In Greed We Trust

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:20-21

Jesus is in the middle of a sermon in Luke 12, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. The man says in verse thirteen, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus uses this particular question to address the heart attitude through the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Jesus knew that this family feud over inheritance was only a symptom of a greater problem, greed. Jesus tells him that the most important thing is not for him to solve his inheritance problem but that his heart be changed. But if we are honest, how often have we gone to God asking him to change our situation rather than asking him to change our heart? I would dare say that most of our prayers are that God would solve a problem in our lives. 

Then in verse fifteen Jesus uses the occasion as a “teachable moment” and says, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”  Proverbs 21:26 speaks to this very problem when it says, “Some people are always greedy for more, but the godly love to give!” The writer of Ecclesiastes says about the greedy (5:10), “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!.” But is that not exactly what we think? Greed tries to convince us that life does consist in what we own.

God has promised to take care of all our earthly needs, not all of our wants, but all our needs. In our culture we often confuse the two. Matthew 6:25-34 tells us, ‘‘That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?… “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is greed a problem? How have you seen examples of greed in your own life?
  2. Greed puts too much value in things that are temporary. Agree or disagree and why?
  3. Why might greed be harder to deal with as you get older?
  4. What is the solution to greed?

 What Do You Value?

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21

For the next few moments, I want you to imagine you are are sitting in a corporate meeting room. Your manager walks in, sits down, and places a large folder directly in front of you. She greets you and explains that she has an important project for you. She goes on to explain that if this project goes well, it will lead to bigger and better things for you in the company. She then walks over, sits next to you and looks you in the eye. You are getting a little uneasy. After a pause, she reveals to you that your next big project is you. She wants you to transform your life to the guidelines set in Romans 12: 1-2, Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 12:15. She pauses again and asks, “What is important to you? What do you really want to gain or accomplish in life? What do you think would really make you happy? What motivates you? What do you value most?

That would be some project. It is a project that most Christians have taken on in one time or another. If we can look at this hypothetical project through the lens of the future, try to think what your life is going to be like in ten years time, twenty years, and thirty years. Look at it from the perspective of eternity, and ask this question, “what is going to last?  What’s going to last ten years from now? Twenty years from now? For eternity? How much of what I’m doing right now is going to matter in 100 years?” The things that don’t matter, maybe I shouldn’t spend so much time on them. Maybe I shouldn’t spend any time on them. If you do that, the project, will you have a much greater chance of success. 1 John 2:17 says, “And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” What does John mean by “world”? He does not mean the physical world or the world of humanity; he means the values and priorities of a world hostile to God.

C. S. Lewis appropriately wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” He continued, “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Where is your focus? Where is your aim? As Hebrews 13:14 states, “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does your value system reflect that transformation that you are seeking? What things do you value the most in this season of your life?
  2. How do we focus on the future rather than the present?
  3. What and how is God calling you to transform in this season of your life?

The Call of Duty

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.”Deuteronomy 10:12. 

It is fairly easy for us as Christians today to lean toward the receiving end in our relationship with God. We reason that God loves us and will bless us and help us through life. But we should also recognize that there is a giving end as well.  In a quiet reflective time ask God: “Lord, what do you want from me?” Jesus put it plainly: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) And Luke 9:24 adds, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

The implication is clear – there will be sacrifices.  Doing the will of God will mean we have to count the cost. And that’s what we see everywhere we turn in the New Testament, following Jesus calls for sacrifice.  People left behind businesses, homes, families, wealth, position, status and power.  They sacrificed security, comfort and control in order to walk into a completely uncertain and unknown future.  

Look at Peter, Andrew James and John: The Bible says they left behind their boats which meant their livelihood and business. Following Jesus could not have been easy for them and again, they had no idea where they were going or what they were getting themselves in to. They didn’t know what the future held for Jesus or for them so part of the sacrifice was giving up control. Matthew was a tax collector which meant he had a lot of financial security. Matthew would have been comfortable because working for the Romans came with connections, status and power. But like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew was leaving behind a lot.  He was sacrificing a lot.

Following Jesus means sacrifice and so the question we have to ask ourselves is what have we sacrificed in order to follow Jesus?  What have we left behind in order to follow Jesus? When I asked myself that question this week and looked back at my own life, I realized that I’m not sure I have really sacrificed much or left much behind to follow Jesus.  I left a promising career to attend seminary. When I stepped out to become a pastor and came back to Panama City it was a step of faith but not into a completely unknown situation. So looking back I’m not sure I have had to sacrifice very much which makes we wonder if we make following Jesus too easy? Have I not pushed myself enough?  Have I not given enough?  Have I not stepped out in faith more? Have I not trusted God more in situations where he has been calling me to follow him?  The answer to all of those questions is probably yes and what it tells me is that I need to think about what God might be calling me to let go of so I can more faithfully follow him.  If at its core following Jesus calls for sacrifice, then I need to ask myself am I sacrificing and giving all that God is asking me to give?

Following Jesus is not like following someone on Twitter because at its very core it means leaving behind one way of life to live differently.  It means sacrificing some of those things the first followers of Jesus sacrificed like security, comfort, control, family, friends, finances and even our future.  What sacrifice will we make?  What sacrifice will you make?  What sacrifice will I make?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What sacrifices have you made in following Jesus?
  2. What sacrifice is God asking you to make today in order to follow Jesus?
  3. Christians around the world are sacrificing everything to follow Jesus.  Spend some time in prayer for those who are being persecuted and find ways to support them. 

Is Serving God A Sacrifice?

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2 Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”  Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.”  – Isaiah 6:1-4. 

A pile of dirty dishes looms in the kitchen. It’s your spouse’s night to wash, but you know he or she has had a long day so you grab a sponge and step up to the plates, literally and figuratively. It’s just one of the minor daily sacrifices you make in the name of love. Sacrifice is often necessary in relationships, but what about in serving God. 

Christians frequently talk about making sacrifices to serve God. A church employee remarks, “Secular salaries are twice as much, but I’m sacrificing to serve.” A successful pastor mentions that if he were in the business world he would be earning a six-digit salary, “But, God called me to the ministry so I’m happy to make the sacrifice.” A volunteer says, “Even though I am sacrificing a lot of time, it is worth it to do God’s will.” Is serving God a sacrifice? When thinking about this I was reminded of Isaiah 6 where Isaiah has an exhilarating, inexpressible and unforgettable encounter with God.

The great King Uzziah had died which was a definitive time in the history of Israel. King Uzziah’s reign was comparable to the glory days of Solomon. So what would the nation do now that their revered and respected king was dead. But here’s the scene that’s described in Isaiah 6. Isaiah walks into the temple very sad and very worried about the state of his nation, and maybe his personal safety as well. Or maybe he just felt the need to talk to God. The Bible doesn’t say this but I wonder if Isaiah was saying something most of us would say in times of crisis: “God, I need you. I’m just an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and I want to be able to continue to get up and go to work in the morning, to earn enough to take care of my family, and maybe have some fun and relaxation on the weekends. So I came in here God to talk to you about the death of the good king (or whatever is going on on our lives).” 

Suddenly God shows up… in person. Not in a still small voice. Not through an angel or another prophet. But in a mystical and powerful way, Isaiah finds God’s presence filling this gigantic temple. God is accompanied by very powerful angels. It’s such a powerful image to Isaiah that he just starts yelling, “It’s all over! I am doomed for I am a sinful man.” (Isaiah 6:5) !” Not because he isn’t glad to see God, but because when God actually shows up, He is so much more majestic and so much more wonderful than Isaiah has ever imagined, that he just realizes by comparison that he himself is just a speck of dust, and an unworthy one at that.

When God shows up, Isaiah suddenly realizes the larger scheme of things. Isaiah saw God’s glory, and that made him see his own finiteness. Isaiah heard God say what God is continually saying, “Who will go for me?” God called for a volunteer. And Isaiah volunteered. He said, “Here am I, send me!”

It is human nature to worry and focus on the wrong things, depending on the wrong resources and trusting in unreliable things. It is human nature to fret about sacrifices. But all that changes when we see God, when we come to grips with all His glory and grace, because then, no sacrifice will seem too great. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do we need to see God as Isaiah did to understand God’s glory?
  2. How should we view the sacrifices we make for others? For God?
  3. What can we do this week to make the glory of God more real in our lives? 

In The Soup

“Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”  Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” – Genesis 25:29-34. 

The Bible is full of interesting stories like the one in Genesis 25. It is hard to believe that Esau sold his birthright, something very valuable in Biblical times, for a bowl of soup. Not exactly a smart move then or now. Esau found himself in the position of thinking more about his immediate needs then about the bigger picture of his future. Before we judge too harshly it is well to remember that when the world seems to be falling down all around us, do we put our immediate problems and needs aside to focus primarily on the future?

We may not trade a bowl of soup for our future, but most people are guilty at one time or another of worrying about present needs rather than future circumstances. Have you pursued wealth and a career at the expense of family? Maybe your busy schedule has kept you from spending time with God in His Word each day. Some people have traded the well-being of their family for the satisfaction of meeting their needs today. Others sacrifice their health by consuming harmful or addictive substances, or even by overindulging in food. The list of ways we make ill-advised and shortsighted choices is too long to completely list here.

Some of the decisions we make today could rob us of the blessings God wants to give us. When you yield to temptation in a moment of weakness, you’re actually sacrificing your future for momentary pleasure. We can’t afford to live thoughtlessly, basing our decisions on immediate desires or feelings. Since the principle of sowing and reaping cannot be reversed, we need to carefully consider what we are planting. The harvest will come, and we’ll reap what we have sown. We will reap what we sow in health, in relationships, in finances, etc.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we risking our future in the desires for the present? Does our inability to make sacrifices today end up with us in the soup tomorrow? A wise person evaluates choices by looking ahead to see what negative consequences could follow the decision I am making today. Will my lack of sacrifice today trade immediate gains for something far more valuable in the future?  Don’t let “a bowl of soup” hinder the future God has for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your bowl of soup? Have you experienced decisions today impacting your future? What was the outcome?
  2. What can we do to be more prudent in the decisions we make today?
  3. What can we do this week to be more sensitive to making sacrifices for others?

A Living Sacrifice

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” – Romans 12:1.

Sacrifice has always been a running theme in superhero movies. It is common to see a superhero(s) willingly put their life in danger to protect others. Look at Man of Steel, where Superman sacrifices his freedom to protect the people he loves. Look at Thor, where the humbled hero shields his friends despite being powerless.

In the same way, Christians are called to sacrifice our dreams, our reputations, maybe even our lives for the sake of the Gospel. But what is sacrifice, and how can I know what God expects of me? 

Most of us who are followers of Jesus have said or prayed “God I want your will for my life and I will do what you call me to do” at some point in our walk with God. It may have been said in church, or in your quiet time or devotions. We may have sung the line from a worship song. We want to be the living sacrifice that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1. The challenge for most of us is how to move that statement past the rhetoric stage. Evangelist D.L. Moody once said that, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”     

So what does it mean to be a living sacrifice? What does a living sacrifice look like in the practical sense? A living sacrifice would require surrender; surrender of something we all prize—our bodies—for something that has a higher purpose—worshiping the God of all creation, who has given us this life to begin with. This sacrifice is a living one, not dead. That’s encouraging. Presenting our bodies does not imply some physical death or bodily punishment.

That means all of our body parts. For example, if our feet take us somewhere we should not be. Or our lips say things that hurt and harm others. Our eyes see things they should not see and our ears hear things we should not hear. And then there is our heart.  If our hearts are given to God as living sacrifices, then He is free to give us His love for people, and we’ll start to discover that we care about people we never had cared about before.

When we realize that our bodies are living sacrifices, then we are invited into a relationship with Jesus that allows Him to lead, direct, and even push us in a certain way. Our fears are now His to handle. Our possessions are now His to use. Our gifts and talents are His instruments. Today consider what it means to say to Jesus, “take my life, a living sacrifice  to you.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the most challenging idea of being a “living sacrifice”?
  2. What fears did you find that God now wants you to sacrifice?
  3. If you are able to sacrifice those fears, then what do you sense God will be calling you to do as His living sacrifice?

How To Be A Hero

“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” – Romans 15:1-2.

We have been talking about Biblical heroes the last few weeks. We have been looking at what they went through and what they had to give up. What would possess a person to stand up like that? The answer is – faith. They had a tremendous faith in God. They had a tremendous love for God. They were heroes in the true sense of the Word. 

I believe God is still using heroes today. I believe some of those heroes are you. And it all begins with sacrifice. Heroes make sacrifices. Moses gave up a comfortable life as a shepherd to lead a bunch of rebellious, grumpy people through the desert for forty years. Gideon left the safety of his hideout to face an army of 120,000 men with 300 men. Abraham left the home he grew up in to follow God to a new and strange place. Before God can use you – you have to sacrifice your will to do His. The very idea of a hero is to forget about self; surrender self; and ignore your desires for the good of others. God is calling you and me to be His heroes of today. 

There is something about sacrifices that celebrates what’s best in mankind. And according to the Bible, God wants us to live like that. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus told that to His disciples. If you really want to love your friends, you have to lay down your life for them. Then Jesus did just that for us. We need to remember that the best sacrifices are those done as an act of love. We make sacrifices for ourselves all the time, but the best sacrifices are ones done as an expression of our love for others. God wants us to experience the richness of living sacrificially. So I want to challenge you to examine your life in the way you live sacrificially for God and others.

Now I not saying it’s easy to sacrifice.  It’s hard to find enough time and resources to sacrifice. Sometimes we get angry when people don’t acknowledge all that we do or when we are not recognized for our efforts. Then we think to ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” We do this because sacrifice always brings life.

 We are heroes when we obey God in working hard, loving our wife or husband or feeding our children. The world may look at these tasks as mundane and meaningless, but God sees them as honorable tasks because He told us to perform them and He is honored in our obedience.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your first memory of witnessing a true act of self-sacrifice?
  2. What are some ways you avoid self-sacrifice?
  3. What can we do this week to make sacrifice a more practical part of our lives?

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”Luke 10:25-27. 

Several verses before the parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25 tells us, “One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”  We are told this man is an expert in religious law. And despite how this and other religious leaders and scholars come across in the Bible, there is nothing wrong with knowledge. But knowledge is not the end game. Knowledge is learned; wisdom is given. Knowledge comes by looking around; wisdom comes by looking up. Knowledge comes from study; wisdom is the way to apply your knowledge. You see, a man can have knowledge, but to understand and to apply—he needs wisdom. 

In the good Samaritan parable we see both theory and the practical application of theory. We have to be careful that Biblical study is not just theory and detached from real life as seemed to be the case with the lawyer. Jesus would not allow him to deal with the truth of God’s Word in a test tube. Jesus would not define the term “neighbor” in scholastic terms, but defined it by telling a story. Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves whether or not we are good neighbors to those in need. God does not want us to give Him a textbook definition of loving our neighbor; He wants us to demonstrate love for our neighbor in the real world, by showing compassion to one in need, as was the case with the good Samaritan.

Application of our knowledge is so important. If we don’t apply it, the Bible becomes nothing more than an impractical collection of old manuscripts. That’s why Paul says, “Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9).

The first step toward applying God’s Word in our lives is reading it. Our goal in reading is to get to know God, to learn His ways, and to understand His purpose for this world and for us individually. In reading the Bible, we learn about God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, His plan of redemption, His promises, and His character. We see what the Christian life looks like. The knowledge we gain from Scripture serves as an invaluable foundation for applying the Bible’s principles to our life. 

So let’s apply what we know in loving our neighbors as ourselves and make compassion a way of life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the parable of the good Samaritan tell us about how to love your neighbor?
  2. Some say the opposite of love is “indifference” instead of “hate.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  3. What’s one change you can make in your life to put more loving your neighbor into action?

No Stranger To Love

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” – Hebrews 13:2.

The parable of the good Samaritan is more than a feel good story or a passage of scripture to reflect on from time to time. It clarifies how we should treat those we meet in life’s journey, illustrates how we should deal with those who challenge us and defines who we should view as our neighbors. There should be nobody that is a stranger to compassion, help and love.

It could be a person you meet on the street, or somebody that just moved in on your block. It could be a family vacationing for a week, or a person from another country that has just moved to Florida. It could be somebody who has no use for Christianity or it could be somebody who is a complete stranger to God’s love and grace. It could be a young couple who wears different clothes and speaks in a different way than you do. But they all have something in common: they all could be our neighbors. 

The parable of the good Samaritan cautions us against labeling or arbitrarily deciding who is our neighbor. By all rights, the Samaritan is the last of three that should have helped the wounded person, yet he did. Jesus tells the lawyer and us to “go and do the same.” Be a neighbor to those you see differently, even when they are different from ourselves; even when we have to face our prejudices, even when they are difficult people to treat with compassion, and even when they are strangers and outsiders. When the Bible tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, it does not mean only those in our inner circle of friends and relatives. God expects us to treat everyone with love, respect, tolerance and fairness. And sometime that can be very difficult.

Difficult or not we are commanded to love neighbors as ourselves which means coming to their aid when they are in need. More generally, it means having a loving attitude towards them, overcoming the prejudices held against them, taking the initiative in making contact, as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman, so as to break through any walls between us. Loving others as Jesus did with the Samaritan who was the only one of ten healed lepers to show his gratitude (Luke 17:11-19). 

So here is the challenge. How big is your circle of neighbors?  Is it made up of a few close friends and a few additional acquaintances? I want to challenge each of you to broaden your definition of a neighbor, and what we can do to help. Because somewhere out there is a neighbor who needs what you have. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think of a time when you have been welcomed. Where were you? What did you feel and why? Who contributed to your experience?
  2. Think of a time when you have not been welcomed or felt like you did not belong. Where were you? What did you feel and why? Who contributed to your experience?
  3. What steps could you take to find more opportunities to hear the voices of the “neighbors” within your community?
  4. What practical steps could you take to serve our neighbors in your community?

The Power Of Compassion

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” – Luke 10:36-37. 

The story the good Samaritan is one of the parables of Jesus. He tells it in response to a question from a lawyer, who asks him “who is my neighbor?” The story concerns a traveller on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, who is attacked, robbed and left half-dead by the roadside. Two other travelers pass by on the other side, but a man from Samaria decides to stop and show compassion towards the man, who had been attacked. He takes him to a safe place and provides for his recovery. The good Samaritan didn’t just do something; he felt something: “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” The end of the parable is a command to extend real compassion in the way the Samaritan did: “now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37). 

So our mission is to go, and be like the good Samaritan. Go the extra mile. Don’t be so busy that we lose sight of people all around us. Take a look around. Beaten, bloodied, and bruised people aren’t hard to find. Maybe not in a literal sense. But children are hungry and living in poverty. Homeless people are all around us. So are people who lost their jobs and have basic needs. These are the people that need a good Samaritan and compassion.

Real compassion makes it more personal. Real compassion leads to involvement. It leads to commitment. Compassion does not allow us to to watch from a distance. Compassion makes it difficult to watch and wait. You want to help, you want to do something. When we are hurting when we face trias of life we want someone to walk beside us, share our burden, and say, “I love you. Let me help.” This is what love and compassion does.   

The ministry that cares for children in need all over the world is called Compassion International for good reason. It’s a reminder that we are called to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32), just as God has been kind and compassionate to us. Psalm 116:5 says, ” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”  

As Christians, we can’t do everything. But we can do something. We can help, give, love, encourage, pray, etc. Even a small thing that can make a real difference in somebody’s life. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it easier to be compassionate to A) a friend, B) a stranger or a neutral acquaintance or C) an enemy? How do you feel about being compassionate to a person intent on doing harm to you? 
  2. In what situations is it easy to be compassionate? When is it difficult? Why?
  3. What can we do this week to be more compassionate?