When Jesus was explaining the parable of the sower to his disciples (Matthew 13:18-23) he used this phrase, the deceitfulness of wealth, when speaking of those who represent the seeds falling among the thorns. In Matthew 13:22 Jesus said, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word making it unfruitful.” This phrase caught my attention as I read through the passage, and I thought it worth a more in-depth look.
I frequently like to refer to The Message to expand a passage. Here’s how verse 22 reads, “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.” (I love The Message.) The words deceitfulness and illusions both give indication of something that is not really there. We are lead to think there’s something there, but it is a deception. Here in America, I believe the deceitfulness of wealth hinders us from fully participating in God’s kingdom. Perhaps it is our greatest deception.
I remember, when my youngest daughter returned from a mission’s trip to Mexico, she was deeply impressed by how happy the people were in the village where she stayed. She said to me, “Dad they live in shacks and have nothing, yet they are always cheerful and happy.” It was a great experience for her. She had the opportunity to realize that possessions don’t bring happiness. It’s a deception.
This is a repost from December of 2015. I hope you enjoy it.
Last night, as I lay on my bed awaiting the curtain of sleep to envelop me, I began to reflect on those times in my early years when I escaped being caught up in evil. The stimulation of these memories caused me to raise prayers of thanksgiving. God was in my life protecting me even before I fully recognized him. As I thought about this, I realized that God was answering the Lord’s Prayer. He was delivering me from evil.
I tend to trivialize the Lord’s Prayer because I memorized it many years ago as a child. The repetition of this familiar prayer has washed over its implications. In my meditations, I encounter a highlighted view of these meaningful words. I recognized that God has indeed delivered me from evil and kept me from temptation. He has provided my daily bread, forgiven me, and taught me to forgive others.
Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples saying “this is how you should pray.” I found myself saying “yes” this is how I should pray. Jesus starts his prayer by setting a proper placement between man and God, and then he gives us a few words to deal with daily life. He covers it all. Of course, I did know this before, but isn’t it wonderful how you can come to a deeper revelation of a familiar passage of scripture? The words of the Lord’s Prayer have taken on new significance for me.
I’d like Jesus’ prayer to be continually with me both as I speak it, and as I experience its impact in my heart. I desire to offer it to God my Father with an expression of love and thanksgiving for his continual answers.
Yesterday was a day of humbling. I made a big mistake at work, had to fudged a little on a recorded time, and to top it off, when the left turn lane started to move on the turn arrow, I started forward from my straight lane. Catching my error, I slammed on the brake. There I sat in the middle of the cross walk in my driver’s instruction car for all to see my error. The haunting realization came over me that even under my scrupulous vigilance I can’t attain perfection. The illusion of perfection was no longer possible to maintain.
I’m a perfectionist! I live under that faulty idea that I need to do all things perfectly. How imperfect is the pursuit of perfection? To think that I can do anything perfectly is ridiculous -not to mention it’s hard work. I’m reminded of the guy on the Ed Sullivan show twirling plates on top of poles. He had to run from plate to plate to keep them spinning so they wouldn’t fall. In my yesterday’s experience, plates fell. One fell then another. It was a disaster.
So here I am, in the aftermath of humiliation, trying to make sense of it all. I ask myself,” What causes me to be a perfectionist”? My answer is twofold. First, I am created in the image of God, who is perfect. It’s inherent in my nature to want things perfect. Secondly, I have a sinful nature, so I’m full of pride. I inherently want to be better than the next guy. I also don’t want to be criticized by the next guy. Perfectionism can also set me in a place where I judge others as less than me. How ugly is that?
I now rejoice in my day of humbling. It brings me down from the throne of superiority and places me right back where I belong. I will continue to give my best effort at work and in all my endeavors because it is the right thing to do, but I will also make every attempt to keep a humble place and avoid letting my desire to do good work tempt me into a prideful place. I will trust God to give me days of humbling when I need them. After all, I am a sinner in need of a savior.
While reading and meditating on Matthew chapter 24, a memory from my early twenties came to mind. I was at a party sitting on a couch hovering on the inebriated side of too much wine. Gathered at my feet was a group of teenagers. I was sharing with them how love was the answer to all the world’s problems, and that God was the source of love. Ah, the gifts and callings were there even in the early years. So why am I sharing this? To my surprise, the message in my heart hasn’t changed.
Jesus in Matthew 24, when telling his disciples about the end times, made this statement. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Can you imagine what it will be like when the love of most has grown cold? I see a lack of love every day, but I also see a lot of love being displayed. What will happen when most of it is gone? Love is the stabilizing factor that keeps our world in balance.
The good news is that we who know love are encouraged to stand firm. Keep on loving. Jesus said that during this time, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world…” In the darkest of times, love will still exist in the hearts of those who believe. Love will still be the answer to the world’s problems.
I pray for love to ever increase in my heart and for all of us who believe. As wickedness increases, let us counter with a greater expression of God’s love by the power of his Holy Spirit in us.
I have been reading through the book of Matthew in “The Message”. Matthew has always been a compelling book for me, but I must confess that Jesus’ teachings and parables are frequently disturbing to me. In chapter 19 verse 25 the disciples ask a question that frequently reverberates in my mind, “Then who has any chance at all?” The question was in response to what Jesus had just said to them, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”
I, like the rich young man in Jesus’ teaching, find it impossible to qualify for God’s kingdom. I can’t keep the entire list. I fall short every day. What can be done?
Jesus’ answer to the disciples question shocked me from my self-imposed state of worry. He replied, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” As I thought through this passage, I realized that Jesus, ever aware of the sacrifice he was about to make, was drawing us to himself. His teachings and parables all point to our need for him, our need for a savior. His teachings aren’t meant to condemn us, but to show us that though we can’t do it on our own he is there for us.
Last week I wrote about restraint. Continuing to contemplate this topic I have found an interesting connection. Restraint is a companion to love. If I love my neighbor as myself it stands to reason that I will restrain myself and defer to my neighbor’s wants and needs. If I do not love then why restrain myself. I will simply pursue whatever I want without regard for others. Therefore love provides a motivation for restraint.
When love motivates us to restrain ourselves we find those virtues rising up in us like the ones Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love produces restraint. In love I restrain myself and become a better person, more God like. I feel better about myself when I am patient and kind. I feel bad when I trample over others because I’m in a hurry. The people I push past and disregard don’t feel very well either. Wouldn’t it be great if I restrained myself because I love others as myself? Help me Lord!
God loves us. He restrains himself from judging us because he loves us. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago God loves us all (see Another Perspective). Every human is God’s creation and he desires the best for us. The all-powerful God of the universe restrains himself because he loves.
Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to protect him from the humiliation, the brutal beating, and the horrible death of the cross? He restrained himself because he loves us. He carried through the Father’s plan for our salvation because he loves.
It is a tendency among us humans to want to throw off restraint. From the very beginning, when we had only one restraint, don’t eat from this tree, we have chosen to see restraint as a hindrance to our freedom. The story in Genesis chapter 3 shows us clearly the fault of throwing off restraint. We gained freedom but suffered the consequences.
Restraints do hinder our freedom, but they are often good for us. When driving down the freeway, we are restrained by the speed limit. Speed limits are for our safety. They are good restraints. When the patrolling officer gives us a ticket, we suffer the consequences of ignoring restraint.
When I was a vice principal in charge of discipline, I used to say to offending students, “You can choose to exercise self-control, or I will apply external control. Self-control is much easier for you and for me.” We are either restrained by internal restraint or external restraint. Self-applied restraint, self-control, is always the better choice, and in the case of receiving a speeding ticket much less expensive.
The only way we self-centered humans can manage in society is with laws and rules that restrain us. As Americans, we have a great deal of freedom. We should be thankful for our freedom and respect the laws and rules that keep us in line. I find this difficult don’t you? I always want more freedom. This gets me in trouble. There are always consequences when I step beyond the rules.
Isn’t it incredible that Jesus paid the price for my renegade behavior? He took the consequences for me. What amazing love and compassion he has shown me. I should be constantly humbled with gratitude. Yet I still want to throw off restraints.