Monday, March 6, 2017

Cookin' a Pig

It’s a whole hog barbecue and it’s called many different things across the USA: In some places it’s a hog roast, a pig pull, or a pig roast. The Cajuns call it “cochon de lait.” It’s called a pig pickin’ in the Carolinas and other parts of the deep South. It’s an echon asado in Puerto Rico where it’s the “national dish.” It’s famously practiced in Hawaii luaus where the “Kālua pig” is buried in the sand with hot coals, protected in banana tree leaves. Pretty much everywhere it’s done with a big group of people as a celebration. And although there are many ways to do it and lots of different styles of sauces and trimmings, it’s almost always good.

In Jefferson County, TN, where I grew up and learned the art, it is simply called, “cookin’ a pig.” We used to serve it over cornbread hoecakes, and eat it with a smoky and sweet tomato-based sauce (that’s got a little spicy kick). Usually slaw, baked beans, and corn-on-the-cob are served as sides. Some want buns to make a sandwich. My mouth is watering even now. It is simply one of the best ways families and groups can celebrate together or just enjoy each other’s fellowship.

From time-to-time, someone will ask me about whether Christians should be enjoying pork so much—let alone celebrating something church-related—when the Old Testament law forbids its consumption. I think a case can be made that it is the perfect food for a Christian celebration! We are not under the law but under grace. The people of God are no longer a closed group of Jews and Jewish proselytes (the circumcision). All that changed with Christ. He came to fulfill the law. All the ceremonial laws in the Old Testament pointed forward to him. Now the Good News is for “all nations” as he commissioned us. What’s more, remember Peter’s vision of a sheet let down from heaven with unclean animals that God told him to eat (Acts 10)? I’m pretty certain there was a pig in there! His vision symbolized that God had included the “unclean” gentiles in his plan and saves all those who believe. Why should we not keep this symbolism? When we eat pork, we are celebrating the fact that God has included us! Just as the pig was once considered unclean (like me), and even though the pig was previously a filthy, slop-eater; he can be an aromatic and delicious blessing to many through his own sacrifice!

Cooking the pig is not hard, but there are several ways things can go wrong. You must take care that the fat that runs off the pig does not catch on fire. That’s the worst thing that can happen. A burning pig will amaze all who witness it. It will destroy anything around it. Don’t let it happen. This means building a pit on a slight grade so that the fat will drain away, and not putting coals that are still flaming underneath. Keep a shovel and 5-gallon bucket of water or hose near the pit in case a flame gets going. The main reason someone must be responsible to be with the pig at all times is this. Also don’t cook the pig too fast. This is always the temptation. It warms up slowly. It cooks slowly. Don’t rush things. No matter how many times I say it, people always do.

Don’t run out of wood or let the feeder coal fire go out. That’s not good. It can allow the pig to drop in temperature. If you are about to run out of firewood, go to Wal-Mart and get a bunch of charcoal. The natural lump kind (rather than briquettes) is best, but either will work.

I think one of my favorite parts is the fellowship that is engendered, not just when eating the pig, but while cooking it. The way I cook a pig takes about 24 hours, and there’s not a whole lot of work to do, but it requires someone to be present the whole time. This means there’s a lot of sitting and talking that happens. It’s a great—perhaps even perfect—environment for men to get to know each other. We have a task, it takes some skill, and the whole time we’re enveloped in aromatic, smoky goodness. It’s also done under the stars and sky in an outdoor setting. I don’t know of another thing that brings guys together and opens them up like cooking a pig.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. Order a pig. It’s becoming more and more difficult to find pigs. I used to know several slaughter houses that would sell a whole hog to the public. Lately I’ve had to get them through Food City’s butcher who could get one for me. When ordering a pig, the slaughter-house (or meat processor, or grocery meat department or whoever you can find to provide it) should clean and scald the pig. A “scalded” pig still has it’s skin and is much better for several reasons, most of all so that it will not dry out as much while cooking. It also makes the pig easier to handle and makes the grease easier to manage. I like to have them leave the head on, along with all feet and the tail (it’s kinda fun, especially with the reactions you get from city-slickers). Good cooking pigs should weigh between 60 and150 pounds dressed. The bigger ones are harder to handle and cook. The amount of meat per person depends on the group. One pound of dressed pig per person is a good rule-of-thumb (a 100 lbs. pig feeds 100 people).

2. Rather than digging a pit, I prefer to build a temporary pit of concrete blocks two blocks high, five blocks long, and three blocks wide (32 blocks for one pig) on slightly sloping ground which helps the grease drain away. I’ve also built a pit out of bricks or rocks, so anything will work that are about the same size.

3. Make sure the floor under the grill is suitable to prevent fires from happening. To go all out, line the ground in the bottom of the pit with heavy duty foil (not regular thin foil), then place a few bricks on the foil, then lay a coarse screen (fine steel grate) on the bricks. Place the coals on the screen. This makes it very easy to control fires. I do not always use foil or a raised grate to put the coals on if I have a gravel spot on which to build the pit, which allows laying the coals on the ground in very small piles under each ham and shoulder, and sometimes the middle of the pig. The gravel disburses the fat well enough to control fires. Important: keep a shovel or water hose or bucket nearby to put out grease fires while they’re small.

4. Find a steel grate that can be laid on top of the blocks and is strong enough for a man to stand on. I like a 4’ x 8’ sheet of expanded steel grate. of Before cooking, spray the top of the grate with cooking oil. This will help with flipping the pig.

5. When the pig arrives, start a fire with dry, seasoned hickory wood. The purpose of this fire is to prepare hot coals to place under the pig to cook it. You must keep this fire going for 24 hours, which will take about a half cord of wood. If you don’t have hickory, any hardwood (except locust, sweet gum, sycamore, or poplar) will do, especially apple (or another fruit), pecan, walnut, or oak. Do not use evergreen or soft wood. And definitely do not use treated lumber. Not only will you ruin the taste, you could get sick.

6. Final pig prep: even a slaughtered and processed pig might need some additional preparation:

• Rip-out the kidneys and any veins, etc. that the pig will no longer need.

• Take a sharp single-bladed axe or hatchet and hammer to split the inside of the backbone so the pig will lay flat on the grate (this is called “butterfly” style). Open the pig up so he will lay-out like a flying squirrel. Do not cut or make any holes in the skin. It will cause problems later on.

• Open the mouth and insert an apple. It will take a real man to open it. It’s important because the pig will bite the apple when he is done (not really, but it’s fun to tell people that).

• Lay the pig belly-down on the grate. Feel free to put a Tennessee hat on it’s head and a Bama hat on it’s tail. It will cook much happier that way.

•The pig will be finished in 24 hours. So if you want to eat the pig at 5pm on a Saturday, pick the pig up (packed in ice, but not frozen!) and deliver it to the cooking site by at least 4pm on Friday. If you have all your supplies together and the pit built, you should be able to get the cooking started by 4:30 or 5:00pm on Friday.

7. Start cooking...SLOW.

• Build a fire to make coals to cook with. If at all possible use dry hickory firewood. Just campfire sized is good. After 30 minutes of burning, some red-hot coals should be available for use.

• Use a shovel to place 2 to 3 golf ball-sized coals (or equivalent in smaller or larger coals) under each ham and each shoulder, and if the pig weighs over 100 lbs., put some right in the middle. Do not put more coals on it than this. The key to cooking pigs is to START SLOW and don't get much faster. Just be persistent. It is a low-temperature, long-duration cooking process. The most common mistake rookies make is to cook too fast and ruin the pig. Be ready, because at this point you will start receiving verbal abuse from others about how the pig won't cook, it will be raw, any fool would know better, bla bla bla. Tell them that they don't have to eat any of it tomorrow, and stand firm.

•After starting the pig, continue cooking him by adding 2 or 3 more hot coals to the same four or five piles of coals underneath the pig about every 30 minutes until the pig is done. This is done by pulling out one of the concrete blocks and then replacing it when you’ve put in more coals. After placing the coals under the pig, always add wood to your coal-making fire. You don’t want to run out of cooking coals.

•You can leave the pig uncovered on the pit for viewing for five or six hours. Then you need to cover it. We cover the pig with one large piece of cardboard that does not touch the pig anywhere except the feet and ears. Sometimes we build brick “towers” around the waist of the pig to prevent touching. Over the cardboard place a tarp that will cover the whole pit. This rig works better than a $15,000.00 cooker. And the tarp will forever smell awesome.

8. The pig is to be turned over only once, about 16 hours from start time. To turn, scoot the pig over to one side on the grate and just flip him all at once (but watch out for breaking a well-cooked leg). After the pig is turned over, grease will drip, or even run at times, so one should not put the coals where the grease drips. (Actually it will begin dripping long before it's turned but the greatest danger of significant grease fires occurs after turning.) To reduce fire risk, you can place the coals more around the edges after turning if necessary. This will not hurt the cooking rate because the cardboard and tarp will be like an oven. I like to keep as much smoke as possible under the tarp with the pig.

9. When the pig is done (according to our previous scenario, around 5pm, and at this time the pig will bite the apple in two), move it (grate and all) to the food line on saw horses. Have two servers (pullers), on either side of the pig to help people get meat. The best thing to do if the pig is cooked properly is for these pullers to put on the rubber gloves (thicker gloves are better because the meat will be hot) and simply pull the meat off and pull it apart. Yes, it will be that tender. Be careful not to break the skin, or the grease will waterproof their boots for them.

10. Enjoy some of the best and most tender BBQ you’ve ever had!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Of Demons

I understand there's been some interest in demon possession recently. It is indeed a really interesting subject, and can be hyped for effect to garner attention, or on the other extreme, demonic activity can be completely ignored! This week's message (in Luke 13:10-17) deals with a woman who is physically bent over, who many believe is demon-possessed. Most scholars do not, for several reasons. Jesus doesn't treat her as he treats other demoniacs. He doesn't speak to or acknowledge any demons (and they don't speak to him) and he touches her (he never touches a demoniac). Probably most importantly to this discussion, the phrase Dr. Luke uses to describe her condition (that is inferred by English speakers as indicating demon-possession) is "disabling spirit" (ESV). But according to scholars, this term is a hebraic idiom used to describe many physical ailments, even a whole category of conditions. An example might be how we English-speakers use the term "handicapped."

But because in the passage Jesus makes reference to Satan having bound this woman for 18 years, it does make us wonder if Satan "binds" people today, or if he can possess or oppress a person. If so, what does that look like? And what can be done to help a person in this predicament?

In short, Satan and his fallen angels are real, and so is demonic activity. I like to categorize a demon's influence on human beings with three words: possession, oppression, and suggestion.

Demon suggestion happens all the time. Satan tempts. He lies. He suggests ideas into our thoughts and does his best to entice us to sin. He seeks to confuse our ability to make decisions. He still does what he did with Eve in the garden. "Did God actually say...?" (Gen. 3:1) he asks us, and then he suggests that God's word can't be trusted. He can discourage and depress. He can cripple us with guilt. He can fool us into thinking that what he is saying is from God. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." Under this category are so many ways demons affect both believers and unbelievers. It is important for people to pray and ask God to give us wisdom and insight. 1 John 4:1 says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." False prophets are those people who claim to hear straight from God. That's a very common way that demons seek to influence others. So we should put all spiritual messages to the test of Scripture.

Demon oppression is even more serious. It happens when one gives in to Satan or a demon, or when one is attacked by the enemy. I have witnessed many cases of people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses (depression, obsessions, phobias, etc.) who, I believed, were oppressed by satanic forces. Satan can even wage war on individuals with sickness, death of loved ones, and other life activities in attempt to destroy a person's will to live. Read Job! Satan relished the opportunity God gave him to destroy Job...or to attempt to destroy him. As far as we know, Job never knew that the source of his troubles was Satan. In response to this kind of vigorous attack, Peter said to "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1Peter 5:6-10).

Possession is when a demon (or demons) actually inhabits a person and controls them either part or all of the time. This is a terrible condition. But it CANNOT happen to a person who has believed in and has received Christ. A believer is already possessed by a spirit: the HOLY Spirit. God himself lives inside. He is the stronger man (Matthew 12:22-32).

I did not have time in the message today to have a side-bar discussion of demons and demon-possession. But earlier in our study of Luke (August 28, 2016) we covered a passage all about Jesus' dealings with an unfortunate man inhabited by many demons. Here is the link to hear the message. I have made these notes available below.

Jesus' Power Over The Demonic
(Luke 8:26-39)

•If you feel like you are a mess—perhaps so much so that you think God has given up on or forgotten you… 
•If you wonder how Satan and demons work. If you fear demonic activity or suspect it at work in your own life… 
•If you’ve wondered if some of the diagnoses of mental health or addiction-related issues might be modern-day labels for possible demonic influences (possession, oppression, suggestion)… 
•If you have ever felt that some people can’t change—that they’re “too far gone”—and have wondered whether the “Jesus answer” is enough…Today is for you. 

C.S. Lewis prefaces his book, The Screwtape Letters, this way: 
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which [the human] race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…”  

He could not have been more right. We have these two extremes before us today in abundance. Darla and I went camping, across from us there was a particularly loud and arrogant guy who proudly proclaimed that he was an “avid atheist” and he and his wife began mocking God and church. I’m sure he’d have a good laugh over the idea of a real personal devil and demons. On the other hand, while I have known OF people who claim to worship Satan, I have KNOWN many Christians who were a bit obsessed or overly fearful of all things demonic. Ouija Boards, superstitions, backward masking in rock songs have all caused various reactions from fearful Christians looking for satanic vices. Oh could I tell you stories of kookiness!
...Like when we bought our last house and some well meaning people wanted to come over first and pray in every room and anoint them with oil and cleanse it of possible demonic strongholds. Not kidding. Weird.
...Like when I went to a pastor's prayer summit meeting years ago where a man led us to pray against "spiritual gateways" like where "The Katch" and Goody's corporate headquarters are across I-40 from each other and claimed that the Tennessee River appeared to be a serpent winding through Knoxville. Not kidding.
...Like the crazy reactions Charles Swindoll received when he put a little red devil statue on his desk! 
All and more are nutty, laughable examples of people being concerned about the wrong things.

But Satan is no joke. He is real, he has much power and intelligence, and is the leader of a battalion of fallen angels who hate God, hate all people—image bearers of God—and especially those of us God has redeemed. They have declared war on us. They desire to hurt God and his mission, and the way they wish to do it is to hurt us. They hate you, and hate God. Of course, he uses their schemes to bring about his plans, and the devils know their days are numbered. 

When Jesus came to earth, he entered what demons consider their domain. There is hardly any better example of his power than when he met them. We saw Christ’s power over nature (storm/wind/waves). It was so spectacular, the disciples were afraid and wondered, “Who is this?” Their question is about to be answered.

Luke 8: 26Then (right after the storm Jesus calmed) they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. (This is a scary thing! Listen:) For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.)
Mark 5 adds that “No one had the strength to subdue him.” And that “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” In addition, Matthew 8:28 says that he was “so fierce that no one could pass that way.” 

I’m sure he had quite a reputation. I bet all the kids talked about him: “Necked, bloody, demon-man is going to get you!” Only, it was real. Not “they say the ghost of Lucius Clay gets up and walks around” (Charlie Daniels—The Legend of the Wooly Swamp).

But as scary as this man was, we should realize he was really pitiful. We should have compassion on him. He’s a mess! We aren’t told, but I wonder what his story was. Maybe he had been exposed to religion/music/superstitions of the pagan culture that was on display around that area, the “Land of the Garasenes" (the land Mark calls, "the Decapolis") the region along the southeast side of the Sea of Galilee and northern Jordan River. It's population was majority Greek and other gentiles, but there was still a large Jewish population, who were hellenized and known to the other Jews as compromisers. Or it could be that he was just a victim! 

Regardless if he somehow invited or allowed the demonic influence or not, we should pity him. 

KNOW THIS: I don’t care how bad you’ve got it or how messed up you are, this guy is worse. AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHY JESUS CROSSED THE SEA TO SEEK HIM OUT. HE MATTERS TO JESUS. Can I remind you what Luke has shown: Jesus cares about the ones everyone else shuns or overlooks. No one else cared about this man. All had given him up for a life of torture. Then he meets Jesus:

 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him.

If you would have been there to hear that, you would have had chills. Everyone knew what a legion was. It’s a group of 5000-6000 Roman soldiers. If there’s any significance to the name, that means there are thousands of devils torturing this man. Now, before you begin to scoff in your mind, check out this article in the Washington Post from last month
Jesus is no mere exorcist or psychiatrist. He’s the all-powerful Son of the Most High God. They know him and fear him greatly. He has absolute authority.

And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 

Because he could have! The demons, who know their time is limited, may have thought (like the Jews of Jesus' day) that the Messiah would come to conquer. He did, he came first to conquer sin on the cross. They didn’t know he would come again as conquering king. These demons who are meeting Jesus face-to-face are trembling in fear that he is coming to banish them to the abyss—where Revelation 20 says Satan will be bound for 1000 years. They’ve been torturing this man for years—they’re right in assuming that God’s justice required that they will be tortured without mercy. They’re afraid and begging.

 32Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

Crazy! And that's exactly what the herdsman thought!

34When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 36And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.

So...Why the pigs?
1. They show witnesses that the demons were not imaginary. There are 2000 rotting pig carcasses floating in the sea. "This is no joke. This man was really possessed by demons!"

2. They show that sinful people make better “homes” for demons than amoral animals. Jesus even used “house” as a description for the body of a person who is possessed by a demon. Demons prefer people to animals.

3. Pigs were considered unclean to Jews. I learned of a rabbinic tradition that claimed they were among the most impure beings in creation. (I get it: slop, mud, etc.) Anything below them was considered, “abysmal.”

4. The sea is a symbol of the abyss in Jewish lit. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament used in Jesus' day, called the Septuagint, abyssos almost always translates the Hebrew word, tehom, meaning the “watery depths of the earth” (Psalm 77:16; 78:15; 106:9; Isaiah 51:10; Amos 7:4), and in Psalm 71:20, "the depths of the earth" are spoken of in a manner closely signifying death. Abyssos never translates Sheol, so in the Old Testament it never carries the idea of "the realm of the dead." In Genesis 1:2 the total chaotic earth is called "the deep," over which the Spirit of God hovered. But during the intertestamental period the meaning of abyssos broadened to include the idea of death as well as the realm of demonic spirits. Simply put, in Jesus’ day, the sea is a symbol of the abyss.

5. If these pigs were owned by compromising Jews, this was a judgment of their sin, indeed of the sin of the whole area of the Garasenes. It hurt their economy, but they didn’t protest. They show their response by simply asking Jesus to leave.

6. By committing suicide in the sea, the pigs are making a strong statement to all who would hear of this. Even pigs, as profane as they are, cannot bear to live while filled with these wicked demons. Death—even death without hope of life afterward—is preferable to life under satanic control. They didn’t hesitate in this instinctive response.

7. There’s no bargaining with Jesus at judgment. These demons ended up in the abyss...exactly where they begged Jesus not to send them.

However you interpret it, it’s a vivid picture of the filth of the demons and Jesus’ uncompromising judgment on them. They were duped by Christ who made a huge statement of their condemnation that simply sending them straight to the abyss wouldn’t have done. Of course those who heard about it—who also profited from the pig trade—were afraid. They were completely uncomfortable with this uncompromising Christ. And they begged him to leave.

So he got into the boat and returned. 

But what about the man? For the first time in years he’s clothed and sane. He’s proof of what happens when Christ seeks you out and shows mercy. Before Jesus departs on the boat,

38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. 

There are some truths in this story I hope you caught:

•There is a spiritual realm, and evil spirits who are very real. They hate God, therefore they hate God’s image-bearers. They can and do INFLUENCE people: either by Possession, Oppression, or Suggestion.

•Jesus wields complete authority over all things spiritual, even devils, who must obey his word. The only way for us to successfully defeat Satan is through Christ.

Hebrews 2: Jesus became human 14that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Because Jesus died, we are not slaves anymore. But we don’t have to wait till heaven to have victory over Satan’s schemes. 1 Peter 5: 8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

•Demons are exceedingly fearful of Christ. This should make us wonder: why are we so fearful of them? Yes, they are very powerful, intelligent, and dangerous. But our God is infinitely more so. And we can trust him.

•Jesus turns messes into messengers. I'm thankful for this. Because I'm a sinner without any merit on my own. I have made messes. But God somehow uses even me. I wish I could have been there when "necked, bloody, demon man" came home at peace, and with a story of amazing redemption through Christ. I bet people listened.

Four practical NOW WHATS:

1. Join Beauty for Ashes. Beauty for Ashes is a great opportunity for women who are dealing with hard things, whether big or small. I plead with you to sign up.

2. Get counseling. There is a spiritual underpinning to successful counseling. We have a great opportunity because Tara Havely is on our staff. We also have other trained ministry staff. Email us (or call the church office or tell us on the card). We will set you up with an appropriate counselor who can evaluate and help you.  If you want to meet with Tara, put that in the email. Otherwise, we’ll set you up with a minister on our staff who is experienced and educated. All is confidential.

3. Read The Screwtape Letters b
y C.S. Lewis. We have 200 copies available, $10 each, but you can also get it online. Think about how the enemy plots and schemes. Know that he hates you. But know that God has your best interests at heart and loves you more than you love yourself. Know that he is in control. 

4. Yield yourself to Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Don't Worry, Invest!

From a sermon given on January 29, 2017 at Providence Church.

Jesus said some difficult things. Among the most difficult for us Americans is what he said regarding the desire for stuff and wealth“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). If taken seriously, these words (at least) cause us to reflect. But we have to eat, right? And we need clothes and a roof over our heads. All that costs money and most of us can’t walk to work! 

Jesus continues with this theme.

Luke 12:
22And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 

Wow. It’s almost like he’s speaking across the centuries directly to us! We obsess over food and clothing! Not like many in Jesus' day who worried where their next meal would come from, or who owned perhaps two or three sets of clothing and one pair of sandals. But we can’t get enough! We have walk-in closets full of clothes we hardly ever wear. How many pairs of shoes do you own? And food? We have hundreds of choices of stores and restaurants; we struggle with obesity, not starvation. Just think of the amount of money we spend on food and clothing. I won’t even mention other external appearance concerns we have, unimagined by those in Jesus’ day: plastic and enhancement surgery, cosmetic dental work, hair implants, makeup, skin-care products, gym memberships, and trips to the salon! Jesus continues:

24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. 

Our familiar member of the raven family is the crow. Like sparrows, they seem to be everywhere. They definitely eat corn and stuff in our gardens (scarecrow), Just this morning I saw a murder of them (yeah, that's the right term for a "flock" of crows) eating roadkill. Point is, few crows ever starve. They have a veritable smorgasbord spread out below their wings. 

24...Of how much more value are you than the birds! 

God cares so much more about you…he knows what you need and will provide. 

25And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 

There are so many people I’ve known who were extremely health-conscious who nevertheless died young. And some, like my 100-year-old grandmother, who ate high-cholesterol foods, smoked much of her life, and never exercised, lived long lives! I’m not negating the value of good health and wise habits, but when it’s your time, it’s your time! In fact, studies show that anxiety is as big a life-shortening factor as diet and exercise! Despite all our science and medicine, life expectancy is still between 70-80 years. Funny, Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” That was written 3000 years ago! 

Jesus continues:

26If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 

You can’t control when you die, so why worry about all life’s necessities?! Let God worry about that!

27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 

Did you see that? Wow. Seek his kingdom and the rest will take care of itself. What does "seek his kingdom" mean? It means long for the world to come. Jesus had been there—he knew heaven well. And he knew the great contrast and how temporary and minor-league this world is by comparison. Do you remember how petty the middle school drama seemed when you got to high school? And how silly high school seemed when you were in college? And how ridiculous our college concerns seemed once you were married? Our fears and priorities here will be so laughably shallow when we're in heaven. Therefore, we are wise set our sights on the next world. Not this one.

32“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

Heaven's going to be yours! And God can't wait to give it to you! Wow, that changes everything! 

So how do we live when dying is gain, when heaven will be ours?
According to Jesus, here's how:

33Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 

It is so counterintuitive to us, isn’t it? We almost can’t believe our ears (that Jesus would say such extreme things). But it’s not extreme at all…if heaven is real…if Jesus is telling the truth…if we really will live eternally, then this little time we will have spent on earth will become for us a tiny, distant memory! In view of heaven’s great riches and beauty and satisfaction and perfection, what will we think about our current obsession for earthly things?!  

I know the Bible says there will be no sadness there, but I sometimes wonder how we will not regret our present obsession with stuff. Especially when we will look back and remember all the needs around us—the people who lived in our world who through our generosity might have heard—better, might have seen—the Gospel lived out by people—Christians, us—who gladly gave up what we could not keep, to gain what we could not lose; and gave it so that others would gain it too.

There is one more verse. And it's a doozy.

34For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

I love this verse. Because it is a key that unlocks so much. To understand it, let’s get the images in two key words: “treasure” and “heart.”

The word, treasure, is the Greek word, thēsauros. It literally means a “place of treasure,” where one puts one's investments.

The word, heart, is the Greek word, kardia. (yes, like "cardio" and "cardiograph") It can mean the physical blood-pumping organ, but here "heart" is the symbolic “seat of the passions, desires, affections.” 

Now: notice the tenses of the verbs “to be”: “is” (present tense), “will be” (future tense).

So here’s what it’s saying:

Where you place your investments NOW, that’s where your affections WILL BE.

Jesus is conveying at least two ideas: 

First, you can tell what people really live for (their future aspirations) by observing what they invest in now.

Second, you can direct your investments in such a way that will influence what you love. And if you want to love God and his kingdom more, you should invest in that.

So what?

1. Find contentment by making Christ your satisfaction. He’s the only one who truly satisfies. You will not find it anywhere else. Surrender to him.

2. Find peace in trusting God to provide for your needs. If you are simply obedient to God regarding finances, for example, peace will result. That means following God's instructions for managing your money (like, live within your means and avoid debt, save, be thrifty, budget, and be generous). We offer Financial Peace University at Providence to help people find peace by being wise with money.

3. Find beauty by your faith in Christ. Not by external appearances. Things like what you wear or your hair or makeup or youth or stylishness. Real beauty is really is about what’s on the inside. We know that’s what matters to God—what he sees. But it’s true for others, too. Young women, focus on your character and wisdom and joy. 1Peter 3: 3Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—4but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Guys, don’t focus on curls for girls. Focus on integrity, discipline, humility, and courage. Be a man of God. That’s attractive—especially to the kind of girl who will one day be a great wife, mother, and best friend for life. Impress her!

4. Know that God desires to give you much more than mere necessities. He can’t wait to give you his kingdom. Like parents look forward to Christmas more than kids, and loves the moment they come down the stairs to see the gifts, so God looks forward to giving you what he has planned from eternity.

5. Invest yourself in the kingdom. How? There are so many ways. Think about ways God wants you to offer your time, talents, energy, and money, and invest! 

Then your heart will love him and his kingdom even more.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sanctity of Lives

Sometimes it is good to take a step back from a portrait being painted to take it in as a whole. Our artist, Luke, has been painting a portrait of Jesus who cares about people, specifically, people the world overlooks. God sees and loves and saves those who believe and gives them meaning as he uses them for his glory. There are so many examples. Just recently in Luke 12:

6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

While preparing for this message I was studying at home and watching the birds at the feeders on our deck. Chickadees, doves, wrens, cardinals, finches, and sparrows are regulars. Sparrows are many bird-watchers' least favorite. They’re the brownish-grey birds at McDonalds. Fact is, biologists tell us that our "house sparrows" as they are known here, are an introduced species that originated in the middle east, are now all over the world, and are perhaps the most common wild bird on earth. Coincidental? Everyone in the world knows the sparrow as a ubiquitous, hardly noticeable, insignificant little bird. But they're not to God. He knows them all by name and provides for and prospers them. Jesus uses the lowly sparrow to illustrate how important we are to God—so much so that every single hair on our heads has an individual number. Wow.

Next week we will study vv. 22-34. Here’s a little preview, and I want to pull out one aspect that illustrates what we’ve seen from Jesus as we’ve been studying Luke 12.

24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! ...27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you… 32“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

We’ll unpack the whole passage more next week (there’s so much good stuff!) but I want to focus on how this reveals God’s heart for people. God loves all human lives. They are special, holy to him. Why? Because he created human beings in his own image. All other life forms and everything that makes life possible he made for us. To support human life. Not just for sustenance and survival, but for prosperity, productivity, awe, and purpose.

How important are you to him? He made you unique and wonderful, he created all things for you, he has created a plan to show you his love/forgiveness/grace by dying in your place, and he wants to give you the kingdom! And not just you.

Today is what Christians call “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday. Yes, that's when we acknowledge that God cares for human beings, even at their most vulnerable place—beginning in the mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-16

13For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
      my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you,
  when I was being made in secret,
      intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
   in your book were written, every one of them,
      the days that were formed for me,
      when as yet there was none of them.

God sees every human life—beginning with it’s very inception—as precious.

Here's my question:
If Christians don’t stand for life in the womb, who will?

One of the many reminders that evil is alive and well in the world is the continuing diminishment of the most innocent and vulnerable lives—unborn children. This is our age’s infanticide—an evil common to most ages (be it ancient civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, Inca, as well as some Euro-asian tribes, and seen in the Bible in ancient Egypt when Moses was born and even Israel when Herod heard of one "born King of the Jews" killed the children around Bethlehem). Abortion is ours. There have been about 60 million abortions since Roe vs. Wade. Half of them little girls, and 18 million of them black babies (that's 1/3). That's stunning.

Good news is we’re making a difference. A report released this week showed that the abortion rate has fallen 50% from it's height, to a historic low since Roe in the U.S. For the first time since 1973, under 1 million babies were aborted in a year.

One million...babies killed. Wow. We still have so far to go.

The issue of abortion is certainly not where it ends. Too many times when we hear “Sanctity of human life” we think only of the unborn. But they are not the only lives being diminished and devalued in our culture. Yes, you no doubt know that racism & sexism still exists. There seems to be a lot of conversation about these things. Of course, racism is evil. God sees no color. Of course sexism is evil. Gen. 1:27 NIV So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. We, regardless of race or sex are image-bearers of God.

Unfortunately not all the conversation regarding these hot topics is healthy. In fact, when you throw in political aspirations and people who have other self-serving agendas, we can find ourselves taking steps backward. It is important that Christians stand for truth and demonstrate God’s love to all. As bad as these things are—and they have many derivatives—I want, today, to talk (frankly and briefly) about some other denigrated people, who don’t get as much press.

•There are orphans and kids needing foster care who need parents and families to do as God has done when he pursued & adopted us as his children. Most of us never consider what it must be like to not have someone to call mom or dad. We Christians can make a difference.

Because their lives matter to God.

Homelessness is an ongoing problem in our nation. You can’t drive to Turkey Creek or downtown without seeing homeless people. What isn’t as obvious is the brokenness and mental illness and addiction and abuse from which these people suffer. We support KARM. You can give… but you can also volunteer, serve meals, and help in many other ways.

Because their lives matter to God.

Elderly and disabled/handicapped/infirm— Our culture seems to discard the elderly. We who are healthy forget those who are disabled or sick. This category includes people all around us, and so many times they are overlooked. Who in your life needs help, encouragement, or just a friend? 

Because their lives matter to God.

Immigrants and refugees—Knoxville is a city that has been chosen by our government to receive refugees from war-torn parts of the world, and because of our universities and Oak Ridge, we attract people who legally are here from other parts of the world. We can welcome these people. We support KIN and Bridge, but more importantly, we want YOU to seek friendship with internationals. Most of the time they are eager for friendship. We have ESL and we need volunteers.

Because their lives matter to God.

Addicted people. There are people in this room who have overcome addictions by God’s help. I know many who are in process. The best hope people have is Christ. One thing we want to do is create a mentoring ministry to help people overcome. Addiction is a HUGE problem in the USA. If the church isn’t the answer, what is? I am praying that God will raise up some who will lead us in meeting this need.

Because their lives matter to God.

Victims of sex slavery- Y’all may know that I’m on the board of Street Hope. There is a real problem of especially girls pushed by pimps or sometimes family to have sex with men for drugs or money. The exploding porn industry is much behind it. I just read a 25 page report by Vanderbilt and government agencies that horrified me. There is so much pain, and we have so far to go. The church must respond to this evil, as we did in abolition.

Because their lives matter to God.

Unborn babies and women in crisis pregnancy- now back full circle to abortion. Let’s not forget our church's first partnership. Way back in 1996 at the height of the abortion crisis, we decided to be a part of the solution in a positive way and were a founding church that supported Hope Resource Center. Many of you are a part, and we need many more. Here in Knoxville, over half of the abortion clinics have shut down since HRC began. Our prayer is that more unexpectant moms will have their babies, and that God will continue to redeem these women who find themselves in bad circumstances. This happens often at HRC. You can be a part.

Because their lives matter to God.

All these lives are precious to God.

So what can you do?

1. Repent from diminishing people.
That means stop seeing them as less-than-precious. Search your heart regarding your own attitude toward others. Do you consider some as less-worthy to be image-bearers? Turn from sin to surrender. See things God’s way, embrace it, and adopt it as your own. Get off the intellectual bench and recognize all lives are precious to God and change your attitude wherever need be. Go through the categories: Do I have racist feelings? Do I have sexist feelings? Do I feel ill-will toward homeless, immigrants, addicts? Or how about this: Do I consider a gay man’s life any less important to God? Do I harbor hatred toward a transgendered person?

Here's the minefield we're in: many voices (even some "Christian" ones) are urging us to compromise. On the one hand we are urged to soften the Bible's definition of sin. We must not. On the other hand (and just as harmfully) we are urged to shrink from the Bible's call to love. We must not. On either side of Christ's hard way there are ditches of sinful compromise. What it means to be Christian is to be like Christ. Regardless of what culture says, be it the media or Hollywood or political pundits or someone at work or your parents or neighbors or anyone else. We obey Christ. That means truth AND love.

Check this out: In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul tells us that God gave leaders to equip you for ministry and to build up the church...
14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Speaking the truth in love. 

We do not compromise truth. Sin is sin. BUT WE ALSO DO NOT FAIL TO LOVE. If you claim to be a Christian, and there are people who you can’t love, you need to repent. 

John Barber this week reminded me of Cory Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who wrote The Hiding Place, who was sent along with her sister Betsie to a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews. After being cruelly treated by their captors, Betsie (who eventually died in the camp) made it a habit to pray for these inhuman guards who abused them and the other prisoners. Cory objected, but her sister reminded her that Christ said to pray for our enemies, and that if we look at them through Christ's eyes, we can love them.

That's what it means to be Christian.

2. Make a change in your mind to care. Do you feel indifference? I think that’s probably the more important question we should ask ourselves. Even if some of us do not have racist/sexist/condescending feelings for others. We’re so often indifferent. We’re so preoccupied with our own lives that we have no energy or concern for others. It’s time to look at people as Jesus did: with compassion. He looked at a sister who lost her brother and wept. He looked at a crowd stuck in sin and without leadership and wept. He had compassion on those who were lepers, Samaritans, gentiles, poor, blind, lame, hungry. But as Jesus demonstrated, our job doesn't end with just feeling compassion.

3. Pray. When you feel the darkness and hopelessness and anger and hurt (and you will if you change your mind from sin or indifference to surrender), you should pray. Make this an automatic response to the high blood pressure that compassionate people feel. It’s not a stress-management methodology. It’s not the least you can do. It’s the MOST you can do. Phil. 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything… Pray for those HARD to love. Pray that God will HELP you love. Ask God HOW you should show love.

4. Get in the game. Do something. Get uncomfortable. Talk with someone who’s not like you. Stop being indifferent and start loving people and showing it by your actions. Yes, you’re going to be misunderstood, so was Jesus. Yes, you’ll probably be hurt by some you try to love, so was Jesus.

If you remember earlier in Luke, a man asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. He said, love God and love your neighbor. Remember what followed? The man asked, “Well, just who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. In it, those religious Jews who knew better walked by the beaten man on the other side of the road, indifferent. They were content to let him die. But thankfully for the man, a Samaritan—a hated, half-breed, unclean heretic—saw the man, had compassion, and took a risk at great personal cost to care for him unconditionally. 

Jesus said, "You go, do likewise" (Luke 10:37).

You who know better—you Christians—don’t walk by on the other side of the road. The greatest witness of Christ and the reality of the Gospel is Christians who love with their actions.

Give toward impacting these problems. Your missions giving through Providence helps these ministries. But don’t stop there. Volunteer in these ministries.

And look for ways to be Christ to those image-bearers around you who are diminished by others.

Monday, January 16, 2017

First Loser

The annual Providence MANday Night Chili Cookoff has happened. We had about 40 contestants, and about 160 chili eaters (although the only ones that matter are the four judges). My chili was voted second place (first loser). But several dudes have asked me for the recipe, so here it is:

Chad's 2017 "Dark Horse, Runner-Up Chili"

(A "dark horse" is an unlikely winner. There's no horse meat in this chili. I really just wanted a title with the word "dark" in it because of my chili's color.)

• 6.3 lbs ground beef (Have the butcher grind the meat twice, preferably through the "fine" plate. In chili, I like the ground beef small rather than in big chunks.)
• 1 lb. Johnsonville ground Italian sausage (I work hard to get this small too)
• 1/2 tsp tiger seasoning
• 3 jars Tobasco chili starter (2 original medium, 1 spicy)
• 1 can Bush’s black beans
• 1 can red beans
• 2 cans Hanover dark red kidney beans
• 1 can Rotel (with fire-roasted tomatoes)
• 2 cubes Dorot (Trader Joe's) fresh-frozen crushed garlic
• 1 red onion diced
• ½ teaspoon onion powder
• 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 cup sherry cooking wine
• 4 heaping tbls light brown sugar
• 1/2 cup real maple syrup
• 1 tbls Texas Pete hot sauce
• 3 tsp kosher salt
• 2 tsp fresh coarse-ground black pepper
• a healthy dash cumin
• 3 tbls chili powder
• 2 tbls Sriracha hot sauce
• 2 bayleaves

• 10 green Serrano peppers, de-seeded and diced (use rubber gloves)

• 4 red sweet "Capperino" or "Cherry Hot" peppers (they're round, bright red, and about the size of a pingpong ball to a racquet ball) 
de-seeded and diced.

Season with Tiger Seasoning and brown the ground beef & sausage and drain the fat. While browning, I mix with a potato smasher to keep the meat from being chunky. Add all other ingredients (except the peppers and onion). Then dice the onion, and de-seed and dice the peppers. Sauté them in extra virgin olive oil (see picture) until slightly browned/blackened. Add to the rest of the chili.

Add water as needed, bring to a boil, then turn low and simmer for 5 hours (it’s good after just two hours, but if you can simmer longer, it’s worth the time!).

My chili is meaty, sweet, has a little kick, and is full of flavor! Mmmm. I want some now! 

The MANday Night Chili Cookoff is so much fun. It's how we begin each year with a bang. The guys participate in good-humored trash talk and someone goes home with the prize—several coupons for area restaurants, and the coveted trophy (made mostly of car parts). It's so awesome.

Here's this year's winner, Greg Ogle (left), who is now Providence royalty! Congrats! There were many great contestants this year, as always. Some of the guys go to incredible lengths to make grow their peppers, smoke their meat (meats of all kinds, by the way), and cook culinary masterpieces. I think I just got lucky this year!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rich Toward God

In our culture financial matters can be a real source of stress—not that we worry where our next meal will come from like much of the rest of the world. Our stress is different. We are constantly barraged with images of material things that promise to make our lives better—commercials on TV, ads while we’re on the internet—I can’t check my email without getting ads from four different companies who know my buying habits and have highly paid ad agencies that target me with attractive pictures of stuff they know I want! That's not to mention billboards as I drive, a third of the space in the newspapers and magazines I read, a third of the time spent listening to the radio, and ads I'm forced to see on apps on my phone! From every direction there are constant invitations to buy nicer clothes, new cars, bigger homes, better services, and cooler toys. These just feed the always-present temptation to look at the people around me and see those who "live better” than I do. It’s attractive!

Some people can even become sad, bitter, or obsessed about it!

Here in West Knoxville it’s a real temptation. I remember moving to Farragut when I was about to enter middle school from Jefferson City. I felt like such a redneck slob compared to my stylish friends with their name brand clothes. When I saw their big houses on the lake and ski boats I felt cheated, even though my family's new house was nicer than any house any of my ancestors had probably ever had—along with 90% of the rest of the world!

There are other related pressures, of course. Like the social pressure to make lots of money. Most of us were encouraged to get a degree in order to have a good paying job. We’re told we’re wise to save for downpayment on house, save for kids’ college, put back money for retirement and invest. These are all good things, and the Bible encourages us to be wise with our money. It’s interesting that despite these pressures so few people do so and choose stress and struggle because they just can’t live within their means. Others, however, become consumed with financial gain and security above all other things.

Are you one of these? If you are honest about the things that stress you the most, are financial-related things at the top of the list?

There's a passage in the Bible for you. Luke 12:

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

This happens right after Jesus had confronted the Pharisees with their hypocrisy and a statement by Luke that Jesus was wildly popular with the people. We do know that in that culture, a younger brother would have been subject to the decision of the oldest regarding what he would get from his father’s estate if his dad died before making a will known.

We should be able to understand this guy's problem. It’s crazy how many families position and connive and then feel bitterness toward one another after a parent dies. I know of families whose members won’t even speak to each other because of it!

This guy is trying to get Jesus, this well known prophet and rabbi, to weigh in and give him some leverage. He feels he’s being treated unfairly. It may be all he can think about and it’s consuming him. Isn’t it funny how we can obsess!? “This wrong I’m dealing with is all that matters. Because I’M all that matters. I’m going to go to Jesus about this.” So he did. He fought through the crowd and shouted his plea fully expecting Jesus to take his side.

14But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Jesus doesn’t get involved! Of course, it’s complete pettiness to him. He didn’t come to settle disputes among selfish children. But he saw in this an opportunity to go to the heart of the problem behind the dispute.

15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness [greed], for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Hey Americans! Land of Malcolm Forbes who said, “He who dies with the most toys, wins” did you read that? Look at verse 15 again. Read it slowly. It’s easy to be focused on the wrong things: ... things. When you desire things, you’re missing real life (according to Jesus). You must always be on your guard about this—because it’s so easy to desire things. Is this something we need to hear? Oh yes. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor—we are all susceptible to covetousness or greed. It’s the American way. It's good capitalism.

The word “covetousness” in v. 15 is rendered in some translations as “greed.” Which is it? The English word, "covetousness" seems to convey wanting something someone else has, while "greed" seems to picture someone who already has more than they need and yet still want even more. We tend to slough this off, because these words don't describe us.

The Greek word is pleonexia, that actually comes from two Greek words: pleion, which means "more, greater, better; and echō, which means "I have, I hold." So it is literally “the desire to have or possess more or better” material things. Jesus is using the opportunity of this dispute over an inheritance to go to the heart—that guy’s AND ours! We all desire more and better possessions. We all tend to want more stuff. About this, Jesus said, “Beware! If your life is about getting more stuff, you’ll miss real life!”

16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’

What’s wrong with this? Sounds like he’s a pretty good entrepreneur and farmer who is wisely taking advantage of a bountiful harvest to prepare for retirement. Sounds like a shrewd capitalist who is willing to take risks. A good American! Admirable, right? I think everyone in the crowd is thinking similar thoughts. Being successful in business was and is a hallmark of Jewish culture! But if you pay attention to Jesus’ story you’ll see that for this guy, it’s all about “me.” Thirteen times he refers to himself ("I, my, myself," and other words about himself.)

What does Jesus say God's response was to his plans?

20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This passage is not a condemnation against planning for retirement. It is not a slam toward all rich people. It is definitely not a diatribe against working hard and being a wise manager or making a profit.

Here’s what it is: as we saw with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, it’s a condemnation of the wrong motives. As Jesus always does, he goes to the heart: WHY do we want more stuff and wealth? Because we love ourselves and we think that's how we make ourselves happy. But these things—even if we get them—do not satisfy. Jesus says to be rich toward God. How can we be rich toward God?

1. Remain “on guard,” the real enemy is “covetousness.” Pleonexia = the desire to have more stuff. Malcolm Forbes was wrong: “He who dies with the most toys…DIES."

We let down our guard in so many ways: When we spend time looking at stuff we want to buy on the internet. When we get upset about our worldly things being broken or stolen. When we worry about getting our share of an inheritance. When we take advantage of someone to make more profit. When we find our happiness in the size of our paycheck. When we go into debt for stuff we can’t afford. When we admire the rich and want to be like them. In all those ways and more, we’re showing what our primary purpose in life is. And this is what we communicate to our kids! "Get good grades so you can get a well-paying job. Marry someone rich. Be smart with your money. Because wealth equals happiness."

I must be honest and confess my constant battle with the desire for more stuff. My eyes seem to always be looking for things others have that are better than mine. Nicer houses in nicer places (on the lake or a mountaintop, at the beach, etc.), nicer cars, stylish clothes, better vacations, more toys (guns, motorcycles, boats, campers, tools, 4-wheelers, whatever!), great electronics (iPhones, TVs, computers, watches, sound systems, musical instruments), and enough money to furnish the house, maintain the stuff, and pay all the bills with some to spare. I bet I’m not alone. No matter how wealthy you are, I bet you struggle with the same thing.

I’ve never been wealthy, but I’ve known many wealthy people—some closely. There’s always that next level of wealth or luxury that’s greater than where you are. Whether you live in a trailer park or own a mansion on the lake, you can’t help but be aware of and admire or envy that person who has more than you. They seem a little happier. It’s such a temptation.

And it’s an illusion.

An illusion that our enemy uses so effectively to draw our attention away from what really satisfies—what is truly beautiful, lasting, and valuable. We are introduced to this drug of covetousness at an early age—it grows naturally from our sinful, selfish souls. We see someone who has something we don’t and we long for it. And then we might experience a buzz when we get that thing for a Christmas or birthday present. But it never lives up to the expectation. It breaks, or we get bored with it. Something else comes along that garners our fancy and we now are fixated on it. Then the next thing, and the next. We need more money as our things increase. Styles change. Our houses grow in size and fill up. Even as we get older, most of us recognize the folly of this endless pursuit. That’s why our parents and grandparents tell us, “Don’t get me anything for Christmas.” And when we try to buy them something anyway, we can’t think of what to get because, “They have everything.” Yet they themselves oftentimes shower gifts on their grandchildren—like addicted drug pushers creating new junkies! Then when they die we fight over their stuff (that they could not take with them) and sell off the rest of it so that we can buy more stuff of our own. And one day we will die like them. And our kids will do the same with ours.

But the big, BIG deal at that point (when we die) will be clear. We will then know what all that stuff was really worth. Absolutely nothing. Worse, it may have been a HUGE distraction—a mirage—that kept us from seeing the really important things: That people are much more valuable than things, money, land, houses, experiences, and luxury. That helping people is much more satisfying than having their admiration. And most of all, that knowing God and making him known is infinitely more meaningful than pursuing wealth and stuff and temporary happiness—and ALL else IS temporary. The truth is all else usually does not result in happiness at all, despite it’s Siren song. It results in brokenness, emptiness, loneliness, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—usually veiled behind a mask of smiling respectability and style.

Jesus reveals the mirage and tells us about THE reality and calls us out of the addiction to stuff.

He calls us to surrender to him and find our joy in him. He calls us to recognize that all things are his and to rightly see ourselves as stewards rather than owners. He calls us to enjoy and manage what he has entrusted to us and use it, invest it, and give it for the sake of his glory. That is what he meant when he said to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

So, will you live in the illusion, in the inebriated state of covetousness and love of earth and pursue it’s riches? Or will you recognize the great lie that has led countless millions—rich and poor—to their deaths and eternal damnation. Will you continue pursuing that myth that you can find satisfaction in earthly stuff and wealth or will you wisely trust Christ’s words and choose him—surrender to him?

How can we be rich toward God?

2. Find your satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone. That is ultimate contentment.

Psalm 16:
2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
...4The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…
5The Lord is my chosen portion…
6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
...8I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken.
9Therefore my heart is glad,
and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
...11You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

If you desire him, all other things take care of themselves. But we desire stuff of earth. In aiming so low we rob ourselves of the real blessing.

In Philippians 4: Paul wrote, 11...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Are you tired of being subject to the rat race and ups-and-downs of finding your fulfillment in worldly things? Surrender and pursue him!


3. It’s ok to be rich! If your wealth is for God.

How can we be rich toward God? The word translated “toward” is “eis” and literally means “unto, for” and here (according to Thayers Greek Lexicon) “for the purpose and promotion of God’s glory.” What does that look like? Among other things:

•You recognize that everything is God’s and has been given to you by God.

•You ask: Does the house (or car, or lifestyle) I have or want bring glory to God?

•You ask: How can I give to most impact the world and make him famous?

God gives some people the ability to teach or sing and he wants to use these gifts for his glory. It is the same with wealth. God gives some (like the rich man in Jesus' parable) wealth they didn’t get on their own. He gives some the ability to make much money. He wants them to be generous. To bless others. To give for kingdom causes. Or is it about you?