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Entries in Heart (8)

Monday
Apr102017

When God Calls Our Bluff

Luke 19:37-40.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on April 9, 2017.

Today is Palm Sunday.  In and of itself it looks like a good day in the life of Jesus, at least on the surface.  But as we did deeper into what is really going on here, we see that ultimately it is a very sad day that reveals exactly why the crucifixion and the resurrection are necessary components to the salvation of a human being.

The calling of someone’s bluff comes from gambling at poker.  Instead of only waiting until you have a good hand to bet large, a person will learn to play a more difficult game of pretense.  I may pretend I have a bad hand or pretend I have a good hand.  It makes it more difficult for others to tell if I am really bluffing.  Now, between humans, this simply comes down to who is best at bluffing.  However, you can always be wrong when you call someone’s bluff.  If you call you must be ready to pay the price if you are wrong.  At this point let’s switch to the topic at hand.

If God calls our bluff, there is no question.  He knows our thoughts and our heart better than we do.  Thus, for God the risk is not calling our bluff.  The risk is to let us continue pretending that we have a good hand when in reality we are living in a land of our own imagination.  People who try to live in reality based upon imaginary things and pretense ultimately will find their dream world turn into a nightmare as everything they think is good proves not to be so.  The point today is that God loves us too much to let us keep bluffing.  In reality this is exactly what Jesus is doing that day all those years ago.  Let’s look at the passage.

Jesus Presents Himself as Messiah and King

The larger context tells us that there is a Passover festival at hand in Jerusalem.  Many people are coming to Jerusalem to celebrate.  So, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem.  However, there are some unique things that he does.  He purposefully comes in such a way that the religious people of Israel will know that he is presenting himself as the Messiah.

The two terms, Messiah and Christ, have come to us from the first century.  Messiah is a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.”  Throughout Israel’s history God had progressively revealed to them that He would eventually send His Anointed One who would be King of Israel and would restore Israel and the even the world to righteousness.  He himself would be perfectly righteous.  Some passages to back this up are: Psalm 2, 1 Samuel 2:10, and Daniel 9:25.   During the time of David it was revealed that the Messiah would be of the line of David.  So they had a promise of a coming savior who would fix all that was wrong with Israel and take over the whole world.  So, if Jesus is presenting himself as Messiah, we might ask the question, “Why didn’t he do it?”  It has been said that Jesus came the first time to fix only our spiritual problem and that his Second Coming will be about fixing our natural and geo-political problems.  Though there is some truth to this, it is a gross simplification.  To fix a person’s unbelief and sin, is to transform their life in the natural.  Thus those who believed in Jesus and followed His ways discovered a transformed natural life, as well as a supernatural one.  Let’s look at the Second Coming.  Though Jesus will clearly remove the wicked kings and armies of this world and take over politically, it is also clear that he deals with our spiritual enemy, the devil.   By the time of Jesus, the Greek language was as prevalent in the near east as English is throughout the world today.  Thus the word Christ was used as a synonym for the Hebrew term Messiah.  It too meant an anointed one.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had asked people to keep the fact that he was the messiah under wraps.  He wasn’t ready to announce himself yet.  But on this day he is ready.  Before we look at how they would know that is what he is doing, let’s look at the timing issue first.  Throughout their history Israel had waited for the messiah.  Definitely since the prophet Isaiah who spoke of him throughout his book, but especially Isaiah 53.  That would be over 700 years.  But they had also been waiting since David and his many prophecies 950 years earlier.  In some ways we can even go back to Abraham and God’s promises to him, or Eve and God’s promise that one of her seed would crush the serpent’s head.  It is hard to keep positive about a promise that takes so long to keep.  God’s timing is clearly not our timing.  How many generations had been born, heard the promise, hoped in it, and then died without seeing it?  Of course no one person had to wait over a 1,000 or even 2,000 years.  Yet, intellectually they would recognize that it has been a long time.  This would raise the question, is it really going to happen?  Doubts, and even cynicism, easily creep in.  This is typically handled one of two ways.  We either outwardly reject it and live openly without that hope, or, we keep the doubt internal.  We keep up the bluff that we believe in order to get the best out of the system that such belief has built up.  So when Jesus presents himself that day, there are people in different categories.  There are some who have held out hope against all odds that the Messiah would still come someday even though it had been so long.  There were others who only pretended that they believed the Messiah would come.  They actually lived their lives based on other hopes.  Then there are those who had outwardly given up in believing.  The life of Jesus had stirred all of these different groups.  His miracles and powerful words shook them to the core.

I point all this out because we are in the same boat today.  We have been waiting for the Second Coming of Christ coming on 2,000 years.  In 2 Peter 3:3-4, the apostle warns us, “Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning.’”  These same categories exist in our churches and across this world.  In our humanity and in our sinfulness we want, and even demand, God to do it now!  We want Him to operate on our timetable.  Since God has not cooperated, we cast Him aside and seek to make ourselves God: observing all things (omnipresent), knowing everything (omniscient), doing anything (omnipotent), and living as long as we want (immortal).  So the question today is this, do you trust God’s timing even though it has been so long?  Are you willing to wait, or are you only pretending to be waiting for Him.  One day He will call our bluff and Jesus will present himself to our surprise.  On that day the hidden hand that we really have will be laid on the table for all to see.  Don’t cast away the promise of God and forge your own way.  The siren call of the modern world and its technology is that we no longer need a God.  We can become the gods that we have always wanted.  The problem is that there really is a God and He really has asked us to wait for Him.  Future us will slam into that reality at light speed, just as Israel and Rome did all those years ago.

But it is not just God’s timing that bothers us.  It is also the way in which He does it.  There are parts of the plan that Israel liked (getting rid of the bad guys and ruling over the whole earth).  But clearly there were other parts that they didn’t like.  Jesus comes down the Mt. of Olives to the city of Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey as prophesied in Zechariah 9.  But, this gives a far different picture of God’s Anointed King than our flesh would like to dream up.  He does not come as the proud, flamboyant hero that our flesh desires.  Instead, he comes as the humble, peaceful, unpretentious leader who is not drunk on their own authority.  He did not have a sword, nor an army behind him, at least in the natural.  He came not to pat the people on the back and say good job.  But, instead he comes to save them from their sins, and those powers that used their sins to hold them in bondage.  He was not after geo-political boundaries that day, but rather to break down the boundaries and walls that they had built around their hearts (that we build around ours even today).  The heart of the matter is this, we want a leader who will not demand our hearts change, but rather will change the world around us.  We want things to change without us having to change.  Of course this is impossible.  Even progressives who say similar things, but in order to increase our faith in the intellectual elite that will lead us into the New Age of Mankind, do not recognize that the only change that matters is the one that must happen in our sinful and rebellious heart.  No.  Mankind cannot fix itself because to do so is to refuse to change in the one area that it must (in hearts and minds).  Thus our own hearts set us up for the betrayal of leaders who promise heaven and yet deliver hell, who look like Jesus but in the end they are a devil.  Jesus did not fit the profile that the religious leaders had in their mind.  All their lives they had said that they loved God and wanted His Messiah.  And yet, Jesus was the fulfillment of all of this.  God called their bluff and many of them were found wanting.

The History of the Church

There are two aspects to the history of the Church.  On one hand it may seem that it is no different from Israel and that God’s plan didn’t work.  Definitely, the Church as an institution of people is like Israel because it is made of people.  Yet, on the other hand, in the midst of it all, we do see people who believed God and refused to only honor Him with their lips.  They were not bluffing.  Just as Israel had her prophets and believers within the midst of many unbelievers, so too is the Church.  When the hard call came to them in their day and age, they rejected what the world was offering and followed Jesus.  Thus the early apostles did not create little kingdoms over which they all reigned as popes.  Instead, they each sacrificed their lives to give the Truth of Jesus the Christ to the world.  The reformers in Europe refused to shut up and obey man, but instead lost everything in order to follow Jesus.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of Martin Luther that he thought he had left everything behind to enter the monastery.  But what he found in the monastery was that there was one more thing he needed to let go of, his pious, proud self-will.  Thus Luther had to leave this in the monastery and go back into the world, all the while being called a heretic and blasphemer by those who held the reins of power.  None of these people were perfect, only Jesus is perfect.  But they understood that to follow Jesus is to let go of everything that comes between us and him.  It is ours to simply say yes to his timing and to his way.  Yes, it will often be inconvenient and difficult.  But it always leads us away from destruction and towards life.

What is it that Jesus is calling us to do today?  Yes, in general, we are to be faithful to His Word and promote Jesus as savior and Lord.  But what is he specifically saying to you about your life.  Every time we read God’s Word, His Holy Spirit works in our hearts to call our bluff, or at least to get us to resist turning towards it.  He calls us to be real.  So what were the responses on that day?  There really are only two that are possible.

The Response to Jesus

Let us not kid ourselves.  Jesus was clearly presenting himself as God’s Messiah (The Anointed One) who was the rightful King of Israel.  As this gauntlet is thrown down those who believed that he was Messiah began to rejoice.  His ways had confused them because he wouldn’t do anything that looked like he was going to take over.  So on this day his followers are ecstatic because they think they know what will happen next.  Finally, he is ready to do what we have asked him to do.  Though they are in for a rude awakening as to what is next, it is still important to recognize their response to Jesus.  They quote from Psalm 118, which was a psalm predicting a coming Anointed King who would save Israel.  They believed in Jesus, and thus believed God who had sent Him.

All that said, even when we initially respond correctly, our faith is always going to be challenged.  Today when he rides down the hill on a donkey their faith is strong.  But what about later when he hangs on a cross and is buried, will they still believe?  When he is resurrected and yet ascends into heaven without fixing everything, will they still believe?  If we really trust God and His Anointed One, Jesus, then it is our duty to follow and accept that His way is perfect and mine is not.  You see even then their hearts were still their greatest enemies.  Would they be led astray by their wicked hearts?  Thus the reality is this, those who believe will do the actions of faith.  Their heart and their mind will protest a thousand times and yet, at the end of the day, they will choose to trust God over their own heart and mind.  We will be tested on this time and time again throughout our life, not because God is trying to disqualify us, but because He is perfecting us.  He is making us to be like Jesus, if we will let Him.

The Second response is simply to not believe.  Those who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah resisted and did the actions of unbelief.  Thus the religious leaders rebuke Jesus and tell him to rebuke his disciples.  Resisting can be open and heavy or hidden and slight.  Regardless it is of the same ilk, unbelief.  We are no different today.  We must all come to Jesus as both savior and Lord.  Yes, we want saved but we can’t dictate the terms of our salvation.  We must follow him, not because he is headed in the direction that we desire or does what we desire.  We must follow him because he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.  We must follow him because he is the only Righteous One.  Become a follower of Jesus today by walking away from the life that your flesh wants to create, whether religious or not, and letting him who alone has the words of life lead you forward no matter what that may look like.

When God calls your bluff audio

Monday
Jan162017

The Heart of a Righteous Person 2

Psalm 10:1-18.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on January 15, 2017.

We continue today looking at some psalms in the Bible in order to understand the heart of those righteous individuals who have gone before us.  Last week we looked at how the heart of a righteous person: speaks to God, speaks to people, holds fast to the lessons learned by the righteous found in the Bible, and receives the blessing of God.  Today we will deal with the difficulty that presses on the heart of all who want to be godly in this world.

It has questions

In verse 1 we see that the writer of this psalm has questions for God.  It is common for leaders and those who have been Christians for a long time to give the impression that questions are bad.  This can be because they fear a young Christian falling into heresy, but it can also be a fear of losing control on what they believe.  We need to stop this fearful, knee-jerk response to questions.  There is nothing wrong with asking a question if we sincerely seek an answer.  We may not get an answer.  But God is not threatened with us asking tough questions.  It is not necessarily a sign of unfaithfulness.  That said, a questioning heart can make some mistakes.  We can make the mistake of tying our trust in God to getting an answer that our mind will accept.  In this sense we have quit seeking truth and have started putting God on trial.  The devil loves to stir up questions about God’s intentions and actions.  A mature Christian will learn to struggle with them without losing faith.  There are answers to many questions about God that can be learned in the Scriptures.  However, some things are left unanswered.  Can you trust God when He says, “I will not answer that?”  Clearly you can because countless millions have trusted God to the end of their life with those very same questions.  Lastly, questions can be the result of lacking any trust in God and perhaps even a despising of His ways.  It can be a form of rebellion that seeks to stir up trouble among Christians.  In this sense they have already judged God.  No answer will be enough to satisfy their intellectual judgments.  Thus, God can handle our sincere questions.  But, He will not satisfy the minds of those who have rebelled against Him and are seeking to put Him on trial.

The first question has to do with why it looks like God “hides” during times of trouble.  We sometimes refer to this as the “hiddenness of God.”  Here the psalmist is not questioning God’s existence.  Rather, he questions why God isn’t presently dealing with a situation.  It seems as if God is hiding.  There are many answers that have been gleaned from the Bible over the years.  Some have pointed out that it is more important for our faith to be strengthened then our mind to be satisfied.  There is no way around the strange reality regarding humans that our faith grows stronger in adversity.  If God were to give us every answer and protect us from every difficulty then our faith would not be stronger, but tremendously weak.  God gives us enough to believe, but not too much to weaken that faith.  Another point that has been brought up is that our sins and disobedience create a separation between us and God.  We are often concerned about everything but the sin that God is wanting for us to deal with.  Thus He isn’t hiding from us.  Instead He is waiting for us to deal with sin.  We must also recognize that God values the freedom of His sentient creations to choose their own path.  He influences enough to give us wisdom, but not too much to override our freedom to choose.  In fact, connected to this is that God has always worked in conjunction with angels and humanity.  It is not His desire to control and force everything to be His way.  He leaves room for us to respond freely.  When talking about the hiddenness of God, it is also instructive to remember that God could ask us, me, mankind the same question.  Why do you hide from me?  Perhaps He sometimes gives to us the same amount of relational attention that we are giving Him.  Clearly God is far more merciful to us than we have been to Him.  While we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. (Romans 5:8).

Verse 2 ends with a cry for justice.  “Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.”  This extends the question about God’s hiddenness to the question of why He allows the wicked to succeed.  It is a grievous thing to bear for a righteous heart to see the wicked person steam rolling the innocent and getting away with it.  At this point the psalmist from verse 3 to verse 11 makes the case for why God shouldn’t let the wicked get away with it.  So we will quickly work through these verses recognizing what makes a person wicked.  As a side-note, let me say that a wicked person can recognize their sin, repent, and be saved.  Some people object to the label “wicked” because it sounds like a person can’t change.  The Bible uses language that describes where people are at, not what they are stuck in.  Thus it has no problem calling people evil, where in our generation it is rare for society to let the term “evil” be acceptable for hardly anyone.

The wicked are boastful and proud (2, 3, 4).  They “boast in their desires” (fleshly ones) with a “proud countenance.”  This area of arrogant pride is not so easily dismissed.  I was listening to a radio program the other day where a commentator said, “I want a coach who is arrogant and cocky.”  Whether in sports, Hollywood, business, or politics, the world promotes those who are arrogant and cocky.  People often desire these traits because such people are so driven to obtain their desires that they will do anything.  Who doesn’t want to be on the winning side?  Well let me put the question another way.  Would you want to be on the winning side in Iraq today if that was to join ISIS and its proud leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?  Is winning so important to you that you would throw out biblical principles, or better the ways of God?  How we obtain success is even more important than the success itself.  In fact, this begs the question, “What is success?”  If getting what I want is success then that is a sad definition.  “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world (because he wants it) and lose his soul?”  Many “successful” people that we envy have lost their souls in the process.  No one will think that these ones have succeeded in eternity.

The psalmist recognizes that the wicked bless the greedy.  The word is more than just greedy.  They are greedy for what you have.  Thus covetous might be a better word.  Instead of being a blessing to those who are hurting they bless the wrong people because they themselves have become wrong in their hearts.

In verse 3 it says that they “renounce the LORD.”  It is more than just a statement.  Such statements come from a heart that has already renounced the Lord and His ways.  They reject what God says to them and despise what God asks of them to do.  Because they have rejected God, they never think about what God thinks in their plans.  However, a righteous person is always thinking about what the Lord would have them do.  They often agonize before God in prayer about the emotional difficulties with such decisions.  Let’s say a wicked person cuts a righteous person off on the freeway and the righteous person gets mad and hits the high beam on their lights for two seconds.  Now I am not saying all people who cut someone off on the freeway are wicked.  But I am using this as an illustration.  My point is this.  The wicked person will not give a second thought about their decision to cut-off another person.  The will just keep driving and curse the person who high-beamed them.  But the righteous person will feel bad about high-beaming the person who cut them off and spend time agonizing on whether they went too far before God.  They will even ask God for forgiveness for losing control of their anger.  Of course it is not our job to determine what the other person is.  It is our job to keep our hearts right before God, even when we fail.

Verses 5-6 repeat some of the same reasons.  The wicked couldn’t care less about the decisions or judgments of God in heaven.  Their pride causes them to sneer at all their enemies with the attitude that they can’t be moved or hurt.  “I shall not be moved!”  This attitude sometimes comes from tiring of being the good guy.  We can reject the path of the humble and chose the path of the pride because we never want to hurt again.   Of course this is often just trash talk.  We will all face adversity and difficulty, even those who do their best to avoid it.  What is interesting is that the righteous are actually able to say, “I shall not be moved.”  They can because they are trusting in God and, when the dust of this life settles, the righteous will be left standing with Christ and the wicked will be blown away as the chaff.  In this life the righteous have much adversity.  But none of it can move us if we keep our trust in Jesus.

In verse 7 the psalmist points out that the mouth of the wicked is full of all manner of evil.  They curse God and people.  They practice deceit in what they often say.  They speak oppression for others.  There is nothing to find in their mouth but trouble and iniquity.  It would be better off if they never spoke because of what happens when they do.

Verses 8-11 basically depict the wicked person secretly preying on the helpless of society.  This dog-eat-dog mentality is the logical conclusion of a materialistic, evolutionary world-view.  If there is no day of judgment to an all-powerful God, then why would I live my life by rules that seem to make me the prey to those who don’t?  Thus the wicked see the righteous as unbelievable fools.  Such people become their meal each day.  Yes, the righteous see the same problem, but refuse to join the ranks of the wicked in order to protect themselves.  There is something that holds them back.  So let’s read on.

It has faith

The rest of the psalm moves back to addressing God.  At the end of the day the righteous would rather trust God then trust the snake-oil that the wicked have purchased with their souls.  Yes, it may appear for a season to be working, but in the end the piper must be paid.  Though the righteous don’t have all the answers, and they don’t understand every why to God’s actions, or lack thereof, they still trust Him.

In verse 14 we see that the righteous trust that God is not hiding.  But rather He is keeping track of the actions of mankind.  Psalm 56:8 says, “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?”  The Book of Revelation refers to books being opened at the great judgment, and that men will be judged by the things written in them.  It may feel like God doesn’t care and isn’t observing your situation, but in the end you can trust that He is intimately aware and even recording all that you do and all that has been done to you.  So don’t give up.

Not only is God keeping track, but He is also keeping track in order to repay people for their deeds.  He is going to repay the wicked.  Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”  This is not just physical death, but spiritual death as well.  God doesn’t just repay the wicked, but He also repays the righteous.  “The gift of God is eternal life.”  Thus God will help the fatherless, who have no one to stand up on their behalf.  The same is true for the widow and the poor person.  We can know that God will make everything right in the end.

So verse 16 declares the faith that God is the King forever.  He is the ultimate authority, and no matter how great the wicked may succeed (even the devil), it will not remove Him from His place of authority and power.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  So, it may trouble us that God allows the wicked a time of power and authority, but He has set a day in which all things will be set right.  We must trust Him.  In fact, it is partly a tribute to His grace that He gives the wicked their moment in the limelight, for they will spend eternity in darkness, separated from any good thing of God’s.

Lastly the righteous have faith that God will help the humble, vs. 17.  God has heard the cries of the humble (notice it doesn’t say righteous).  Even the wicked think they are right in what they do.  But God will judge on the side of the humble.  This is a reminder to the righteous to avoid the path of pride and arrogance because it leads to destruction.  Yes, we can question God, but we must remain humble if we want to avoid destruction.  It doesn’t say that God will help the humble by answering their every question.  So what is the help God will give?  First He will strengthen their hearts.  Such difficulties of God’s hiddenness and the success of the wicked can cause our hearts to faint and give up.  But God has strength for the heart of those who trust Him without giving up.  By His Spirit He encourages us from time to time if we are listening.  The psalmist also says that God will help the humble by making Himself hear.  This is a humorous way to put it.  But it is also a way of making it absolute and concrete.  Yes, though it seems like God is deaf to our cries today, there is a day when He will make Himself hear.  We need to wait for that day in trust.  Don’t grow weary in waiting.  They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.  They will mount up on wings with eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint!”  Why?  We will do these things because the Lord our God is with us and will deliver us.  Amen!

Heart of a Righteous Person 2 audio

Wednesday
Jan072015

Why You Should Not Worry

Luke 12:22-34.  If an audio link exists it will be at the end of the post.

In today’s passage Jesus speaks to the issue of worry or anxiety.  We often let stress build up in our lives to the point that we can even make ourselves sick.  Here are some recent statistics on stress in America.  20% of Americans say they feel stressed out every day, 60% say they feel stressed out once a week.  Research clearly shows that “stress deteriorates our immune systems; people under constant high stress show lower T-cell counts, which are essential for immune response.”

We use the term stress in two very different ways.  First, we use stress to refer to the person, thing, or situation that is the “stressor.”  This use focuses on the external thing that presents a challenge to us in some way.  However, the second use of this word refers to an inner response to that challenge.  Thus someone is “stressed out.”  It is to this inner aspect that the words “worry” or “anxiety” refer.  Now in some ways people can stress out about some of the silliest things.  I don’t say that to put them down because I do it myself from time to time.  That said, there is much in this world today about which we could reasonably worry.  In fact, the Bible describes the last days as, “men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth,” Luke 21:26 (NKJV).

In our passage today we see that God intends His people to have peace in their hearts about the things in their lives, especially when the world is falling apart.  Paul describes the Christian life in Romans 14:17 this way, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Worry is one of the main ways that we miss out on the peace and joy that God wants us to experience.   In fact, verse 22 starts out with the Lord’s command to not worry about things in our life.  So let’s look at eight reasons why we should not worry as followers of Christ.

Your Life Is More Than Food And Clothing

Look at verses 22-23. The word “life” here refers both to the living force within us (staying alive) and the internal soul and its will, emotions, desires, etc.  Whether the concern is physical survival or simply the desires of our heart, we fear the things that can affect both.  Here Jesus uses the issues of food and clothing.  In Matthew’s account of this sermon he adds shelter.  Notice that all three of these issues can be issues of survival or simply issues of what we desire.  I want better food or even yummier food! Or, I want nicer clothes!  Perhaps I want the best clothes so that I will be noticed?  Most people shoot way past survival when it comes to picking out shelter.  In fact, no one calls a house their “shelter.”  So we could add to this list that Jesus starts: entertainments, wealth, investments, vacations, holidays, boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses, and the list goes on and on.  Jesus is not discounting the necessity that exists within these things.  However, he tells us that our life is greater than those things.  The things that make four our being physically alive and our soul prospering are not fulfilled by such things alone.  In fact, the case could be made that they play the smaller part.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father.”  Thus if I have bread, but not the Father, I am in severe trouble.  Yet, if I have no bread, but have the care of the Father, then I have nothing to worry about.  And, that is the problem with worry, it shrinks our life down into small trivial things and we become a small trivial person swimming in a sea of problems.

You Are Valuable To God

In verse 24 Jesus turns to the birds and teaches us a lesson.  The raven is a bird of little value.  He doesn’t use the peacock or some other rare, expensive bird, but simply a raven.  He reminds us that God cares for them.  In fact, they don’t build barns and plant crops.  They simply live off of what is provided for them every day.  How much more will God carry us through who are more valuable to Him than a raven?  This rhetorical question is clearly intended to be answered with a resounding, “much more!”  But it is purposefully left hanging for us to meditate and chew on.

When we think about how God did not spare His own Son, but asked Him to come down to earth and become a man, and then to be put to death on a cross for a mankind that had rebelled against him, we ought to be amazed at the price God has paid for us.  When we think about the Son, without coercion, agreeing whole-heartedly to such a plan, we ought to be amazed at the value he places on us.  The value of each person is more to God than perhaps we can imagine.  Many times at the root of our worry is the fear that God cares for others, but not for us.  Some may challenge this premise that the birds owe their thanks for food to God.  But, they would be those who are not in relationship with God.  If He is your Father, then can you not see that He has made provision for you as well?

Worry Will Not Help Your Situation

In verses 25-26 Jesus points out the futility of worry.  Whether it is a foot to your stature or a million dollars to your bank account, worrying doesn’t do anything to help.  In fact, it does quite the opposite.  Worrying will always make the situation worse.  It ruins our attitude and hampers the response that we can make.  It can affect the people around us.  Like the Peanuts character “Pigpen” our attitude of fear and worry surrounds us like a cloud and sends those around us either fleeing or catches them up in our cloud.  Worry blurs the lines between what we can change and what we can’t.  It has negative affects upon us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In fact, I don’t believe that anyone worries because they think it will help.  They worry because they think they have no choice and no power over their situation.  Now let’s be clear.  Analyzing a problem and choosing a response is not equivalent to worrying.  It is a proper response to any stress to figure out if there is anything we can do to mitigate it.  However, we often run into situations where there is little we can do.  It is at this point that we can slide into anxiety and worry.  We cycle around and around about a problem with no solution and underline our powerlessness in our mind, until we are paralyzed and depressed.  It can become habitual like a rut in the road that, no matter how many times you pop out of it, it quickly sucks you back down into itself.  Worrying really is a foolish response when we think about it this way.  Why would I want to make a bad situation worse?  I know that no one does it for that reason.  But perhaps we can stop for that reason?

Worry Lacks Faith In A Faithful God

In verses 27-28 Jesus draws from another nature analogy.  As ravens are to food, so flowers are compared to clothing.  You might think that Jesus is really stretching it for this analogy, but go with Him for a little bit.  Clothing can be about warmth, but in most cases we want to make a social statement with how we dress.  It is a big part of who we are.  Jesus says that the lily is clothed with greater spendor than King Solomon ever was.  Notice that a lily cannot lay claim to why it is so beautiful.  Of course we could point out many beautiful flowers throughout creation.  All of them have been given a unique beauty and glory from God.  Will not God so clothe you with unique beauty and glory?  Our problem is that we often look to clothes to do what they really cannot do.  Clothes can only impress the superficial.  The things that make for our true “social statement” are not our clothes.  Again Jesus hammers home the point of our value to God.  Flowers are frailer than even mankind.  Yet, Jesus asks how much more will God clothe us?  I won’t take time to go into it, but there appears to be an implication that reaches forward to the Resurrection, in which we will be “clothed with glory” and “this mortal will put on immortality.”

Now Jesus ends this with the phrase, “O you of little faith.”  Here he points us to our lack of faith in a God who has proven Himself faithful many times over.  God is asking His people to trust Him, not just in a blind faith.  He is faithful everyday to his creation.  He even causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  God’s provision is spread throughout the cosmos.  In fact, we might even call it wasteful as an immeasurable amount of energy, that we will never be able to harness, is cast into the void of space.  But it is not wasteful for God because He is infinite and it is He who has made provision for us.  How greatly do we trust God?  Many Christians have been stripped of their clothing, houses, lands, freedom, and even their lives.  They could have completely despaired God’s care and concern for them.  They could have “cursed God and died.”  Yet, they testified, over and over again, that God was faithful to them through it all.  Our life is greater than things that can be taken away from us in this life.  Jesus promises that anyone who loses anything for His sake will be paid back in this life and in the Age to come.  Imagine the great glory we will have in the Resurrection ruling in power with Jesus Himself when He returns.  The small losses of this life are trivial in light of the great glory that is coming to us.

Those Who Are Separated From God Worry

In verses 29 and 30 there are actually a couple of reasons not to worry.  The first is in the reference to the nations.  The Bible reveals that the nations of the world had walked away from God.  Thus they were separated from Him and in darkness to their true condition.  They had been given over to the “god” of this world.  However, Israel was a unique thing.  God created a nation who would not only belong to Him, but also be a light to the darkened gentiles.  In fact the term “nations” was a Jewish idiom for all other nations who were outside God's kingdom.  Jesus challenges his disciples with the recognition that we can be guilty of acting like the lost.  Now it makes sense for those who are lost and in darkness to worry.  God is not their Father and the “gods” (actually demons) that do rule over them are heavy taskmasters.  On top of this they are enemies of the One True God.  In that sense they have every reason to worry.  Such should not be for those who are the Children of God.  Why would His people worry?  Perhaps we are not confident in our relationship with Him.  In fact many trials test our ability to keep our confidence in God’s faithfulness.  Too often we let these small issues define whether God loves us or not.  However, when He was hanging on the cross, what did Jesus have that would enable Him to be confident in God’s promises to Him?  Everything that we could use to comfort ourselves was stripped from Him, except the very Word of God itself.  Thus He says to us, "pick up your cross and follow me."

God Knows About Your Needs

The second thing in verses 29 and 30 is the phrase, “Your Father in Heaven knows you need these things.”  It is not just that He knows, it is He who designed us with these needs in the first place.  Yes, our desires and wants often sprint on past our needs.  Still, it doesn’t change the fact that God knows exactly what our needs are, even better than ourselves.  Therein lies part of the problem.  God always provides but not always at the levels we desire and seek after.  God always meets our greatest needs, but His list and our list are generally not the same.  We often seek fulfillment in the things that should be at the bottom of the list at the expense of the things that should be at the top.  God loves us too much to satisfy our every wish.  He has greater plans for us.

Our Life Is Found In Seeking The Kingdom Of God

In verses 31 and 32, Jesus points us towards what we should be seeking after, the Kingdom of God.  Worry focuses our life on exactly the wrong things.  So what does it mean to seek the Kingdom of God?  We seek to have Him ruling in our hearts and our life by reading His Word and prayerfully incorporating it into our life.  We seek to understand the reasons behind his commands and designs.  We seek to fulfill the commission that He has given us by sharing His act of love with those who are lost and in the dark to these things.  In short we choose His way over the top of our way, or even the way of the latest self-help guru we may admire.

Jesus uses a term “little flock.”  This term is intended to be an extremely tender term.  In fact the word flock is a diminutive form.  To coin a term it is like him calling them a “little flocklet,”- my apologies to the English language.  They are few and little, not even a full “flock.”  These are the very kind of things that cause us to worry.  Yet, here we see it is precisely what makes them dear to our Lord.  Have you ever thought that the very things you fret over are exactly what make you precious and dear to the heart of God?  The tenderness of Jesus here is the tenderness of the Father towards all who suffer things in this life for His sake.  Even in seeking His kingdom we must bear in mind that we receive it not because of our ability, but simply because it pleases Him to give it to those who are the “weak” and the “poor” of this life.  We are often guilty of striving to obtain in this life what we cannot at the expense of even greater things in the life to come.  As Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  This was written by a man who would die at the hands of an unreached tribe in the jungles of Equador.   Was it a tragic loss?  On the natural plane it was.  But in the spiritual plane of the Kingdom of God it was a nuclear bomb that brought an entire village out of the Kingdom of Darkness and into the Kingdom of Jesus.

Worry Ties Our Heart To This World

In the last verse Jesus seals the deal.  Where is your heart?  Our worries and anxieties are like carbon cords tying us to the “stone” of this world.  This world and the cares of it are passing away.  If we allow our hearts to be lashed to the mast of a ship that is going down, then we will perish with it.  Thus, Jesus has brought his disciples full circle to the Rich Young Fool in verses “12-21.”  This man’s heart was tied to this world without thought for the things of God.  When his judgment came he was found lacking and judged as a fool.  Worry is a foolish thing because it jeopardizes our soul.  Yet, it is easy to give into it because of the frailty of our flesh.  Even though this is a clear command from Christ, it is given in a far more tender way.  This is not the command of a master, but the tender heart of a Father who doesn’t want to see us fret when He has pledged Himself to us.  May God help us this year to do much less worrying and much more trusting so that we can focus on what really matters in this life!

Why You Should Not Worry Audio

Tuesday
Dec302014

When Your Time is Up

Today we are going to be in Luke 12:13-21.

Our time is up for 2014 and 2015 is soon to begin.  We cannot go back and change what we said, did, or accomplished this previous year.  The New Year reminds us that we are mortal and we are now one year older.  How many years do I have left?  Am I living in such a way as to bring judgment or grace upon me when I stand before God?  These are some heavy questions that we may tend to avoid.  However, it is imperative that we deal with them now while we have time, rather than waiting and being caught off-guard.  The Bible tells us that “it is appointed to men to die and then the judgment.”  Instead of seeing these things as dark and foreboding, we can look at them as powerful understanding of what is to come.  When you know what is coming in advance, you can make preparations now that will help you be successful when they come.  That is the wonderful thing about the present.  Even though your past is “etched in stone,” the present allows you to affect the future that those past decisions are taking you towards.  We can make course corrections and thereby overcome things that we cannot change.

A Person’s Life Is Not In The Abundance of Possessions

In verses 12-15 Jesus is interrupted by a man who wants Jesus to do something for him.  Jesus then turns to his disciples and teaches them because the man is an illustration of an important principle.  Life cannot be found in the abundance of possessions.

Now this man addresses Jesus as “teacher.”  Thus he approaches Jesus as a disciple.  However, there is no sense of wanting to learn in his request.  He simply wants Jesus to do something for him.  So is he a disciple or is he only a manipulator trying to get something out of Jesus?  Jesus exposes his true motivation: covetousness.  This man wants what his brother has and is hoping Jesus will get it for him.  Now notice the response of Jesus.  He calls him “man.”  This is quite different then the “my friends” he used with his disciples back in vs. 4.  This is a more curt and formal address.  Jesus clarifies that he is not really the man’s teacher and the man is not really his disciple.  Jesus was merely a means to an end for this guy and do not be deceived, God will not be mocked and used by us for fleshly means.

Now the man’s issue has to do with an inheritance.  He wants Jesus to make his brother divide the inheritance with him.  Now it makes sense to come to Jesus to settle an issue of justice.  The Scriptures said that the Messiah would rule with perfect justice and would cause righteousness to shine.  He would be the ultimate arbiter of mankind.  Yet, we are not given enough information about this particular situation to judge the merits of this man’s appeal.  Was his brother being wicked and squeezing him out of his proper inheritance?  Or was this man wicked and trying to get more than his proper share?  Or were they both wicked and covetous?  Regardless, one thing is true, Jesus does care about justice.  He does not reject this man’s appeal because he doesn’t care.  Even if this man’s cause was just, Jesus recognizes that something deadly has happened in his heart.  He has been overcome with having what his brother has.  Much covetousness lies behind the talk of justice.  Christ cares too much about this man’s soul to prostitute justice for the sake of his flesh.  Is it possible that getting justice might be the last thing we need spiritually?  Jesus essentially tells the man that his problem is not his brother, but his own heart.  He has become greedy and is coveting.  To give him what he wants would only make his spiritual situation worse.

In verse 14 Jesus asks him, “who made me judge over your case?”  Legally no one had.  Thus Jesus points out that the man is only seeking leverage over his brother.  Had his case been heard by the authorities and denied?  We are not told.  But there is far more to this story then is made evident by the man’s appeal.  Why come to Jesus and not the proper authorities? 

Jesus may also be reminding those who are listening of the situation of Moses.  When Moses first decided to do something about the plight of his people, he ended up killing an Egyptian taskmaster who was harshly whipping an Israelite.  Later he sees too Hebrews fighting and tries to get them to quit quarreling.  One of the men responds, “who made you ruler and judge over us?”  As much as people want justice and cry out for it, when God does supply the man to get it for us, we complain.  Justice is a double edged sword.  It not only cuts those who have treated us unjustly, but it cuts us as well.  Thus as Messiah, God had made Jesus judge over all mankind.  In fact we see this in 2 Timothy 4:1, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom…”

The real issue here is the man’s relationship to Jesus.  If Jesus really were his master and judge, then the man would have left everything in order to follow him and know true justice.  From the point of becoming his disciple and following, the only purposes and intention that would matter would be those of Jesus.  Thus we see the problem of my agenda versus the agenda of God.  God’s agenda is generally not the same as ours even when we claim to want the same thing as him.  Our understanding of justice is not always just.  We live in a world that loves to co-opt the person and message of Jesus for its own understanding and intention.  Yet, in the end they will not follow Jesus as Lord.  Check your own heart and see if there are desires and agenda items that are more important to you then having Jesus as your Lord because this will reveal your true relationship with Jesus.  He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.

Jesus then turns to his disciples and warns them to watch and guard against coveting.  Our sinful nature will seek to suck life out of material things instead of turning to God from whom all life flows.  Our life is in the words of Christ to us, not in what Christ says to our brother.  Even if the entire world turns against Jesus and you are left alone, his words to you can supply life to you, if you believe.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  All else is peripheral and often detrimental.  When we covet we want to have more, especially that which belongs to another.  In Colossians 3:5 we are told that coveting is idolatry.  This man looks to the inheritance that his brother has as more important than God.  He is not really interested in justice, but in satisfying a craving for more possessions and wealth.  Jesus says to watch and guard against such sins.  But what are we guarding?  We are guarding our hearts from being infected by such sin.  This man was being swallowed up in sin.

The Parable of The Rich Fool

In verses 16-21, Jesus tells a parable to his disciples to slam home the main issue here, this man’s soul is in jeopardy and he is being foolish.  When you look at the man in the parable you will notice that his thoughts are all centered on himself.  If you count the personal pronouns he uses you will get the picture.  Also note that there is no mention of God in all of his thinking.  It is irrelevant if he goes to synagogue every week and prays loudly in front of everyone.  We see here in the private counsels of his own heart that God has no place.

In the parable the man has bumper crops to the point that he has a “problem” of figuring out what to do with the excess or overflow.  Instead of asking why has God blessed him and figuring out what God’s purpose is, his solution is to build bigger barns and amass the increase for himself.  Even though he doesn’t need more, he heaps it up.  Today we would call this hoarding.  Now here is a problem.  It is one thing when Jesus calls us out on our hoarding.  We know that he has no ulterior motive.  But, often those who point out the sin of hoarding only want to have what they have.  We see a big pile of money or possessions and the wickedness of our heart covets it.  This reminds me of the movie that just came out, The Hobbit.  In it we see how the amassed gold and riches ate into the heart of all who saw it and obtained it.  So we will be judged on both accounts: a greedy amassing for self and a greed desire to take from others.

In verse 19 we notice that his soul is at ease.  Godly people in every generation have spoken of the need for a holy discomfort with our life and the world around us.  When Christ is our focus then this world causes us trouble and discomfort at least.  Too often Christians stop at being uneasy about the world, yet refuse to walk with the Lord seriously enough to become uncomfortable with their own sin.  Our rest is to be found in trusting Jesus and His teachings.  This man is trying to find rest in material abundance outside of Christ.  We need to refresh ourselves in Him and rest, but we should never rest in being vigilant over our soul against sin.

Similar to the handwriting on the wall before Belshazzar, a message from God comes to the man.  He is about to die and he has been judged as a fool by God.  He is a fool because he focused his life on what couldn't save him, nor could go with him.  He lived without a sense of accountability to God.  This life is a gift and how we go about living it determines our judgment.  Will you live for the Lord Jesus or will you continue as master?  His judgment comes without warning and the man will die that very night.  Although some of us are given fair warning that our time is coming, many will go into eternity without the ability to "make quick amends."  We need to live so that nothing is left undone between us and the Lord.  

In Matthew 19:21 Jesus says to the rich young man, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me."  This idea of putting treasure in heaven by helping others is explained there.  Here the phrase is called, "being rich toward God."  It is interesting that it clearly means to help people, but the emphasis is on God.  When we help others simply because it makes us feel good, we need to be careful.  This is not what saves us.  In fact such giving often cuts God out of the picture.  It is purely about bringing pleasure to one's self.  But, when God becomes the Lord of all our possessions and money, we will truly become a free person.  We are free to bless others as he enables and directs.  You are under no compulsion by the people who covet your money and hold the words of Jesus over your head.  Their greed will continue to destroy them unless they repent.  But you are free to give and help under the compulsion of the Spirit of God.  Lest this seem like a cop-out, know this: you will give account to God for all you have done or not done on this earth and He is not mocked.  James lays out a warning for those who either have riches or desire to get them.  James 5:1-7  , "Come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire.  You have heaped up treasure in the last days.  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.  Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord."

 

Time is up audio