Lilies, Anxiety, Provision, and Jesus, our Treasure- Luke 12:22-34, Genesis 3:19, 1 Peter 5:6-8

maslow's hierarchy

And he (Jesus) 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.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider 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! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider 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. But 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!  And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell 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. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” –Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

Worry is not just a plague of the modern age. It is part of the human condition that has been with us since the Fall, when God declared to Adam, By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”- Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

There is even a theory of a hierarchy of human needs, categorized from the most basic elements of physical survival to the elusive (and practically impossible) goal of “self actualization,” defined by psychologist Abraham Maslow back in the 1940s. While this hierarchy is useful for understanding human behavior, and to a degree helpful for us to use as a guideline to serve our neighbors in need, the reality is that God is our provider. All of the things we need for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being and health are given to us by the hand of God. We are dependent on Him for all things, as we are taught in the explanation of the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.- Martin Luther

It’s easy to tell ourselves, “don’t worry.” The apostle Peter tells us to “cast our anxieties on Jesus because He cares for us.” (1 Peter 5:6-8) We learn about God’s provision in the Creed and in the Catechism, yet we still worry. It might sound easy to cast our cares on Jesus, but in practice, it is far more of a struggle to put our worry and struggle to provide for ourselves and our loved ones aside and to trust God for His provision.  We should know better…but we don’t.  Doubt and fear have their ways of creeping into our thoughts, especially when we face adversity, or when we wonder where our next meal is coming from, or how we are going to pay our bills.

It’s easy to trust in ourselves and in our stuff- until the stuff runs out, or we are unable to provide for ourselves. The bottom line is that everything on this earth is finite.  Money, resources and physical strength are all limited.  Ultimately there will come a day for everyone when no matter what resources are available, this life will be over.  Solomon was said to be the most wealthy man who ever lived, but where is Solomon and his gold and silver and palaces now?  He didn’t get to take any of it with him.  When our lives on this earth end, where will our treasure be?

The kingdom of God is all around us. It’s not in its fullness here on earth, but we see and experience God’s kingdom in His creation, in the people around us, and in the work that we are called to do for each other.

Jesus teaches us to put our trust in Him. He will provide what we need- in the goodness of the harvest, through our vocations, and in serving each other.  The earth in its current form is not a permanent place for us, as we learn in the beloved 23rd Psalm- “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

We are in the valley of shadow during a good portion of our journey here on earth. Yet Jesus is with us, He comforts us, no matter what that valley of shadow brings. He brings us through whatever sorrow or trial we must endure-along with us.  He is not just observing our trials from afar, but He suffers with us, weeps with us, and celebrates with us.  In Him we have the strength to endure and to serve others along the way. As we live in and love His kingdom, we find that in Jesus, we have more than enough for our needs.

God clothes even the lilies with splendor. We can trust that He who created us will provide for us in this world and for forever. Jesus is indeed our eternal treasure!

 

July 3, 2018 Neither Poverty Nor Riches, but Somewhere in the Middle- Proverbs 30:7-9, 2 Corinthians 8:9

man walking on train rail

Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

When we pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we agree with and trust God for “daily bread-“ not because we doubt whether or not God provides for us, but so that we stand in agreement with God and that we know the One from whom our sustenance and life come.

Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. – Martin Luther, on the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

The world surrounds us with messages that implore us to buy more, to upgrade our technology, to be thinner, to be more beautiful, ad nauseam. Advertising teaches us dissatisfaction with what we have so that we will strive for more, bigger and better.  The urge to keep up with the Joneses is written deeply in American culture, as if somehow our value as people is validated by wearing the latest fashion or having the newest smartphone.

Contrast the wisdom of Agur (the writer of the above verses from Proverbs) as it was recorded in God’s word for our benefit. His prayer is more like: Keep us honest. Maintain us materially somewhere in the middle, neither rich nor poor, but having enough for our daily needs. Keep us from either trusting in our own abilities to the point where we fail to see our need for God and thank Him for everything; or from being so impoverished and desperate that we starve and must scrape or even steal to survive.

We are so conditioned to believe in our own ambition- or blame our failures on “bad luck” or our circumstances, but that’s not how God wants us to go about things. He calls us to rely on Him and know that our needs– though not necessarily our wants– will be met.

Agur’s wisdom in the Proverbs, Luther’s teaching on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the apostle Paul’s reminder in 2nd Corinthians that Jesus sacrificed everything specifically to save us from sin and death, are all contrary to the wisdom of the world.  Scripture doesn’t teach us about how to have the greatest life ever right now. God is not a vending machine, nor is He a celestial scorekeeper, looking for our every failure and flaw. In Scripture we learn about Jesus- what He has done to save us from sin and death.  Throughout Scripture we are pointed to Jesus and His love for us. We are reminded that in our baptism we have received the greatest, most lavish, most precious gift of all- the gift of eternal life with God forever.

Trusting in our own ability to achieve, earn and be self-reliant, and thinking we can do it all and don’t need God, and failing to trust God for our daily bread in difficult times are opposite sides of the same error. We need to trust God that He will give us what we need to live and thrive without leaning to one or the other extreme.

Jesus has already provided for us- forever. In our doubt we succumb to worry that our needs will not be met, and we get trapped in the pursuit of our own wants. May we trust Jesus that He will indeed provide our daily bread as we seek Him and His will for us, and trust Him that He cares for us and provides for us.

May 1, 2018- Consider the Lilies- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Exodus 16:4-5, Luke 12:22-34

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I (Solomon) said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (ESV)

King Solomon, David’s son, the wisest man to have ever lived except for Jesus, had the opportunity to experience everything this world has to offer. Unlike most of us, he had riches, endless opportunities for pleasure, and anything a person’s heart could desire.  Solomon, however, did not find fulfillment in all the things and experiences that he had.

Solomon writes at the end of his life as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, that pursuit of all of the riches and bounty of this world may seem exciting at first, but it ends up as vanity- a “chasing after wind.” The pursuits of pleasure, drunkenness and indulgence will also fail to fulfill us.  In some ways Solomon is speaking to us as a really good example of “what not to do.”  If anyone would have had the resources to buy his way happy, it would have been Solomon, but Solomon himself warns us that this simply is not possible.

When we derive our security and fulfillment from the possession of material things, more is never enough. We have no security and no fulfillment when we are constantly in fear of depletion or loss. The Ten Commandments warn us against worshiping things that aren’t God (Exodus 20:3-6) and against lusting after what other people have (Exodus 20:17.)  God knows we cannot find our fulfillment in the pursuit of stuff.

This isn’t to discount that we have very real concerns about how the bills are going to get paid and how everything that needs done is going to get done. God created us. God knows every one of our needs better than we do.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” so that we would rely upon God day to day for what we need.  We see this example when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and God provided them daily manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” Exodus 16:4-5 (ESV)

God who rained bread from heaven for His people will provide for us today, each day. Jesus reassures us of God’s provision:

And he (Jesus) 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.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider 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!  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?  Consider 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.  But 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! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.  For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell 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. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

God doesn’t need stuff. He does know what stuff we need every day, and what stuff those around us need as well.  As we pursue God and pray for His kingdom to come, maybe we need to look at stuff and our own livelihoods in a different way.

We trust that God will give us our daily bread. We don’t have to be anxious or afraid of not having enough, because everything we have comes from the hand of God. We pray not only for our daily bread, but also for the ability to share God’s abundance with those who are in need.

October 6, 2017 – Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, According to God’s Plan- Isaiah 26:4, Psalm 139:1-18

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Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26:4 (NRSV)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end__I am still with you.  Psalm 139:1-18 (NRSV)

This week we have been discussing the Sacrament of Baptism. God makes a covenant with us in our Baptism that is rather one sided.  It is all about what God does for us and how He comes to us. He chooses us and makes us His own.

While human beings have freedom to make choices- and probably because human beings have been given that freedom- God makes provision for us to restore us, to draw us to Him, to fulfill the purpose He created us for, even though He knows we will not always make the best choices.

In Baptism God affirms His role as our Creator, our Life-Giver, our Savior, and the Lover of our souls.

Have we ever taken time to meditate and pray upon the reality that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Hand of God, and that He always is in us, with us and surrounding us?

 

September 27, 2017- Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread- Matthew 6:11, 1 John 3:21-23

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Give us this day our daily bread. -Matthew 6:11 (NRSV)

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment; that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:21-23 (NRSV)

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer has to do with God’s provision for us. God always provides for us, otherwise we would not have the ability to take our next breath.  The purpose of praying for our daily provision from God is to underscore that we are connected to Him, and that we can trust Him to provide everything we need.

Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support, and although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. – from the Explanation of the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

God is a generous giver. He wants to give to us but often we hesitate to ask.  It is also true that He gives to us according to His will and not necessarily by what we think we want and need. Sometimes what we ask for is not the best thing for us.  When my son was 14 and going through a growth spurt he begged me for some outrageously hideous $100 skater pants.  He really wanted those pants, but he certainly didn’t need them, and I certainly wasn’t going to buy them.  He would have outgrown them in weeks, and he would have looked silly in them anyway. I said no- not because I wanted my son to go without clothes, but because I had better and more practical clothing options for him.

God as our heavenly Father is equipping us for eternal life, not just life here on this earth in these mortal bodies. God wants us to ask Him for everything and to come to Him with everything- but like a good parent He knows when to say “yes,” “no,” or “I have a better option for you.”

Perhaps as we pray it is best to leave our options open to God. He knows the desires of our hearts better than we do.  He knows what we need better than we do.

It is telling that Jesus instructs us to pray for “daily” bread.  Not bread for a week or a month or a lifetime, but daily bread. We are supposed to come to God with everything, trusting that He supplies our needs all the time, every day- not just on Sundays or in times of crisis.  It’s not possible to wear God out. He has the ability to take anything we have to throw at Him- our anger, our frustration, our needs, and our desires.  He wants us to bring it all to Him.

Sometimes we feel guilty about praying for ourselves and our own needs. But the act of praying for provision is much like the pre-flight instruction to parents to put the oxygen masks on themselves before attempting to put the masks on their children.  If we are not equipped ourselves, how can we be of service to others?  The key to putting this instruction in proper perspective is our motive in prayer.  Do we pray for ourselves simply so we can benefit ourselves, or do we pray for provision so that we can care for our families and serve our neighbors?  The more we pray the closer we get to the heart of God. Even if our prayers come from an imperfect motive, it is not about our prayers, but the One to whom we pray.  He uses our prayers to transform our motives and to renew our minds and hearts.

Have we brought our every need and heart’s desire- as well as our request for daily nourishment-to God in prayer today?

July 11, 2017 Hang in There – He Will Restore You- Psalm 23:1-3, 1 Kings 19:1-10, Hebrews 12:1-3

rest hereThe Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters,  He restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3 (NRSV)

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”  Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”  He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.  At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”- 1 Kings 19:1-10 (NRSV)

At the beginning of 1 Kings, Elijah had just been through an ordeal with Ahab, the evil king, Jezebel, his evil queen, and the prophets of Baal.  God had used Elijah for a mighty work, and at that point Elijah was quite worn out.  He feared for his life.  He was tired of running.  Elijah had come to the end of his own strength, which was why he was so stressed out, depleted, and desperate that he asked to die.

There are times when we can identify with Elijah in this text. We come to the end of our strength.  We are at points when we have done all we can do and the hits just keep coming. We may fear for our lives or for our livelihood, or for those of our family.  We cry out to God in desperation for relief, for an end to our weariness and suffering. God doesn’t just leave us hanging.  He provides for us and restores us.

When we are stressed or frustrated, suffering, or depleted, God says to us, “Take a break. Get some rest. Have a bite to eat. Let Me restore you and give you what you need to carry on.”

There are times, like Elijah, where we feel as if we are the only ones who are trying to do the right things and to live as Jesus followers. There are times when it seems as if life is one crisis and one meltdown after another.  It is in these times God reminds us through His Word, and through other believers that we are not alone.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)

There is a great cloud of witnesses around us- both living here on this earth, and those who have gone to the heavenly kingdom before us. Every believer eventually comes to the end of him or herself, and to the point of knowing it is Christ or nothing. In Him we have light, hope and peace. God does give us rest and He restores us.  Better yet, we aren’t in this alone.