DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH (REPOST)

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.

THE BRAVEST ACT

Bravery is a desirable trait.  Most of us find it so.  The Encarta Dictionary defines bravery as: courage in the face of danger, difficulty, or pain.  Throughout the annals of history there have been innumerable acts of bravery.  Usually when being brave, a person puts aside self-concern and moves onward.  They have the hope of a good outcome, but they are willing to face the possibility of a bad one.

Matthew records in chapter 26 of his gospel the story of Jesus’ final hours before he was arrested.  Jesus knew he was facing a brutal death.  There was no chance of a different outcome because what he was facing had been planned from the beginning of time.  In the garden of Gethsemane he said to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  Then he went a little ways away to pray.   He prayed three times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus also said to his disciples, as Peter raised a sword to defend him, “Do you think that I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  Jesus had the power to remove himself from this terrible situation at any time.  Instead, he bravely faced a certain horrible death.  He was compelled by obedience to his Father ‘s will and a deep love for you and me.  This is surely the bravest act.

 

Two thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer: 

Pray it every day; because, it is a daily prayer.

When you pray alone, you should personalize it.  In the garden, Jesus prayed, “My Father.”

GOD ANSWERS THE LORD’S PRAYER

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.

HE IS THERE FOR 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.

A TRANSFORMED MIND

One of the difficulties followers of Jesus face in our current society is avoiding the consumer mentality.  “Let’s go shopping” is the call.  We get to buy things and spend money.  There is never an end to what we can buy, but unfortunately there is an end to the money we have to spend.  Running out of money is a definite downer.  We are then driven to figure out how we can get more money.  Living the consumer life never brings us satisfaction.

I have been reading through Matthew chapters 5-7, and as I read it occurred to me that Jesus is redirecting his disciples’ way of thinking.  Jesus taught his disciples to think differently.  He wanted them to put aside self-concerns and focus on the Kingdom of God.  Paul restates Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:1-2,

            So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (The Message).

If we allow him, Jesus will change our way of thinking.  He will transform our minds.  Let me recap what Paul is saying.  We should take everything about our lives and place it before God as an offering.  Then we should humbly accept what he has done for us.   Our way of thinking is not about what we can do for him, but what he has done for us.  So with a heart of gratitude, we fix our attention on him, and receive the new way of thinking that he works  into us.  This allows us to do what he sets before us without distraction.  The result, “God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

WWJD

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was to encourage Christian to look to Jesus in our decision making.  I always felt that since Jesus is God, I was going to fall very short of what he would do.   In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus gives his disciples clear directions as to what they should do.  It is quite a challenge for us mere mortals.

Let’s take a look at verse 25, “If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether clothes in your closet are in fashion.  There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body (The Message).”  I find this quite challenging.  Living in materialistic America, these words cut to the quick.   The quick being where life happens.  But this is not a concern just for Americans.  Evidently, those in ancient Israel needed to hear these words.

In this whole section, from verse 19-24, Jesus is giving his disciples a new view of their life.  He wants them to refocus.  As followers of Jesus, we need to look at life differently; step outside of the social norms, and focus on what God is doing.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about the things of this world; he wants us to trust our Father in Heaven with them.  Jesus came to set us free.  This refocusing is a part of that freedom.

This sounds great doesn’t it?  So how are you doing with this?  I’m struggling.  My struggle is within and against my sinful nature.  That’s why WWJD bothered me.  I knew I couldn’t do what Jesus would do.  The Apostle Paul gives quite a dissertation on this struggle in Romans 7:14-25.

I am battling to refocus my life, but I am always relying on God’s grace and mercy.  Grace is not an excuse for sin, but it is God’s answer to our failings.  Jesus is in the battle with us every day.  He is our strength in times of weakness.  We are not alone in our struggles.

RECEIVING HIS LOVE

Last week in my blog “The Greatest Force” I quoted this scripture from Matthew 22:37-39, “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.”  Can anybody do this?  I’m going to take the liberty of answering for all of us and say “no” because in verse 40 of this passage Jesus continues, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  The scriptures make it very clear that none of us have been able to keep the whole Law.

Houston, we have a problem!

Unfortunately, neither Houston nor I have the solution, but God does.  For God so loved …, that he sent Jesus (see John 3:16).  I believe that our ability to love God and others is rooted in our ability to receive God’s love.  Truly believing that we are loved changes us.  There is a peace that comes over us that counters our need to perform.  It takes away our need to earn love.  Living in the peace of God’s love supports us and opens the way for us to give love.

To genuinely receive God’s love is difficult.  We have to lay down our self-sufficiency.  “I can do it myself.”  Self-sufficiency is a part of our sinful nature.  Have you ever observed a toddler saying “I do it?”  It’s inherent.  God’s love given freely puts us in a humble place.  We don’t have to do anything to earn it.  God did it all.  It’s simply a matter of surrendering the pride of self-sufficiency.

Pride separates us from God, and allows us to do all kinds of unloving things.  Think of bigotry and abuse.  Aren’t these sourced in pride?  The pride that says I’m better than or more important than another.  Can a humble heart, that is truly receiving love from God, commit these acts against their neighbor?

I fall short in loving God and my neighbor every day.  Therefore, every day I have the potential to be ungodly.    I need to do something about this.  No, I need to humbly receive God’s love for me.  Loving God and others will flow from that.