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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
Dec162014

The Sin of Hypocrisy

Today we will be in Luke 12:1-12.  We apologize that the audio is not available for this sermon.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had been speaking in particular to the Pharisees and Lawyers.  Here he turns directly to his disciples in the midst of a chaotic scene that had developed around them.  His directives to them can help us to see how these religious leaders could be so blind to the Truth of what God had actually called them to do.  Well the answer to that has to do with Hypocrisy.   This is a Greek word that originally referred to the dialogue that would occur between actors.  But over time it became associated with acting itself.  This quickly was used with the negative connotation of someone who wasn’t being real, they were acting out something other than what they actually were; thus, a hypocrite.  These religious leaders had become great actors (hypocrites).  But their inner life was anything but godly and they constantly talked about being like God, but never actually doing it.  So, today, we use this word to speak of those who say one thing but do another.  Of course it has become an easy pejorative to throw around.  What I mean is this.  Just because someone sins doesn’t mean they are automatically a hypocrite.  Some refuse to try and live as the Bible tells us because they don’t want to be hypocrites.  However, this is actually hypocrisy.  With their mouth they are testifying that they want to be a “good person.”  Yet, with their actions they reject God’s direction in this area.  The truth is that they only want to follow their own ideas.  Let’s look at the passage.

Beware of Hypocrisy

Now in verse 1 it tells us that the crowd had increased greatly and that people were beginning to “trample” one another.  It is possible that people were actually getting stepped on and hurt.  However, this word was also used metaphorically to refer to rudeness, insults, and overall selfish activity at the expense of others.  There is an irony pointed out that they were trampling one another in order to get near and hear Jesus, who would be teaching them to love one another.  Did they really want the Word of God?  How can one justify trampling their brother in order to get something from God?  Of course this is the way of the world and to be expected of humans.  But it is not the way of God and should not be acceptable in the life of one who claims to love Him.  When you look at the angry, verbal attacks coming from the Lawyers and the people trampling each other to get closer, it becomes clear that there is some evil spirits at work here.  This is not as an excuse for the people, but as an extra dimension to what is stirring them up.  Jesus has spoken truth to them and they don’t like it.  Their flesh and a spiritual enemy is stirring them up so that they do not receive what Christ has to offer.  Things are getting ugly quick.  It is here that Jesus teaches his disciples to beware Hypocrisy.

He does so by using the imagery of yeast or leaven.  When you add a little bit of yeast to a lot of dough it will cause the whole loaf to become fluffy.  Now this is good if you like fluffy bread.  But it is a picture of how sin and hypocrisy work.  Whether we are talking about a group or an individual, to allow hypocrisy to continue without rooting it out will eventually affect the entire person or group.  Now the word “beware” is to watch out for something, and to keep it in front of you so as not to forget about it.  Thus we must be vigilant within ourselves and not put up with “small” amounts of sin.  This is how hypocrisy starts.  We make excuses for small amounts of sin and yet pretend as if they don’t exist or matter.

Next Jesus warns that all hidden things will be brought to light.  Now many things are brought to light in this life, however, not all things.  Still, imagine if everything you said in private or thought in secret would end up on your FaceBook page.  We can be thankful that life doesn’t work that way.  Yet, Christ warns us that we should not “bank” on secrecy and privacy.  God has an interest in making all things public because everyone of us plays the hypocrite throughout our life.  If it wasn’t for the reality of God we would all be completely consumed by it.  Yet, eventually we will all stand before God one day.  God knows all things.  Our hidden thoughts and secret counsels are completely open to Him.  He will bring forth judgment upon our life.  If we don’t want to be convicted and exposed as a hypocrite before Him then we will have to judge our own hidden things now.  What I mean by that is this.  God calls all who want to follow Him to live lives of recognizing their own sin, confessing it to Him, and asking for forgiveness.  This “pre-judging” of our own sin, if done with faith in the mercy of Jesus, will allow us to avoid the judgment of God.  Also, if I will not judge myself now, then God will judge me later.  Either way, the truth is going to come out.  This should affect the life of anyone who believes that Jesus means what he says.

Thus we should be careful what we say in secret, whether to another or to ourselves mentally.  The disciples of Jesus are called to be those who guard their tongue.  A part of ourselves that James says is “a world of iniquity….and it is set on fire by hell.”  Most people fear private speech only because of the threat of a tyrannical government.  But God challenges us to think higher.  We guard our words because God Himself has vowed to bring them all to light.  What is going on in the secret place of your heart and mind, your inner sanctum?  Jesus warns us to not play the hypocrite, but rather bring those areas under control.  This naturally leads to the problem of those who fail to heed this advice and choose the path of Hypocrisy.

Don’t Be Afraid of Hypocrites

Hypocrites are able to worm their way into many positions of authority and power.  The temptation is to let our fear of them be the only thing that affects what we say or do.  This might keep us from speaking, but it will not put out the seething inferno that is ignited in the heart of those under tyranny.  I don’t say this to promote tyranny.  Just to point out that fighting against tyrants may bring relief in the life of many, but it will never make us more like God.  In fact, many rebels who have thrown down tyrants have in turn become tyrants themselves.  Jesus moves to the issue of the fears of our heart that lead to compromise and hypocrisy.  He says point blank that they will seek to kill his disciples.  Here we already see their anger against Jesus.  Elsewhere Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before you.”  When we follow Christ we are called to be the opposite of a hypocrite.  Instead of acting out a pretend role we are actually living the life of one who is a warrior against their own sin.

Like Cain with Abel, the hypocrite’s beef is not with you.  Rather, it is with God.  However, since they can’t take it out on God they take it out on you.  Many hypocrites started out wanting to be like God and stay true to the principles of their heart.  But fear of the hypocrites they ran into along the way caused them to compromise and eventually they became a hypocrite themselves.  At this self-loathing point one either drops the charade or angrily defends their portrayal of righteousness.

Yet, Jesus reminds us that these hypocrites are limited.  They can only kill your body.  Now this is not to put down the horrendous things that men have done to each other.  Torture and hideous deaths are not just things of history.  They are our everyday news.  Yet, Satan uses our fear of being limited and weak as a means to bully us into playing the hypocrite.  Jesus tells us that this can only go so far.  Ultimately, they cannot control what you think and believe in your heart.  Even though they kill you, they can do nothing more.  Yet, God is greater than these hypocrites or any man for that matter.  He can not only kill you but destroy your body and soul in hell.  If it is fear that motivates you then fear the right thing.  Don’t give up in the short-term at the expense of the long run.

Now God wants us to be motivated by something better than fear.  If we are rejecting Him then we need a healthy dose of the reality that His power over our lives is greater than all the other things we fear in life.  But if we want to be His disciples then he wants us to know his love and care for us.  Thus God’s love is the prime motivation for not being a hypocrite.  If you love God then you will flee hypocrisy like Ebola.  Jesus softens the previous words about hell, by pointing to God’s desired intentions toward them.  God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  When you are surrounded by hypocrites it always feels like God has forgotten you.  You are tempted to give in.  Yet Jesus reminds his disciples that God has not forgotten them.  Just like the Father did not forget His Son who was hanging on the cross feeling abandoned, which was proved by the resurrection and ascension.  So God hasn’t forgotten you, no matter what you are going through.  He also points out that we are valuable to God.  If he notices when even one sparrow falls, does he not notice you?  Of course He does.  You are more valuable to Him than many sparrows.  He counts the very hairs on your head; that’s how much He cares for you.  We can always know that God has not forgotten us because of the Truth that we are valuable to Him.  How do we know this?  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  Jesus hanging on the cross is God’s ultimate picture to you of how much He loves and cares about you.  So don’t be unfaithful to Him and play the harlot with other hypocrites.  Rather endure their insults and persecutions and keep your eyes upon the character and will of God.  When the righteous are put to death, God is not forgetting them nor are they merely expendable.  Rather, they are doing exactly what Jesus himself did: testifying with their dying breath on behalf of the love of the Father.  Hypocrites live as if God cannot see them.  But believers live knowing they are always in His sight.

Speak as Christ before All Men

In verses 8-12 we have several words that deal with speaking.  Hypocrisy is generally revealed through the things we say in private versus those in public.  The word “confess” means to acknowledge, to agree with, or to speak the same as another.  The word “deny” means not to speak for or on behalf of another.  The term “blaspheme” means to speak evil against another.  Lastly the word “answer” means to speak in defense of one’s self or another.  This is why I summarize the section with the phrase “speak as Christ before all men.”  We are not only to acknowledge the Truth of Christ, but we must also agree with it and speak it exactly as he did.  We are to be Christ living through our lives.

Thus in verse 8 Jesus tells his disciples, who in their fight against hypocrisy would be struggling with these temptations, that if they will confess him before men (speak the same thing as he and be identified with what he said) that Jesus will acknowledge them before the angels in heaven.  Now in Matthew 10 Jesus says the same thing only saying that he will acknowledge them before his Father in heaven.  Thus the idea is that our confession here on earth before men will be vindicated by Jesus in heaven.  There is a timing issue here that is not specified.  In the now, it seems that heaven is silent as we suffer and are persecuted.  Yet, we are told that Jesus is interceding on our behalf before the Father.  He is speaking up for us and acknowledging us.  This ought to give us great hope to know that whatever we face, God is in control; even if it be a cross.  Yet, when we die we will stand before the Father.  He could bring out a long list of our sins and failures.  Yet, Jesus promises that He will acknowledge us and speak up on our behalf.  “He belongs to me.”  Thus judgment will be avoided by those whom Jesus acknowledges.  Yet the alternative is true.  If we refuse to speak on his behalf (whether out of being neutral or from rejecting him) he will refuse to speak on our behalf.  Thus we will face judgment without the forgiveness of Christ.

Next Jesus gives an interesting view into our sins against God Himself.  Jesus says that those who sin against him will be forgiven.  The implication is that those who ask forgiveness will receive it.  He is not saying it is okay to sin against him.  Only that it will be forgiven to those who ask it.  We can think of the Pharisee Saul/Paul here.  He fought against the Christians and the testimony of Christ and yet, when confronted by Jesus himself, Paul repented and received forgiveness.  Jesus then warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit, i.e. speaking evil against the Holy Spirit.  This leads us to what has been called the “unpardonable sin.”  Ultimately the unpardonable sin is completely rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is pointing us to Jesus.  If you are afraid that you may have committed the unpardonable sin then it is pretty clear that you haven’t.  I say this because sensitivity to sin is a sign that the Holy Spirit is still working in your heart and you are open to Him.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one cannot ever reject the witness of the Holy Spirit.  Otherwise, a story like Paul’s would not make sense.  When Jesus confronted Paul with his sin of rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, Paul repented, changed his thinking and life.  Yet, many of his generation refused to accept the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.  They persisted to the point that they could not receive the very thing that was sent to save them.  If we die making our stand against His witness then we cannot be forgiven.  That is what many of the Pharisees did.  Yet, there was still hope for them if they would repent and believe.  The Holy Spirit would especially be working once Christ was resurrected and ascended into heaven.

Lastly, Jesus reminds them that when they are persecuted they are not supposed to worry about what they will say.  Jesus knew that those who speak with him in their life would eventually face persecution.  He comforts us with the reality that we need not worry how we will defend ourselves or even Christ.  We needn’t worry because the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say in the moment.  Though we won’t be able to see Him, God Himself will be present with the followers of Jesus and in the moment of their greatest loneliness He will fill their mouths with the words to say.  We see this evidenced in Scripture when Steven is martyred.  Can we trust God and live open unhidden lives before Him and each other?  Only by dying to self and following Jesus is it possible.  Let us fervently love one another in truth.