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!

 

August 30, 2018- Pray for Wisdom and Repentance, and Trust God

 

apostle jamesCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 (ESV)

Sometimes the Book of James gets a bad rap because it challenges us to put the rubber to the road. James is so passionate about the actions that are the result of faith because he’s talking to early Christians who are going through all kinds of trials and persecution.

While at first glance it may seem he is emphasizing the importance of our behavior and our works, James really is telling us that our faith, which is a gift of God, is what gives us the ability to overcome and grow from trials.  We trust that God will get us through, that God will give us the wisdom and the strength to endure.

Godly wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit is available to us for the asking. There is precedent for believers to ask God for wisdom.  Solomon’s prayer before ascending his father David’s throne was a prayer for wisdom- wisdom rather than wealth or long life or earthly power- and God granted it to him.

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel. 2 Chronicles 1:7-13 (ESV)

The challenge of applying the wisdom God grants us is found in the paradox we all live  under. The brokenness and imperfection of this world is due to the effects of the Fall. In this world we still live under the curse of the garden.  Our suffering and our failures are magnified by the result of sin, both the collective sins of humanity and the individual sins we commit often without even realizing it.

Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived save for Jesus, but Solomon didn’t always apply the wisdom he was given.  In Solomon’s later years he fell into the worship of his foreign wives’ idols, which led to the division and disruption of the kingdom of Israel after his death.

Jesus has broken the curse of the garden.  Jesus walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He knows the way through them. We share in His death in this world, but we also will share in His resurrection.  We can trust Him for the wisdom and strength we need in this life, just as His earthly brother, the apostle James, teaches 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.

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday-Remember God NOW- Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, Matthew 12:43-45

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Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 (NIV)

Today Lent begins. Traditionally Lent is a season of examination, repentance, sacrifice, and getting our priorities straight. If we accept the challenge, Lent can be a time of great spiritual growth for us. This Lent begins a journey- a journey with Jesus to the Cross.

It is interesting that Solomon, the Teacher, implores us to remember God NOW. Surrendering to God and getting closer to Him is not something to be checked off the bucket list at the last minute, but something to do NOW, before the bucket list comes into play.

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect not only on our mortality and our sins and all the ways we fall short of God’s expectations for us, but it is also a time to reflect on how we “do life.” Yes, we should confess and repent (repent means: to turn away from) of our sins.  As we reflect upon our sins and repent, we should also be mindful that turning from sin and those things that fail to glorify God has another essential component.

When we give up something harmful, what beneficial, God-honoring thing do we take up?  There is a great deal of truth to Grandma’s old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”  If we aren’t intentionally pursuing the things that God intends for us, we will occupy ourselves with any old thing, and given human nature, many of those idle things do not bring glory to God.

Jesus put it this way: “When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn’t find anyone, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my old haunt.’ On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he’d never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

“That’s what this generation is like: You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren’t hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in.” Matthew 12:43-45 (MSG)

There’s no sense in cleaning house and cleaning up our lives unless we surrender our lives to God to put them to good use. The discipline of surrender is simply inviting Jesus to clean us up, and then inviting Him to move on in.  He’s the one at work here, not us. Grace, love, and joy happen when we let go and let Him in. He actively brings about God’s kingdom through us here on earth.

How are we responding to the grace of God NOW? Are we honestly praying the most difficult petition of the Lord’s Prayer- “Thy will be done?”  Are we listening to the Holy Spirit when He responds?

There is nothing wrong with the tradition of “giving something up for Lent.” Sacrifice is a beneficial discipline for Jesus followers.  Yet along with giving up harmful things, and/or getting rid of the clutter, we are called to take up our own cross and live surrendered and sacrificially as we follow Jesus.  We are called to live the God-life NOW, not as something to check off our bucket list, but as something to embrace NOW, because our time here is fleeting and not at all guaranteed.

Life on this earth is a limited time offer. We are called to get out there- NOW- and live it in response to God Who has given it to us.

 

 

February 13, 2018 – Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday- Shrove Tuesday- Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Ecclesiastes 3, 6:2, 8:15, Hebrews 12:1-2

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God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2 (NIV)

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV)

Today is a sort of unusual holiday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which most people are aware of. Most people have also heard of Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday.  It sounds a little better in French!  Mardi Gras traditions can include parties, drinking, debauchery, and basically “getting your sin on” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

More conservative Mardi Gras observers use the occasion to get rid of all the rich food and sweet treats that people tend to give up during Lent. There’s a reason for today being referred to as Fat Tuesday. It may be some people’s last day to eat chocolate for awhile.

It’s not that possessions, food or enjoying what life has to offer are bad things. We shouldn’t go through life as drab, dull no-fun Nellies. God’s gifts can be unappreciated or misused, but inherently and of themselves, the “finer things in life” are good gifts. God gives us those things for us to enjoy and to share them.

We should celebrate when it is time to celebrate. We should not be afraid or ashamed of eating, drinking or being glad in the proper time and context.  However, Solomon (the Teacher of Ecclesiastes) warns us against a lack of balance. Over or under doing it just isn’t a good thing. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon shares his wisdom that there is a time and a place for “every purpose under heaven.” (See Ecclesiastes 3.)

As we enter the season of Lent it is good to be thankful for God’s good gifts, and to enjoy them. It is also a good time for us to examine how we can better serve God with the gifts we have been given.

For Jesus followers, rather than overindulging in the secular bacchanalias that can accompany Mardi Gras, (and the accompanying hangovers and heartburn!) today it might be better to consider observing Shrove Tuesday.  To be “shriven” is an old way of saying to get rid of those things that fail to glorify God, and to be forgiven and to start fresh.  It’s a good day to confess and forsake our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to: …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

This Shrove Tuesday, may the Holy Spirit show us the things that hinder us so that we can throw them off, and may we fix our eyes on Jesus today and every day.

January 2, 2018 – The Pursuit of Wisdom- Proverbs 9:9-12, Matthew 6:33, Job 28:24-28

christians-prayers

 

Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life.  If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it. Proverbs 9:9-12 (NRSV)

The phrase “fear of the Lord” is sort of an awkward translation into English.  When we use the word “fear,” it has a few different connotations.  “Fear of the Lord” correctly translated is fear defined as a reverent respect and awe. Jesus uses the parallel of a healthy father and son relationship, one of respect, dependency and love.

The story of the Fall, and of human nature and sin, is one of humanity getting too big for its britches in a figurative way. When we blindly trust in our own knowledge or ability and fail to acknowledge God, we are being unwise.  We are given many examples in Scripture of what not to do – the temptation in the Garden (Genesis 3 ) , the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), and the lawlessness that prevailed in the days of the Judges (Judges 21:25) all tell us of the consequences of separating ourselves from God and not having a respect or reverence for Him.

All of the above are also examples of trusting in human logic instead of going to the Source of wisdom. We all do it, too. The good news is there is a better way, and God is patient with us, like a wise father guiding his children.

Solomon was said to be the wisest man who ever lived. God offered him any gift that he would want, and he asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14). God not only granted him wisdom, but also prosperity and long life.  When our first passion is seeking God and His kingdom, His plan for our life comes to life.

(Jesus said): But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33 (NRSV)

If we choose to find wisdom today, we still need to ask God and look to Him to find it. We will still find wisdom and the King of Kings present in the most unlikely and humble places- from the manger in Bethlehem to the needy, the lonely, the misunderstood, and the forgotten who are everywhere in the world today. We find wisdom when we seek God in the pages of Scripture. God reveals His wisdom to us in our times of meditation and prayer.

For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.  And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” Job 28:24-28 (NRSV)

July 31, 2017 Supernatural Law- Proverbs 10:1-5, Romans 6:23

consequences

A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief. Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. A child who gathers in summer is prudent, but a child who sleeps in harvest brings shame. – Proverbs 10:1-5 (NRSV)

The book of Proverbs is considered to be a book of wisdom. It has been attributed to King Solomon, as is Ecclesiastes, another wisdom book of the Bible.  Much of what Solomon teaches has to do with cause and effect, or “natural law,” which is the principle that actions have consequences.  Even in science this basic concept is found in Newton’s Third Law, which is, “Every action in nature has an opposite and equal reaction.”

In Scripture the apostle Paul gives us a theological truth that is very similar to Newton’s Third Law:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”- Romans 6:23 (NRSV)

No matter how hard we try, sometimes we are wise children and other times we are foolish children. We can be deceptive and petty and downright evil in our dealings with others.  We can be slackers and miss opportunities to participate in the life of God’s kingdom. There are so many ways we fail God and fall short of His will every day even if we try to do the right things.  God demands perfection, and we just aren’t capable of it.  He gives us His best, and even our best efforts can’t measure up.

On the surface, and here in the natural world, we humans are doomed to the consequences of natural law. Our physical bodies are going to die, and those physical bodies are subject to all of the entropy, apathy and decay that is rampant throughout this world. Both Paul in his letter to the Romans, and Newton in his Third Law underscore inevitable truths about the natural world.  Sin results in death.  Actions have consequences. That is the Law of God, and it is universal throughout His creation.  The Gospel- the good news- is that Jesus took on the consequence of death for us.  Since Jesus conquered death and the grave on our behalf, we are free to live.  Life in Jesus, the good news of the Gospel, is supernatural law.

Solomon taught wise principles, even if he didn’t always adhere to them himself. He gave many instructions to follow to make our lives here on earth more God-pleasing and prosperous. It is always good for us to read the teachings of the Proverbs- and a blessing for us that they are part of Scripture, because they give us good and healthy standards for living.  But apart from the grace of God in Christ we don’t stand a chance of living up to those standards.

Wisdom says we need to to run to Jesus, to go to the foot of the Cross and ask for His forgiveness and mercy and grace. We have the confidence in Him that we shouldn’t try to have in ourselves alone. His supernatural law transcends the inevitabilities of the natural law of this world.

How can we find ways to run to the foot of the Cross and find help in Christ when we are overwhelmed?