CAN YOU BE RICH AND BE A JESUS FOLLOWER?

RG

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 68

 

Matthew #68 Matthew 19:23-26

As always, I want to remind you that we deeply appreciate your prayers for us!

23Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

25When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved? ”

26But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:23-26, HCSB)

These words come right after the rich young ruler leaves, sadly choosing to keep his wealth rather than follow Jesus. Verse 25 says that the disciples were utterly astonished at the words of Jesus about wealthy people. To be honest, I’m tempted to be utterly astonished at the disciples. It’s not like this is the first time Jesus has talked about money. Earlier, he said:

“No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money. This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? (Matt 6:24-25, HCSB)

If this is the case, it shouldn’t be so surprising that the wealthy have a difficult time entering the kingdom of God. Most wealthy people, whether they admit it or not, are serving money. Since they can’t do that while also serving God, it stands to reason that it would be hard for them to enter the kingdom.

In the parable of the Sower, Jesus warns that wealth is a great spiritual danger:

22Now the one sown among the thorns — this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Matt 13:22, HCSB)

All in all, Jesus’ words, and the subsequent teachings of the apostles, leave us with the clear understanding that wealth is a significant obstacle to being a disciple of Jesus. I think it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that some of you reading this might be surprised and a little bothered that I put it so bluntly. But I think it really is as simple and blunt as that. I’ve already shared three different places where Jesus warns about this. Rather than argue the point myself, I ask you to also prayerfully consider the following scriptures:

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But you, man of God, run from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1Tim 6:9-11, HCSB)

5Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.6Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Heb 13:5-6, HCSB)

9The brother of humble circumstances should boast in his exaltation,10but the one who is rich should boast in his humiliation because he will pass away like a flower of the field.11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will wither away while pursuing his activities. (Jas 1:9-11, HCSB)

Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! (Jas 5:1-3,

HCSB)

16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth.17Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked,18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.19As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. (Rev 3:16-19, HCSB)

Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real. (1Tim 6:17-19, HCSB)

All of this appears to be quite clear: the pursuit of wealth and the guarding of it are generally very negative things for Christians. We need to understand how terribly counter-cultural this is. Money is THE idol in Western culture, and in fact, in much of the world. We deeply want to cherish the belief that we can pursue wealth and Jesus at the same time. We desperately do not want to believe that wealth is an obstacle to entering the kingdom of God, because frankly, we want wealth, and we want eternal life insurance too.

I think the reasons we want wealth are precisely the reasons it is a problem. We want wealth in order to make a better life for ourselves here on earth. That keeps us focusing not on eternal things, but on temporary, trivial things. When we pursue wealth, we become very serious about things that are more or less meaningless in the light of eternity, and we do not have time for what really matters. We want money as a way to make our lives a little more like heaven, and in doing so, we reduce our desire for the real thing. As C.S. Lewis puts it,

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

I would add that another of the things we “fool about with” is the acquisition of wealth.

We also want wealth as a form of security. We think that if we have enough money, we will have fewer worries. In other words, we want wealth because we think it is a better way to peace of mind than trusting God.

I know a number of people who are much wealthier than me (which, to be fair, isn’t hard to be). I know some who make several hundred thousand dollars each year. I know others who could liquidate their assets and have a million dollars cash within a few weeks. One thing that surprised me the first few times I met such people, is that they are very concerned about money. I tend to think that if I had that much, I wouldn’t be worried. But as a matter of fact, these people appear to worry about money even more than I do. Can I say it this way? Money will not often bring you peace, and even in those rare times it does, it is a false peace that leads you away from trust in God.

Now, I am sure that some few people get wealthy as they follow Jesus. If you just happen to become wealthy while you live your life as Jesus’ disciple, committing yourself fully to Him and His purposes, it’s probably not a problem. If your goal is never money, but always Jesus, then you might be able to handle wealth in a spiritually appropriate way.

Notice that in our text today (Matthew 19:23-30) Jesus does not eliminate all hope for the wealthy – he says all things are possible with God. In fact, we know of three wealthy people who, unlike the rich young ruler, did follow Jesus. The first is Matthew, who gave up the source of his wealth (his tax collection business) to follow Jesus. The second is Zacchaeus, also a tax collector, who also gave away a great portion of his wealth after meeting Jesus. The third is Joseph of Arimathea. We don’t know whether or not he remained wealthy after becoming the disciple of Jesus.

But I have to be honest with you. Most people don’t get wealthy by following Jesus, and it is not because they are “doing it wrong.” It could happen, but following Jesus is not a reliable means to financial prosperity. Jesus himself was never wealthy. It didn’t work out for wealth for Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathaniel, Simon, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, or Thaddaeus – the eleven faithful apostles. The other close disciples of Jesus who failed to become wealthy include: Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, James (the half-brother of Jesus). In fact, we know for sure that there were very few wealthy Christians during the time of the New Testament. Even throughout history since that time, when you think of the “great” Christians through the ages, the ones who really made a difference, they were usually not wealthy. You might argue that Saint Francis of Assisi became great precisely because he gave up his wealth. Augustine, Martin Luther, Wycliffe, Thomas a Kempis, and many, many more either gave up wealth to follow Jesus, or never had it.

If what you really want is wealth, or even really good financial security, I think you need to make a choice between that and Jesus. Decide which one it is, and if it is money, you might as well stop pretending it is God. It’s not like He doesn’t know. Now, I’m not saying that this can never be a struggle. Of course it is a struggle. Jesus isn’t saying that it is easy. But you will wear yourself out, and never win any part of the struggle if you go on deceiving yourself by thinking that you can have both the ambition to follow Jesus, and also the ambition to be wealthy. Am I wrong about this? Re-read Jesus’ words yourself, and the other New Testament verses I’ve shared, and see if there’s any other way to interpret them without twisting them around.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying that wealth is inherently sinful. But these verses do show us that wealth is inherently spiritually dangerous. From a spiritual perspective, wealth is like high explosives. Most of the time, most people have no need to have them. However, in certain, limited situations, it could be very useful to have high explosives around. But if you do have them, you must handle them very, very carefully, or they will blow up and destroy you. I think this is kind of like the picture we have of wealth from the bible.

I want to cover one more thing. There is nothing in the bible that says poverty is a virtue, like faith, or love or patience. Jesus isn’t saying “part of being righteous is being poor.” The point is not that we must be poor, but rather, that wealth should mean nothing to us. If wealth means nothing to us, and we focus on following Jesus, we might end up wealthy with the temporary riches of this world. We might also end up impoverished, at least in the eyes of the world. We might also be somewhere in between. The point is, it shouldn’t matter to us, one way or another.

I think the writer of the following proverb has a pretty good insight:

8Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need.9Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, “Who is the LORD? ” or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God. (Prov 30:8-9, HCSB)

Paul makes a similar case:

But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Let me make this practical by sharing some things from my own life. By the way, I don’t share what follows as some sort of covert attempt to get you to send me money – I’m just trying to make all of this real and practical to my own life, because I want to live with integrity to the scripture, and I’m sharing it here because I hope that it may help you get real and practical with the scripture in your own life.

I believe the Lord has called me to write and preach these messages, to serve the small churches I am serving, and to write mystery novels, and to perform music with my wife. Following Jesus, for me, practically, means doing these things. The thing is, sometimes this means we live on the edge financially. This past week we incurred more bills fixing a single vehicle than we made for the entire month. It’s not that the repair was outrageous, but our income was even lower. I don’t know where the money will come from, but I know that Jesus says, “trust me.” I am absolutely open to doing some things that make more money, if Jesus leads me to them, but I want to follow Jesus, not the money. Our way of life right now might eventually become unsustainable, but frankly, I’ve expected that to happen for several years now, and it hasn’t yet come to that.

I sometimes daydream about what it would be like to not worry about money. I think of what I would do if I had a big pile of cash. If I am honest, in my daydreams I do give a lot of my money away, but I also enjoy a lot of it by traveling, upgrading to a car made in the current decade, and so on.

But my daydreams are interrupted by the knowledge that Jesus tells me I don’t have to worry about money right now. Having more or less has nothing to do with it; not worrying about money comes down to trusting Jesus in my real, everyday life. He also tells me I can be generous with what I have right now, and that He looks at the heart and proportion of the gift, not the dollar amount.

In the end, Jesus wants us to make decisions based on what it means for how we relate to him. The rich young ruler made his decision based upon what would happen financially. That is the heart of the matter.

WALKING ON WATER AND SINKING

Jesus-walking-on-water

…When things go well, that is not proof that we are doing what God wants; and when things go badly that is not proof that we are doing something wrong…

…Where do you see Jesus? Is there some way in which you want to be with Jesus, doing what he is doing, a way that looks crazy or impossible? I suggest that you say, like Peter, “Lord if it is you, call me to come to you in this context.”

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part

 

Matthew #47. Matthew 14:22-36

Jesus was on a real roll for these few days. Just as the feeding of the five-thousand accomplished a number of important things, so did his next miracle.

After the big picnic, he knew that some people had the wrong idea, and wanted to make him king, wanted to follow him simply because he had fed them for free. So he dismissed the people, sent his disciples away and withdrew by himself to a remote place, where he talked to the Father. Finally, he had some time alone with the Father to process his grief over John, and to be strengthened through prayer. It was after this that Jesus came to the disciples who were in the middle of the lake in their boat.

As I read this Scripture I find myself asking, why did Jesus do this?

The first answer is ridiculously simple, and yet I think it is one reason for Jesus’ action. He did it because he wanted to catch up with his disciples, and he didn’t have his own boat, and walking is faster than swimming. That’s right: I think the first reason for this miracle is that Jesus found it the most practical way to rejoin his friends.

Second, I think it is obvious that he used the opportunity to show his disciples yet again that he is the promised Messiah.

Third, as with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus used this miracle as a chance to teach his disciples, and us, some important things. It is on this – what we can learn from this incident – that I want to focus.

First, I want us to notice something. Jesus explicitly told his disciples to get in the boat and start back across the lake, and when they did, the wind was against them. In those days, in that part of the world, they had not yet developed the type of sail which allows a boat to move forward close to the direction from which the wind is coming. In short, when the wind was behind them they could use the sail, but when it was coming from the general direction in which they wished to travel they had to row. Jesus knew the wind was against them and he sent them out anyway.

I think this demonstrates an important principle about following Jesus. I’m not sure where we get it, but a lot of Christians seem to think that if we are following Jesus our lives should be easy. In some ways I understand why we might think this way. When we surrender our lives to God and follow Jesus, we are starting to live the way our Creator intends us to live. This naturally makes certain things better in our lives. If we learn from Jesus how to love others sacrificially, our family life is likely to be happier and more peaceful that if we don’t obey Jesus in this way. If we obey what the Scripture says about not getting drunk we are likely to wake up with fewer headaches and fewer regrets. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality, our relationships will be more stable, our children will grow up in loving families and we will not contract sexually transmitted diseases. I could go on like this about any number of topics, but you get the idea.

On the other hand, there is no promise that everything will be easy if we simply follow Jesus, and in fact there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. This particular passage shows us that. The disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to, and it wasn’t going well. After hours of struggling they had only made it a mile away from shore. The truth is, it would have been much easier if they had turned around and let the wind blow them back to where they had started. If they wanted easy, they should have done exactly the opposite of what Jesus told them. This encourages me. When I am encountering difficulties, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have made a mistake; it doesn’t mean that I have messed up God’s plan for me. When things go well, that is not proof that we are doing what God wants; and when things go badly that is not proof that we are doing something wrong. This Scripture teaches us not to judge our actions and decisions based upon results.

There is another thing I want us to notice. When Jesus came to them, walking on the water, they were afraid. I imagine that the whole picture was surreal. The HCSB says that they cried out “it’s a ghost!” The Greek word used for ghost is phantasm. You have to remember, many of us have heard the story all of our lives, but none of the disciples had heard any such thing. They were the first ones to experience it. It wasn’t like they had the thought somewhere in the back of their consciousness, “Oh yeah, the Messiah is going to walk on water.” The Old Testament scriptures did not say the Messiah would do this (they don’t say he wouldn’t, either). Nothing whatsoever prepared them to see Jesus coming towards them in this way. This is another lesson for us. Jesus often approaches us in ways that we do not expect; ways that we do not recognize at first.

Now, there are limits to this. I don’t mean that Jesus will somehow suddenly reveal himself as Buddha; or that he will show you some secret knowledge which contradicts the Bible. Our faith is based in the understanding that the Bible is God’s word revealed to human beings. I have preached extensively in the past about why we can trust that the Bible is reliable. Once we go beyond the Bible or contradict it, our faith is meaningless; if we don’t trust that the Scripture is the word of God there is no reason to believe in Jesus in the first place. However, it is important to understand that while the Bible tells us what we need to know, it does not give us all knowledge in the universe. It is quite possible, likely even, that Jesus can surprise us even if we know and trust the Scriptures. Just as the Messiah walking on the water was not predicted by the Old Testament, it was not contradicted by it either.

On the one hand, it is perfectly acceptable for us to be surprised and even fearful when Jesus shows up in a way that we did not expect. As he sees their fear, he calls out to them, “It is I, do not be afraid!” He is comforting them and reassuring them that this new strange thing they are seeing is in fact himself. I think we can trust that Jesus will do the same for us.

Now let’s take a look at how Jesus and Peter interacted during this incident.

I have thought through how I might react in a similar situation, and have come to the conclusion that I am nothing like the apostle Peter. Here are some things I might have said: “Lord, if it is you then please do something about this wind.” Or, “Lord, if it is you, then hurry up and get into the boat.” Here’s another: “Lord, if it is you, will you please explain what you are doing and what is going on?”

But Peter’s response is something that I think is worth aspiring to. He had a little bit of faith, but he wanted more. One of the things that fascinates me about this whole incident is that Peter did not have to get out of the boat. It was Peter who said to Jesus, “call me to come.” It was not Jesus who insisted Peter get out of the boat. I believe this tells us something about Peter. He wanted everything he could possibly have with Jesus. He didn’t want to get to heaven and find out he could have walked on water, or raised the dead, or healed the sick or anything else he could have done. He wanted to push in to everything Jesus had for him. Now, Jesus did not rebuke the other eleven for staying in the boat, but I believe he laughed with delight when he heard Peter’s request. He was glad to show Peter the amazing things Peter could do with his (Jesus’) help. And we see the later fruit of Peter’s desires to apprehend by faith all that Jesus had for him. It was Peter who was the first of the apostles to heal a lame man. It was he who preached aloud in tongues and saw more than 3,000 people converted at one time. It was he who raised Dorcas from the dead, and who was the first to bring the gospel to non-Jews. It was he who walked out of Herod’s prison without a scratch, faithfully following the angel God sent, even though he was pretty sure it was just a dream, just as he had once thought Jesus on the water was a dream.

Now, if we look at this text carefully, Peter does not seem to be asking to walk on water just so that he can say he walked on water. He did not say, “Lord, if it is you, empower me to walk on water in general,” or “Lord, if it is you, tell me to run two laps around the boat.” What he said was, “Lord, tell me to come to you.” What Peter was after was being close to Jesus. He saw Jesus out there and it filled him with love and admiration and inspiration. Just as a child who wants to be like his dad, Peter wanted to be where Jesus was and do what Jesus did. For Peter, the point was not the miracle, but Jesus. He wanted to be where Jesus was, even when that place looked dangerous and uncertain. He wanted to know that the wind and the waves could not stop him from coming to Jesus.

At first, Peter’s faith holds up. He is actually walking on the water toward Jesus! Now, I would think this is even more difficult than we imagine. Forget about sinking: simply walking and keeping your balance on a moving surface that is going up and down underneath you has got to be very difficult. And then comes verse 30:

But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me! ”

jesus-walks-on-waterPeter’s first impulse was inspired by Jesus. His heart and his mind were fixed on Jesus; his goal was Jesus. But then something happened: he looked around at his environment. He started paying attention to his circumstances rather than to Jesus. And when he quit looking at Jesus and started focusing on what was going on around him, he became afraid; and when he became afraid, he sank.

But it was all good! Jesus was there, and Jesus made sure he didn’t go under. Peter got soaking wet and probably cold; he had a good scare, but ultimately, everything came out okay.

It seems to me that we can find some obvious applications to our own lives here. First, it is worth aspiring to the kind of faith and focus on Jesus that Peter shows us. He wasn’t the kind of guy to cower in the boat, and because of that, the Holy Spirit was able to use him in wonderful ways later on.

Second, this whole thing reminds me of Hebrews chapter 12:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Heb 12:1-2, HCSB)

Peter’s goal all along was Jesus, and when he kept his heart and attention focused on Jesus, he was able to walk on water. I have met people who would love to “walk on water” so to speak, but I wonder how much of their desire is about wanting to do amazing things as opposed to wanting to be like Jesus and to be close to him. There have been times in my own life when I was so excited about the idea of doing something amazing by faith that my focus was more on what I was trying to accomplish than it was on Jesus. But Peter’s focus, at least in the beginning, was all on Jesus. It shouldn’t be about the amazing things we want to do. Instead, it should be that we want to join Jesus where we see him at work, even if that place looks very strange and impossible.

With that foundation firmly in mind, where do you see Jesus? Where is it that you want him to invite you to join him? Jesus did not command any of the disciples to join him on the water, but Peter wanted to, even though it looked crazy. Is there some way in which you want to join with Jesus, a way that looks crazy or impossible? I suggest that you say, like Peter, “Lord if it is you, call me to come to you in this context.”

And then, no matter where we are in faith, one of the keys is keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and as much as possible, ignoring the wind and the waves around us. If we want to live by faith, we cannot find security in our circumstances. Our circumstances will often scare us; they may sink us. Like Peter, we are most safe when we keep her eyes fixed on Jesus.

The other thing I love about this, is that Peter was safe. What he tried to do was crazy. Through faith, he was able to do it for a while, but ultimately he failed. What I want to point out is that his failure was not fatal. “Peter” is just the word for “rock” in Greek. I wonder how much fun Jesus and the other disciples had talking about relative buoyancy of rocks. “Hey, Peter! You float like a rock!” Or, “Nice going…Rock!” Even so, Peter was the only one who even bothered to try, and he was no worse off for it. I think this should encourage us. When we step out in faith we may succeed, or we may fail. Either way, Jesus is there.

Be still for a few minutes now, and listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to you today.

Are you looking at Jesus, or the wind and waves

Thanks again for making use of Clear Bible.

I want to remind you again that we are a listener-supported ministry, and that means, first and foremost, that we are supported by your prayers. We need and value your prayers for us.

Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive what we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. But if he doesn’t want you to give to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances.

If the Lord does lead you to give, just use the Paypal Donate button on the right hand side of the page. You don’t have to have a Paypal account – you can use a credit card, if you prefer. You can also set up a recurring donation through Paypal. We can make this tax-deductible if you just mention that it want it to be so in the “note” part of the transaction.

You could also send a check to:

New Joy Fellowship

625 Spring Creek Road

Lebanon, TN 37087

Just put “Clear Bible” in the memo. Your check will be tax-deductible.

Thank for your prayers, and your support!