September 26 – In Search of Gold

Psalm 62; Amos 6:8-14; Revelation 3:14-22

In the late 1500’s the English and the Spanish were competing for discoveries in the New World. The English, having seen the gold brought back by the Spanish from South America, headed towards the north seeking a Northwest Passage and gold ore. The English bark Gabriel, was the lead ship in those journeys. The first journey was cut short by storms, but the captain and crew loaded the boat with the ore they found. On the next expedition, the Gabriel and another ship traveled once to the New World once again and found more of the ore. Finally, the Gabriel took one more journey with fourteen other ships who returned to England triumphantly, filled with the ore. Except, the ore the ships brought back each time was iron pyrite, also known as “fool’s gold.” The company that sent the ships went broke trying to smelt the iron pyrite for the gold they thought it had.

The story of the Gabriel is instructive for American Christians today. We seek riches in our relationship with God. We are extremely wealthy, when compared to the rest of the world, and often look with pity on those “poor” Christians who are struggling, especially in areas of persecution. Too often, we assume an attitude of superiority because we not only have avoided persecution, but we have also become well off financially. Were someone from one of those countries where Christians are being persecuted to come to the US, we would listen to him politely, but reject any call he might make to get right with God. “How could things get any better?” we might ask ourselves. It is to people with this attitude that Jesus spoke. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3:17-18)

Our riches, our wealth, our position, and our power are all fool’s gold in the eyes of God. We don’t understand true wealth in God’s economy because we have never had to refine what we thought was our spiritual gold. We are very much in the position of the Church at Laodicea. They were wealthy. The Church had power and prestige. They were ignorant of their situation, though. Jesus called them to account on the issue of where their trust was. Did they trust in God or did they trust in their wealth and power? I think the same could be said of the Church in America today. Jesus is calling us out. Do we trust in God or do we trust in our wealth and power? We all know the Sunday School answer: of course we trust in God. Now, let’s ask the question again: do we trust in God or do we trust in our wealth and power? As the teacher in me would say, “Justify your answer.” Or in other words, how can you show that your trust is in God, rather than wealth or power?

I’m not sure how I would show that. I would hope it’s true that my trust is in God, not my wealth and power. I often wonder if I trust in God because He’s given me wealth and power, again, comparatively, and what I would do if that was taken away. I know that I trusted God before I had all the stuff I had now, but have I grow so attached to the “good stuff” of this world that I would be upset and lose my trust were that good stuff to disappear? As I ponder these questions, I think I understand even more why Jesus told the rich, young ruler to sell all that he had and give to the poor. I don’t know if I would do that myself of Jesus asked me to. That scares me….

Lord God, how easy it is to grow so attached to stuff and treasure it like gold, not realizing that it’s fool’s gold. Help me to “buy” gold refined in your fire so that I may stay true to You no matter what happens.

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September 25 – Clueless

Amos 6:1a 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

It’s hard to say this without sounding judgmental, but some people are just clueless. There, I’ve said it. You can now think quietly about some of those people in your life who really are clueless without being judgmental because I opened the door. Sometimes clueless people learn from their mistakes. I think of the defensive lineman from a professional football team who sacked the quarterback and did a wild victory dance. The game was out of reach. His team was losing. He injured himself and was out for the season. Last year, however, he didn’t make the same mistake. But, not everyone learns from their mistakes.

Jesus told the story of two guys. One was rich and lived in luxury. The other guy, Lazarus, was poor. He sat outside the gates of the rich guy. He was hoping for scraps that had fallen from the table of the rich guy. Someone would have had to sweep them up and throw them in the street for this poor guy to get them. His best friends were the dogs that licked his sores. In the story, both die. Now, here’s the twist to the ancient Jews. Lazarus gets to paradise; the rich guy goes to hell. Most of the Jews of that day believed that wealth was a sign of favor with God. I’m sure the rich guy thought so. He still expected privilege even in hell. “So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’” (Luke 16:24)

Apparently the rich guy knew Lazarus’s name. Perhaps he thought he was being magnanimous in the afterlife: he was going to promote Lazarus from beggar to slave. He was in discomfort and wanted Lazarus to care for him. He didn’t get it, did he? Later, he sought to promote Lazarus to messenger so that his brothers might turn from their evil ways. Jesus said that they wouldn’t repent even if someone came back from the dead. It is interesting that when the real Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, came back from the dead, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill him as well as Jesus. The rich guy, through all of this, didn’t get it. Perhaps he thought he was making a grand gesture by giving Lazarus a chance to be useful. The problem with the rich guy, though, is that he depended so much on his money, his wealth, that he didn’t care about others or else he saw them as tools. God does not look kindly on those who oppress the poor. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you must find ways to help the poor.

Sometimes we don’t get it. We don’t know how to help people that refuse to be helped in the way we want to help them. That’s hard to deal with. The key, though, is that we are still called to find ways to help – and that begins with a change in our attitude. Note that the rich man knew the name of Lazarus. Even though he knew that name, and knew that he sat outside the gate, he still let Lazarus live on his floor sweepings. What if he had sent a meal out to him? What if he had actually invited Lazarus to come in and eat? Ok, maybe he wouldn’t sit at the same table, but…wait…why not sit at the same table? The rich guy could have helped himself in this situation by recognizing that his life was not more important than anyone else’s. Note that in the story they both died. Maybe if he had recognized that Lazarus was a human being too, and not just a tool to be used to get water or warn his brothers, things would have been different. Today, it’s too easy to turn our backs on those who are poor. We don’t give money to those guys on the corner because they’ll use it on drugs. We can’t feed them because laws are set up to prevent it because…well, they just are. Today, and tomorrow, and each day hereafter, you will run into a “Lazarus.” How can you empower that person as a human being? How can you help that person regain their dignity?

Lord God, how easy is it to turn my face from those in need. I can blame their bad decisions, and be right sometimes. I can shake my head at their lack of initiative, and be right sometimes. But let me be right by looking at them as You do. Help me to empower them and treat them with dignity and Your love.

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September 24 – Build Relationships

Psalm 146; Proverbs 28:11-28; Luke 9:43b-48

It is interesting that the passages this week focused on caring for the poor, and looking out for the oppressed. It has been a difficult week for those who are truly seeking justice for all, especially those who are oppressed. In discussing the situation, a man that I looked up to in High School made a cogent point: “As painful as the shootings in Charlotte and Tulsa have been, I think there is great opportunity for social progress, if all sides can be brave enough to confront the issues.” There are some, perhaps, who hope that the troubles will all blow over, and “we” can go back to our corner of the world, “they” can go back to their corner of the world, and hopefully, we will stop meeting like this.

I could have left out those last two words. There are some who might think we would be better off if “we” could just stop meeting “them.” We retreat into our own worlds, our own safe spaces, where we can criticize “them” from afar and never deal with the real issues of life. For a committed Christian, though, there is no “them.” There is only “us.” We live in this world with all people. We live in this world with a bunch of other sinners for whom Jesus died. When part of our own body is being oppressed, Jesus calls on us to make contact and build fellowship. “Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.’” (Luke 9:48)

The old proverb was that children should be seen and not heard. While the saying popped up in the 15th century, apparently, it was definitely a practice in the days of Jesus. When disciples argued over who the greatest disciple was, Jesus made a point of saying that those who humble themselves to love the forgettable are greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He didn’t talk about separation, He talked about building relationships. In an election year where greatness is being tossed around as a catchy slogan, Jesus cuts through the verbal fog and reminds us that true greatness lies in building relationships with those who seem to be the outcasts in society – the oppressed. True greatness for a country never lies in a segmented society with people living comfortably in their own separate worlds failing to confront the issues of oppression. It is too easy to sit back in our comfortable houses living the life of ease and miss the truth that oppression exists in our world. We must confront the issues head on. We must tear down those walls that separate us and remember that each oppressed person is someone for whom Jesus died. There is no room for racism or oppression in the kingdom of God.

We fight oppression and racism by acknowledging its existence. We listen to people “on the other side” of the issue so that we can learn and understand their fears. Here’s a hint though – you don’t take away someone’s fear by telling them how unjustified it is. You calm fears by showing the love of Christ. You calm fears by respecting those who are unlike you and listening to them. You calm fears by building relationships with them. We end oppression by breaking down those barriers and becoming one with them. It begins with me. It begins as I remember to look at each person I meet, regardless of skin color, regardless of social position, and realize that Jesus died for them as well. It begins when I recognize that if God sees each person as a special, unique creation of His, I can do no less. I think that if Jesus were to walk this earth today and repeat this illustration with the children, He would choose a group of children that included Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Anglo children. If we truly seek to be great, we will welcome each child, and adult, in His name no matter what their color or social status.

Lord God, the troubles we are in right now are revealing either the beauty of loving You or the ugliness of fearful, bitter hearts in people. Help me to love and welcome others sincerely. May I welcome You by welcoming each person I see with Your grace and love.

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September 23 – Not What We Deserve

Psalm 146; Proverbs 28:3-10; Ephesians 2:1-10

Ah, the good life! A nice home, a loving spouse, 2.2 children, a good job, a fine car, the best food and drink…. don’t we all dream of something like that? As we walk this earth, we seek to fulfill that dream. Sometimes things don’t work out exactly right so we cut corners and maybe fudge a little on our taxes; the marriage has issues and we live at odds with our spouse or get a divorce; our kids aren’t honor roll at school and all the things we do to help them aren’t working; the car has issues; and the best food and drink leads to weight issues and problems with alcohol. What happened to our American Dream? Where did we go wrong?

We have gone wrong by placing this dream, which is probably a great dream to have, above our relationship with God. The cutting of the corners, the overindulgence of food, the marital issues all come about because we have become disobedient to the promptings of God in our life. This is what we call sin. The amazing thing about all of this, though, is that there is hope. This hope is found not in achieving our dreams – especially through ways that are contrary to God’s ways – but in the grace of God. When we turn back to God we don’t get what we deserve – we gain mercy and grace. “All of us also lived among them [those who are disobedient] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3-5)

People often talk about “karma” – a non-Christian term for universal justice. As Christians, our focus needs to be on “grace” not on getting what we deserve. As Christians we believe that no one has ever led a sinless life except for Jesus. As a result, we are all, by nature, deserving of God’s wrath. If “karma” ruled, we would all be in great trouble. As followers of Christ we believe in God’s grace. It is not the fact that I am a good person that allows me to be God’s child; it’s that I have accepted His grace because I was among the disobedient and could not expect anything but His wrath if judgment depended on how good I was. I was spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins, but I was resurrected by the grace and mercy of God. If there is anything that is good in me, it is because God’s grace and mercy is molding me to be like Christ.

The idea of God’s wrath is not a popular concept to throw around. If you want to make someone mad, just go up and tell them that they deserve God’s wrath. Unless they truly understand the grace of God, they will probably get upset that you tell them that. Our message to a world that deserves God’s wrath must be a message of reconciliation. There is hope in this life and the next because of God’s grace! There is a promise that we will not get what we deserve because God’s grace brings mercy and forgiveness when we are caught in our sins. When we are dead in our transgressions, God’s grace gives life. God’s grace sustains us and allows us to become more like Jesus every day. No matter what anyone’s past may be, there is hope for forgiveness for all who turn from their sins and accept God’s grace. God is so rich in mercy; He is passing it out prodigiously. Accept His mercy and grace and experience the most amazing life possible.

Lord God, I am so grateful for Your grace. I don’t deserve Your mercy; I deserve Your wrath. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross I can receive Your mercy and grace. Let me life show others the joy of Your grace and lead others to experience it also.

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September 22 – Calming the Tides

Psalm 146; Proverbs 22:2-16; 2 Corinthians 8:8-15

Ocean tides are interesting. Some places have two high tides and two low tides per day. Others have just one high and low tide per day. In some cases, the differences between the tides is amazing: an area that is full of water at high tide looks dry and barren at low tide. There is a constant ebb and flow of the tides however and high tide follows low tide which follows high tide. I can’t help but wonder if some of the businesses and some of the people living along the tidal area might wish that the tides could even out a bit. I also think that we should remember the tides as we think about the resources that God has entrusted us with.

You know how some people are – not us of course, but other people. They get a big paycheck and they make all kinds of commitments based on the size of that one large check. Then, the check gets down to normal or goes away. They are stuck with all kinds of bills and not enough income. There is stress and frustration. There are fights and conflicts. Paul reminds us of this ebb and flow when thinking of money and reminds us that we need to find ways to give and support others in those good times knowing that when bad times come, those we have helped will be able to help us. “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

One of the problems with giving to help others is that for some people they seem to be always giving something, for someone. Even when they do help others, after they give another person is waiting with their hand out. Often, people giving will feel like they are giving more to help others than they are to help their own family. Paul was talking to the Corinthians about a promised gift to help the Jerusalem Church which was experiencing great difficulties. Perhaps the Corinthians were balking at their promised gift. They had chariot payments to make. They had mouths to feed. Why should they help this unknown church? Perhaps they had helped the church previously and they were wondering how many times Paul would ask them to support the Jerusalem Church. Paul reminded them that there was a tide in the affairs of men: now they had plenty and could share, but there would be a time when they would be needy themselves. He called for equality among believers – an equality built on sacrifice for others and the attitude of recognizing that we are all called to help others.

I don’t believe that Paul talked about equality with the idea of telling Christians to get together every week, pool their paychecks, and then give each person an equal amount of money. I think his intent was that everyone was supposed to meet needs of others and have their own needs met. Whatever the word “equality” means in this verse, though, it comes from a relationship with Christ and a concern that the needs of His people are met. It is voluntary in that people decide to take action to care for those in need. It comes about because we recognize that we are all equal in the sight of God and we are called to care for each other. While many of us in America are enjoying great financial blessings because of the freedom we have in our country, the time will come when our financial world will explode. We prepare for that time not by hoarding for ourselves, but by finding ways to give and to help others in their need. True giving is not an act, it’s a way of life.

Lord God, You have blessed me with so many financial blessings. Remind me that You have blessed me so that I may bless others. Help me to stop looking at my own desires and care for the needs of others.

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September 21 – When Reconciliation is Needed

Psalm 12; Proverbs 21:10-16; Luke 20:45—21:4

Let me start out by saying that I completely disagree with Colin Kaepernick’s method of protesting. I believe that we should honor our country and our flag. I still tear up during the National Anthem when I think of my son, a veteran, and the sacrifices he made to serve our country. I do agree with my son though, in his personal belief that Mr. Kaepernick has the right to sit or kneel during the National Anthem. If we would look beyond this action and listen to his words, especially in the light of these last few days, he has made a serious statement that needs to be addressed. Poor people, usually people of color, do tend to be oppressed in our society.

Oh, we could argue about a lot of issues surrounding this. I do think America still does a better job of dealing with the poor than any other country. Mr. Kaepernick joined a religion that is much more oppressive. Etc. Etc. We have had all kinds of workshops and handwringing about what to do and we have publicly taken sides to the degree that if you say that there’s a problem, people think you hate the police and if you support the police then others think you hate black people. In all of this discussion and the recriminations flying back and forth rarely have we tried to see things through God’s point of view. Throughout history God has stood for justice. He gave us the Law, that we realize was ultimately to lead us to grace. At the same time, He has special compassion for the poor.  “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” (Psalm 12:5)

In all of the discussions regarding the recent police shootings we somehow have missed this understanding about God. In truth, this goes beyond the issue of poverty and has become an issue of power. While sometimes the use of force is necessary to save lives, we are seeing far too many instances of people in power abusing that power. Ultimately, this is a spiritual issue. We have become a nation that sees everything in either blue or black, and we have forgotten the need to see red. The blood of Jesus was shed to bring forgiveness for sins. As followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of this grace to bring reconciliation to our world. Rather than dismissing the Colin Kaepernick’s of this world as bad Americans, those of us who follow Christ need to remember that God cares for the poor, the needy, the powerless and recognize that whether we think their concerns are valid or not, we need to find a way to bring reconciliation. We need to stop shouting at each other, and listen to each other.

The process of reconciliation is never easy. The reconciliation that is needed in America today is going to be especially difficult. That being said, our political system and our society have the ability to change when we see wrong. It is at this point, though, that Christians need to take the leadership and bring the grace that leads to reconciliation. We need to forgive the sins of the past and move towards a future where we treat all people as God would treat them. We need to listen to complaints and grievances and deal with them as God would – with grace. As followers of the Christ who dealt compassionately with the un-powerful, we are not called to criticize, condemn, or accuse in a divided world; we are called to bring grace and reconciliation to all who are hurting and afraid in troubled times.

Lord, we live in troubled times. We see many in poverty who seem to be hurting themselves. Give us Your grace to love them. We see many in power who abuse that power. Give us the grace to love them also. Make us agents of reconciliation who bring peace to a troubled world.

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September 20 – Knowing

Psalm 12; Proverbs 17:1-5; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

I have been a Cubs fan for over 50 years. Some of my first memories were coming home from school to watch the Cubs finish playing a game. After all that frustration, this year has been fun, so far. I had the chance to read an article about the architect of the Cubs team, Theo Epstein. In the description of Epstein the article says that, among other things, he can talk Nantucket real estate with millionaires, yachts with billionaires, and reality shows with interns. He not only knows how to connect with people, he enjoys it.

Paul had this way of relating to people also. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

As a Cubs fan, I have been waiting for a World Series victory all my life and so I enjoy reading about Theo Epstein’s journey. At the same time, though, I am under no illusions that it must happen. Many of my friends tease me noting that a Cubs World Series appearance itself might be a sign of the apocalypse. They may be right! If so, I have to ask myself which is more important: A Cubs victory in the World Series or the Second Coming of Jesus? Many would question my credentials as a true Cubs fan for saying this, but I’d give up seeing the Cubs win the World Series if it meant that Jesus was returning. That being said, what becomes important in life? Paul puts it to a tee: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Obviously Paul realized that salvation comes through Jesus Christ; the key here is to realize that Paul’s agenda was to share the gospel but his method depended on the person he is with. He would establish and build relationships with others and show them how Jesus could meet their deepest need or calm their greatest fear.

If I know what I’m going to tell a person word for word about Jesus before I even meet them, I am missing out. I am missing out on getting to know them; I am missing out on building a relationship with them; I am missing out on the opportunity to show them how Jesus can care for them at their level of need. Just as Paul became vulnerable with the people he came into contact with so that he could share in the joy of giving them the gospel, I need to be able to be vulnerable in developing relationships with others so that I can share in the gospel. Gone are the days that I can deliver a canned message of salvation and then react to a non-committal by congratulating myself that “he may not have gotten saved, but he sure got told.” Jesus reached out and met people at their point of need and I can do no less. I may not be able to talk Nantucket real estate, yachts, or even reality shows, but I can find ways to meet people at the point of their need so that I can share the gospel with them. Everyone has needs and desires. Deep down in their hearts, most people are searching for God. They may not realize it, but they are seeking significance that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The only way that I will be able to share the good news with them is if I get to know and build a relationship with them.

Lord, remind Remind me that even when everything seems ok, deep down, people are searching for You. Give me the wisdom to build strong relationships and share Your love with others.

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September 19 – Kind to the Poor

Psalm 12; Proverbs 14:12-31; Acts 4:1-12

One of the tensions that drives policies across the world is the tension between the rich and the poor. Economic systems and political parties vie to gain favor with all of the people by showing how they will care for the poor. In some cases, it seems like those who claim to be advocating for people who are poor end up with great wealth, while the lives of those who are poor tend to remain unchanged at best, or possibly worse off. The truth is that people who are poor tend to be exploited by any economic system and all political parties. As we prepare for elections again, it is easy to see how those who are poor are being exploited for votes.

Sometimes it is easy for those in the church to dismiss people in poverty. They quote the words of Jesus that we will always have the poor with us as justification to ignore those in poverty. Without getting into a discussion on the context of that statement, you have to ignore so much of God’s word to take that view, it isn’t funny. God reminds us again and again that we are called to care for those in need. For those who would ask, as Cain did, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” as a way to dodge responsibility, if you listen to God, the answer is “Yes, you are!” “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” (Proverbs 14:31)

It’s so easy to look at some people with contempt; especially if they seem to be locked into poverty. We wonder what they did wrong to get into a state of poverty. We imagine what their sins might be that caused their situation. In some cases, we may even be right about the causes of their poverty and why they don’t work their way out of poverty. In many countries that wouldn’t be possible, but in the United States it is. On the other hand, some might look at those in poverty with pity thinking they are locked in and that there’s no way out. They will give a couple of dollars to the guy on the street with a sign. They will seek ways to get the government to help them. Government programs abound and nothing changes. Poverty continues to exist. The number of people in poverty increases. Government grows in size. The rich get richer.

In so many instances of government programs, or people just handing out money, the end result is not that people in poverty get help; it’s that temporary suffering gets alleviated. When the temporary suffering is alleviated, it’s easy to seek relief the same way it came before and eventually temporary help becomes the permanent solution. The end result is that there is no escape from poverty. The key then, for the church and for followers of Christ, is to find a way to be kind to the needy by helping them find ways to get out of the situation of poverty and into a lifestyle of dependence only on God. We need to stop ministering to the poor in their condition, and seek ways to life them out of poverty. Today, look at those in poverty around you. Pray for them. If they need immediate assistance, find a way to help them without throwing money at the problem. Since no one solution fits the needs of all people in poverty, work with that person, find a support team, and develop a plan to help someone out of their poverty instead of supporting them in continuing their life of despair. One final thing to remember: many of those who are in financial poverty are often far more spiritually wealthy than you might imagine; seek their prayers and ideas instead of imposing your solution on them.

Lord God, there are so many people in poverty today. We could find many people to blame for this poverty, but we would rather find solutions. Give us wisdom. Help me to find one person that I can help as they seek to escape the poverty that has bound them. Help me show them how much You love them.

PS: one book that has shaped my outlook is the book When Helping Hurts I don’t get anything from posting that link, but it may help a good organization that is involved in helping get people out of poverty.

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September 18 – The Master

Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

You’ve probably seen a meme like this somewhere on social media. “My mind says that I want a firm body, but my eyes see those donuts.” We all would like to be nice, fit, and healthy but we keep running past donut shops or, in South Texas, taco stands and our will power fades. It’s amazing how often we have choices to make like that. We seem to want two contradictory things and we just can’t figure out why we can’t have both. Those two choices usually involve one thing that would universally be recognized as good and one thing that would cater towards a weakness. Unfortunately, if you are like me, indulging the weakness usually wins out.

I think of that as I look at many of the pastors who are making lots of money and indulging themselves with it. I doubt that any of them went into the ministry for the money. Here’s a hint for anyone exploring God’s call to ministry – don’t go into it for the money. While I am happy to see ministers gain success and recognition, I often wonder if it is at the expense of their call from God. As their preaching evolves, we no longer hear the prophetic call to be right with God; we hear many mixed messages. In church recently someone talked about one of those ministers and, in an attempt to compliment him, noted that he was a great motivational speaker. Let that sink in. Jesus talked about the problem when He reminded us that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

We take pride in our freedom as Americans, but ultimately, we have a master. Our master dominates our thoughts and gives us the motivation to be successful. What is it we really want out of life? Our determination to achieve success in that area is what masters us. If our goal is to accumulate material wealth, that is our master. If our goal is to be friends with everyone, that is our master. Our goals master our lives and when our goals become contradictory, we have problems. Everything but our most important goal falls by the wayside. Politicians love power and even though they may originally get elected for the right reasons, we soon see them compromising their beliefs to maintain the power they have achieved. Their ideals slip away. They may have intended to work for their beliefs, but the allure of power has swept them away. We like to call them hypocrites and complain. They aren’t being hypocritical so much as they are dancing to the beat of their new master.

The question for each of us though is who or what will be our master? Will we seek after God with all of our heart, or will we be changed to focus on something else. Jesus used money as an example of a master in conflict with God, but a lot of other things could be used as well: power, fame, success – you name it. Anything that conflicts with our relentless pursuit of God has become a new master. Jesus points out rightly that you can’t serve both masters. God will not take second place to any of the conflicting masters out there. What is it that motivates you? What is it that causes you to do the things that you do? Unless you are motivated to gain a deeper relationship with God and lead others to a deeper relationship with God, you are seeking to serve another master. Seek first the kingdom of God and you will experience true joy in life.

Lord God, how easily I drift away from total commitment to You. I seek what many would call the good life and do so at the expense of my relationship with You. Keep me on the right track. Keep my heart and my mind stayed on You and let my life reflect my total devotion to You as my master.

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September 17 – My Way

Psalm 113; Isaiah 5:8-23; Mark 12:41-44

The song “My Way” hit the charts in April of 1969 and stayed in the top 40 for 75 weeks, until September of 1971. Paul Anka wrote it specifically for Frank Sinatra whose beautiful voice made it an instant classic. The song tells the story of a person at the end of their career talking about all that happened and proudly proclaiming, “I did it my way.” When people think of Frank Sinatra, they think of this song. Interestingly enough, according to his daughter Tina, he grew to hate the song. She described his reaction by saying, “That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe. He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.” (according to a BBC article)

I think that song struck a chord with most people because we want to do things our own way. We don’t want other people, bosses, or the government telling us what to do and how to do it. We want to do things our own way. We’re stubborn like that, aren’t we? While there are a lot of good things to be said about having an independent spirit, we often take that same attitude with God. We want to do things our own way. We don’t even want to consider that God should have a say in our activities. Without a godly basis for what we do, we run into trouble. Isaiah listed a series of woes for the Israelites, the most famous of which is found in verse 5:20. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

The whole passage in Isaiah reeks with this attitude of a self-indulgent lifestyle that either leaves God out of consideration or sees anything related to Him as an inconvenience. People either have “no regard for the Lord” (12) or they view God as slowing them down (19). The passage finally climaxes in verse 20 with a terribly damning statement: people are calling evil good, and good evil. It is an accusation that flies through the air and slaps us in the face when we look at our society today. We are forced to look at all the woes in this passage and we see people using self-indulgence and wealth to isolate themselves back then, and look at our gated communities today. We see a couple of instances where that partying spirit leads to all kinds of issues with drinking and an inability to do what’s needed back then, and look at our society today, shaking our heads. We think ourselves clever because we think we know better than God. Imagine a society that looks at the principles of God in Scripture and calls followers of Christ evil for desiring to live by those principles. We are living that today.

The cure for these woes in Isaiah’s time was for people to repent and get right with God. The cure for our society today is much the same. We are to seek out the grace and mercy of God and get right with Him. That doesn’t happen when society does it though; that happens when individual people are transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ and start living His way because of His grace. We can’t judge society with condemning words, although I just did a bit of that as a wakeup call; we judge society by living lives devoted to following God and His ways. It is when our lives are at odds with the world, and people see that we have joy in Christ, that we draw people to God. It is when we love those who are calling us evil for following the good ways of God that we open doors of communication that may lead people to Christ. The song “My Way” was a hit for a long time and is still popular with people today because it strikes a chord in a defiant, rebellious populace. May our lives and our love lead people out of a self-serving and self-indulgent lifestyle into the loving arms of Christ.

Lord God, for too long I did it my way. I tried to ignore You. I tried to indulge my desires with no thoughts of others. Thank You for Your grace that forgave me. Let me show that grace to others.

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