A young man came to Jesus one day asking about how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus spoke to him about keeping the commandments which the man said that he had always tried to do. Jesus responded, “If you would be complete sell your possessions, give to the poor, and come follow me”.(Matthew 19:21) The young man went away sad because he was very wealthy. There is much we could say about this encounter, but what stood out to me about this passage were Jesus’ words, “if you would be complete” or be perfect in other translations. Our salvation is complete. It is a totally finished act of God’s grace in Jesus on Calvary. We do nothing to make it any more complete, yet do we want it? Or are we more content with our own will, our own ways, our own desires? God holds out a Kingdom to us, as we wrote about yesterday, but we can refuse to yield to his gift. It is like someone given a beautifully wrapped present. It is totally theirs, but if they refuse to unwrap it the treasure inside is of little use. Keep your heart set on that treasure, the righteousness of Christ won for you at the cross. You will grow more into it day by day as the Lord makes you complete.
In the eighth chapter of St. Matthew there is the account of Jesus’ encounter with two demon possessed men. The demons, of course, recognized Him and begged to be sent into a nearby heard of swine when He cast them out. He did, and the swine rushed down the hillside and were drowned. When the town’s people heard of it, rather than rejoicing over the healing of the two men, and bring others to be healed as happened elsewhere, they begged Jesus to leave their district. Sometimes Jesus is too much! He is too disturbing of our way of life. People get caught up in their own plans, their own lifestyle. Jesus just upsets too much. It doesn’t make sense. This is why Jesus was always looking for humility, and the trusting faith of a child. Ones who were willing to put themselves in His hands even when it was disturbing and didn’t make sense. “To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) And that really is far better than anything we might let stand in the way.
Most of Psalm 52 speaks of the evil people do and their rejection of the good God desires. Then it ends with these last two verses. “But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever. I will give You thanks forever, because You have done it, And I will wait on Your name, for it is good, in the presence of Your godly ones.”(vss.8-9) A few words often catches my attention. “But as for me…” I don’t know what you have before you this day. We all have our trials, and schedules, and demands. We all live in this broken world with it many uncertainties and fears. “But as for me … I trust in the lovingkindness of God forever and ever.” Lovingkindness is what we see when we look in the manger. The manger which we know is overshadowed by the cross. That is the lovingkindness of our God in giving us life and strength. Whatever it is that we must deal with today, we make our response “but as for me….”
A friend of mine who is a serious woodworker used to say that when he felt down or depressed it was time to go buy another woodworking tool. That always picked up his spirits. Well, I’m not sure that’s the best remedy, and it certainly is only temporary. We all have times of feeling down. It is often a matter of the direction in which our eyes are looking. Are we looking only at the problems, or to the One who is greater than all we might face. Take some time today and read Isaiah 40, especially vss. 21- 31. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? … Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. … To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? … Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” Draw your strength from the Lord today.
Over a number of years our congregation has provided funds for a congregation in Tanzania to help build their building. It has gone from a series of polls in the ground with a tin roof to a very substantial and attractive building that seats several hundred. These are wonderful, faithful, and generous people even in the midst of their poverty. The attractive building is important to them. It is a place of worship, which they do wonderfully well, but it is also a part of their identity, part of the pride of who they are. It strikes me that this is the way we are to see our Lord. We know His greatness, our God who created the heavens and the earth. He is our God who loves us and has given Himself for us. He is our God who has worked in so many ways throughout our lives. We look at our God with the greatest pride, “He’s my Lord!” That is not pride in anything we’ve done or accomplished, but overwhelming rejoicing that He has called us to be His child in Jesus Christ. That touches every part of who we are and what we do. It is the little child looking up in love to his father, “That’s my daddy!” “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”(Philippians 4:4)
I have said a number of time in the past that I am not an economist. I don’t understand many economic terms, and I really don’t like even having to manage my own money – strange guy that I am. But I do read the Business page in our local paper which does give some food for thought. You see, I’m in the habit of contrasting values, those of natural life compared to those the Lord seeks for our good. Too much of what we have accepted as good, right, normal, standard practice, and so forth is not at all what our Lord desires for us. I realize that I cannot and should not expect the world to follow God’s values, but where we see the contrast it should make us think. Perhaps it will draw us closer to what God established for our good. Now back to the Business page. Under the title “Shell-shocked investors worry when, where next the next bomb will drop”. Many speculative investors are seeing a number of markets drop simultaneously. “In the global nervous system connecting modern markets, the synapses are misfiring.” The speculative investment market is not where most of us live. I can leave it to you to think about some of the parallel verse that tell us not to worry or be anxious about material things. I only draw the contrast for us to think about where we do live. How we are called to trust our gracious Lord, not being anxious about God’s provision for tomorrow?
A few years ago we had a small boat. Out on an excursion we would pull into a cove, throw the anchor over, enjoy the scenery, and have lunch. The anchor would keep us from drifting or running aground. Anchors are very important, especially in foul weather. We have anchors for our faith, also. What we believe about our Lord is firmly held in the truth that has been delivered to us. Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”(IIP.1:16) These eye witness accounts have been given to us in God’s Word. We have the promises of God given in both the Old and New Testaments, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and witnessed to us by the lives of saints and martyrs over many generations. We have the truth confirmed in the grace of our own baptism, and we have seen the hand of God in many situations of our own lives. Life can be a choppy sea, but as the writer of Hebrews says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”(6:19)
We have a lot of squirrels around our neighborhood. The Lord has built into them instincts that guide their behavior. Squirrels do what squirrels are supposed to do. It is not so with us. When God breathed into man the breath of life He gave them a spirit making them different from all others of the animal kingdom. Our spirit can only be satisfied when it is in communion with God’s Spirit. That makes us different and higher than all other created beings. It also gives us the responsibility of seeking God, of desiring to grow closer to this One who created us. Though, as Paul said “he is not far from any of us.”(Acts 17:27) We seek to do, to acquire, to achieve all kinds of other earthly things. Like the squirrels we often find ourselves running from here to their, when what is truly satisfying is near at hand in quietness, trust, and a growing life in Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of Revelation chapter two the Lord commended the church of Ephesus for a number of things, but said that He had one things against them, they had “forsaken their first love”, or “the love they had at first”. This didn’t mean that they weren’t holding to the true faith, or weren’t caring for people. They were doing both. What had grown dull was their pure love for Jesus, and their desire to know Him deeply and have Him physically present with them. Above all of our right doctrines and sincere loving service to others is our desire to know and be with our Lord. Jesus is our Bridegroom. Our only natural and fulfilling place is with Him. As time had gone on in the first Christian century and Jesus had not returned the longing for Him had grown dull. I’m afraid it has also with many of us. We continue to teach, share His truth, and serve in His name as God gives us the strength and grace to do, but our desire, our longing, is for His presence alone. All else flows from this.
How easy it is to be manipulated by emotions. Political candidates use catch words like children, or the elderly. Higher taxes, and the rich are also good for a vote or two. TV commercials guarantee to make us thinner or more beautiful, declaring that “we’re worth it”. Emotions are fine. God gave them to us, and they have their place, but they are not to direct the course of life. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”(2:3-4) Emotional responses are concerned with what is good for me, and for my group. It narrows our focus to what we think is good, but denies the possibility of making hard choices that may require suffering, but in the long run bring real good for all. Read the rest of the Philippian passage, vss.5-8, and consider where we would be if Jesus had acted on emotion rather than the truth of God’s purpose for mankind. “Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.”(I Peter 4:7)