love winning. Trivial pursuits never love you back. The Eternal Pursuer loved you first.
Really, it’s like the young boy who was getting a dog as a gift. So the family went to the kennel and were looking through a large collection of dogs who needed a home. Eventually, the boy locked eyes on a little mutt with a big tail – and that tail was wagging. WAGGING. So finally the boy points at it and says, “I’d like the one with the happy ending.”
And so do I. For you. I don’t want you to pursue things that are ultimately trivial and so ignore that which is genuinely eternal. I also don’t want you to think, “I’ll get to it later. I know he’s right, but I’m good now and I’ll just deal with it later.” Oh, you don’t know when later is, time might be really short, and even if it’s not remember . . . you’ll come back with bodies buried in the yard. Regrets. Broken promises, wrecked relationships, and the jadedness that comes from people who relentlessly acquire stuff that will never love them back.
Because we don’t know how Demas’ story ended. We don’t know if his short-sighted deal continued or if he came back and raised the white flag to love. He’s a bit like that obituary I saw that ended with To Be Continued…
We all will be, you know. The question is, where? Into the arms of love or into the landfill of triviality?