By Pastor Glenn Pease
In the 1925 Rose Bowl game Notre Dame beat Stanford 27 to 10 in spite of the fact that Standford made the most first downs. Pop Warner said his team should be considered the winner in spite of the score, and Rockne replied, "Right, and next summer we'll decide baseball games by the number of men left on base." It may not seem fair that a team can get more first downs, and more hits, and more men on base, and still lose. But sports are based on a very simple principle. They are goal oriented. That is what makes them so popular. The goals are so clear cut. You get men to home plate or the ball over the goal line, or in the cup, or basket, or over the net. Anybody can understand the final objective, and the goal to be achieved. That is what makes sports so enjoyable and motivating. Single clear cut goals do that for people. Vague and unclear goals do not motivate people to action or enjoyment.
This is one of the major reasons why sports generate more enthusiasm than most Christian activities. Sports have such clear and easily defined goals which can be reached for immediate gratification. Christian activity, on the other hand, can have goals so distant, and so difficult to measure, that a lot of energy can be expended without any clear certainty whether or not you are winning or losing. Christian organizations that are not local churches often have a better track record in goal achievement because their goals are more specific and more measurable.
The Gideons, for example, have a specific goal. If there are 500 motels in Minnesota, their goal is to get Bibles in everyone of them. They can quite easily determine how close they are coming to their goal, and when they have achieved it. If the goal of Campus Crusade and Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship is to have a chapter on every college campus, they can easily measure their progress in reaching this goal, for all they have to do is count how many there are and how many they have reached. Specific and measurable goals motivate people, and that is why the para-church organizations have done so many things the church has not done.
The Bible does not use the word goal very often. In fact, you will only find it once in the New Testament. It is used by Paul where he describes the Christian life like a race. He says in Phil. 3:14, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." The KJV has the word mark here for goal, because the Greek word was used for a mark as a target you tried to hit, and so mark or goal are both appropriate. It would seem fair to say that Paul was goal oriented even though he did not use the word but once. We see Paul's life in the book of Acts as a series of destinations to get to. He wanted to go to Rome, Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, and way off to Spain. His goal was to preach the Gospel everywhere in the world where it had not been heard.
His goal was to obey Christ and fulfill the Great Commission. His goal was to be Christlike. His goal was to pray without ceasing, and to rejoice evermore. We could go on and on, for Paul had a multitude of goals. If we add to these all the goals of Jesus, to worship God in spirit and truth; to glorify God by our good works; to love our neighbor as ourselves, and dozens more, we begin to see why the goal oriented life for the Christian is far more complex than for the sportsman who has only one goal to shoot for. It is a whole lot easier to play a sport than to be a Christian. Nevertheless, the Christian has some basic goals that are to be aimed for if he or she is going to please God at all. In our text we have one that is so basic you don't have to even qualify to be on the team unless you achieve it. Yet, it is a greatly neglected goal.
Jesus says we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is not a suggestion, it is a requirement. If you do not achieve this goal, you do not qualify to represent God. If you do achieve this goal, however, you don't just get in as a bench warmer. You are, says Jesus, the greatest in the kingdom. You are one of the star players on the kingdom team. So Jesus is being goal oriented in his teaching of the disciples. There can be no doubt that goal setting is a valid and valuable Biblical practice. There is no way to tell if you are making progress unless you know where you are going. If I am going to Chicago, I may be speeding down the highway at 70 mph, but if I am going the wrong direction, I am not making progress. It is the goal that determines your progress, and not your speed. Everything is evaluated in the light of one's goal. The goal determines the means in reaching it. If my goal is to get across the street, my feet are the best means. If it is to get to the airport, a car or cab would be best. If the goal is Miami, then flying is the way to go. Goals are the center around which all else is determined.
If your goal is to please God, then the only means acceptable is to change your adult spirit of pride and develop a childlike spirit of humility. Your goal determines your means of achieving it. Those in business know that a key element is management by objective. You get together and decide what objective you want to reach this year, or the next five, or the next ten, and then you plan how to get there. Planning is simply establishing what has to happen to reach a goal. Every housewife does this in making a meal. You decide what you are going to have for supper-that is the goal. Then you decide how to get there. You have to take meat out of the freezer; see if you have the right vegetable and potato's, and then plan the timing to begin each item of the menu to cook. All of this is management by objective.
Goal setting is a part of life for everyone who is engaged in doing anything. There are subtleties involved, however. The wife who has an over all goal to give the family a healthy meal will do things different. Two can make the same meal, but one with a long range goal of health will make it different. The one with a long range goal will eliminate, as much as possible, the fat, sugar, salt, and other things that are not best for health. The point is, our goals are what make us different in all that we do and feel. The higher our goals the more we do all that we do for the glory of God. I can eat to satisfy my hunger, which is a worthy goal. I can eat to keep healthy, which is a noble goal. I can eat to be healthy so I can meet the needs of my family, which is a great goal. I can eat to be healthy to do the will of God and use my body as a tool in his service, which is the highest goal for eating.
Applying this to our text we see-
I can be nice to children because it makes me look good in the eyes of others.
I can be nice to children because it could get me a job in that field.
I can be nice to children because if I'm not I will be rejected.
I can be nice to children because Jesus says in verse 5 to welcome a little child.
To make a child feel accepted and approved is to welcome Christ himself. It is to be in harmony with the creator of all life to love a child. This is the highest goal and brings glory to God, and magnifies the name of Jesus.
Our goals have to keep rising to the level of the ultimate so that eventually they get to that level where they are the very goals of God. There are many levels of goals, and all of them may be good, even though on a lower level they tend to be self-centered. But our goal setting is never complete until we are aiming for the very goal for which Jesus would aim. The Christian may have many goals in common with the non-Christian. Goals that are good for the self, the company, the family, the community, the country, and the world, but if the Christian does not rise beyond these to the ultimate goal he will be no different than the non-Christian. His motivation will be the same as the best that the human mind can develop. Such a Christian is a captive of the culture, and will rise no further than its best humanism. Stop short of ultimate goals, and you stop short of the kingdom of God.
What motivates you? Why do you do what you do? If your answers do not lead you to ultimate goals, you need to face the reality that you do not represent the kingdom of God. Just as the disciples did not at this point in their lives. Only those who operate with ultimate objectives in mind are goal oriented on a level that is pleasing to God. All of us are by necessity into self-management, and management by objective is vital to our personal success both as a member of society and as a member of the family of God. Our secular and sacred goals determine the kind of person and the kind of Christian we will be.
The disciples had a goal and it was a good one. It was to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Show me a goal greater and more noble than that! This was a perfect goal of a child of God, and Jesus did not fault them for having a poor goal. In fact, he gave full approval of their goal by telling them what they had to do to achieve it. We need to see, however, that just having a goal, and even a great goal that motivates you, is not enough. You have got to have a proper means of achieving your goal, or you still fail to please God.
The end justifies the means is one of the most dangerous value judgments in the world. It makes it possible for even godly people to justify all manner of evil by pointing out that the evil is a means to achieving the highest goal. My goal is to know the Bible well, therefore, by stealing some Bible commentaries that I can't afford to buy I will be able to achieve this goal. Who will reject knowing the Bible better as a noble and worthy goal? Certainly no Christian would. But just having such a goal does not mean that any means of getting there is good.
The disciples were heading for the best. Their aim was for the highest goal known to man, to be greatest in the kingdom of God. But Jesus declares them to be total failures, for they were pursuing this noble goal by means that were unacceptable to God. They were going to be the greatest by making others, namely the rest of the disciples, less than the greatest. By competition they were going to rise to the heights and be better than one another. Such a route to such a noble goal is folly. It is like trying to be the best dressed man at the ball by getting into the palace by means of the sewer system. The goal is great, but the means of achieving it will certainly guarantee failure. It is not just poor goals that makes us fail, but our pathetic means of achieving those goals.
If my goal is to have a reputation for being totally honest, but I have to lie in order to maintain my reputation, my means destroys my goal. The pride of the disciples, which they were using to prove they were worthy of being the greatest, was the very thing which made them unqualified to reach their goal. Good goals are not worth the paper they are written on unless the means to get to them is equally good and consistent with the goal. This is so hard often that it boarders on the impossible. The reason Abraham Lincoln was one in a million is because he refused to practice the almost universal philosophy that the end justifies the means. If you can get something good done by doing something not so good, then do it. Lincoln said, no way. Listen to his forceful words: "You may burn my body to ashes, and scatter them to the winds of heaven; you may drag my soul down to the regions of darkness and despair to be tormented forever; but you will never get me to support a measure which I believe to be wrong, although by doing so I may accomplish that which I believe to be right."
Most people can be suckered into doing wrong if the goal is right, and that is why good goals can be a tool of the devil to tempt Christians to do evil for the sake of good. That is what the temptation of Jesus was all about. It was not to do evil, but to do good for a good goal, but by means of what was not pleasing to God. Another pit fall of good goals is that they can be abused once they are achieved, and the value of them lost, or even worse, made an evil. Jesus condemned a noble goal of the Pharisees, not because their goal was not good, but because they had their own goals to achieve after they achieved God's goal for them, and they corrupted the good goal by their own. In Matt. 23:15 Jesus said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are."
Keep in mind that their goal was one of the major aspects of God's plan for Judaism. From 200 B. C. to 70 A. D. Jewish evangelism was very successful and paved the way for Christianity. They established synagogue all over the world which became the foundation for the Christian church. They were doing the will of God in winning converts out of paganism. It was a good goal, but Jesus condemned their sacrificial commitment to this noble goal, for when they achieved it they spoiled it by turning their Gentile converts into fanatical legalists.
So you can ruin great goals both before and after. You can ruin them by the means you use to get there, and then ruin them again by the use you make of them after you arrive. This goal business is not as simple as it might seem, and if you are not aware of the dangers involved on both ends, you can be deceived by your very goals into being an agent of evil. Look at the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. They were so goal oriented that nothing could hinder their progress toward their goal. They refused to let a helpless dying man delay them from their noble goal. They could have been forming a committee on stopping crime in the streets, or some other noble cause like determining the color of their new robes. Be it serious or superficial, they had a goal more important than this beaten man's life, and Jesus condemned them for it because it is evil to pursue any goal at the expense of another's life. The Good Samaritan had goals also, and they were important to him, and who knows how many others, but he delayed his goal for the sake of the man who needed his help, and Jesus praised him.
What is the lesson Jesus is teaching here about goals? It is the same as the one in our text. People are to be our most important goal, and all other goals have to be put on the back burner when people need us. We all fail here, and I would be the first to admit that I have been so determined to reach a goal that I would rather pass by a beaten man and let someone else meet his need. I am goal oriented, and I need to see this whole picture about goals to help me see it does not make me noble, pleasing to God, or Christlike at all to pursue a noble goal at the expense of what is even more important to Christ, namely people.
It is possible to become a goal legalist like Einstein admitted he was. He and an assistant had finished a draft of a paper they were working on, and searched for a paper clip in the desk. All they could fine was one bent out of shape and no longer functional. They searched for a tool to rebend the clip back into useable shape. The assistant found a full box of clips, but Einstein took a good clip and began to use it to bend the bad clip back into shape. The assistant was baffled and asked why he would repair the broken clip when there were now so many perfectly good ones to use. Einstein said, "Once I become set on a goal, it is hard to deflect me from it." This was not a virtue in that great man in that instance. It was the very vice that led the priest and the Levite to press on to their goal and not deviate for a dying man. To be inflexible and legalistic even in pursuing good goals can make you a tool of evil rather than good.
Most of the foolish things the disciples did were due to their being goal oriented in an inflexible way. They tried to protect Jesus from the children. They would just take his time and hinder his ministry to adults. Jesus rebuked them and told them to stop forbidding children to come to him, for such is the kingdom of heaven. You guys are so goal oriented you forget the process is as crucial as the goal. Getting there is half the fun, not only in travel to earthly destinations, but in getting to spiritual goals as well.
If you are going to be a mean-spirited man pushing children away to get to a goal you think is pleasing to God, you are deceived, for the process by which you get there is just as important to God as your getting there. Your boss may not care if you get to work by bus, car, or hayride. All he cares about is that you get to your goal. But God cares about how you get to goals. Stanley Mooneyham, for many years the president of World Vision, wrote that Christians are so caught up in the goal oriented culture of America that they think the goal is all that matters. He points out that it is more truly Christian to be concerned about the process by which you get there. He writes, "John Bunyan did not call his book Pilgrim's Destination but Pilgrim's Progress. He could as well have called it Pilgrim's Process. In the book, Christian was shaped by the road he traveled. He became ultimately what he was becoming all along. Jesus told Peter and Andrew, 'follow me and I will make you to become...' (Mark 1:17). It was not a promised overnight transformation. Every step along dusty Galilean roads, every encounter with need, every response to happenings, would be a bit of becoming."
In other words, don't let the goal blind you to the fact that the process of reaching it is an important part of the goal, for if when you reach it you are not what God wants you to be by becoming that along the way, you end up at a dead end. Dennis Waitley, America's most distinguished motivational speaker, in his book Being the Best points out that there are a lot more winners in the race of life than we realize. In a marathon of hundreds of runners they do not all have as their goal being the first at the finish line. For some, their goal is just to finish. For others the goal is to beat their previous record. For others it is just to see how far they can go. When that runner who crosses the line first is proclaimed the winner, the rest are not losers, for many never had as their goal being first. They had other goals, and if they reach them, they too are winners.
It is possible that none of the runners are losers. Each could have a goal they achieved in the race. He says we hinder people's success by pretending there is only one goal, and if you don't reach that you are failure. Not so! Everybody can reach goals that make them a success. Jesus makes it clear that every child of God can achieve the goal of Christlikeness. Not all Christians will be great musicians, or write books and songs for the glory of God, but every Christian can be Christlike, and can make their process of living pleasing to God, and thereby be winners. We just need to focus on a goal that is pleasing to God; make sure we get there in a way pleasing to God, and make sure we do not use the goal in a way that is not pleasing to God. This will assure us of a truly godly goal.