Tag Archives: Riches

Sharing is Caring

10 Jul

You can watch and listen to the message here.

Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Looking for a Fight

29 Nov

argueYou can download the podcast here.

The last time we were in Proverbs, we concluded our discussion of social drinking. While this issue can result in a draw as far as definitive direction, the question is not, “Can I drink socially, but why do I want to drink socially?” While you have the freedom to drink, it may not be profitable (1 Cor. 6:12) and may even contribute to the stumbling of others (Gal. 5:13). If you weren’t here for both parts, I encourage you to listen to the podcast or read my blog to catch up. This morning, we’ll see some rephrasing of principles we’ve already looked at and we’ll dive into the issue of trustworthiness.

Our passage today comes from Proverbs 20:2-8. I hope you’ll take time to read it as we start.

Solomon starts out with a very simple sentiment: don’t do this. Solomon says, “The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; he who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life.” We’ve seen this in Pro. 16:14 when Solomon said, “The fury of a king is like messengers of death.” In Pro. 19:12, “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion.” Kings hold life and death in their hands so don’t make them mad.

Here is another principle you may not have known was biblical. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.” There are people that will argue about the dumbest things. It seems some people are always looking for a fight. Never talk politics or religion at a party. People immediately ramp up with those topics. As time has gone on, people seem to ramp up about a lot of topics.  Who has the better sports team or sports conference. Designated hitter or not. What’s the better truck, Ford or Chevy? What’s the best school to go to. Who has the best coffee or doughnuts. The list goes on and on. It’s honorable to stay away from strife. Strife is angry or bitter disagreement or conflict. Some people think that you have to fight for your rights, you have to stand up for what you believe in because it’s all about you. Of course there are times when you need to stand up for yourself, but Solomon is talking about someone that loves to fight. Someone like this Solomon says is a fool. You might be thinking of someone right now that falls into this category. Don’t be so quick to ramp up and be in total defensive mode. Have a little grace; show a little mercy; demonstrate some kindness. After all, who do you represent? Remember that you are a child of God and your behavior matters. Take the attitude of Abram when he, “said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.” (Gen. 13:8) This is the let’s all get along mentality.

What about when that strife is in the church? That’s a whole different animal. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced anything like this here at C4, but there are people in the church that fall into this category. There are churches where there is infighting about things that don’t really matter. The common denominator in each of these situations is people. One person tries to exert pressure, influence, or control over another. It can be the pastor, an elder, a deacon, a leader, or someone that has been there a long time. There are churches where nothing new is ever done. There are churches that have always done the same thing. I hope that we have bred a culture at C4 where there is an openness to new ideas, a desire to be more effective, and a goal of getting people involved in the decision making process. Remember Paul’s instruction to, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) We need to have a balance of mercy, grace, patience, correction, encouragement, and all the other attributes Paul and others talk about in our Christian walk.

We’ve seen the following principles before. “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing.” He’s too lazy to work so he must resort to the generosity of others. A good question to ponder is when do you cross the line from generosity to enabling?

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” This verse isn’t talking about plans apart from God. This has more to do with discerning the real intent of a plan. Solomon gives us a metaphor about water. You have to have the right gear to explore deep water properly. You can’t dive into the ocean with a snorkel and expect to understand what lies at the bottom. That’s what Solomon is saying. It may take some digging to get to the real purpose of a plan. Over the years, people have made suggestions about things we need to do or should do at C4. My typical response goes one of two ways. Let me think about it or would you be willing to head that up. What is on the surface of a plan may not be what’s at the bottom of it. It takes some investigating; it takes some understanding and the only way to get understanding is to dig. That’s what Solomon is saying here. It takes some time to draw out the real reasons behind plans. This leads to the next topic.

What about loyalty? “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” There is a difference between a proclamation and reality. The true meaning of this verse doesn’t come across clearly, but there is a phrase that helps us out. It’s the phrase, “proclaims his own loyalty.” When you check out the cross references for this verse, it takes you to the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew talks about the hypocrites who sound the trumpet when giving to the poor. (Matt. 6:2) Luke speaks of the Pharisee who prayed in the square thanking God that he wasn’t, “like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Lu. 18:11) There was a self-proclaimed loyalty to the things of God, but the reality was different.

True loyalty and character are very rare, especially these days. I can say all day long that I am loyal to something, but if there is no demonstration, am I really loyal? What are we loyal to these days? School, sports, extra-curricular activities, friends, recreation and the list goes on and on. I’ve gone over this before. It seems like we’re most loyal to the things that matter the least. This guy proclaims his own loyalty to God as is demonstrated by his activity, but when you really look at the life, there’s little evidence to support his claim. When Solomon asks the question, “Who can find a trustworthy man?”, I picture him saying the next verse in a nostalgic kind of way. It’s like he’s thinking back to a simpler time when a man’s word was his bond. “A righteous man who walks in his integrity – how blessed are his sons after him.” It’s a blessing to have a dad that is honorable, that demonstrates the character and qualities that honor God.

Let’s go back to the king. We have established quite easily I think, that Solomon was an incredibly wise man. How was he perceived by others? Was he respected by other world leaders? The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and had to check him out for herself. While the exact location of Sheba is not known, it is believed to be the area of the southern Arabian Peninsula and the eastern part of Ethiopia. 1 Ki. 10:1 says, “Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions.” Solomon’s reputation was not confined to the land of Israel. The queen was no slouch herself. She came with camels, spices, and a lot of gold and precious stones. The Bible says, “She spoke with him about all that was in her heart.” Solomon had a reputation for wisdom and after talking with him, she concluded, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom.” (1 Ki. 10:6) So when Solomon says, “A king who sits on the throne of justice dispenses all evil with his eyes,” he’s talking from personal experience. Isn’t that the kind of leader we want for our nation? Of course, we will not have perfect authority and leadership until Jesus take His rightful place. But it sure would be nice if we elected and sought leaders who hold to biblical values. It sure would be nice if we had believers that stood up and were vocal about biblical morality and truth, but that’s just not the way it works. We live in a world governed by sin and until the time comes when God says enough is enough, we live victoriously knowing the work God has done in us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the finished work of Christ. There’s more to being a good leader than sitting on a throne. No matter where you rule, or supervise, or manage, you need to learn to do so with grace, honor, and humility. The queen of Sheba concluded by saying, “Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Ki. 10:9)

The wise man stays away from strife, but the fool argues about things that don’t matter. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument. There are fights to fight, but this isn’t what Solomon is talking about. He’s talking about nonsensical arguments where you’re wasting breath. Be mindful of the plans others have or present to you. They may not be what they appear. Spend the time to ask the right questions. Loyalty and trustworthiness are qualities that are diminishing as we move through time. You become the person that God wants you to be. Finally, we sat the value of a godly king and the Queen of Sheba recognized that quality in Solomon.

Lifelong Learning

8 Jun

LearningYou can check out the podcast Lifelong Learning.

Last week Solomon reminded us of the folly in trusting in the world’s riches and we found out that when we think globally about our finances, we are rich. He referred to the troubler in the house that will have no inheritance. We also saw the wonderful reminder of just how far reaching the impact of a righteous person is – both to his household and the community. This morning, we’ll see some familiar principles that just make plain sense.

In our passage today Solomon writes, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. A good man will obtain favor from the Lord, but He will condemn a man who devises evil. A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved. An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.” (Pro. 12:1-4)

Education is a lifelong pursuit. In America, we have systems in place to ensure our children are educated with the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Education is so important, there are laws that require parents to have their kids in school. Our government funds public school through taxes in order to educate our kids. Other countries in the world are not so fortunate – the mid-central area of Africa is the world’s worst for education. Research shows that kids who are not educated are at a higher risk for substance abuse, gang activity, and criminal activity. Kids who aren’t educated are also, “more likely to have health issues, experience mental health disorders, and be incarcerated. Why the background? To help us understand the practical application of what Solomon says here. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” The word translated discipline means instruction. Rom. 15:4 says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Everything in Scripture is valuable. It is through the Scriptures that we get to know God better; that we get to know Christ better and understand how the Holy Spirit functions in conjunction with the Father and the Son.

A hunger for God’s Word can be developed and I am an example of that. In the beginning of my walk with Christ, no one that I can remember told me I needed to study God’s Word. Maybe someone did, but I didn’t get it. That’s just one reason why it is so important to have godly people in your life. We have these mentor type of people in nearly every facet of life including school, sports, clubs, and jobs. For some reason, in our walk of faith which is the most import aspect of life we will ever engage in, we prefer to go it alone, to figure it out by ourselves, to neglect it, to dismiss the importance of our faith, or be content with where we are. If our faith were like our other endeavors, we’d be sent back a grade, benched, kicked out of the club, or fired. Why do I keep coming back to the same thing? Because we’re not identifying who our enemy is. We think it’s other people, parents, teachers, bosses and the real enemy prowls around looking for people to destroy. When we deemphasize the importance of the written Word, we fall neatly into his trap. I was unknowingly trapped by Satan until I finally figured out what God was trying to tell me. I sometimes wonder how long He had been telling me and if others around me had told me the same thing, would I have gotten it sooner? It doesn’t matter because I can’t get that time back. What’s important is that you learn from my mistake and don’t repeat what I did. In this area, God’s desire is the same for all of us. You don’t have to be a vocational pastor or engage in vocational ministry to benefit from the principles of Scripture – they are for all people! 1 Pet. 2:2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Matt. 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Solomon is telling us that we should have an attitude that expresses a longing, a deep desire to get into the Word. Think of the moment in time when you were physically more hungry or thirsty than you had even been. All you could think about was food. You couldn’t wait to get that meal. That is the natural, physical desire for nourishment; the exact same desire we should have for the spiritual nourishment that sustains us in our walk of faith.

In direct opposition to this Solomon says, “But he who hates reproof is stupid.” Anyone that can have their mistakes corrected, that can broaden their horizons, can learn the better or best way, the right way, the wisest way and yet refuses to learn these things is stupid. Hey Solomon, tell us what you really think. Stupid means lacking intelligence or common sense. Think about how you may have attempted to instruct someone and they refused to listen to you. Think of the person that attempts to put together that toy or piece of furniture, or hang that ceiling fan, but won’t look at the instructions. Think of the person that attempts to repair to a car and there are pieces left over. You try to correct it and they get all bent out and refuse to listen. They’re stupid. Come on, you might be thinking, that’s different. Let me put it in Solomon’s context. I think of all the people that I have had dealings with in a ministry or Bible context that refuse the instructions found in Scripture. They have less experience, less knowledge, less education, less time on this earth, less everything associated with walking by faith, but will not listen to good, solid, biblical guidance. They’re stupid. Harsh you say? Look at the stakes involved. A broken car versus eternity. Overly dramatic? That’s part of Satan’s plan to downplay the importance of walking a life of passionate authenticity for Christ. It does matter what and how we think and it matters what our life looks like.

This segues nicely into the next principle. Solomon then says, “A good man will obtain favor from the Lord.” Don’t confuse this with earning salvation. A good man here is someone that remains good no matter the circumstances. His thoughts are good; his heart is pure; he is in tune with God. The world may be against him, but he remains steadfast in God’s arms. This is the glass half full person, this is the silver lining person, this is the person that continues to keep the mission of this life at the forefront of his mind. Our walk of faith takes no breaks, there is no vacation, there are no off days. The good man seeks to passionately follow Christ all the time, but He will condemn a man who devises evil.”   It’s a straight forward contrast with no deep, hidden meaning. This person cannot be good because he is plotting and planning what is not godly. “A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved.” This is a neat and tidy restatement of the previous verse. The root of any goodness we have is God. In order to grow big and strong for God, we must be planted in good, fertile soil. We are mighty because of God. He infuses Himself in us. Regardless of how strong the wind blows, we are held firmly by the roots that are planted in God and in His Word.

Here’s another vivid word picture. “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband.” Who wears crowns? Royalty wear crowns and this presents us with the idea that men are the kings of their castle. So what is an excellent wife? Every man in here has an idea of what an excellent wife might look and act like. To save us from ourselves, let’s make sure we define excellence from God’s perspective. Excellent here means extremely good or outstanding. That probably comes as no surprise to you. It also means virtuous. Virtuous means having high moral standards. Remember the morally ugly woman of 11:22? The excellent woman is not morally ugly. Ruth is one of the most wonderful pictures of godliness in Scripture. She is called a woman of excellence in Ruth 3:11. This woman of virtue is not just loving, godly, and morally pure, she is a crown to her husband. This is symbolic of the crown or wreath that grooms often wore at their wedding. The woman of virtue finishes off the man. The opposite is also true. “But she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones.”   Shame here means act shamefully. That’s any type of behavior that could be shameful. Gossip, short tempered, arrogant, conceited, immoral, lazy, etc. Before you women get all antsy on me and call me a caveman and a chauvinist, there are abundant principles regarding the behavior of godly women in Scripture. I am not in favor of restricting the vote of women, or not allowing women to walk alone in public, have a job, drive, or any of those things that we might define as antiquated. Let me be clear, while Scripture calls women the weaker vessel, that does not mean women are not as smart, not as valuable, not as wise, not as knowledgeable, etc. as men. That’s not Solomon’s point here. He is simply saying that a wonderful, godly woman is like putting a crown on her husband’s head. Our wives can and often make us as men look very good. Our wives are often called our better half. When that half causes shame in our lives, it’s like a rottenness that destroys from the inside out.

Part of the lifelong learning we pursue, is a change in our behavior to mimic Christ. He transforms us to look more and more like Him. All of us can change. We should all desire to change to become more and more like Christ.

Household Troubles

1 Jun

TroubleYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last time we were together, Solomon provided some vivid word pictures about beauty. It is far more important to have the inner beauty of God than external beauty. We learned that the desire of godly people is only good. Godly people rejoice in the good fortune of others. We also saw the comparison of the greedy to the giving. This morning, we’ll continue down the road of generosity and riches to see where it takes us.

Pro. 11:28-31 says, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf. He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!”

This is a beautiful segue from our last message. Solomon compared greedy to generous and he reminds us, “He who trusts in riches will fall.” (Pro. 11:28) Rich is a relative term that we typically associate with the ultra-wealthy. According to the Social Security Administration, the average income of an American is about $44,000 a year. That seemed a bit high, so I lowered the income to $25,000 a year and checked globalrichlist.com to determine what rich is on a global scale. If you make $25,000 a year, you are in the top 2% of the richest people in the world. The point is that riches are fleeting; they can disappear in an instant. People that brag about how much money they have are in a dangerous place. In 1 Tim. 6:17 Paul said, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies  us with all things to enjoy.” If you’re hope is in your job, your investments, your 401k, or any other financial type account, at some point, you’ll find yourself lacking. Of course it’s nice to have money, but that’s not where our hope lies. In this congregation, I doubt anyone is putting their hope of eternity in their finances. For the most part, I know you, I know your families, I know where you live, and what you do for a living. While this idea may not apply to anyone here, you probably cross paths with people that have this type of thinking. It’s always about the money. It seems like every conversation you have with them is about money. They tell you how much everything costs or what things are worth. They track the rise and fall of the stock market, they want their kids to have the best education so they have the best job. Maybe they talk about retiring at 40 or 50. Life is more than money.

Think of the hope you can offer someone that is hung up on money, but that doesn’t mean the conversation will be an easy one. Jesus said, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:24) All the financial and material blessings you have on this earth will be left behind. The idea is the rich may not see a need for Jesus because they have what this world offers. When you stand before the Lord, riches will fail you. “But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” Maybe you’ve heard this type of analogy before. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Ps. 1:3, “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” Righteousness causes us to flourish. Flourish means to develop in a healthy or vigorous manner. When riches fail, righteousness remains. No one can take that away because we are grafted into Christ and the more we grow, the more we look like Jesus.

What looks like a shift in topics is not. Solomon speaks of the household. “He who troubles his own house will inherit wind, and the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.” These represent extremes in the home. There are a couple of different schools of thought on this verse. When you take the whole passage as one, which is the most accurate way to do it, you get the idea that there is a person that causes trouble in the house. You might quickly conclude that person is a child. I don’t really think Solomon is talking about children because there are other parts of Proverbs that we have seen already that deal with kids and there are others that we will see later that talk about kids. It seems that Solomon is talking about mismanagement in the home. Solomon is talking about the head of the household that does not take care of those under his authority – particularly servants. They don’t have adequate food, shelter, or any of the others things you would expect in a home. So who’s in charge of the home? The man, the husband, the father. If the leader of the home is consumed with riches and getting ahead in this world, that will lead to other less than desirable traits. Have you ever encountered someone that is like this? He totally neglects his family for the pursuit of riches. He’s not involved at all in leading the family. He can’t tell you what grade the kids are in, doesn’t know their activities, he really doesn’t know anything that is happening in the home. It seems that most scholars lean to this interpretation.

The troubler of his own house inherits the wind. At least he gets something right? Think about this for a second in the time in which this was written. Wind was useless, it was noisy, it kicked up dirt and sand, and was overall unpleasant. Now you get the idea. If it’s your responsibility to take care of the household and if you don’t, your inheritance is worthless. In fact not just that, but the fool becomes servant to the wise. Wisdom always wins out. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” This is more than just a nice verse. Think of the metaphor. The seed of one fruit can generate a tree that will produce fruit over the life of that tree. Remember, Solomon is still comparing wise to foolish, godliness to wickedness, good to evil. In light of those comparisons, the benefits of a righteous person cannot be underestimated. The overall good that person infuses into life are immeasurable. Where I live, we have a lot of citrus trees. When you consider the fruit produced by a healthy tree, you typically have more fruit than one family can consume. The righteousness produced by that godly individual not only benefits that person’s family, but provides spiritual nourishment to those around him.

The second part of that verse has been the subject of some controversy among Hebrew Bible scholars. Since I am not an expert in the Hebrew language, I am limited in how far I can understand this. The phrase, “wins souls” is translated to kill where it’s used in other places in Scripture. In fact, the Revised Standard Version read, “But lawlessness takes away lives.” The New Revised Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard reads, “But violence takes lives away.” The Message reads, “A violent life destroys souls.” When we consider the comparisons in these verses and read the verse to say, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away,” it seems to make more sense. We’ve seen patterns in Solomon’s writings to this point so it makes sense to interpret it this way. What’s the point? According to 2 Tim. 2:15, we are to rightly divide the word of truth. Solomon has been making a great case to support the principle that leading a life of wickedness, evil, deception, and ungodliness leads to death while leading a life of godliness and wisdom leads to life. So if you want to read there is wisdom in saving souls – that’s a good principle to live by. I would even suggest it’s a principle we’re commanded to follow in Matt. 28:19-20 as the primary mission of the church. If you think that’s too much info, change your thinking. Don’t fall into the trap that you just don’t need to know all that. Remember what Ravi Zacharias said, we have people that “know[s] less and less of why they believe what they believe.”

Finally, Solomon says, “If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how more the wicked and the sinner!” Since we’re still in comparison mode, it’s fair to say that there are often times God gives us what we deserve. Heb. 12:6 reminds us that God disciplines us not just to correct unacceptable behavior, but also because He loves us. It’s the same reason you discipline your children. Many times, He chooses not to give what us we deserve and that’s called mercy. Solomon is saying that if God chooses to hold us accountable and we have examples of this in Adam, Moses, and David among a whole host of other regular people we see in Scripture, He will also hold the wicked accountable. Peter says it this way, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17)

The wicked will not get a free pass. Solomon has gone to great lengths to teach us about wisdom. He’s taken the time to compare godliness and wickedness: greed and generosity. We are challenged over and over again to live a life that glorifies God. Are we going to accept the challenge and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, or are we going to believe the lie that God doesn’t care how we live as long as we’re sincere.

Community Disorganizers

11 May

You can check out the podcast for this message here.

Last week Solomon laid out some principles that will help us sail smoothly through life. Righteous people are delivered from death where the wicked take their place. A very important principle Solomon introduced is the value and wisdom of godly counsel. Smooth sailing does not mean there won’t be issues or trouble in this life, but the righteousness of the godly provide the tools necessary to glorify God and remain steadfast in His will. This morning, Solomon provides us some principles that apply as we engage in activities typically associated with the community.

Grab your Bible and read Pro. 11:15-21.

The first principle we’ll look at today  has been said before and the question remains, who would do this? Back in 6:1 Solomon used the conditional clause, “If you have become surety for your neighbor.” That verse was generally directed at debt and it was conditional. The principle comes full circle when Solomon says, “He who is a guarantor for a stranger will surely suffer for it.” The answer does not have to do with sin, but with wisdom. There is no prohibition against cosigning a loan for someone. Insert the word someone for stranger and you get the application for us. Since we’re talking about wisdom and not sin, you need to evaluate the circumstances. Solomon is saying when you act as surety for someone, as a guarantor for someone, you “will surely suffer for it.” Not everyone that has served in that capacity has suffered for it. He’s speaking in general terms. And what kind of suffering are we talking about? The word used here for suffering means to be affected by something. Even if that person you act as a guarantor for pays back the loan, you still had that responsibility hanging over your head. You take on the responsibility for the loan because you know the person, you know his circumstances, you know their habits, and their values. You believe it’s safe. When you get involved in the financial affairs of others, it’s generally painful. That’s what Solomon is saying. “But he who hates being a guarantor is secure.” If you don’t cosign this loan, I won’t be able to buy that car, house, boat, etc. There is no scriptural mandate to take on the responsibility of someone else’s debt. When you have a general aversion to this, Solomon says you are secure. There’s nothing in the back of your mind, you don’t think about it, nothing hanging over your head. You free up brain cells because it’s one less thing to think about.

Our second principle tells us, “A gracious woman attains honor.” I love that word gracious. I think of the ladies of Downton Abby with their proper manners, their decorum, their sophistication, their elegance. Of course, it’s easy to do all that when you have someone else that gets you dressed and feeds you and takes care of all the chores. Gracious here means courteous, kind, and pleasant. You do not have to be wealthy to be gracious. He’s talking about the beautiful character of a gracious woman. Families and communities honor such women. I think of women like Barbara and Laura Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Princess Diana. Of course those are all famous women. I also think of my wife whom I absolutely adore. It’s not just because she’s gorgeous, she is a true woman of God. In the context of Proverbs, I think graciousness and godliness go hand in hand. We’re not talking about perfection, but a passionate pursuit of Christ.

What’s very curious is the contrast Solomon uses next. “A gracious woman attains honor, and ruthless men attain riches.” It’s good to be ruthless in business, right? We have shows like the Shark Tank and the Apprentice that demonstrate the ruthlessness needed to get ahead in business. Being ruthless is how you get rich in business. It means showing no compassion. Cut throat, eliminate the competition, work harder and smarter than the other guy. We even have corporate espionage. This is the only place in Proverbs where Solomon makes a comparison of this type between a man and a woman. He compares a kindhearted or gracious woman and a ruthless man. That ruthless man wants to get ahead and he’ll get ahead by any means necessary. They seek respect and honor by what they do, but the gracious woman gains honor by being nice. It seems that grace is better than strength and honor is better than wealth. If you let that verse stand alone, it can easily be misunderstood. When you take v. 16 with v. 17, the whole picture becomes clearer. “The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.” Look at the pattern of the people in these two verses: kind woman; ruthless man; merciful man; cruel man. It seems mercy has a medicinal quality to it – someone that practices mercy makes himself good. When you are cruel, you end up hurting yourself so don’t be cruel.

Here’s a familiar principle. Vs. 19-20 says, “He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” We see a pattern here as in the previous two verses. Solomon talks about wickedness, righteousness, righteousness, and wickedness. Those exact words may not be used, but they convey the same idea. Solomon is driving home the point of the results of wicked behavior. “The wicked earn deceptive wages.” Those wages are deceptive because they are fleeting. Those riches are left behind and all are made equal at death. The wealth of a person is not taken into consideration at judgment. Paul said it this way, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) If you’re thinking that’s not the same thing, Solomon goes on to say, “But he who sows righteousness will attain to life.” That life will be long, healthy, and prosperous. The opposite is true, when you pursue evil, you will die. You can’t blame God when your evil ways, your evil behavior, and your evil manner of life leads to your death. Paul’s next thought was, “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Righteousness and wickedness are incompatible. Goodness and evil are incompatible. Those qualities may have been part of your character, but God changes you through Christ. That’s where true freedom lies. The wicked earn deceptive wages, but the righteous are paid in wages that are eternal. That’s what verse 19 is saying. When you are consistent and persistent in righteousness, you attain life. Steadfast means dutifully firm and unwavering. If you are truly a child of the King, this quality is supernaturally infused into your DNA. That’s why I get so weary with people profess to be Christians and the only evidence to support that is occasional church attendance and some don’t even do that. Pursuers of evil bring about their own death. To close out this section, Solomon gives us another contrast and it has to do with judgment.

Verse 20 says, “The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord.” Perverse means an obstinate desire to behave unacceptably and in context, it’s from God’s perspective. Perverse is translated “froward” in other versions which means hypocrisy and double dealings. Justice is pretended, but wrongdoing is what’s in store. Notice that it’s the heart – the seat of the soul. What’s in the heart comes out. You can pretend with other people, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t hide it from God. “. . . .but the blameless in their walk are His delight.” I’m sure you know why this is. It’s a no brainer really. Walk refers to manner of life. It refers to who a person is . . . . really. I think people spend a lot of effort pretending to be something they are not. People pretend they have a relationship with God, but without a corresponding lifestyle of godliness. Its often veiled in false spirituality where the words lead, led, feel, moving, etc. are used to put people into an incontestable position to do what they want to do. I always find it amusing that this leading rarely is to a place of deeper commitment, devotion, or duty, but rather to places of limited accountability and lower expectations. God takes great pleasure in His children that are willing to follow Him in directions they were not expecting.

Just to be sure you know exactly where Solomon is coming from, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished, but the descendents of the righteous will be delivered.” I think we all know that evil will be dealt with, but the second part is not so clear. Do not read that to say if you are a child of God, your children have a place reserved for them because of who you are. Don’t equate deliverance with eternity. Deliverance does not mean salvation.  The idea is that your behavior affects not just you, but your children and your grandchildren too. Sometimes God sees fit to deliver because of their godly ancestors. The Old Testament is filled with examples of this.

In these verses, Solomon speaks of the affect of our lifestyle on our community. That lifestyle, whether godly or wicked impacts people. As the behavior and thinking of the people move away from godliness, the morality of the society declines. I think we would agree that we can see this happening all around us. The answer is not for us to shrink away from godliness, but to boldly live our lives as an example of Christ’s transforming power in our lives.

The Shotgun Approach – Part 2

20 Apr

Shotgun ApproachYou can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we began looking at a series of verses that came quickly and unfortunately, we ran out of time. We saw that transgression is unavoidable when there is constant talking. Someone who speaks all the time and does not listen will cause problems. But if you restrain your lips, Solomon declares that you are wise. We briefly talked about riches and poverty and neither equate with the riches of God. This morning, we’ll continue these rapid fire principles.

Maybe you read Pro. 10:24-32 last week, but take the time to read it again.

Here we go again. For context’s sake, let me review from last week. “Wickedness is like sport to a fool and so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”  The fool enjoys sin and the man of understanding enjoys wisdom. This is a huge contrast. The man of understanding is in active pursuit of wisdom. He looks for it, he longs for it, he wants it, he runs to it. The fool finds joy in wickedness, but the man of understanding finds joy in wisdom. There is a truth that hangs in the back of the fool’s mind though. “What the wicked fears will come upon him.” While these thoughts may not dominate his thinking, they’re there floating in the back of his mind. They know it’s coming, they know the hammer will drop, they know that there will be judgment, but they lack the wisdom to do anything about it. Ps. 90:11, “Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?”

Again the opposite is true for the man of understanding because, “The desire of the righteous will be granted.” Let’s spend a bit of time here because there are some that will immediately draw a conclusion that Solomon is talking cold, hard, cash. There are some that will tell you that your material possessions are directly proportional to your spirituality or favor with God. They’ll even quote verses like Ps. 37:4 that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” They treat God like He is some genie in a bottle that exists to grant their wishes. So let’s go back to the verse. The first thing you need to evaluate is are you righteous? Remember this is the character or quality of being, thinking, and doing what is right in God’s eyes. When you look at it like that, the goals or desires of the righteous will match the goals and desires of God. The desires of the righteous are the same as God’s. That desire is in line with God’s will and God’s plans. When we think in this light, verses that deal with this make more sense. 1 Jo. 5:14 says, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” God is not against you having things, but is that the end game? Of course it can’t be because that’s not consistent with Scripture. If I’m righteous, then my desires will line up with God’s will and His will will be done. It may not be in this lifetime, but it will certainly come to pass. What is lurking in the back of the fool’s mind will occur, so what happens to the wicked? The speed by which this certain destruction of the wicked is seen, “When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” The wicked will be consumed by judgment from a holy and pure God and the time for changing his ways will be over. The wicked ignored biblical teaching, godly instruction and wisdom for a lifetime and now he will endure judgment for eternity. The righteous man built his foundation on the rock that is Jesus Christ.

The next verse is a great word picture and it describes the pain associated with a lazy person. Verse 26 says, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who sent him.” While vinegar might be great in salad dressing and it’s quite effective in pickling things, try drinking it as a beverage. We’re literally talking sour grapes here just like in Ez. 18:2. It’s a stomach turner, it’s irritating, annoying, and unpleasant. So is smoke in your eyes and that’s what Solomon is saying about someone that doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do. Maybe you’ve dealt with someone like this and had to endure their nonsense. Clear instructions for a task are given, but they’re so lazy, you’d rather just do it yourself. It’s almost like their job is to frustrate others. They spend more time trying to get out of work than the actual work would take.

The remaining verses are familiar comparison and contrasts. Look at s. 27-32. Painting with a broad brush Solomon says if you’re wise, you’ll typically live longer. Yes, sometimes good and righteous people die by what we define as too young. This is a generality. If you don’t have a fear of the Lord, your life will be shortened. Again, there are some pretty awful people that live to a ripe old age. “The hope of the righteous is gladness, but the expectation of the wicked perishes.” It is our blessed hope, the hope of Christ. Paul says it this way to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Tit. 2:11-14) The wicked have no hope, they have nothing to hope in, but believers, “Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer.” (Rom. 12:12)

On the other hand, Ps. 112:10 says, “The wicked will see it and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked will perish.” “The way of the Lord” should be a familiar phrase and means exactly what you think it means. It is the godly way, the Bible way, the righteous and upright way. It is the way of holiness. What is in our hearts will flow out of our mouths and for some people, those words will betray what’s in their heart. So how can you avoid behavior that is contrary to the way of the Lord? Verse 32 is pretty clear.

When we have the righteousness of Christ, our desires line up with God’s desires. His will is our will. I think it is clear in these verses that our behavior characterizes who we follow. Solomon has given numerous examples of the folly and foolishness of the wicked that are all inconsistent with a life that belongs to Christ. We may do foolish things at times, but that is not who we are. Follow the path of wisdom because it is the path of God.

The Bait and Switch

2 Sep

Bait

You can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us to honor God with our wealth as the topic of money never seems to be too far away in Scripture. He also said that we shouldn’t despise the correction of the Lord. It is for our training and is a sign that God does love us. This morning, we’ll see why.

Proverbs 3:13-18 says, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast.”

Is Proverbs a bait and switch? This is the method sometimes used by advertisers to get you in a store. Promises of reduced prices or incredible deals lure you in. Think about Black Friday where you can get a ginormous flat screen TV for a couple hundred bucks. Of course you stand in line for hours and hours often sacrificing your Thanksgiving to get that good deal. Once you get in, you find the store has one TV and that it’s already gone.

Is Proverbs the same way? The short answer is no! We all know Christians that have endured physical pain, have some dreaded disease, have died at a far too young age, or endure poverty. I’ve mentioned formulaic patterns in Proverbs that generally bring about the things we’ve talked about. That’s how it generally works, but not always and not for everyone all of the time. Keep in mind the time at which Solomon wrote these instructions. It was the time of the old covenant where blessings and curses were tied to the faithfulness of Israel. We’re under a different system now. We fall under the age of grace. We look forward to all of God’s promises being fulfilled at some point, but that point may not come until we die. Until that times comes we, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Pro. 3:5)

So what’s the Proverbs format? It’s the same as we’ve seen before, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding.”    There are certain points in life that are defining moments. There are the typical happy moments in life. Births, graduations, new jobs, promotions, and marriages. There are also the painful moments in life that can define us. Job loss, death, disease, divorce, sorrow, suffering. Faith does not normally grow as much in those joyful, happy times, but rather God refines us when we’re in the fire of adversity and sorrow. Nothing happens in our life without purpose. Although we may not see it while we’re in it, God is working His plan for our good. He will allow in our lives whatever He needs in order to accomplish what He has in mind for us.

A truly defining moment comes when a person realizes who Christ is and what He accomplished. Hopefully, when that moment occurs and the light bulb blinks on, salvation follows so God can accomplish what He wills. In this verse, we have that moment. In God’s eyes, wisdom and understanding rank above riches. Wisdom and understanding are above jewels. Solomon is so bold as to say, “Nothing you desire compares with her.” Now that’s a fantastic statement. The profit of wisdom exceeds that of riches.

We move right into Solomon personifying wisdom once again. In her right hand is long life. In her left hand are riches and honor. These are the things most people in the world would say they really wanted. People sacrifice so much in the pursuit of these three things yet the correct answer is staring us in the face. Wisdom provides these things, but they may not come in the form the world thinks. Perhaps they don’t come in the form we want either. We must align ourselves with God and the Bible rather than expecting God to change or otherwise alter His character. “Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.” This is quite a word picture here. Pleasant means a sense of happy satisfaction or enjoyment. Wisdom is like a perfect day in the mountains or at the beach. She is like the aroma of freshly mowed grass, brewing coffee, or frying bacon. She is totally satisfying. No matter which path of wisdom you go down, “All her paths are peace.” As long as you follow wisdom, the paths end up at peace. In Phil. 4:7 Paul said it this way:“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” All of this comes through the loving hands of our Father.

Solomon closes with one final though of wisdom and says, “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast.” Perhaps your mind was immediately drawn back to Genesis and the tree that was in the middle of the garden. That may not be what Solomon was referring to, but you cannot deny the parallel. In the garden the tree of life was provided by God and gave Adam and Eve what was needed to sustain life. In Solomon’s view, wisdom does the same thing. She provides life and happiness results in the lives of those that are willing to grasp her.

Verse 13 states, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding.” Verses 14-18 are the arguments that prove that. True wisdom can only comes as a result of knowing God. Knowing God can only come as a result of knowing Christ. Proverbs is not a bait and switch. Knowing Jesus brings all of this and so much more.

Stewardship . . . Matters (Part 9)

1 Aug

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last time we were together in stewardship, we saw the certain destruction and ruin the pursuit of riches brings. Instead of the pursuing riches, we are to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” What is your attitude about giving financially to the church? Is it a burden to you? Is it an obligation? Do you see it as a ministry to the saints? This morning we’ll look at the principle of contentment and we’ll look at one thing that can cause unrest in the life of a Christian. In this passage from Paul, he repeatedly refers to giving as a gracious work.

Take a look at 2 Cor. 8:7-9.

Paul begins by reminding them of how far the Lord had brought them in their Christian walk. Corinth had been known for its immorality. Temple prostitution was the norm. The people of Corinth took to listening to the wisdom of men. The Corinthians satisfied all their fleshly desires without condemnation until God intervened through Paul’s preaching. It has been such a long journey, but they are growing in Christ. He says they abound.  That word means exist in large numbers or amounts. He speaks of their faith, utterance (speech), knowledge, earnestness, and love. These are great qualities to have, but Paul doesn’t tell them they have arrived. They have yet to achieve perfection. Paul is looking at one aspect of their faith they need some help on, they need some guidance, they need some encouragement. He tells them, “See that you abound in this gracious work also.” Paul is talking about giving.

So often when we talk about giving, we speak of affordability. When we think of the gracious work of giving in light of affordability, we miss the real point of giving. Giving is not about the haves and the have not’s. We have been through this before, but we still haven’t really grasped the opportunity and responsibility of giving. Perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that the Lord isn’t talking to you, that you are somehow exempt from this teaching. Let’s look at the Macedonians in 2 Cor. 8:1-6 because I want to take a closer look at this example. Have you ever thought, “If I was rich then I’d be happy,” or “If this situation was gone, then I’d be happy.” When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the Macedonians were in a state of, “Great ordeal of affliction.” Ordeal means a prolonged painful or horrific experience. Not only were they experiencing a great deal of affliction, but they were experiencing deep poverty. Deep means an extreme point on a scale of extent. It means exceedingly great or very very. Keep these definitions in mind and look at v. 2 again. Did you see the contrast? Even though they were going through all this horrible stuff, they had an, “Abundance of joy” that was expressed, “In the wealth of their liberality.” Abundance means a very large quantity, plentiful. Christian joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. For the Macedonians, joy + poverty + affliction = wealth. There is no banker in the world that can do math like that, but that’s how the equation works in the Kingdom of God.

To say that Paul was pleased with the Macedonian believers would be an understatement. He uses them as an example of what the grace of God does in the hearts of believers. He’s not playing one church off of another. It’s not a competition to raise more money. The amount is not what Paul is after; he’s after the attitude or the spirit behind the giving. The problem with that is spirit is hard to measure. At the end of the year, we don’t give a record of your spirit, we give a record of the amount. There is no measuring stick for attitude. Paul was no dummy, he knew people and he knew how money can be a wall between us and the unstoppable power of God.

Paul tells us the really incredible thing in vs. 3-4. They gave according to their ability and beyond. Their giving was not motivated because of a surplus; there was no surplus. They had deep poverty. Paul didn’t badger them for money, they gave of their own accord and not only that, but they begged him for the chance to participate. It was because of the grace of God in v. 1 that they were not only able to give, but able to give beyond their ability. Paul is encouraging the believers at Corinth to excel in this area like they excel in the areas of faith, speech, knowledge, and earnestness.

Paul knows the Macedonians provided a practical example of giving, but v. 9 provides our ultimate example. The Macedonian example of giving is one thing, but Christ’s example is an entirely different matter. Paul’s not talking about material wealth because that’s not consistent with the Macedonian example. So Paul must be talking about spiritual riches. Riches that cannot be taken away. Treasure in heaven. Christ became poor by submitting Himself to the cruel and humiliating death He suffered because of us. 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The 19th Century commentator Cornelius Lapide wrote, “Christ was made poor that we through His poverty might be rich. He took the form of a servant that we might regain liberty. He descended that we might be exalted. He was tempted that we might overcome. He was despised that He might fill us with glory. He died that we might be saved. He ascended, to draw to Himself those lying prostrate on the ground through sin’s stumbling block.”

Don’t think that if you’re a giver you can ignore the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture. We need to break out of the American church consumer mentality of what can I get from the church or what can the church do for me. As Christians, we need to be reminded that the church is the primary vehicle by which God accomplishes His work. We are not called to be lone rangers, but to partner together in a common goal to reach our community for Christ.

You can’t use your service to the Lord as an excuse not to give. “I teach so I don’t have to give.” Etc. We are all called to be stewards of what God has given us, and that includes supporting the work of Christ through the local church.

Stewardship . . . Matters (Part 8)

18 Jul

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we looked at worry and how it cripples many people in the church. Worry doesn’t indicate a loving concern for people or situations, worry results from a lack of faith or trust in God. This morning we’ll look at the principle of contentment and we’ll look at one thing that can cause unrest in the life of a Christian.

Take a gander at 1 Tim. 6:8-11.

In v. 8 Paul reminds us that we should be content with food and clothing. Content comes from the word that means in a state of satisfaction or accept as adequate. In v. 9 Paul offers the contrast to contentment or satisfaction and that is someone who wants to get rich. I should point out that Paul is talking about someone who plans to get rich rather than what many of us say, “It sure would be nice to have some extra cash.” This is someone who is driven to achieve wealth. That’s his goal; that’s where his energy is directed; it is his motivation.

Verse 9 provides three adverse side effects to the desire to get rich. First, the desire to get rich leads to temptation. The desire lures people to do things they might not ordinarily do. Perhaps they’ll put money into a risky venture. Perhaps they’ll borrow money for a “sure thing.” Second, these people fall into a snare. They are like an animal that is trapped. The desire is materialistic. Third, once they’re trapped, it leads to ruin and destruction. There is no way out, no way to be released, no escape. One writer equates this to material and spiritual disaster. This is a progressive destruction: temptation, snare, destruction. It’s all driven by foolish and harmful desires. It’s not driven by a desire to provide for family.

Paul doesn’t leave us to wonder what he is talking about.  One of the most misquoted verses regarding money in all of the Bible is found in v. 10: “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” Let me point out some obvious and some maybe not so obvious things from this verse. Money is not evil. It is the love of money that is the bottom line to all kinds of evil. Money is amoral.  It is not good or bad in itself. The love of money is not the cause for all evil in the world. The King James translation is not accurate. It is wrong to say that the love of money leads to all evil. Ambition, lust, idolatry, and a host of other sin can certainly lead to a whole lot of evil. “Some by longing for it [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Longing for money. Think Judas. Think Ananias and Sapphira. They were driven by their love for money. That word pierced means make a hole with a sharp object like you would pierce a piece of meat to put on a spit.

The idea is that longing for money will bring an all consuming grief to the individual. That’s why people who are consumed with money are never satisfied.       There is never enough money. Remember the rich man who came to ask Jesus the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” After Jesus answered the question, Mark 10:22 tells us the rich young ruler, “Was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” We all have a choice. We can seek to obtain stuff or we seek Christ.  It is a choice each of us must make. Don’t get Paul wrong. He is not against getting ahead in the workplace. Christians are to work hard in order to provide for their families. We should be model employees because of who we are in Christ. Christians must have a Kingdom mindset and be driven to glorify Christ in all that we do no matter where we are, no matter what the circumstances. To be true to the context of this passage, Paul was talking about materialism among the heretics in Ephesus. Materialism is a desire to possess stuff instead of a love for the God who made those things. According to Col. 3:5, being transformed by Christ tells us to, “Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” I agree with Paul and say that materialism and an authentic Christian life are not compatible.

So what’s a guy to do? Paul answers in v. 11a, “But flee from these things, you man of God.” Timothy was commanded to flee. The word means run from danger. The danger of what Paul just talked about in vs. 9-10. It wasn’t enough to run away, Paul told him to, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” Timothy was to pursue or constantly strive for six Christian virtues. Pursue means to follow something in order to catch it. This isn’t some wild pipe dream Paul is talking about. Each of the qualities represents something Timothy must maintain to maximize the effectiveness of his ministry. Righteousness means doing what God requires, doing what is right. It reflects interaction with people. Godliness is the quality of being scrupulously observant of all the teachings of Christianity; practicing virtue and avoiding sin. This reflects our relationship with God. Faith and love reflect trust in God and goodwill toward others. Perseverance means to keep going, not giving up. Timothy will need gentleness to deal with the heretics, the false teachers, those that would deny the faith; those that don’t hold to sound doctrine.

Being a good steward is not about pursuing money and telling God how much you’ll give to the church. People whose life’s desire is to get rich, who are consumed with the pursuit of riches are destined for ruin and destruction. We are given instructions as to how Christians are supposed to act. The choice is whether or not to apply what we have learned from the Scriptures.

Stewardship . . . Matters (Part 6)

27 Jun

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week we looked at the rich young ruler. He went to Jesus seeking eternal life, but his riches got in the way of an authentic relationship with Christ as a true disciple. This morning we’ll ask the question, “What do you value most in life?” When you look at where you spend the majority of your time, energy, and money, you get a true measure of your heart.

Take a look at Matt. 6:19-21.

We need to get to the heart of the matter. Jesus has just spoken to the disciples about giving, praying, and fasting and now for something completely different. Jesus turns His attention to the issue of treasures. Treasures and giving are two different things. He issues the command in v. 19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”Treasure comes from the word that means precious metals, gems, or other valuable objects. Wealth in the old days often consisted of precious metals just like today. They also valued cloth and clothing. Remember Lydia, a seller of purple in Acts 16:14. The Prov. 31 woman is clothed in fine linen and purple and her whole house is clothed in scarlet. Samson killed 30 men in Jud. 14:19 and took their clothing to pay off a debt. An Israelite who takes his neighbor’s garment in a pledge must return it before sundown, “For that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in?” (Ex. 22:27) Clothing was quite the hot commodity in Bible days and was considered a treasure. That’s why Jesus said what He said in v. 19 and it is in the present tense. He is saying stop storing up these earthly treasures. This is a practical instruction applicable to all of us.

Metal rusts, even precious metal. Ja. 5:3, “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” Moths eat cloth and clothing and they didn’t have moth balls. Another danger of storing your treasure on earth is that thieves steal your stuff. A burglary takes place about every 8 seconds in the U.S. 34% of burglars enter through the front door and head right to the master bedroom.

Jesus offers the contrast in v. 20, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.Treasure stored in heaven is safe. It won’t rust, moths won’t eat it, and nobody can steal what you put there. Matt. 16:26-27, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”

So you might be asking, “How can I get treasure to store in heaven?” That is a great question. Matt. 5:46, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Loving others unconditionally. Matt. 6:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Prayer. Matt. 10:42, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Matt. 25:40, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” Serving others brings eternal reward. Why all these verses from Matthew?  He was a tax collector. Remember to stigma associated with being a tax collector? They were the scum of the earth, they were thieves, they were dishonest. Now by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God, we have a tax collector that’s telling us to take a different look at reward.

It is not wrong to consider the reward for our actions. Jesus is commanding us to store up treasure in heaven. We should consider how our actions impact eternity. Col. 1:10,  “So that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” 1 Tim 6:18, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Eph. 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”One of our purposes as Christians is to do good works as evidence of our transformational relationship with Christ. It is not to achieve salvation, but as a demonstration of that salvation. Rev. 22:12, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

Jesus concludes by saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If your treasure is here on earth, Jesus is saying that is where your passion will be, that’s where your thoughts will reside, that’s where the emphasis of your life will be. Instead of trying to get all you can here, we should focus on spiritual riches. That sounds kind of corny in a culture that claims whoever has the most toys wins and success is based on your title, position, portfolio, or bank account, but it’s true.

If you work to have stuff, you’re missing the mark of a life changed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When you consider the responsibility of stewardship, an examination of the priorities of our possessions must be completed. The winner in the Christian life is not the one with the most toys. Luke 12:21, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”