Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Two Masters Matt 6:24

The Two Masters
Possessions, Popularity, and Perceptions, Oh My!

            We are going to take another look at Jesus’ longest, and most influential sermon that He preached—The Sermon on the Mount. Specifically the passage we will be looking at today talks about money and possessions.
How many of you are familiar with a guy named David Platt? He is a pastor out of Birmingham who wrote a best selling book called Radical. In fact, one of our Sunday school classes is currently studying the book and watching a video series on it right now. So what is Platt’s “radical” idea? The subtitle of the book is “Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.” That is a radical idea when we are constantly being bombarded by commercials and media telling us what stuff we need in order to be happy.
            What is the American Dream? There are countless varieties of the American Dream because each person can have their own, but the idea stems from the absolute fact that as Americans we can have and do what almost everyone else in the world could never dream about having or doing. In America a person of any race, gender, or financial background can grow up and be whatever they want from President of the United States, Astronaut, Fighter Pilot, or Mayor of Bagdad. It doesn’t matter. You also have the ability to go to school, get a good education, choose between running a business or working a job so you can have a car, house with a white picket fence, green grass, 2.5 kids, and a dog.
            We are so unbelievably blessed here in America that we have lost touch with the rest of the world. Every single person in this room is rich compared to the world’s standards. If your family has a car you are richer than like 92% of the world. If your family has two cars, you are in the top 1-2% richest people in the world. The amount of money it would take to feed and water all of the world’s starving and dehydrated population is less than what Americans spend on ice cream each year. We get upset about the things we “need” and don’t get like a new Xbox Kinnect, an Iphone, or whatever it is that we think we need that we forget about Neharika who lives in a mud hut and how she thankfully received dinner plates for Christmas. How many of you received dinner plates as your main Christmas present this year?
            How did we get here? How did we get so spoiled? Abraham Lincoln said, “Religion gave birth to prosperity, now the daughter has eaten the mother.” In other words, we had a great devotion to God so He blessed us. When He blessed us, we became enamored in how much stuff we had that we forgot about Him. We sang “How Great I Art” instead of “How Great Though Art.” And because of that we began to lose God’s favor.     
            Let’s look at our passage, Matthew 6:24 NLT “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Some of your Bibles may contain the word “mammon” which is just a funny sounding word that means money, wealth, or possessions.”
            In the game Tug of War, you have two teams on each end of the rope with usually a flag in the middle. When one team successfully pulls that flag across their goal line they win. Other, more fun ways to play, include a muddy pit in the middle and the game ending when one team successfully pulls the other team through the mud. Either way, you probably have all played it or seen it played before and realize the concept—two opposing forces tugging with all their might to inflict their will on others.
            That is the situation Jesus is warning against in Matthew 6:24. Think about trying to be on both teams of a Tug of War match. It’s ridiculous right? Almost as ridiculous as trying to serve two masters, especially when one of them is God, because eventually your two masters will make opposing demands. One will say give all your possessions to the poor and the other will say make all you can and can all you make. Don’t get confused, I have two jobs with two different bosses requiring vastly different things, but I have only one master and it is not Pastor Brian or my dad.
Let’s look at Mark 10:17-22. As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’[a]
 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
 21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
            This man holds the distinct honor of being the only person in scripture who Jesus said “Follow me” to and did not follow. Why? He sought Jesus out as the answer to his problems and yet did not follow Him because he was trying to serve both Jesus and the god of possessions and wealth.
            Can you be rich and still serve God? Absolutely. I can name you several millionaires that serve God in ways we’ll never know about because they want to keep it a secret in obedience to Christ. The key is that they don’t serve money, wealth, or possessions. They view it as a tool to do the work of Christ.
            Maybe money, wealth, and possessions aren’t hot button issues for you, but I guarantee that there is something that will trip you up. Maybe it’s not money but popularity. If being popular is a master to you, you will eventually have to decide which master to follow when the two make opposing demands. I’m willing to make a wager that there is a smelly kid at your school, or somewhere in your life that needs to know about Jesus. If you are more concerned about what your friends would say if you sat next to him or her at lunch than what God would say, then you are trying to serve two masters.  I will never forget when I was substituting as a P.E. teacher at Brush High School near Cleveland, two kids came up to me eagerly asking me to let them be the captains of the kickball team. I didn’t know why, or even care to know why so I let them. I assigned the first pick to one of the two and watched in amazement as he picked the kid with a learning and physical disability as his first pick. How amazing was that to witness? How often does that happen in a public high school? Almost never I bet.
            Can you be popular and still serve God? Absolutely. Tim Tebow is a perfect example. Is he popular? Yes. Does he serve God? Yes. The key is that he doesn’t serve popularity, but views his popularity as a tool to serve God. What if he served popularity as if it were a god? Perhaps his agent said in order for him to get more endorsement deals, he needed to date a high profile celebrity with low morals. If he would bow to the god of popularity, his work for Christ would be tarnished. I remember when he was a junior people asked if he was leaving school early to go to the NFL. He replied that he wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to the NFL but might go directly into the mission field instead. He later decided that going into the NFL would give him more of a platform to evangelize.
            Maybe possessions and popularity aren’t that big of a deal for you. Perhaps how you are perceived is though. No one wants to look like a disheveled homeless person, but are you spending a disproportionate amount of time getting ready in the morning than you do anything else? If you timed yourself getting ready for school in a week versus reading your Bible or praying would it even be a contest? This is another area where you have to be honest with yourself. I know for a fact women go into a bathroom and time is measured by calendars instead of a stop watch.
            Or what about raising your hand in class when you don’t understand something? “But then people will think I’m stupid.” Yeah that’s a good point, it’s better to wait until you get your test back and everyone will know for sure.
            Can you be pretty and perceived well and still serve God? Absolutely. Look at me. I’m obviously extremely handsome. The key is that I don’t serve the god of good looks. But seriously, God is far more concerned about what’s on the inside than He is on the outside. He is also concerned about why we’re doing something as compared to how people perceive why we’re doing something. For example: You see a politician working a soup kitchen—what’s your first impression? Just trying get votes, right? He’s putting off a perception that he cares about the plight of the less fortunate.
            So how can we make sure we’re not serving two masters? First and foremost you need to become a follower of Christ. Life is pointless without Him, and all of our efforts to do anything are useless. Secondly, you need to identify areas that you are weak in because that is where you are susceptible into being lured into serving another master. I, personally, don’t have a problem with being tempted to spend hours getting ready in the morning. I do have a problem with wondering how people might perceive me if I try to share the gospel with them. Thirdly, you need to acknowledge your dependence on Him and ask Him to assist you. This could be a daily prayer for you. And lastly, test yourself. Do something this week that stretches you. Go talk to someone. Strike up a conversation. Eat lunch with the smelly kid. Go a day without your usual preparation and see if anyone cares or notices. If they ridicule you, you at least will know where you stand in that relationship. Being a servant of God is not easy, but it is worth it.      

A review of Hope Rising


My wife received Hope Rising as a birthday present a few years back. I suggested it to my daughter as a good present to give after her mother and I both listened to the author speak about the book on Focus on the Family. When my wife gets into a book she will read it from cover to cover without putting it down. That’s exactly what she did with Hope Rising. I knew I would eventually read it. It took a while for me to get to it, but I eventually did.
 The author, Kim Meeder, and her husband Troy started a non-profit horse ranch designed to take in abused and neglected horses while ministering to children and families dealing with difficult situations. I’m sure the Meeders would agree that the horses do most of the ministering. The book is written as a series of devotional like short stories or memoirs from their ranch. Most of the stories are three to four pages long with the longest being around twelve pages. I found myself tearing up from the first page as she described how a horse brought out a toothless smile from a little boy. The boy, around 5-6, had his teeth knocked out by an abusive father who on occasion would shoot his gun at him.
 As a father and animal lover who believes that God speaks to us through His creation, I found the stories fascinating and heart-warming. When I was finished with the book my wife said, “That book made me very sad and want to start a horse ranch.” I had to agree.
 Meeder, deservedly so, has won awards for her service to her community and for her book, but for me I got a little hung up on the literary style. Every paragraph came equipped with a simile, a metaphor, or both. It was a little much. My other complaint probably stems from the fact that I am a guy, but many of her stories included her personal insight to not only what other people were thinking but what horses and animals were thinking. Much of her insight was probably on target but I found myself questioning, “How does she know what that guy was thinking?” I believe many of the problems men and women have in communicating is that we assume we know what the other person is thinking. This is a hot button issue for me. So when she continued to use that insight as a literary style it became a distraction to me.
 Overall, it was a very good book. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it, but it would be best in the hands of animal lovers, and people who rank high on the empathy section of personality tests.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Lamp of the Body

The Lamp of the Body
Matt 6:22-23

            I was watching PBS the other night and caught a little bit of a program about Cassius Clay, more commonly known as Muhammad Ali. They were showing his 1964 fight against the heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston. At that time Clay had won a gold medal in the Olympics but wasn’t expected to stand a chance against the hard punching Liston. None of the sportswriters covering boxing gave Clay any chance at all at beating Liston and assumed the fight would be over very quickly. Liston himself trained for a short fight.
            When the fight began, Clay with his signature “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” dancing was able to dodge and dance out of the way of Liston’s punches. Years later the writers covering the fight admitted that their opinions of Clay changed, that he wasn’t terrible, but all Liston had to do was hit him one time and the fight would be over. As the fight wore on, all of Liston’s empty punches, along with his lack of endurance training wore him down.
Then something happened that changed the course of the fight. A few seconds after the beginning of Round 5 Clay began to rub his eyes as tears streamed down his face. Clay was blinded while Liston, as if on cue began hitting him with a flurry of punches. Clay miraculously survived the round, wandered to his corner, and told his trainer to cut the gloves off and get him out of there. The trainer suspecting something was up, rubbed Clay’s eye and then rubbed his own which immediately began to burn. Years later someone in Liston’s corner admitted that they had juiced Liston’s glove with a caustic fluid designed to come off his glove and burn Clay’s eyes long enough for Liston to knock him out. Liston had resorted to this tactic in two previous fights aswell. Clay’s trainer washed his eyes out the best he could between rounds and forced him back out with one simple command—“Run!”
Run Clay did. Sending him out blind to dodge the heavy hitting Liston would have been suicide for anyone other than Clay. Liston, however, was unable to connect against Clay and as the round wore on, Clay was slowly able to regain his sight and hit the tired Liston at will. After the sixth round was over Clay answered the bell, but Liston did not.
We are continuing our journey through the Sermon on the Mount tonight by looking at Matt 6:22-23 Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”
What’s it like to be blind? Everything is dark. Here Jesus is comparing the eye to a lamp. Imagine you are in a barn in the middle of a moonless pitch black night. You have a lamp, but it is not very good and it goes out—everything is dark. Perhaps you didn’t take good care of your wick, or used cheap watered down oil instead of what was recommended. Everything is dark and you have no hope of getting it lit again. If you properly maintained your lamp it would be putting out the much needed light but you didn’t.
The eye is compared to a lamp for the body. It provides light. It allows you to do so many things so much easier. If you disagree, put on a blindfold. First notice how dark it is, and then try to do your normal activities—like drive a car, pour boiling water in a tea cup, pee into a urinal. If you properly maintain your eyes—wear sunglasses in bright lights, keep them free of caustic materials that will burn them—you can reasonably expect them to continue to give you light for a very long time.
It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to figure out the difference between light and darkness in this passage. Light symbolizes good spiritual things. Darkness symbolizes evil spiritual things. Jesus said “If your eye is good, your body will be full of light. If you eye is bad your body will be full of darkness.” There is a computer programming terminology that says “Garbage In- Garbage Out.” Or GIGO. In other words if your programming is junk, you can reasonably expect that the program will not do what it is programmed to do. If you only allow good spiritual things to enter your eyes your body will be full of good light. But if you allow evil things to go into your eyes your body will be full of darkness.
What kind of evil things are we talking about? Pornography, violent movies or games, or violence in general. When I was thinking about this passage, the old proverb “the eyes are the window of the soul” kept coming to my mind. What are windows? They are barriers that separate the inside from the out, but are transparent to allow a person to look out, while another can look in. Have you ever seen someone, or even a picture of someone, and could just tell their hearts were full of darkness? That is the view of someone on the outside looking in. Lets talk about the inside looking out. Imagine you live in a house that has two windows: one window looks out to a beautiful lush valley before a snow capped mountain; the other window has a view of your neighbor’s window. Your neighbor is a mean ugly old man who has nothing better to do but to watch for you, flip you off, and moon you when you glance out. Which window would you peer out of, and which one would you put extremely thick curtains over?
Jesus said in a later teaching (Matt 18:9), “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out because it would be better to go to heaven with one eye than go to hell with two eyes.” Apparently, Jesus thought it was important to guard what goes into your body. If you don’t guard what goes in, so much garbage will go in that you won’t even be able to tell the difference between light and darkness.
How can we practically guard what we see, besides plucking out our eyes? Internet blocker, bounce your eyes (Every Man’s Battle)—whether you see something tempting or violent, don’t watch violent movies, or play violent games. You can say that violent games don’t affect you but you don’t have science or empirical data on your side. I remember playing a game one time called “Carmageddon.” You literally drove a car around and tried to hit as many people as possible. It was awesome—or terrible, depending on your perspective. It wasn’t until the next day when I was driving past a playground full of kids and had a flashback from the game that I realized how much we are affected by the video games we play. The movies and television programs we watch, the games we play, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, all affects us. I’m not here to make anybody do anything. If you aren’t ready to put negative things away and grow spiritually then don’t. It’s cool. I won’t lose any sleep over it. I am here to tell you what the Bible says about the subject, and to tell you about my personal experiences with it. I’m just a beggar telling other beggars where I found food. Maybe you won’t have to look as long as I did before I finally found it.