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 wants 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 rich 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?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Mo and Me

Everyone needs down time. As I've mentioned before, I love rabbit hunting. For that reason, I look forward to November-February all year long. But there's a certain aspect of this sport that is especially fun for me.

God made human beings with a desire and responsibility to manage creation. Genesis 1:28 reads, "subdue [the world], and have dominion over...every living thing that moves on the earth.” Like God, in whose image we were made, we tend to have affection for certain "living things" over whom we have dominion. And for me, dogs occupy the top position among all others. They don't call them "man's best friend" for nothing. And the kind of dog I love the most? The lowly Beagle. They're full of energy, shed a crazy amount of hair, and bark extremely loud whenever someone comes to the door. If you don't train them well, they are quick to develop hard-to-break habits like getting in the trash, running away, and escaping all means of restraint. And they're not good guard dogs (beyond sounding the alarm). But amid all these less-than-favorable traits, they shine out with some extremely good ones. They're among the sweetest, funniest, and most fun little dogs ever (in my opinion). It's always time to love and play! And they are relentless hunters. That's what I love as much as anything. In the field, a good Beagle will exhaust themselves finding and pursuing rabbits.

After opening his present on
Christmas morning, Mo found
a private corner behind the
tree to enjoy his new bone.
Yes, he's wearing a sweater.
Our Beagle is named Mo. Dara wanted a Lemon Beagle for years before we finally gave in and got her one a little over three years ago. There are different definitions of a Lemon (we've always considered a bi-colored white-and-tan Beagle, a Lemon). They're not the most desired color combination for hard-core rabbit hunters, because hunters feel they're more camouflaged making them more likely to be mistaken for a rabbit and accidentally shot. Most hunters prefer tri-colors (black, white, and tan) that have a lot of black. Mo is also a small Beagle. Hunters usually like having both small and large ones in a pack. Mo got his name because he has white stripe, a mohawk, that runs down the center of his head and neck. Mo is short for mohawk. Of course Darla started calling him Mobley. Now in addition, he's called Moby, Mobsy, and "The Puppy" (as compared to Sparky the old dog). The latter moniker is fitting, as he, like most Beagles, is a perpetual puppy.

On Friday, Mo and I took Brian Havely hunting with us. I've had a hard time getting Mo around rabbits so far this year. Brian had found some grassy areas and power lines in the Cherokee National Forest near Tellico. We hunted several different places where there are fields and grassland where rabbits usually love to hang out. We saw two groups (flocks? gaggles? rafters? gangs? musters?) of turkeys, squirrels, and lots of deer and boar sign, but no rabbits. That's been the refrain so far this year. Darla always asks me when I get home if we got any rabbits. This year my reply has been, "No, but I sure had fun!" And it's true. There are few things more fun than hiking and seeing new land—with a real chance of shooting a rabbit—with my friend and my dog.

You can see Mo in the middle of this picture.

I always forget to take more pictures. It was beautiful. Especially as the snow began to move in to East Tennessee. And it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. A good day. Afterward, Mo and I chilled out on the couch, and Dara snuck this shot. In fact, Mo's here beside me now as I write. Beagles. Words do not suffice.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

What Jesus Hates Most

As I write, it just became 2017. It's New Year’s Day. Besides bowl games and hangovers, the most common ritual of this holiday is “making resolutions.”  A resolution is basically a vow to change in a specific way. Usually people resolve to stop or start doing something. Stop eating junk food. Stop drinking alcohol. Start working out. Start managing money better. Start having a daily quiet time. It’s a good custom! New starts—whether a new semester in school, moving to a new city, a new relationship, or a New Year—are all opportunities for us to consider the direction and/or habits of our lives and chart a course ahead. It’s good to evaluate and improve. I hope you’ll make meaningful resolutions! 

Question: have you kept the ones you made in previous years? I confess, some I haven’t, but many I have. The most successful are those I privately asked God to help me with and dedicated myself to him. The biggest failures are those I made for the wrong reasons—lose weight to impress people or rashly announce that I would run a marathon or something. Here’s what not to do: follow the crowd, seek others’ approval, do something for attention, or try to make yourself enviable in the eyes of others. It’s what is SO tempting in this Facebook/Twitter/Instagram era. But even before social media, it’s always been tempting to compare ourselves with others and seek to “one up” everyone else. What’s Jesus think about that? That’s what we see today. 
Jesus is headed to Jerusalem where he knows he’ll die, so he’s taken the gloves off. If your idea of Jesus is a soft, unoffensive, politically correct, nice guy, you’re in for a surprise. Luke 11: 37While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Ew, Jesus forgot to wash. Just an accident? “Oh, my bad, I guess I should, after hanging around crowds and shaking hands and such.” No, first, this isn’t washing for hygiene but is the Greek word, baptizein = “to dip or immerse” a ceremonial washing Pharisees practiced (as they did everything) to SHOW that they were serious about following all aspects of OT law—and more. Second, he didn’t forget. He deliberately didn’t do this hand-dip ceremony in order to pick a fight and make a point. Look: 39And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Whoa! There’s some nice dinner conversation! I’m sure THAT wasn’t awkward! What Jesus is saying here is this: Be sincere. Follow God from the heart. He sees the inside and the outside. If you just care about the outside—what people see—you are a fool, a hypocrite. What you should be most concerned about is the inside: your true self. That’s what really matters. Give God your motives—your heart—and your deeds will follow. If you’re clean on the inside, you’ll end up clean on the outside. 

Painting by Tintoretto, an Italian painter and a notable exponent
of the Renaissance.

We do this, don’t we? We care about what others see. Church can be a notorious place for this! Especially in the South! One of the things that disgusted me about some churches I’ve been in is the discrepancy between the way people act, talk, and look on Sunday mornings and the way they live the rest of the week! Another problem is that churches tend to want to “clean up” the outsides of people new to the faith. Yes, new believers are messy. They may say a cussword accidentally. They may not know what to wear (or NOT wear). I’ve been in churches that had unwritten codes of behavior. That’s one reason why we try to focus on the inside. Being real. Because Jesus hates hypocrisy. Are we perfect? No. I can speak for myself—I am far from it. Truth is, it’s a temptation for me to present a front that hides the truth. There are 7 things Jesus hates about hypocrisy that we see in Luke 11:37-12:3.  
1. Hypocrisy cares about the outside—what people see rather than what God sees. 
Jesus didn’t let up, in fact he starts using Old Testament prophet language—and in particular a word we don’t often use: Woe. He’s says, “Do you like the Old Testament? Let me speak your language.” 
42“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy? 2. It focuses on minor matters and forgets the major ones. Yes it is important to tithe—He makes that clear! But even more important is caring about those who are mistreated and overlooked. More important is loving others! These pharisees were going in their spice cabinets and measuring out a tenth of their cinnamon, oregano, cayenne; and gave it at the temple (because that looked super spiritual to all the important people), while treating less-important people with contempt—even cheating them! 
43Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy? 3. It desperately wants to promote self. This, too, is something we need to be aware of. We want to be seen as wealthy or cool or being in the in crowd. Jesus (obviously in Luke) cared about being with the nobodies! A pet-peeve of mine is Pastors who want to be called “Reverend” or “Doctor” or want a special parking place—the BEST place. There’s a church I know that has a young pastor with portraits of that pastor hung throughout the building. Is that like Christ? No. And the whole world knows it except him. I know pastors who at gatherings try to hobnob with the important/wealthy/famous people. That’s just vain. 
44Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” This is a funny idiom. Jews believe it ceremonially defiles a person who is in contact with a dead body. Of course, the Pharisees, as was their habit, took this OT guideline too far and said that even the graves were unclean and by touching them a person was unclean. Jesus uses this belief as an analogy: “You guys contaminate people who don’t even realize it!” 
What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy? 4. It is highly contaminating of others. Something I’ve noticed. When hypocrisy gets rooted in a church or a family or organization, it becomes a part of a culture that reproduces itself. I remember going to CN as a freshman and being shocked by the way the popular Christians who lived on my hall weren’t who they seemed to be in public. These were leaders, who spoke in chapel and could pray and sing so well. But when they were in the dorm they talked about girls and sex more than any locker room or construction site I’d been in! Some were as racist as anyone I’d ever known. They would lie, gamble, drink, and cuss with the best of ‘em. Don’t get me wrong. I’m only naming those things because they’d never do them around their parents or pastors. And they’d even preach against them! Problem is, I called them out on it (probably not with the right tone) and they didn’t like me because of it. As time went on, I noticed the younger guys started doing the same things. Hypocrisy is contagious! It can infect a church and a family! Those uninfected must beware lest they become unclean, too!
45One of the lawyers (yes, lawyers like today who prosecute or defend people in court—but these were more because their law was the Old Testament. Under Roman rule, Israel was still a theocracy. So these lawyers were very prestigious and educated in religion.) answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And Jesus’ reply is basically, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply…let me be more specific and inclusive, just so you won’t miss it. 46And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. These men, like our politicians (lawyers) added to the law even more regulations making it harder on people what was already not easy! What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy? 5. It makes following God a real burden. Hypocrisy loves legalism. Jesus continues: 47Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.49Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Whoa! Like the U.S. government in the 1960s that worked to subfert MLK Jr. but then established a holiday after his death, these lawyers raised money to honor the very prophets their ancestors killed! What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy6. It prentends to honor whom it really opposes. We do this, don't we? We say glowing things to important people we don't like because we don't want to be rude. We sometimes drop names of people we don't like because we don't want to be rude. Se sometimes drop names of popular people past and present because it makes us look better. Problem: those who do this to Jesus–who's MUCH MORE than a prophet–will pay for all of humanity's hypocrisies. Not just their generation, ours! Because only Jesus takes away sin. Reject him and you miss your chance of forgiveness and face judgment for sinning against an infinitely holy God. You reject the offer made available by Christ–the ultimate prophet, priest, and king–when he died on the cross in your place. That's not good.

 52Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” By “key of knowledge” he means their place as the doorkeepers to God’s word. They were the experts. They alone claimed to have a corner on the right interpretation. Problem is, they were wrong. Worse than anything, they were wrong about Jesus and missed him. And they caused others to also. What does Jesus hate about hypocrisy? 7. It makes dangerous doorkeepers out of fools. Application? We must be careful about who we allow to lead and who we listen to! Especially regarding spiritual things. Should you examine my teaching, my lifestyle, my family, my habits and judge whether I'm worthy to listen to? According to the Bible, Yes. And every other spiritual leader. Shouldn’t you be a part of a church with a plurality of leaders where accountability is institutionalized? Yes. Should we speak truth to those claiming to be spiritual leaders who refuse accountability and have questionable doctrine or practices? Yes. Should we root out hypocrites? Yes. Because the WORST hypocrites are those who claim to love and speak for God! The two local “ministers” who were caught trying to have sex with underaged girls. Ted Haggard, at the time President of National Association of Evangelicals, a few years ago admitted to buying meth and having a 3-yr affair with a gay prostitute. Oh, he’s pastoring again. More recently (last month) stories came out about Clayton Jennings, an up-and-coming evangelist/author/poet who has apparently had numerous accusers come forward. Of course, I could name many more. How does the world react? Here’s a quote from Jay Michaelson of The Daily Beast entitled, It’s A Sin: The Real Christian Preacher Sex Scandal Is How Many There Are. It begins: "Another week, another bumper crop of Christian sex scandals. And it's not going to stop any time soon. Exposing religious sexual hypocrisy is, as the cliché goes, like shooting fish in a barrel. ...Literally every day there's a new story of religious conservative leaders philandering, downloading illegal pornography, cruising for gay sex on the down low, or, by far worst of all, sexually abusing minors or other vulnerable people."
Of course he exaggerates—a little. What he doesn’t say is that sex isn’t the only thing. Financial impropriety, lying, dictatorial leadership, manipulation, dangerous heresies, plagiarism, and more are not uncommon. It makes me sick and it makes God angry. Jesus called out these religious leaders and he wants us to do the same. Yes, it goes against our feel-good culture. But ignoring it is killing us. And Christ hates it. When a pastor/preacher/spiritual leader has a moral failure or brings a scandal on himself, he should be removed from leadership. Period. Of course he can be restored in fellowship to the church and of course he can find God's forgiveness, but serving as a leader in Christ's church is a privilege not a right, and we can disqualify ourselves by (among other things) having sex outside our marriage or even simply losing our status of being "above reproach." We must start holding these leaders accountable or these incidences will continue unabated. 

 53As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. I have to think Jesus was ready for the challenge!
Luke 12:1In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, (here’s the conclusive statement:) “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 3Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
Did you catch that? Everything will one day be revealed. Scary, huh?

So what?
• Be real. That’s what God wants. That’s not an excuse to be proud about your shortcomings. No. That’s an invitation to live an honest life. When your spouse or kids point out something in your life that’s not Christlike, embrace it humbly and determine that you will change! Hypocrisy is living a lie. Pride is the root of hypocrisy! Confess when you mess up. It does not make you look smaller, it honors God and is admirable. And it pushes us toward holiness. I’ve had people in sm grps or MANday who confessed hiding a secret porn addiction—and the guilt was eating them up! They were free. The only thing worse than living in sin is living in sin secretly—because now you are a hypocrite. That’s misery. Start being real by confessing sin. To God, and then to someone who will pray for you. So be real. It's all going to be known one day anyway. Why not find freedom?

• Make wise resolutions. If you make a resolution this year, make it between you and God, not to impress others. Do it because you know It pleases God and makes you more like Christ. As you do this, others will see the results and God will be glorified, not you. Here’s the truth: If you aim for glorifying self, you will only find dissatisfaction and others will resent you. But if you aim for glorifying God, you will share in his glory.

• Remember Christ’s sacrifice for you. The Lord's supper is a vivid picture that Christ gave us to illustrate how he is the Lamb of God who shed his blood that we might live and how he is the UNleavened bread—NOT tainted by hypocrisy or sin—who was broken for us that we might have life. THAT's how we find forgiveness. Believe in him (if you have not) so that you may be made clean from the inside out.