Thursday, February 28, 2013

RADICAL INVESTMENT


The story of the rich farmer reminds us that a bountiful harvest comes from God. It is God’s wealth that is given to feed the hungry, care for the sick and bring well-being to all of Creation.

The world is not under-resourced—it is super-abundant. It is a human problem that causes us to destroy and deplete far beyond what is needed. It is a human problem that prevents adequate food, basic healthcare and safe drinking water from being readily available to the poorest.

God says to the rich man:


Luke 12:
20 “ ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”


Our greatest sin may not be that we are self-absorbed and self-seeking; it may be that our greatest sin is stinginess toward God.

When we acknowledge that our income, our family, our strength, our talent, our birthplace and success come from the Lord—we can then live a life of worship towards God.

We will not be planning our next comfort expense, but rather thinking of how to invest ourselves into the work of God’s Kingdom.

Are you still on your way up the success ladder or have you started planning the downsizing? God’s version of the Forbes 500 has another way of measuring the soul of a man.

Those who are richest toward God are the most generous and humble. The richest toward God give it all away. They do not hoard or keep multiples of anything. They get by with fewer needs than most. They are not afraid of hunger or failure. The richest toward God may not have silver and gold to give, but they might bring God’s riches to bear on your life. They might visit you when you are in prison. They might be taking care of you when you are sick. The richest toward God feed you when you are hungry and give you their clothes when you have none.

Matthew Henry said, ‘The things of the world will not suit the nature of a soul, nor supply its needs, nor satisfy its desires, nor last so long as it will last.’ [i]

Is your soul rich toward God? What have you done to invest in His Kingdom? This is a radical investment that cannot be taken from you.





[i] Matthew Henry Commentary

Monday, February 25, 2013

RETIREMENT AT TSUNAMI SHORES


I know a man who was convinced that he would grow wealthy in a few short years by his participation in network marketing. Amway is a shortened title denoting The American Way. The American Dream is to work hard in the land of opportunity and experience unlimited wealth potential. My friend believed that it was worthwhile to take advantage of friendships in the name of helping each other be rich enough to pursue our dreams of walking the beaches of the world.

What if I told you that you could make some sacrifices now and soon you would be retired at a young age in a gated community with a beautiful ocean view? This resort community is called Tsunami Shores. It has security guards and the finest storage facilities in which to store your extra vehicles, valuables and possessions.

How was it named? The beautiful shoreline experiences reoccurring Tsunami waves. Everyone that ever built there eventually was washed away with all of his or her possessions. But, they have armed guards and climate controlled storage units! They do have storm sewers and the water soon is gone. It is a small risk compared to the wonderful view that you will enjoy—and such wonderful neighbours! They are people just like you!

In the story of the rich farmer, God has something to say to the money maker.


Luke 12:
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barn full of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”


Maybe you feel the need to defend network marketing or the accumulation of wealth. I know that rich people can also love God and be very generous. I’m not against rich people. The fact is, that we are all in the top 5% of the world population. The question I must ask myself is what am I living for? How have I been infected by a ‘Bigger Barn’ religion?

In what ways have I credited myself for success when I need to remain humble and accountable to God? If I am to go through the eye of a needle, I will likely need to downsize.

The obvious lesson is the false security that riches bring. You die unexpectedly or lose your shirt. Then what? What will make you secure? What will contribute to your feeling of well-being?

You can get so lost in the Self Barn. You might never come out. You could die in there and never be found.

Friday, February 22, 2013

STEALING CREDIT


We all know about identity theft—the illegal activity where someone steals your credit card, chequebook or bank account access and pretends to be you. When caught, an identity thief will be prosecuted and go to jail.




In Jesus story, the rich farmer seems to think that the successful crop entitles him to take credit and reward himself. In essence though, he is stealing God’s identity. The farmer arranged to plant seed and harvest crops, but he did not give credit to God for bringing the increase. Only God could cause the growth.

Instead of giving credit where credit is due, consider how many times he refers to me, myself and I.


Luke 12:
16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘what can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’


We need to guard our hearts against believing that we are the authors of our own success. Certainly, our efforts make a difference and we need to do our part, but you can work hard and fail. Your wisest plans can end in ruin. When we believe that success and failure are solely dependent on self, we miss the role that God has in ordering our steps.

The rich farmer does not acknowledge God’s part in the successful crop. He does not acknowledge his hard-working servants who likely did most of the work.

If you experience any success or prosperity in life, you are not entitled to take all the credit for it. Instead of thinking about how we are going to expand our wealth, how about considering how we will benefit others? If the rich farmer is not giving glory to God, who or what is he worshipping?

When possessions are the goal, people become pawns. In fact, a reversal of the created order occurs, as those made in the living image of God come to serve dead non-images. It is this inversion of the created order that makes greed such a notorious sin; it is even called idolatry in some texts (Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5)… For some, the material world is god. Many of us end up serving our dollars and bowing before their demands rather than relating sensitively to people. In the process relationships can be damaged and marriages destroyed. False worship involves bowing before something that is not worthy of honor and that cannot deliver life's true meaning. The pursuit of wealth is the pursuit of false religion.[i]



[i] The IVP New Testament Commentary

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

THE SECRET ORDER OF THE PIG


There exists a certain, heathen culture where life is consumed with the worship of their god.  This strange tribe of people bow to their idol, a fat, curly-tailed pig.  The main act of worship consists in putting gifts of money into the idol with hopes that their god will provide them with good things in return.  The priests of this idol pig have summarized their teachings into 3 pillars of the faith.  They call these their three ‘Piggy Pillars’.  The name of this god is ‘Piggy Bank’.

The Piggy Pillars are:

1.     It’s mine and I deserve it
2.     When I have it I will be happy
3.     Money makes me secure

People of every nation and socio-economic class give themselves to Piggy Bank worship. Their devotion is unmatched in the modern world. They have bigger temples and make greater sacrifices at the altar of Piggy Pillars.

In Hebrew history we read about some heroes of God who toppled the idols of their day. They knocked over the false gods who blinded people to the true and living God. Jesus was an idol tipper extraordinaire.

Even some of Jesus’ followers today may belong to ‘The Secret Order of the Pig’ and hide out among the rank and file of His Church. This is a subtle, covert coven that believes they can obey Jesus and live greedy. As Jesus travelled the countryside tipping idols, he met many who were dual religionists. They said one thing with their lips and lived another way.

The Message Translation tells us one of Jesus’ stories about selfish living.


Luke 12:
16-19 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’
20 “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barn full of goods—who gets it?’
21 “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”


Jesus told this story in response to a man who wanted Jesus to settle a dispute over an inheritance. ‘Make my brother give me what he owes me!’ was his cry. Jesus does not enter into the mediation between the man and his brother. Instead, he tells him this story about a prosperous farmer who got greedy.

It is also unlikely that Jesus will answer our prayer requests if they have an undercurrent of personal greed. The answer to some of our prayers might be such a story.

If we are to disavow our membership in ‘The Secret Order of the Pig’, we need to take Jesus message to heart. What is Jesus telling us?

1.     Greedy People Feel Entitled
2.     Wealth Provides False Security
3.     Be Rich Toward God

Saturday, February 16, 2013

WHAT IF MARRIAGE IS NOT REALISTIC?


The Pharisees wanted divorce to be justifiable—the right thing to do because you were not satisfied. Jesus says that divorce is a concession, allowed because it validates the reality of a hardened heart. 

If you are divorced and successfully remarried, you know that you had to deal with forgiveness before you could move on.

You cannot understand divorce without seeing that one heart or the other had grown hard. Tenderheartedness may exist in one of the partners, but not both. This is not just about having one bad relationship that you need to terminate. The context of Matthew 19 covers a broader circle of relationships and outcomes.


The hardhearted person who cannot forgive or live in proper relation to others in Christ's body will also despise weaker people in society-- in Jesus' day, these included wives and children. By contrast, Jesus, who is not hardhearted, remains unimpressed by worldly status. When we hold grudges against a genuinely repentant spouse and remain hardhearted toward her or him-whether or not we officially cast the person away-we hinder our own communication with God and ultimately can invite our own damnation. It is thus no coincidence that in Matthew Jesus' teaching on marital commitment directly follows his teaching on forgiveness just as in Mark it follows a discussion of sinning against a "little one".[i]


As the disciples listen to Jesus teach about marriage and divorce, they weigh his words in their cultural context. Marriage was to be arranged by parents, and Jesus was getting rid of their escape plan. If she does not satisfy, perhaps the Law will allow them to divorce. Jesus is not making it that easy.


Matthew 19:
10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”


To marry without the possibility of divorce in a painful marriage seemed worse than not marrying at all! Responding to this objection, Jesus replied that some would indeed be better off not marrying; perhaps because of the intensity of their calling, it would be difficult for them to find a compatible spouse who would share their commitment (this is not only an ancient situation).[ii]

Jesus acknowledges that not everyone can accept this idea of being celibate as a gift from God. That raises the question to a personal level. If you are not married, can you accept celibacy as a gift from God? If you cannot, Jesus knows. I wonder how many are willing to even entertain the idea of being celibate?

Many would say that sexual drives are so strong that it is unrealistic to expect anyone to do that. It is largely unacceptable and a standard that is hard to impose and enforce.

Eunuchs were males who were castrated before puberty with resulting hormonal consequences. They were not sexual. This abuse was performed to create servants that could be trusted to not get in trouble sexually with the master’s household. Less commonly, a eunuch could be a man who was impotent or not at all interested in marriage and sexual intercourse.  

Jewish practice was to discriminate against eunuchs who were not manning up to their responsibility to marry and have children. There are Old Testament passages that speak of God giving special honour in His house to eunuchs who will follow his ways.

The eunuch gives us a model to consider in modern times. While deliberate castration is rare, who is discriminated against on the basis of not being sexually legitimate in the culture of faith? Could it be that God has a special honour in his house still for sexual castaways who are willing to receive the gift of celibacy? In what way might you feel sexually inadequate and ashamed of disclosure in the house of faith? Jesus offers the odd one out a way to turn their distinction into a chosen living for God’s Kingdom.

Jesus said many could not accept this. But, the one can accept it should.

A metaphor of such shame and sacrifice testifies to the value of the kingdom of God for which anyone would pay such a price.[iii]

As we deal with sexual brokenness in people, we would do well to err on the side of grace. Jesus demonstrated mercy to the sexual castaways of his day—the Samaritan woman will multiple failed marriages, the woman caught in adultery, the eunuchs, his own unmarried status… always merciful… Not condemning… redemptive.

Is that our story and is that our message? The New Testament church was filled with people with messy, sexual histories. Our church is filled with the same kind of histories. But, the gospel speaks deeply to the broken soul.


1 Corinthians 6:
11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.





[i] The IVP New Testament Commentary
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary
[iii] The IVP New Testament Commentary

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