Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pursue This First (Don’t worry, Pt 2)

(Note: This article is long - but please take it seriously.  Read it over, and then go back over it and work through the various parts.  This is one of the most wonderful promises of God, and also one of the blessings most “Christians” deny for themselves.  If you’ll take this seriously and literally, you’ll be blessed beyond what you can imagine today)

For this reason I say to you, don’t be worried about your life, as to what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink; nor for your body, as to what you’ll put on. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, that they don’t sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add one hour to his life?
And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they don’t toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more clothe you?
     You of little faith!
Don’t worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But [you]: seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  So don’t worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 
Matthew 6.25-34

Okay, so Jesus commands his followers not to worry – now what? 

Anyone who has been worried, stressed or fearful knows that simply being told to “Stop It” isn't really helpful.  We often think we’d LOVE to stop worrying, and that’s why we work hard to change our circumstances … the things we blame for our worry.  Jesus was telling his disciples to stop worrying, but he wasn't stupid – his message was not simply: “don’t worry, be happy.”  He knew that was only half of the equation. 
This paraphrase may help:
 “Don’t worry then … for pagans chase that stuff!  But YOU - you’re different!  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood of believers; you have an all-powerful and loving Father in heaven, and he already knows what you need.  Instead of pursuing those things, pursue this: 1) God’s Kingdom & 2) His Justice…
And God will give you the other stuff.”
Do you see that Jesus was telling his people that they were worrying needlessly over stuff God is pleased to give away?  We stress because we’re chasing the wrong things.  Some people are freaked out because they think they think they need money, or a job, or healthcare – and don’t feel secure unless they “know” they have it.  Others think they need to be popular or better looking, because they need a relationship.  We get anxious about tests, or getting into the right school, problems at work or having good relationships or problems at church or in our neighborhood or the situation in the Middle East.  The list goes on and on, but these are the things that tempt us to be stressed, because they’re the things we work for – we invest in – we chase, pursue, or seek

Remember just a few lines earlier in the SOM that Jesus said:
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth … but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(You may review previous lessons here:Choose You This Day - Locate Your Heart)

His message is repeated here, but instead of discussing “storing up treasure,” he spoke of what we “seek.”  Or, to put it another way, Jesus was saying that if you seek the right things, there’s no cause for worry.  Instead of seeking security financially, physically, educationally, emotionally or relationally; we should seek God’s Kingdom. 

If you can honestly examine your heart, you’ll see the truth of Jesus’ message.  What do you “seek,” or pursue?  I know young people who seek to be entertained.  They are easily bored in a moment.  Others seek companionship, as they become lonely if not constantly connected.  Gadget freaks seek the latest iThingy, and there are car-lovers, and bikers and nest builders.  Examine your heart by reviewing your activities, cravings and fears for the past few weeks or months, and you’ll see that there’s something you have been working to attain, and it often matches closely with your worries. 

We work to avoid that which we fear, and love that which we pursue.  We usually think it’s the other way around … that we pursue what we want.  But Jesus understood that desire increases when we pursue things.  Indulge yourself with something or someone, and see if your desire doesn't follow your actions.  It works every time.

We love that which we chase, pursue, or “seek.”

A faithful disciple BELIEVES Jesus’ promise

Proverbs 31
We call almost anyone a “believer” these days.  Merely saying one “believes in” Jesus and/or has given his or her heart to him … that seems to be enough.  But this teaching reveals the truth, because if you really believed (in) Jesus and God, then …
  • You’d never worry. 
  • You’d never be stressed. 
  • You’d never be afraid. 

Why?  Because Jesus promised that God will care for us just as He does the birds and the grass and even the pagans.  If you really believe (have faith/trust) that God loves you and that He is all-powerful, then you have nothing to fear or stress about, ever.  Think about that for a moment – if God loves you and He has promised to take care of you, and He backed-up the promise by sending His Son to die on the cross … what in the world do you have to worry about?  God is either real and true or He is not.  Live accordingly

Our Father’s Business

Every Passover Joe, Mary and their family made the 100 mile trip on foot from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  One year when they were on their way home, and had traveled for a full day, they realized their 12 year old boy Jesus wasn’t with them.  Like most parents, first they freaked out, then they looked all over for him and finally they raced back to Jerusalem to look for him.  Do you suppose they were right to be stressed when it took them three days to find the boy?  Here’s what Luke wrote:
“When they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said to him,
‘Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.’
And he said to them,
‘Why is it that you were looking for me? Didn't you know that I had to be about my Father’s business?’
(Luke 2:48-49)
They were “anxiously” searching for him.  Can you imagine?  We know how most people would be after missing a 12 year-old for days in the big city … but for Mary it would be worse!  She knew she was raising God’s son.  Can you imagine loosing not only a child, but GOD’s child?  Talk about stress!

And then again … even Satan knew that God would not allow Jesus to even stub his toe (Matthew 4.6).  If Mary had faith, she would not have needed to be anxious. 

Even at age twelve, Jesus had the right focus: God’s business.  That’s why he could pretend to be surprised at his parents’ anxiety.  It’s why he could sleep through storms at sea, and why he never worried or stressed over things that frightened those around him. 

Read Paul’s letters and you’ll find the same thing.  He knew nothing in this life mattered, only seeking first God’s kingdom.  (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:1; Philippians 3, etc.)  It’s also in Hebrews and throughout the New Testament. 

Consider how central this is to our lives as the Messiah’s ambassadors and God’s slaves.  He sends us out to the world to tell them they’re invited to the great feast (Luke 14.16-24).  In Jesus’ parable, it’s those invited who have excuses and don’t want to come, but how can we convince them they should leave family and work and their excuses, when we messengers won’t even do so?  How are we any different than people in the world if we have the same fears, stresses and worries?  If we’re the same as the people in the world, and the only thing we offer is our moral code and church work, then what kind of ambassadors will we be? 

We ought to be the kinds of people who can sleep in the boat during the storm.  We must become the kinds of people who understand and believe that God really loves us and cares for us.  Only then can we be effective ambassadors for our Lord. 

Seek first the Kingdom
So what does it mean, and what does it look like to “seek first” God’s kingdom? 

Start by picturing a king in your mind – ruling over a a kingdom.  We are His subjects, His slaves and His children.  He wants what all great kings want: for their kingdom to expand and prosper.  So when we “seek first” God’s kingdom, we do the things that help the kingdom to grow stronger and larger. 

To enlarge God’s kingdom is what we generally call “evangelism.”  But it looks somewhat different than what we usually see, because we are working for God, not for a church or a belief system, or because it makes others think we’re “good” Christians.  No, we actually want to be effective, and to make God smile.  That happens when we demonstrate a life lived well.  It happens when we’re good at our jobs, when we’re calm and helpful.  It happens when others see how we live and they want to have that same kind of life – a life that works, even when things are going wrong!  The best evangelism is done “without a word” (1 Peter 3.1-4; Acts 20.35; James 3.13; 1 Peter 2.21-22; etc.). 

Prayerfully consider this.  Much has been written about evangelism over the centuries, but now you should reconsider how you, personally, can be effective as God’s ambassador.  Then when you have considered it and prayed about it, then go and TRY!  When you fail (as you often will), try again.  Form groups of fellow “Kingdom Expanders,” and share ideas, failures and successes … and motivate one another. 

Kingdom strengthening = church

That group of “Kingdom Expanders” is what God would call: church.  We think of church differently, but a true church (as God intended) is a fellowship of people who have given their lives to expand and strengthen the kingdom.  The members of this group or church all have the same goal: to seek first the Kingdom.  So everything they do is to work hard themselves – and encourage, motivate, equip, rebuke, and work to help each other.  This is what “strengthening” the kingdom looks like.  (1 Cor. 14.26; Heb. 10.24; Eph. 4.11-16; etc.). 
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (1 Peter 4:8-11)

To sum up, “Seek first God’s Kingdom” means:
  • Expand (evangelism)
  • Strengthen (church)

And these are your personal responsibilities!  It’s no one’s special job to do these things, it’s every disciple’s job.  Some may be able to do it full-time and get paid, but most will not.  If you will do this, you’ll find stress and worry start melting very quickly. 

God’s Righteousness/Justice

The Greek word for righteousness and justice are the same.  I think “justice” communicates better, so that’s what I’ll use here.  What does it mean to “seek God’s Justice”?  It means helping other people in a way that makes sense to them.  The best example from Jesus’ ministry is the story we call “The Good Samaritan,” found in Luke 10.27-37. The story is an answer to a question from a bible scholar to Jesus.  They had agreed that the two most important commands were to “love God” and “love our neighbor as ourselves.” The scholar then asked Jesus “who is my neighbor”?  That’s when Jesus told the “Good Sam” story. 

Jesus’ brother described this pursuit for God’s Justice this way:
“Pure and undefiled worship in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  (James 1:27)
Elsewhere we read about caring for the poor, visiting the sick, those in prison, homeless … and even our Lord mentions that this is the question for us on Judgment day in Matthew 25.31-46. 

God's Justice = Helping People

Today people all over the world are calling out to Yahweh for help.  They may not know His name, so they may call Him Allah, or Baal or Buddha or some other name, but people all over the world are begging God for help today.  God has US as His servants, to answer their call.  Many “Christians” will do a little bit, here and there.  Others will do nothing.  Some will even want to kill the “bad guys!”  But God calls us disciples (God’s slaves/servants) to go help them. 

The problem is big, so start where you are.  Help the others in class on the day of the big test.  Help a sick or needy person.  Offer to babysit for free to help a couple have a night off.  Then as you mature in Christ, you can expand.  You may want to study to be a volunteer fireman or chaplain for disasters.  You may want to go overseas, etc., but if you do, please remember to prepare yourself!  Spending thousands of dollars to go on a cool “missions trip” or campaign is fine … but is it really helpful?  It can be, if you let it be just a beginning of your training.  The point is, you can do a lot right here at home. 

If you have a job … learn how to pay attention to people instead of the politics.  Someone you work with his enduring family drama or tragedy.  Do you know who’s calling out for God’s help at your workplace, or are you so concerned with daily politics that you've become just like everyone else at work? 


One word we often neglect is the word “first.”  Jesus said seek “first.”  He meant first in order, and in priority.  Above all other things you seek, chase or pursue: put God’s Kingdom and His justice.  Look out after others first.  Love God first.  Make expanding and strengthening the kingdom your top priority … ahead of money, job, tests, politics, country, relationships, and yes … even family!  Seeking first the kingdom is HOW we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Pursuing God’s justice is HOW we love our neighbor as ourselves.  If you do this FIRST – as your very top order of business each day, then your reward (guaranteed by God) is that He will take care of the things Satan says we must worry about.   


Seek first God’s Kingdom and His Justice” is, in one word: love.  It’s about caring for God and people.  When you’re truly focused on loving others on God’s behalf – worry vanishes.  The old-school word for this is “considerate” or “inconsiderate.”  Most people these days are inconsiderate, meaning they don’t think much about others or try to see things from another’s point of view.  This is more than mere manners … it’s about recognizing that other people exist, and that they almost always need help. 

Inconsiderate drivers are so involved with their phone or text they run over others.  Fights erupt when inconsiderate people come together.  Failing to consider another person’s trials, pain, joys or life situation is what the world would call “normal,” and the result is endemic selfishness or self-absorption.  And nothing feeds anxiety like selfishness – nothing!  If your primary concern is about your own issues, those close to you, your nation, ethnic group or gender … then you WILL live a life of worry, stress and anxiety.  It’s a guarantee. 
What’s the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Isn't the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and don’t have; so you kill [Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…1 John 3:15]. You are envious and can’t obtain; so you fight and quarrel.
You don’t have because you do not ask.
You ask and don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives (so you may spend it on your pleasures). You adulteresses!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God….
Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit therefore to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
Don’t speak against one another, bros.  He who speaks against a brother … speaks against the law….
Come now, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
Yet you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. You’re just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Instead, say:
“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.  (James 4:1-17)

Summary and Action Items

Instead of seeking things for yourself, seek things for God - FIRST!  Work to expand and strengthen God’s Kingdom (first), and while you’re at it … do some good things for others where they live - before you help yourself.  If you don’t trust God to take care of you, then you’ll find it hard to obey.  If you don’t sell all your pearls, you cannot have the pearl of great price.  If you don’t take up your cross own daily, you cannot follow Jesus.
Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:5-7)

Consider your own heart, your faith, and your attention to others.  Learn to think the way Paul did:
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he’s a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 5:14-6:1)

Next time you’re tempted to be stressed or you’re tempted to worry or be afraid … consider your own heart and ask yourself whether you truly believe.  Ask yourself if you are truly obeying Jesus with all your might:
“Seek –
First –
   God’s kingdom and
       His righteousness…
…and all these things will be added to you”

Instruction from the man who walked on water with Jesus:

Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
To Him be dominion forever and ever.
1 Peter 5:6-11

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