Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pursuing the Love of Lack

By Allen White

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24

Adding to Jesus’ teaching on our hearts following our treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) and our eyes following our desires (Matthew 6:22-23), He points out that our allegiance can only lie in one place. We can’t multi-task our devotion.

This is not an indictment against money itself rather Jesus is getting at the heart condition involved. After all “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money is merely a thing, unless we allow it to become something else.

We can be devoted to God and have money. Allegiance to God doesn’t require poverty, unless our hearts are wrapped around it, as in the case of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-30). We can even be wealthy and be fully devoted to God, but you can’t be devoted to money and have God
The love of money causes use to despise God. In fact, Jesus says that it causes us to hate God. The love of money is about accumulating and getting more. The love of God is about generosity. The love of money puts material things as the object of our affection. The love of God challenges us to give to those in need (Matthew 25:31-46) and to forward Kingdom causes (Luke 16:9) trusting that God will provide for all of our needs.

Either God will have us or money will have us, but not both. When God is crowded out of the equation, money will become a cruel task master. The love of money should really be called the “love of lack,” because it always demands more with the lure of satisfaction. The secret is that money never satisfies. We weren’t designed to be satisfied by money. We were designed to find satisfaction in God alone.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, Allen is a preacher who has never had real money.” Financially, I’m doing alright, but I’m not loaded. So, don’t take my word for it. Listen to the wealthiest man who ever lived, King Solomon.

Solomon’s wealth compared to that of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett would have Bill and Warren on food stamps in Solomon’s day. There was nothing out of his reach. Yet, at the end of his life Solomon concluded:

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). We might be drawn to the idea of becoming dissatisfied at that level, but we too would find wealth meaningless.

Who does your heart belong to? Your treasure, your purpose, and your devotion are all key indicators of your heart’s condition. It’s easy to think that you can compartmentalize on this. God goes in the Sunday box and the emergency box. Work and wealth take up much of the other space. This thinking is flawed.

Why ignore the One who allows you to get the most out of life? Why pursue something that has no possibility of fulfilling you? But, how do you know that this is really true? You have to believe that Jesus knows what He is talking about. What’s your life worth – devotion to God who loves you or devotion to the pursuit of more that will never satisfy?
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Adjusting Our Focus

By Allen White

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Matthew 6:22-23

Okay, I’ll be honest. I had to do a little digging on this one. The meaning is not so obvious.

The first step in understanding this passage is to look at the context. The passage from yesterday is Jesus’ direction, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Matthew 6:19-21). The passage following is Jesus’ admonition, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Even though today’s passage is about eyes and light, the context shows us that it’s really about wealth.

Jesus uses the concepts of eyes and light as a metaphor. This passage has nothing to do with whether you’re far sighted, near sighted, or dealing with presbyopia and need reading glasses. What Jesus is getting at has more to do with what we’re focused on rather than how well we can focus.

An unhealthy eye, or an evil eye, sees the world through covetousness. An unhealthy eye wants everything that it sees. It is envious of what other’s have. The result is that it brings darkness into the soul.

A healthy eye is devoted to a single purpose. This eye looks through the lens of generosity. Whether we’re generous with wealth or words, a healthy eye brings light into our soul.

How do we see the world? Do we look at the world through eyes of scarcity or eyes of abundance? Do we see things and feel that we lack? Or, do we see things and feel grateful for the blessings in our lives?

As Tim Sanders writes in Today We Are Rich, “Like gratitude, generosity is a spiritual muscle. When you build it up, you possess the strength to give freely and, with enough development, to be free from an inordinate attachment to possessions or status. When we don’t give the generosity muscle attention because of our possession oriented culture, it grows flabby. That is why some people have fleeting moments of generosity and yet on a day-to-day basis remain self-centered.”

The Bible tells us, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:9-10). Goodness, righteousness and truth are things that God gives to us. It’s not a matter of our working harder, but of asking God to give this to us. When we focus on Christ rather than the world, our eyes become healthy and light enters our souls.

 Helen Keller wrote, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” Helen Keller lived in a dark world, blind and deaf since birth, yet her healthy spiritual eyes shed a great deal of light in her body.

What are your eyes focused on these days? Do you see all that you have and how you can be generous? Or are you stuck on all that you lack? Fortunately, diseased eyes are not terminal. By refocusing on your life’s purpose in Christ, His light will flood your soul.


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Market Dips

By Allen White

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

Over the years, I’ve challenged people to check their priorities by examining their calendar and their checkbook. Of course, nobody writes checks anymore, so I guess check your online banking. For most of us, the greatest portion of our time is devoted to work and sleep. The greatest part of our money goes to the government. I wouldn’t say that those are necessarily our priorities – more like obligations.

But, what do we do with those slim margins of time to ourselves and discretionary income. If you’re thinking, “Ya right,” then what would you do if you had the time or the money? What if you could really live your life?

If we put our hope in the markets, our hope will vacillate up and down like a roller coaster. The market drops, and our hearts sink. While there are certainly wise investment strategies, something as fickle as the stock market certainly doesn’t deserve our hearts.
Some of us know what our hearts are drawn toward. When we match our gifts and our strengths to the needs of this world, we find a satisfying intersection to rest our hearts. But, sometimes you don’t know until you actually try.

Your heart will follow your treasure. Several years ago, I actually had a shot at an IPO. It was a tech fund. I didn’t have a ton of money to invest in it, but I invested what I had. I watched that stock every day. It gained 60 percent overnight. Woohoo! I hadn’t set a goal. I just let it ride.

Overtime, the fund lost the gain. And, then it started to lose the principle. I hadn’t get a lower limit either, so I just watch it sink hoping that it would head the other direction. It didn’t.

My son needed a big boy bed. I cashed in the stock, bought the bed, and took a nice tax write off. Today, I don’t care about that stock. I don’t watch it. I don’t really remember its name. It no longer has my attention or even a little piece of my heart.

What have you set your heart on? What makes you jump out of bed in the morning? If you don’t know, then it’s time to find out. Try something new. Find someone to invest in. Get involved in the community or with students. What needs concern you? Find a ministry or an agency that addresses that need and see how you can help.

It’s time to get your treasure in the game. Your heart will thank you.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

The Proper Use of "Stuff"

By Allen White

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20

I like stuff. I can stuff myself with stuff. When I think that I have all of the best stuff, the best stuff gets even better. Then, there’s new stuff – new inventions. New innovations. I read a lot of books, but now there’s added excitement to a new book – a new book reader. But, it’s also an Android tablet.

Now, I can check email on my laptop, my book reader, my cell phone and my television. Isn’t stuff great? The problem is that stuff doesn’t satisfy.

Dissatisfaction is great for marketers, but it’s not so great if you want to be satisfied. New stuff can be a lot of fun, but instead of satisfying us, it causes to want more. It’s like after a big Chinese meal. You feel stuffed and bloated – a little swollen from the MSG. Someone on twitter called this a “Chang-over.” Then, an hour later, guess what? You’re hungry again.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have a great passion for Dim Sum. I’m getting hungry just thinking of cha siu bao.

If stuff was meant to satisfy us, then we would be satisfied. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my stuff just as much as the next guy. But, there will be no iPads or book readers or sports cars in Heaven. But, there must be cha siu bao there. It’s heavenly.

Stuff breaks. Stuff rusts. Stuff gets stolen. Stuff must be maintained. It’s all susceptible to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. So, we insure our stuff. We have an extended warranty. We buy the service plan. We hire specialists to keep our stuff in tune.

When we get tired of our stuff, there’s always eBay or Craig’s List or a garage sale, where we can earn a dime on the dollar, if we’re lucky.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to get rid of all of your stuff and join the priesthood or something. Enjoy your stuff. Just don’t expect it to satisfy you. Use stuff and love people. But, don’t love stuff and use people. People are eternal. Stuff is going to burn.

Maybe instead of investing ourselves in another reality show, we invest ourselves in a real person. We don’t even have to find one. We already have real people around us: our spouses, our kids, our friends, our neighbors. How can we use our stuff to influence them for good? How can we make a satisfying, eternal investment in their lives?

Don’t just watch your kids play. Get down on the floor. There is so much more to life that just taking up space and oxygen. You and I were put here for a purpose. Our purpose has more to do with influencing than accumulating.

What thing in this world do you think will make you happy? Why do you assume that your satisfaction won’t come from God? While we would never actually say that, we often live that. Why not ask God to help you find satisfaction in your life?

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Are You Stuck in a Rut?

By Allen White

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

John the Baptist’s disciples were afraid that Jesus was leading His disciples astray. The practice of religious folks in that day, especially the Pharisees, was to fast two days a week without water. This strict observance served to discipline the body, even though the Law only required fasting on the Day of Atonement.

John’s disciples were serious about their faith. Jesus’ disciples came across as party boys. Jesus was the life of the party.

Jesus turns the conversation from fasting to feasting. No one fasted at a wedding. In fact, a wedding feast would typically last for seven days. There was plenty of eating and drinking. The disciples’ time with Jesus called for rejoicing, not restraint. Jesus brought a new relationship between people and God.

To exercise self-restraint in the presence of the Messiah made about as much sense as patching an old garment with new cloth or putting new wine into old wineskins. A well-worn piece of clothing had shrunk from washing over time. A new piece of cloth had not. The patch would only add to the damage, not repair it.

The fresh press of grapes needed room to expand during the fermentation process. Today, that would happen in oak barrels in a wine cave or in stainless steel tanks in a place like Livingston, California that resembles a refinery more than a winery.

In Jesus’ day, fermentation happened in an animal skin. As the new wine fermented, the wineskin would stretch and expand. An old wineskin was already stretched out. To fill it with new wine, when it was already stretched to capacity, meant that an explosion was imminent.

New wine belonged in new skin. New cloth belonged on new clothes. A new covenant prized rejoicing over ritual.

There is a place in our spiritual life for self-discipline. There are days when we need to routinely connect with God, even if we don’t feel like it. But, if our regimen of spiritual disciplines has left us dreading our relationship with God, then we have taken things too far.

Yes, God wants dedicated disciples, but He also wants us to delight in Him as He delights in us (REF). When the things that used to bring us closer to God begin to get in the way of our relationship with God, then it’s time to try something new.

There are many ways to connect with God. Sing worship songs at the top of your lungs while you’re driving. Take a passage of Scripture and put it into your own words. Serve someone who needs help. Talk to someone about your relationship with God. Pray out loud. Be quiet and turn off the noise for half a day. Skip a meal -- spend the time with God and spend the money on someone in need.

God doesn’t want our mindless obedience. He desires meaningful interaction. When giving becomes like paying the bills, when praying sounds like placing an order, when serving becomes just another thing to do, it’s time to do something different. The doing doesn’t make the difference. It’s our connection to God that matters.

Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with God? Where have good habits become dreaded routines in your life? Try something new. Don’t let even good things sap your joy.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Fast?

By Allen White

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

The purpose of fasting is to devote meal times to pray and to depend on God to sustain us. In this, our hope is to better discern God’s will for us and to draw closer to Him.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day resorted to fasting for show. They would show up in public looking as pathetic and miserable as they possibly could as a sign of their extreme devotion to God by fasting. Some, apparently, were impressed by this show of piety. God wasn’t impressed.

Jesus said that fasting for the sake of public opinion was self-rewarding. If their aim was to connect with God in a meaningful way, then it was self-defeating. Fasting for pity or piety got them nowhere with God. They were missing the point.

Fasting helps believers uniquely focus on God. By devoting concentrated time to God through prayer and relying on God for our well-being brings another dimension to our relationship with God. During a fast, we realize how little food we need to survive and in the process, come to understand what little else we really need to be happy and meaningfully connected to God.

By denying our physical bodies, we place the priority on our spirit rather than on the flesh. Anything that we can do to curtail the influence of the flesh, the better off we are.

If you’ve never fasted, then a Noon to Noon fast might be a good place to start. You eat breakfast, then start fasting at lunchtime. You spend lunch, dinner and breakfast the next day in prayer. You break the fast at lunch the second day.

Many people will still drink liquids during that time. The key is devoting yourself to God in prayer. Don’t get caught up with what you should or should not try to put in a blender.

There are other types of fasts. Some practice media fasts where they unplug themselves from email, internet, cable and cell phones for a given period. These constant inputs in our lives can cause us to ignore the people who are with us, like our families. The noise level in our lives can also cause us to miss hearing God’s voice.

So, when you fast, put on a happy face. Don’t advertise that you’re fasting. Impress them with your kindness rather than your fasting.

If you have a health condition that could be affected by not eating, check with your doctor before you begin a fast.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don’t Forgive and God Won’t Either?

By Allen White

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15

When I read these words, I honestly wonder if Jesus even knew Paul. Paul wrote to the Ephesians saying, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). While works are an expression of our relationship with God, no work is a condition on our salvation. But, if God requires us to forgive in order to receive His forgiveness, wouldn’t that be putting a condition on His grace?

When people are saved by grace through faith, they come into a new relationship with God. God’s former enemies (Colossians 1:21-23) become His children. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). When God saves us, He saves us completely and forgives us of all of our sins.

No one who comes to Christ has his act together. In fact, it takes the Spirit’s work in our lives over time for us to resemble Christ. Some bad habits persist. Wounds need healing. Negative thinking needs renewal. Bad behaviors require repentance. Neil Cole puts it this way, “Sinful people produce great growth because there’s more fertilizer in their lives.”

While God saves completely, we cannot discount Jesus’ words. Forgiveness is a weighty issue. But, if unforgiveness doesn’t jeopardize our salvation, how does it affect us?

Think about the relationships in your life: your marriage, your children, your parents, your closest friends. There are lasting commitments that define these relationships. But, what happens when your spouse or a close friend offends you? Do you immediately part ways and end the relationship? Probably not, because more than likely we’ve also offended them.

Eventually, the offender will seek forgiveness, and we will forgive. We hope that they will change. They probably hope that we would change as well. Grace is required in any lasting relationship.

But, let’s say that your spouse offends you, but you don’t forgive. You decide instead to hold the issue over her head. How’s that going to play out? There will definitely be tension in the relationship. You will interpret what she says and does through her hurtful actions. She will interpret you through your stubbornness and lack of forgiveness. What initially happened, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad enough to cause a divorce, but the issue and the reaction have created a rift in the relationship. Unless you decide to work on forgiveness, the truth is that you and your spouse are slowly parting.

Now, think about your relationship with God. If you have trusted Him for your salvation and have committed your life to Christ, God has saved you. God has declared you as righteous (Romans 3:21-26) and has adopted you as His child (Ephesians 1:4-6). It’s a done deal.

But, let’s say that even though God has forgiven all of your sins and saved you, someone offends you. They hurt you deeply. You don’t want anything to do with them. And, you certainly don’t want to forgive them. You continue a relationship with God, who has completely forgiven you, yet you harbor resentment against another. Now what?

God isn’t going to revoke your salvation, but He’s also not going to overlook your lack of forgiveness for another. Sooner or later, you will sin against someone or in some way. You will feel convicted of your sins. The guilt will motivate you to pray and seek God’s forgiveness. And, according to Jesus’ words, God will hold out on you.

As long as you refuse to forgive another, God will refuse to forgive you. That doesn’t cause you to become unsaved, you just experience the tension in your relationship with God just like you would the tension with your spouse. In fact, Scripture tells us that if a man is at odds with his wife, God will not answer his prayers (1 Peter 3:7).

If you stubbornly refuse to forgive another, your stubbornness is nothing compared to God’s stubbornness. God is eternally stubborn. You don’t want to play that game with Him.

Does this mean that God has put a condition on His love for us? Absolutely not. Out of His love, God doesn’t want to leave us in such a miserable state. God doesn’t want us to be bound by bitterness and resentment. He wants us to be free. We can only experience freedom when we’ve exercised His grace and forgiven others their sins.

While our salvation is not in jeopardy, unforgiveness causes a miserable existence. Freedom comes through generously extending God’s grace to others. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

Who has sinned against you? Who do you need to forgive? If you feel that it’s impossible to forgive someone, ask God to help you.

The thoughts for today’s devotional were inspired by “The Issue of Forgiveness in the Sermon on the Mount” by Greg Herrick on bible.org.

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