Friday, June 22, 2012

Where your treasure lies, there your heart will also be

Matthew 19: 21-23  "Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven.  Then come, follow Me.'  When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had great wealth.  Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.' "

There is some level of debate as to whether or not Jesus literally meant that the young man needed to rid himself of his possessions and wealth to enter Heaven.  Most view this as a non-literal statement, meant primarily to identify what the young man truly valued in his life.

The fact that this young man went away sad at the thought of having to sell his possessions, rather than overjoyed and amazed that he had been offered the opportunity to personally travel with and learn from the Son of God, shows us what he valued and loved.

Then Jesus says that it is hard for a rich man to enter Heaven.  Again, debate ensues over whether or not this is a literal statement.  Do earthly riches really disqualify someone from Heaven?  Most of us say no, that the real issue is what we value and love. 

It is difficult for those with wealth to imagine living life without it.  Further, they may view it as God's special blessing on them.  If God blessed them with wealth, they figure, why would He ever ask me to give it up?

The key is to boil everything down to the greatest of all commandments He has given to us- love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Think about how you would react if given the choice between wealth and God.  (Before you dismiss this as a choice you would never be forced to make, remember that we just read a factual account of one young man who was asked to make this very choice- it happens!)  If you find yourself feeling relief and comfort over the interpretation that says Jesus didn't literally mean for us to sell all of our possessions, you may have just given yourself an indication of where your heart truly lies.  (Hint: not where it should lie)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Success or failure depends on your benchmark

Romans 3: 13-18  " 'Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.  The poison of vipers is on their lips.  Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.  Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.  There is no fear of God before their eyes.' "

Reading the verses above can lead you to imagine the person being described.  You can envision a criminal or an adulterer.  You can envision a dishonest, selfish person who is only interested in their own personal gain.  You can envision one who has driven away, or at least deeply hurt, those closest to them. 

The really sobering reality is found by backing up a few verses.  Those verses say, "There is no one righteous, not even one"... "All have turned away"... "There is no one who does good, not even one."

The person being described is me.  This may at first seem too harsh of a description.  After all, I do good things, I don't intentionally hurt others, etc.  I think I am a pretty good person, all things considered.  But if you say these things about yourself, what is the benchmark or the standard that leads you to conclude that you are a good person?  It is the words and actions of other people that I can compare myself to and come out feeling okay about myself.

This isn't God's standard, though.  How do you feel about yourself when Jesus is the benchmark?  Feel a little dirty and inadequate?  Does the description of a sinful person seem to fit you a little better now?  Jesus is God's standard personified, and by that standard, we all fall short.  Further, there is nothing we can do to improve the situation.  We can't try harder or alter our behavior enough to qualify by God's standard.  Only God Himself can close that gap... and He did!

The perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ closed the gap permanently.  The only thing required of us is the only thing we are capable of doing in this situation- graciously accept the gift that we do not deserve.  God's love and our immense value as His children are demonstrated only in what He has done for us, never in anything we have done or could do for Him.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Achieving in the areas that matter

Matthew 16:26-27  " 'What good will it be if a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?' "

Many people (men, in particular) are very focused on achievement.  Men have a competitive spirit that causes them to want to win and/or be viewed favorably by others.  The desire to succeed can be purely selfish (it fills a void or bandages a wound that no one else really knows about) or it can be quite sacrificial (achievement as a means of showing love for, and providing for, one's spouse and children).

The drive to succeed is not inherently bad.  God designed us, and I believe this is a basic trait He gave us.  The focus of our desire to achieve is the part where we sometimes stumble.  I believe men can be influenced to view achievement in worldly terms.  We like to keep score, and what easier way is there to keep score in life than money and possessions?

Jesus reminds us that this type of achievement holds no eternal value, and does not redeem our souls.  What if we could redirect that energy and desire toward achieving in the areas that matter to God?

Monday, June 18, 2012

No excuses

Job 12: 7-9  " 'But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.  Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?' "

We have been given the Great Commission- to proclaim the name of Jesus and spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth.  This, along with the Great Commandment- to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves- are the most important callings God has given us.

But what about those people who never engage in a conversation or have the opportunity to hear someone tell them about the Gospel?  What is their fate if they never had an opportunity to know God?  Can they even know that God exists if we don't reach them with the Good News? 

The answer to this last question is "yes".  Everyone and everything God has created has an innate sense of the Creator.  The details may be unknown, but all creatures have the imprint of the Creator.  The beauty, creativity, and complexity of the physical world in which all humans and animals live each day leaves no doubt as to the purposeful master design and the existence of the Great Designer. 

The groundwork has been laid in every being God has created.  But the groundwork is not the whole story.  Thus, we have the Great Commission.  It is our job as those who have been called by God to round out the story and fill in the blanks for those who have not heard.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What are you giving to God?

Psalm 50:8-10  " 'I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices, or your burnt offerings, which are ever before Me.  I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.' "

God is speaking to His people about their acts of worship.  He acknowledges and praises their constant efforts to follow instructions by offering sacrifices and burnt offerings.  But He also reminds them that the ritual is not the main point.  The ritual does not provide God with what He truly wants from us. As He says, what use does He have for an animal sacrifice?  It's a nice gesture, but we are simply giving Him what is already His ("for every animal of the forest is Mine...") 

The point of all the ritual is the attitude with which we perform the ritual.  If there is nothing going on in our hearts while we follow the letter of God's law, we might as well not follow it at all.  The most common illustration of this for us is church attendance.  If we think that our mere physical presence in church service is truly pleasing to God, we miss the point.

God wants our love and worship.  Going to church should be a conscious act of love and worship toward God.  Otherwise, we have only made ourselves feel better about our performance and discipline.  If those two things got us anywhere close to our eternal goal, God Himself would not have had to come to earth and die to rescue us.