Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Choose You This Day

Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and wealth.
Matthew 6.19-24

Now we enter a new section of the Sermon On the Mount (SOM), and this little section is a sort of bridge between what has gone before and what comes next.  This bridge section not only serves a purpose within the SOM, it also can introduce you to (or remind you of) something that can be life-changing.  I’ll try to write a few articles about this, because I hope everyone will really understand it and (more importantly) actually LIVE this way. 

This one teaching has the power to change the whole world – starting with your own life.

First, context.  Jesus just taught them:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
After that theme statement, he gave three examples of “acts of righteousness” (giving, praying and fasting) that are often practiced publicly, but should be practiced secretly.  The issue is one of ‘reward.’  Either you want people to like you, praise you, and think of you as a “good” person – OR – you want God to reward you.  And especially in these three cases it truly is an either/or thing. 

If you pray, give and fast in secret as Jesus said, others won’t even know you’re doing it!  What do you assume about a person who you never see praying, giving or fasting?  Do you assume they’re extra good and doing so in private, or do you assume they just don’t do so at all?  The answer is obvious.  We all assume the same stuff about people, because basically everyone is the same: we do our good stuff where others can see, and we hide our bad stuff.  Since we know that’s what others assume about us, it makes it super hard to obey this teaching of Jesus. 

Consider this: What if you decide that you want to obey Jesus as much as possible, and so you refuse to pray with your Christian friends in a restaurant?  What will your Christian friends think about you?  You know the answer: they will assume that you’re embarrassed to be seen praying in public, right?  (Or - you’re a ‘bad’ person, or have issues, or that you are just a fundamentalist nut-job)  In any case, if you don’t explain it to them, they will assume things that you don’t want them to assume about you.  Right? 

So … what about God?  If you’re so concerned about what others think … how purely is your heart devoted to God?  You’re not praying because you are really grateful to God for the food, you’re praying to look good, or to “go along,” or whatever.  Isn't that true? 

It also says something about what you believe.  If you truly believe that God (who sees what is done in secret) will reward you, or you don’t.  Or maybe you believe He will reward you, but not enough to be “worth it.”  Or maybe you just believe God will forgive you for being just like everyone else.  It’s time to ask yourself: what do you believe? 

This is the connection to our next section, because it follows the same issue of belief/faith.  
Either you believe that God is real, the bible is true; or you don’t.  If the bible is true, then:
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  (Romans 8:18)
The whole part of the end of the SOM is to confront you with the fact that God and His promises are far more reliable and wonderful than anything this earth has to offer.  If you believe that, you’ll gladly trade short term discomfort for God’s long-term promise.  If Israel had believed that in the desert, they would have ignored the 10 spies (Numbers 13-14), and followed Joshua, Caleb and Moses into battle against giants.  But because they were more afraid of giants and went along with the majority … they spent the rest of their lives wondering around in a miserable desert and never tasted the promised land of milk and honey. 

So is the rest of the SOM.  All of Matthew 6 and 7 can be summed up with one simple lesson:  
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7.13-14)
You are going to choose a gate, or a “way” to live. 
Either you’ll choose to trust God, or you’ll trust the majority. 
Either you’ll invest in this life or the next. 
Either you’ll care what others think of you, or what God wants you to do for them.
Either you’ll fear the giants of the land, or you’ll build your house on solid rock and live without fear.

Human beings are slaves – this is a fact.  The only freedom any of us has is to choose our master.  Either you’ll spend your life as a slave to what other people think; or as a slave to your appetites, fears, stresses, worries – or you will take up your cross daily and follow Jesus.  There’s no middle ground (believe me, I've tried). 

And here’s Satan’s big lie: you can either enjoy your life, or you have to force yourself to be disciplined and do the hard thing.  That’s a lie.  Choosing your master isn't a choice between man’s way of wealth, success and popularity or God’s life of austerity and suffering.  The choice is only about one word: surrender. 

You can’t take either world by force.  You are too weak and stupid to defeat Satan, or even your own weaknesses and foolishness.  That’s a fact.  And you certainly cannot manipulate or work or coerce God!  But you can choose one master and surrender to him.  Surrender to God and His will, or surrender to your own folly. 

It’s hard to tell in English, but Jesus’ name is really a short form of “Joshua” – Yeshua.  These final bits of the SOM Yeshua issues the same challenge as his namesake:
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.”  (Joshua 24:15)

Joshua challenged Israel to pick a master.  For them, false gods were the religions of their families and neighbors … and it was the same in Jesus’ day.  The religion of their families and neighbors was the religion seen in the scribes and Pharisees.  And it’s the same with us today: we worship at the altar of the American dream, “family values,” and churches that tell us that worship is something done at their particular building, in their particular way. 

Stress, fear, weakness are the natural realities for everyone who surrenders to someone other than Yahweh.  

Strength, wisdom, resilience, and contentment are the rewards of surrendering to the One True God and obeying His Son.

Whose slave have you been?
Whose slave are you now? 
Whose slave will you be from now on? 

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

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