THE PITFALL OF GREED

(Luke 12:15) Then he said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Jesus follows this statement of caution with the parable of the foolish rich man (verses 16-20).  He tells of a rich man whose fields yielded an unexpectedly abundant harvest.  His barns were inadequate to handle the harvest, so he tore them down and built bigger ones.  Here he is thinking he’s got it made, but his time was up, and he died that very night. 

Jesus concludes the parable in verse 21, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.  The message translates this verse, “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with self and not with God.”  Jesus often directs his teaching to the matter of focusing on material wealth rather than God. He knows our weaknesses, and how easily we can fall into the pitfall of greed.

Our culture is filled with the “I need more syndrome”.  We are continually trying to fill the bottomless pit of want.  Solomon warns us in Ecclesiastes 5:10, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Jesus wants us to pursue the life that comes from trusting God with our needs.  Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

God offers us a better way.  By focusing our lives on him and trusting him with our needs, we can avoid the merry-go-round of greed.  We will be disappointed by spending our lives accumulating wealth and material possessions.  There is never enough to satisfy.  God’s way brings satisfaction.

BE MERCIFUL

(Jude 22-23) Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.

 In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy. 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature, and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy. 

Love and the Ten Commandments

If you truly love someone you will treat them well.  You will honor them, and you will certainly not murder them.  You will not cheat on them, steal from them, lie about them, or covet what they have.  At least, if you love them, you will surely try. 

To accomplish this, you’ll have to be patient, kind, not envious, and not work to look more important than the person you love.  I can’t imagine that you’d be rude to them or easily angered by them.  When they‘ve wronged you, you’d forgive and forget.  You’d protect them, trust them, and hope the best for them.

You may have guessed that what I’ve done here is to connect the Ten Commandments, found in Deuteronomy 5:7-21, and Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  The Ten Commandments are not just rules to contain us, they are truly about love.  The first four commandments are about loving God.  The remaining six are about loving each other.  The Ten Commandments are about love.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t love God or your fellow humans, why would you even try to adhere to the Ten Commandments?

Jesus summed it up this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”   

OBEDIENCE

(John 15:9-12 MSG) “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me.  Make yourselves at home in my love.  If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love.  That’s what I’ve done – kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.  I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.  This is my command: Love one another the way I have loved you.”

The idea of obedience has always left a bad taste in my mouth.  I am leery of anyone who wants me to “obey” them.  From my earlies years, I have found ways to skirt around obedience.  As I was contemplating my approach to obedience, I was taken aback by the sudden realization that disobedience is what got us humans into trouble from the very beginning.  “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11)  I think it is time for me to reevaluate the concept of obedience. 

In John 15:9-12 Jesus makes a clear connection between love and obedience.  If I keep his commands I’ll remain in his love.  Then the reverse is true.  If I don’t keep his commands, I will separate myself from him and set myself outside of his love.  If I choose disobedience then separation and loss of love is also my choice.  If I want to be like God and love like he loves, Jesus tells me that obedience to his commands is the key.  I then have a love relationship with him that flow out of me to others.

I remind myself that when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, they brought sin and death into the world.  I indulge that devastation when I disobey Jesus’ command to love one another.  Obedience from this vantage point gives me a whole new perspective, and it nurtures in me a true desire to be obedient.  Unfortunately, a change in perspective is only a start, but it’s good to get started.  To change my heart takes the Lord working in me.  He and I have our work cut out for us.

  GOD’S PEACE

(John 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Nothing can bring you peace like a personal relationship with Jesus.  The closer you get to him the more peace you have in your life.  I believe this is very true.  When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, he was comforting them, but there is also in these words the challenge to believe them.  Faith is required to attain his peace.

When we surrender ourselves to God and trust him with our lives, he gives us peace.  His peace is spiritual, and it transcends the influence of the physical world.  In Romans 8:6 we read, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

Another way of looking at this is that the flesh looks at troubles from a finite perspective.  The peace that Jesus gives is from an eternal perspective.  He said, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  In verses 28&29 He continues, “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Jesus was teaching his disciples to look at the bigger picture, the eternal picture.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God that transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  God’s peace is spiritual.  For believers his peace permeates our souls.  We can’t explain it, and unbelievers can’t comprehend it.   Peace is a gift that God gives to his children.  When troubles come, we have confidence that his peace will be there. With his peace, we also have the hope and comfort that it brings.

THE SOURCE OF LOVE

(1Corinthians 13:4-8a) Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, 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 never fails …..

  In these verses, The Apostle Paul gives us a definition of agape love, God’s love.  These are the characteristics of the love God has for his creation, and especially for us the crown of his creation.  This is also the love he wants us to have for each other.  Jesus said to his apostles, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Where did love originate?  Only one answer presents its self, and that is from God.  The Creator fashioned all that is in the temporal world, so it’s a logical assumption that love came from him. This is what the Apostle John has to say in chapter 5 of his first letter, verse 16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  He goes on to say in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”  Love is therefore inherent in God.  Love must have existed even before the creation within the triune of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I have a desire to love more completely, and if you share this desire with me, we know that we must go to the source of love.  As I meditate on the list of what love is, I am fully aware of how much I lack in loving God and loving others, but this list also speaks of how God loves me. I believe the secret is to first comprehend his love for me.  The more his love pours into my soul the greater the opportunity for it to flow out of me.  God is love, and he is the one in whom we can find true love.

Author’s note: Did you ever realize that God’s love is a very humble love?

GOD IS PERSONAL WITH HIS CHILDREN

Last week I made this statement, “God’s love is personal. As Jesus ministered with his disciples, he knew each one of them individually. They were intimately involved in Jesus’ mission.” The truth of this struck me. We are his disciples, and he knows each one of us individually. We are intimately involved in his mission.

That being said, it stands to reason that by examining Jesus’ interaction with his disciples a clearer understanding of our relationship might be gained. Jesus taught his disciples directly, he occasional rebuked them, and always forgave them. We don’t have Jesus physically here with us to teach us, but his indwelling Holy Spirit teaches us in the most intimate way by leading us and guiding us. Jesus sometimes rebukes us, but he always forgives us. He knows we are humans.

In John chapter 14, Phillip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus’ response is very revealing, “Don’t you know me, Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” I take from this that the Father’s and the Son’s interaction with us is the same. The broad perspective here is that God’s interaction with us is always the same whether with God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. God is personal with his children.

A great deal of Jesus’ interaction with his disciples is portrayed in John chapters 14-16. Reading those chapters, thinking about how personal these exchanges are, has given me clarification for my relationship with Jesus. I hope you have a chance to explore these chapters and embrace that experience as well.

FACING EVIL WITH LOVE

(1 Peter 3:8-9) Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Continuing last week’s subject of overcoming evil with good, the above quoted Scripture expands on this theme, and includes loving and caring for one another. The Apostle Peter asks us to return evil with blessing. Blessing inspires an active giving in the face of evil, a kindness, an encouragement. This is facing evil with love.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, pray for them that persecute you (Matthew 5:44).” As I put together these thoughts, the words “God so loved the world” come to mind. When we become his children, these words become a clarion call for us. As his children, we should also love the world. Consciously putting aside hatred, prejudice, and revenge is part of the new life he has given us.

I never want to present topics of this nature without inserting Jesus’ reminder to us, “Without me you can do nothing.” Only in fellowship with Jesus can we ever hope to love the world, and love enough to overcome evil.

OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD

“The only way evil ever wins victories is by making a man retort by evil, reflect it, pay it back, and thus afford it a new lease on life. Over one who persistently absorbs it and refuses to give it out, it is powerless.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Traveling Light, p.188)

I am truly challenged by the words of this quote from the book Traveling Light. Everything in my cultural training and my human nature tells me to get back at someone who does me wrong. Yet, I see in my retaliation, the propagating of evil. How can I change my natural tendencies?

I find in Jesus’ death and resurrection a definitive example of overcoming evil with good. By not returning evil for evil, he brought forth the ultimate victory over evil. I, as his follower, am challenged to carry on his example of good over evil in my daily life. When I think of the suffering and humiliation that Jesus went through, I realize that this is not going to be easy. Perhaps, I can simply trust God and do as the Apostle Paul exhorts in Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”

Paul expands on this exhortation in the next few verses then concludes in verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Evil perpetuates evil. When I repay with evil, I will be overcome by evil. The only way to break the chain of evil is to avoid responding with evil. Now there’s an encouragement. Who wants to be overcome by evil?

Jesus gave an example of how I can overcome evil in Matthew 5:38-39, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.” So if I hit them back the situation escalates, and I perpetuate evil.

I know that these words challenge our basic nature. Yet, if we are to have victory over evil as Jesus did, we must avoid returning evil for evil, and overcome evil with good.

LIVING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE – PART 8

Romans 12: 17-19 (MSG) Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

In a church I used to attend, a strong willed lady came to our congregation. She immediately had the ear of the pastor, and she seemed to be taking over the church. I was concerned and found her ways offensive. At an evening prayer service, which it seemed that she had taken over, I was speaking to the Lord about her, and the Lord gave me a vision. He showed her to me as a little girl, and he said, “This is how I see her.”

With that vision, the Lord completely change my perspective on this lady. Every time I saw her, I saw that little girl. My concerns were allayed, and I was even able to receive some very helpful prayer from her.

I tell this story because only with Jesus was I able to see the beauty in this person. Personal relationships are best when they include Jesus. Isn’t it true that living the Christian Life can only be accomplished with Jesus? In John chapter 15, he tells us exactly that. Without him we can accomplish no good thing.