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Treasure in Heaven

Thursday, September 05, 2019

As you know, one of my favorite things to do in the pulpit is to preach sermons based on the requests made by members here.  After all, the whole point of me being up here is to help y’all on to heaven, and the more you tell me what you need, the better able I am to do that!

This morning’s topic came to me from Billy Tanner, who suggested that I ought to preach on laying up treasure in heaven.  This is a familiar topic.  I can remember studying Jesus’ teaching on this in children’s Bible classes when I still lived in New Jersey.  However, even if we know the words to Matthew 6:19-21 by heart, I think there is still more for all of us to understand about them.  Without further ado, then, let’s consider the subject of treasure in heaven. 

The Lord opens His discourse on this subject by observing that there are TWO OPTIONS FOR TREASURE.  Look at Matthew 6:19-20.  As I’ve said, this is a passage that many of us have known all our lives, but because it’s so familiar, I think it’s hard for us to appreciate how amazing the Lord’s teaching here is.  We have a mental category for “treasure in heaven”, but that category did not exist until Jesus invented it.

He did so to address the struggle that all of us face when we are presented with an opportunity to be generous.  I know that when I put my check in the collection plate, or when I give money to a poor person, that money’s gone.  However, if I don’t open my wallet, the money stays with me, and I can use it for whatever I want.

When we think that way, Jesus wants us to understand that we’re looking at things exactly wrong.  When we refuse to be generous with our money, all we are doing is ensuring that one day we’re going to lose it.  Moth and rust can eat it up, and even if they don’t, one day we’re going to die and leave it all behind.  As the saying goes, you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul!

On the other hand, though, He wants us to see that the money that we apparently give away is the only money we keep.  When we are generous, we are actually saving up that money in the only place it will be safe—in heaven.  Of course, this is not literally true.  There is no First National Bank of Heaven.  However, it is true that God will see our good works, remember them, and reward them.

Next, Jesus wants us to consider the connection between TREASURE AND THE HEART.  Let’s read Matthew 6:21-24.  Before I go on, it’s worth noting that for some reason we want to cut the context off at v. 21.  That’s actually not correct.  Jesus’ discussion of treasure in heaven continues to the end of the chapter.

In this section he observes that in addition to not being effective, storing up treasure on earth has another problem.  Wherever we put our wealth, that’s where our hearts are going to be too.  If we store up treasure in heaven, our hearts will be set on heavenly things, but if we store up treasure on earth, our hearts will be set on earthly things.

The next two verses illustrate the problem with this.  When Jesus is talking about the eye here, He’s actually talking about our desires, the things we want.  Contextually, He’s talking about whether we desire the things of heaven because we have stored up treasure there, or whether we desire the things of earth because we’ve stored up treasure there.  If our hearts are set on heavenly things, our whole lives will be filled with goodness, but if they are set on earthly things, those lives will be filled with darkness and corruption.

At this point, we might find ourselves wondering if we can split the difference, if we can make part of our lives about storing up earthly treasure and part of them about storing up heavenly treasure.  No dice, says Jesus.  He points out that trying to love both God and money is like trying to be a slave with two masters.  In the final analysis, we are always going to belong to one of those masters, and if we think that somehow we have managed to set up a time-share arrangement, Jesus wants us to see that we’re wrong.  If we think we’re serving both God and wealth, it’s really Mammon who owns our hearts.

After this, Jesus presents us with OUR APPLICATION.  Let’s conclude our reading for the morning by considering Matthew 6:25-34.  Once again, allow me to observe that a passage we commonly treat as a separate context actually isn’t separate at all.  Notice that v. 25 begins with the words “For this reason”.

For what reason?  Well, it’s everything we’ve already studied in the previous six verses.  It’s because laying up treasure on earth isn’t effective and laying up treasure in heaven is.  It’s because our hearts follow our treasure.  It’s because if we think that both earth and heaven can be our goal, we’re fooling ourselves.

So if that’s the logic, what’s the conclusion?  Jesus says it’s that we shouldn’t be anxious about even the necessities of life.  To us, this may seem like a leap, but it really isn’t.  Think about it.  When we store up money primarily on earth, isn’t that because we trust in money to be powerful?  This money will take care of me.  It will keep me safe from harm.  On the other hand, when we store up money in heaven, that’s because we trust in God to be powerful.  God will take care of me.  God will keep me safe from harm, and I’m so sure that He will that I’m even willing to give away the money that would otherwise protect me.

If we choose the first path, we’re going to be anxious.  You know why?  Because no matter how much money we have, it never will be enough to guarantee our safety.  The right job loss, the right stock-market crash, the right illness—all those things still can wipe us out.  And so we fret and worry and are miserable.

On the other hand, if we are truly putting our trust in God, we won’t feel anxious.  We’ll feel safe.  Unlike money, God is great enough to fully protect us.  He won’t make us rich, necessarily.  He won’t protect us from hard times, even.  However, He never will abandon us, and He will make sure that we always have enough. 

When we seek His kingdom first, we are putting our trust in His promise, and that’s a good place to put it.  There’s not one story in the Bible about God abandoning His faithful children, and I’ve never seen it happen to a faithful Christian in real life either.  Only God can keep us safe, and He will always do it.

On God My Hope Is Set

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

On God my hope is set,
The God of earth and heaven,
And I will not forget
The mercy He has given.
He found my soul enslaved
But freed me by His love;
By grace I have been saved
To seek the things above.

On God my hope is set,
The help of each believer:
My strength in every threat,
My shield from the deceiver.
Through danger and alarm,
No fear shall frighten me;
He bares His holy arm,
And every foe must flee.

On God my hope is set,
And He will yet deliver
A life without regret,
And joy that sings forever.
Though I be laid in dust,
My hope shall never dim;
My life is safe in trust,
For it is hid in Him.

In Your Steadfast Love

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

When my way has been lost in sinning
And my prayers go unheard above,
In Your grace, grant a new beginning;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.

Chorus:
Give me life, O Father;
Hear my cry above;
Give me life forever;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.

When my soul is weighed down in trouble
And with longing I look above,
May Your kindness and care redouble;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.

(Chorus)

When this body of earth is failing
And my spirit is called above,
With Your purpose and oath prevailing,
Give me life in Your steadfast love.

(Chorus)

Summaries, Psalms 86-89

Monday, September 02, 2019

Psalm 86 is an appeal to God for help.  It begins by listing a number of reasons why God should intervene:  because David is poor and needy, because he is godly, because he prays continually, and because God Himself is good and loving.  David then shifts to praising the virtues of God:  His willingness to answer prayer and His uniqueness among all other gods.  He asks God to teach him His way and promises to praise Him for His deliverance.  The psalm concludes by contrasting the wickedness of David’s enemies and God’s goodness.  God should respond by blessing David and defeating them.

Psalm 87 is about the city of Jerusalem, founded on Mount Zion.  God loves her and glorifies her.  Indeed, just as it was meaningful to be a citizen of the great cities of the ancient world—Babylon, Tyre, and so on—it’s meaningful to be born in Zion because God remembers her citizens.  Zion is so beautiful that she inspires those who praise her.

Psalm 88 is one of the darkest psalms in the psalter.  The psalmist cries out to God continually and asks Him to bless him.  His life is so bad that he’s practically dead, and he attributes his plight to the wrath of God.  God has done this to him.  He’s been abandoned by his friends, he’s so desolate that he can’t see, but God won’t help him.

The psalmist rhetorically asks God if He thinks he will praise him if he is dead.   Do dead people even care about God anymore?  Nonetheless, even though he prays all the time, God continues to hide His face.  He’s miserable, he feels attacked by God, and all of his friend have vanished.  The end.

Psalm 89 is nearly as gloomy.  It begins on an optimistic note.  The psalmist expresses his determination to praise God forever because He is faithful.  Particularly, He has established a covenant with David.  For this, he glorifies God as incomparable.  He has defeated His enemies, and He reigns over the heavens and the earth.  He is righteous, and His people rejoice in Him.

The psalmist then returns to the subject of David.  God anointed him and promised to protect him from his enemies.  In response, he was supposed to honor God.  Similarly God would confirm his offspring on his throne forever, and even if those offspring sinned, God swore that He would not reject them completely.  David’s descendants would endure forever.

However, now it seems like God has done the opposite.  He appears to have rejected the descendants of David.  Jerusalem has been conquered and looted.  The enemies of Judah are happy.  The king has been defeated and humbled by his foes.  The psalmist asks how long God is going to allow this to continue?  He urges Him to remember how frail and fleeting the lives of men are.  He asks where God’s faithfulness is, and he urges Him to remember how God’s anointed is being mocked.  Nonetheless, he continues to lift up God as blessed.

The Sin of Sodom

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Some ways of thinking seem to lend themselves naturally to apostasy.  There are some arguments that, if you find yourself making them, are signs that you are about to abandon the truth.  Among these is the cultural-coincidence argument. 

It goes like this:  “I know that X has been the traditional understanding of Scripture for hundreds or thousands of years, but I’m a better Bible student than all of those other people, and I have arrived at the more enlightened understanding of Y.  Coincidentally, X is something that the worldly culture around me dislikes, and Y is something that it celebrates.  Isn’t it wonderful that my new, 100 percent intellectually honest, interpretation is helping me to win the friendship of the world?”

Perhaps this is cynical of me, but when I see people making arguments like this, I tend to suspect that maybe, just maybe, they are using the world to understand the Bible rather than using the Bible to understand the world.

One of the more obvious places where this occurs is in the recent re-reading of Scripture to endorse the practice of homosexuality.  Apparently, all those passages that people of faith have always understood as condemning same-sex intimacy do nothing of the sort. 

For instance, this revisionist interpretation claims that the sin for which Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed was not the homosexual lust expressed in Genesis 19:4-5.  It was hostility to the poor.  This argument is based on Ezekiel 16:49-50, in which Judah is warned not to imitate the pride and greed of Sodom. 

If Ezekiel contained everything the Bible says about the sin of Sodom, the argument would be valid.  However, it doesn’t.  Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah sinned by engaging in gross immorality and going after strange flesh.  This does not contradict Ezekiel; instead, it adds to our understanding of the wickedness of the Sodomites.  Their hearts were filled with both greed and lust (and yes, it is still sinful today to be hard-hearted toward the poor).

In response to this, revisionists will sometimes argue that “going after strange flesh” means trying to have sex with angels because that’s what the visitors of Genesis 19 were.  Merely having sex with men, then, would be OK. 

The problem with this claim, though, is that “going after strange flesh” is a statement of intent, of desire.  The Sodomites did not know that the visitors to their city were angels.  As is evident from their speech, they believed they were men.  They did not intend to have sex with angels (which I don’t think is possible anyway).  Instead, they intended to have sex with men, and they were destroyed not for making an innocent mistake, but for acting on an evil desire.

Whenever we think we’ve found a way to re-read the Bible to accommodate what we want to believe and do, we should be very concerned.  So it is here.  I don’t agree with the people who reject the Bible because they believe the practice of homosexuality is good, but at least they’re being honest.  On the other hand, those who twist the Scriptures to fit their pre-conceptions are not succeeding in reconciling the two.  Instead, they are endorsing sin and adding to it self-deceit.

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