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Holey Pursuits

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Image result for moths eating linenReturning to the Proverbs, Jesus quotes King Solomon who, in God’s wisdom, warned, Do not wear yourself to out get rich…Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle [Proverbs 23:4a & 5].

Matthew tells us that earthly treasures can be destroyed by moth and rust or stolen by thieves. Luke says that, besides the peril of moths and thieves, our purses can wear out [Luke 12:33]. James warns the rich that the deterioration of their earthly fortunes and fancies, and the judgment of their greed-driven corruption, will bring them great despair [James 5:1-3].

Pharaohs filled their tombs with food, clothing, oils and ointments, games, gold, jewelry, elaborate furniture, chariots, weapons, boats and statues of servants peoples that the dead was supposed to be able to call to life and service in the afterlife. They believed that there was more than just this earthly life, but they believed that they could take this mortal world with them.

Well, there is certainly more. All will go on to eternal life [Matthew 25:46; John 5:29]. But no one will be able to take one thing from this physical earth with them whether they are condemned to hell  or whether they ascend to heaven. Everything in this life will pass away [Matthew 24:35; 1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17].

So then, how can we store up treasure in heaven?

Jesus said that one ways is to sell our worldly treasures–our possessions–give to the poor and follow Him [Matthew 19:21; Luke 12:33 & 18:22]. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have…a God who will never leave us or forsake us [Hebrews 13:5]. Paul says good, be rich–meaning do a lot of–good works, and be generous and ready to share [1 Timothy 6:18].

It’s not about destituting ourselves. It’s about not clinging to and being enslaved by money. It’s about the heart [Luke 12:34; 1 Timothy 6:19].

With money in our hands and pockets, we tend to view ourselves more highly than we ought [Romans 12:3]. We see ourselves as our own provider, without need of God. But our money is worthless in the scheme of eternity. No one can buy their way into heaven. No one can buy their way out of hell.

When we stubbornly hold onto all that our hands have provided, when we are stingy about helping those in need, when we insist on tending to our own earthly securities, we miss out on the blessings of serving God. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills [Psalm 50:10]. Any provision we have comes by His goodness and His grace alone. But the enemy comes to steal it all away by the temptations of our own evil desires [James 1:14].

Where is your heart? On money and earthly possessions? Or on economy of heaven?

KCS

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The Stumbling Block Prayer

“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11

Image result for plate of moneyAgain, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?

Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.

And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9

When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].

But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.

Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.

Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14]. And Jesus said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4].

In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].

Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].

KCS

Using God

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

water warm dog animal pet human drink arm heat thirsty wrist watch leash fountain thirst break sch fer dog stroke on leash love for animals cool down water break dog like mammalOnce we get our prayer word count in check so that we’re talking respectfully to God–not just whining and nagging–and we have our hearts reverenced to recognize Him as the One True Living God, then we should will the coming of His kingdom–the restoration of His Creation to the way He intended it–to this earth [Matthew 3:2].

This piece of the struggle with prayer is huge!

Think about what most prayer times consist of. I want. I want. I need. I need. Give me. Bless me. My friends/family want and need. The world wants and needs. Get’er done God. Amen.

But do we ever take the time to stop and consider whether what we want and think we need are in anyway connected to what God is trying to do on the planet through human history? Not usually.

It’s normal sinful human nature to pray like this, but then it is also completely understandable that we don’t get the responses that we’re hoping for. Remember, Satan lied to us and told us that we could be our own god. Sometimes Christians try to let God be God as long as He does what they want. In essence, we recognize there is a true God, but we’re just trying to use His divine power and authority to fulfill of our self-as-god desires.

Not how it works. We’ve got it completely backwards. Because our faith doesn’t exist to move God. Our faith exists so that God can move us.

Just because we believe He exists. Just because we believe He has the power to heal and the means to provide. Just because we say that we love Him, doesn’t mean we get to use Him like our own personal servant. We need to stop praying like He’s a God-on-a-leash, here to do what we say, and start praying out of our genuine relationship with Him.

Loving Him. Understanding His plan and purpose on this planet and how we fit into it. Seeking His will and wisdom in all things [Matthew 26:39]. Leaning on Him to provide as He sees best for us instead of telling Him what we think is best for us [Proverbs 30:8]. And trusting Him.

If you’ve ever struggled with praying and unbelief in prayer, maybe you need to check out whether you’re trying to use God to get what you want–even in well meaning things like the healing of a loved one or protection in a natural disaster. Remember, that when we pray according to God’s will, it will be done [1 John 5:14-15]. But when we pray according to our self-as-god will, we shouldn’t be surprised when the heavens respond with cricket chirps.

Do you pray for God’s will or your own to be done?

KCS

Hypocrisy–Part 1: Religious or Righteous?

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

man rock music crowd concert singer band audience live show microphone micro musician smile clapping sing stage tour orchestra sound event song artists mood applause success managed satisfied successful viewers occurs piece of musicJesus’ brother, James, tells us that pure and faultless religion in God’s eyes is, looking after widows and orphans in their distress [James 1:27]. In other words, giving to the needy is an act of righteousness.

But let’s look at the idea of religion first. Religion is either belief in God [one or many] or it is a system of practices that stems from this belief. And the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. Many people believe there is a God and do nothing to demonstrate this belief. While many others doubt or don’t fully understand their own beliefs and yet religiously do many habitual activities in honor of their half-hearted faith.

To be religious is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes by any means. It’s not even equivalent to being Christian or Godly. To this end, the world often views the church as hypocritical. If we say we believe in God, then we should live like we believe in God. End of story. Otherwise, hypocrites.

But with sinful human beings, even saved ones, it’s not always that easy.

Here Jesus addresses the religious leaders of His earthly day. They kept the Law. Taught the Law. Disciplined and punished others who broke the Law. But their commitment to the Law was only skin deep. All was for show, so that people would consider them religious, or maybe even righteous.

But God looks on the heart [1 Samuel 16:7]. And He saw the Jewish religious leaders as whitewashed tombs [Matthew 23:27-28]–pristinely manicured in appearance, but rotting spiritual corpses at heart. One of the reasons for this comment was the fact that they only gave to the needy if it garnered them some attention.

Announcing with trumpets in the streets then would be like posting our good deeds all over social media now–Hey, look what I just did everybody! Aren’t I wonderful? Jesus is very clear. This type of worldly attention seeking is empty, meaningless. How many people today post things to social media just to feel rejected because they didn’t get a like [or a million likes]? The world’s attention, the fame in this life, none of it can satisfy because it only lasts a nano-moment in the scheme of eternity.

But doing things for Christ will last [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Colossians 3:23-24]. And that means doing things out of a sincere heart to help others and not for the temporary recognition from other human beings.

Are you religious or righteous–living God’s way purely out of love for God?

KCS

The Empty Bat Signal

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

Image result for bat signalJesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.

Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.

Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.

But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.

Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].

In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.

Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.

Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].

The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.

When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].

Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?

KCS

God Doesn’t Backspace

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-18

Image result for backspaceIn His day, people were trying to figure Jesus out. False prophets were not uncommon in Israel in the past [Jeremiah 14:14 & 23:16; Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 13:9 & 22:28; Hosea 11:6; Matthew 7:15; Acts 5:26-29 & 13:6]. So was this guy from Galilee really a miracle-working prophet of God? Was He possibly even the promised Messiah?

And if Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, what was God’s directive? Was He instituting a new order through this audacious preacher-prophet-teacher-healer?

Jesus knew their hearts and minds [Matthew 12:25; Luke 5:22, 6:8-10 & 11:17]. He answered their questions before they could ask them out loud. No, God is not changing His plan of redemption. Yes, the Law and the Prophets still matter in the eternal scheme of human history. Yes, I am the fulfillment of everything that you have studied and heard. No, this world will not last forever. No, God isn’t rewriting the game rules. Yes, everything God said would happen will happen.

The Law of Moses was more than just the ten commandments, though they get the most attention. There were people in Israel whose whole life’s work was to study and interpret the law–experts akin to modern day lawyers. But the Law was meant to show people their sinfulness [Romans 7:7-8 & 8:3]–not to redeem them from it. The Prophets also came to make people aware of their sin, yet they too were powerless to save anyone.

Jesus came to complete the work began in the Law and the Prophets. He came to redeem people from their sin. As long as the Creation endures–and it is going to pass away one day [Revelation 21:1]–the Law and the Prophets will still show people their sin and Jesus will still, by God’s grace through our faith, reconcile the repentant to Himself.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus refers to the alphabet in these verses. When He says the least letter, it is the Hebrew yodh or the Greek iota, both literally the smallest letters in their respective alphabets. And the least stroke refers to the horn a little letter flourish, like the bottom curve of a lowercase j. God didn’t change his mind or His plan on even the smallest detail.

As the author of life [Acts 3:15], God never needs to brainstorm, draft or revise. He never needs to eat His words or print a retraction or buy a bottle of whiteout. He doesn’t backspace or delete.

The Word of the Lord stands forever [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25]. Are you standing on that Word?

KCS

Juste Appétit

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:6-7

Image result for plate cup light

Have you ever been hungry? What about thirsty? Food never tastes better and drinks never satisfy quite so well as when we truly desire to eat and drink.

One of my daughters has never had a very good appetite. She has always eaten small nibbles and left even desserts and other treats untouched because she just isn’t hungry. After her first dance class, though, she was starved–for the first time ever! I was so excited I asked her what she was hungry for, because I was glad to have her eating food of her own accord. She looked at me, eyes sad, and said, I want to be hungry at Grandma’s house. 

Of course, Grandma would give her many more of the sweets and treats she’d rather fill up on. But the sentiment is one that we as Christians should identify with. We should want to be hungry in God’s house. We should thirst for the things of God. We should crave righteousness–being morally right and justified in God’s eyes. If we do, we can be guaranteed that our appetites will be satisfied. God desires to fill us to overflowing with the good things that He has prepared for us–the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Mercy is one of these attributes that should pique our spiritual hunger and thirst. God is merciful and created us in His image. When we freely lavish His mercy on others it means that we are showing compassion and forgiveness to those whom it is within our power to punish or harm.

When we have the mind of Christ, showing mercy makes us extremely joyful. But it is a double-edged joy, because others will extend compassion and forgiveness to us as well. Not to mention, when we forgive others, God forgives us [Matthew 6:14-15].

Do you want to be hungry in God’s house? Do you crave His Word and truth in your life? Do you dispense His mercy as freely as He as bestowed it on you?

KCS