Tag Archives: heart

Where is your treasure?

When we lived in Louisville, I delivered pizzas part time to help make ends meet while I was taking classes at Seminary.  I got to meet all kinds of people and it was, oddly enough, a pretty enjoyable job!  But, let’s face it–pizza delivery isn’t going to make you rich.  After paying for tuition and books, I usually felt like the little boy with two fish desperately hoping God would somehow multiply my meager earnings so we could just pay the bills.

So, over time I began to struggle with jealousy.  I often delivered pizzas to homes that were quite extravagant.  And while I couldn’t always tell whether or not the owner was a believer, sometimes it was quite clear that they weren’t!  (Or at least weren’t acting like one at the time!)   Here I was trying to serve God and follow his lead, and it was all I could do just to pay the bills!  I remember one house that was especially lavish.  It had all the custom trimmings, a perfectly manicured and landscaped lawn, and you couldn’t help but be intimidated by its grand entryway.  Yet for all its extravagance, it sat in the shadow of the house across the street.  Literally.  The neighborhood was in a hilly area of town and the house across the street sat up much higher on the hill, so when the sun set the home literally sat in the shadow of the castle across the street.  It kind of made me chuckle a bit.  These folks had spent who knows how many years accumulating their wealth and saving up to build their dream home, and then along comes the Jones’ who build an even bigger house on the hill!  Every time they walk out the front door, they have to crane their neck upwards and block the sun with their hand just to see their neighbor’s home.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being rich.  Job was rich, and he was a godly man.  Furthermore, there’s not necessarily any spiritual benefit to being dirt poor.  There’s nothing necessarily unspiritual about owning stuff–as long as your stuff doesn’t own you.  And, on the flip side, there’s nothing necessarily spiritual about NOT owning stuff, because your NOT owning stuff CAN own you.

Just take a look at the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew 6:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” [Mat 6:19-25, 31-34 ESV]

Jesus’ warnings here don’t only apply to the wealthy.  In fact, who is more likely to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or what they will wear tomorrow–the rich or the poor?  Jesus isn’t only warning against piling up treasures on earth, but also against coveting such treasures.  Jesus’ focus was on what< you treasure, not on how much treasure you have.  I’ve met relatively poor people who treasure material possessions and worldly comfort more than some rich people!  (And I have been such a person, too.)

The reason that Jesus spends so much time talking about money is because money and material possessions betray our true passions in life.  The way we spend our time and money reveals a lot about what we value, or “treasure,” here on earth.  It reveals our perspective on life.  Many people skip over verses 22-23 , because they’re difficult to understand, but they state exactly that:

The eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye (i.e.–perspective on money) is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.

How many of us walk around filled with worldly darkness with our spiritual growth stunted because our “eye” is bad?  Oh that God would open our eyes to see the way he sees!  Why do we treasure money and material comforts which will all be destroyed instead of treasuring the eternal God?  We ought to treasure him and the things which he treasures, namely, human souls!

As Jennifer and I are preparing for service with Wycliffe, one of the obstacles we have to overcome is our debt.  Some of our debt is from educational loans, but some of it is from chasing our own little American dream.  After years of praying for God to reveal his will to me for my career path in ministry, God finally revealed it this January at Total it Up (A weeklong Wycliffe “orientation” of sorts).  Unfortunately, because of my “bad eye” in the past, our ability to move forward with Wycliffe has been delayed until we can pay down our debt.  Suddenly this passage came to life. I began to hear God asking me, “Jason, what do you treasure? Do you treasure me and following my will, or do you treasure your gas-guzzling four wheel drive truck? What about your comfort–could you live in a smaller place if it meant being able to get the gospel to those who have never heard sooner?” My accumulation of worldly treasures was preventing me from inheriting the eternal treasures God had promised. I wrestled with it it for a while, until I read this:

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:15-21 ESV]

I don’t ever want to face God and hear the words, “You fool!”  Could we get to the field without having to sell our possessions?  Perhaps eventually, but how many of the people to whom we will be sent would perish without having heard the gospel in that time?  If my soul is required of me tonight, do I want to be still clutching to my stuff when I face God, knowing that I treasured money instead of God?

… 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. [Luke 12:31-32 ESV]

Over the last couple years, God has slowly replaced the worldly treasures in my life with himself.  It’s been a slow, and at times, painful process.  But the difference is astounding.  Once I finally let go of those possessions that possessed me, the jealousy that had consumed me was replaced with a fiery passion to see the gospel go to the nations. It was so freeing!  The idea that years from now I might possibly have the privilege of handing a completed New Testament to a people who previously had no scripture is beyond my capability to express in words.  Now, my passion is God, his Word, and his Kingdom.  I think that were I able to trade lives with those whom I coveted before I would find myself saying, “This is it?  This is what I wanted?  I’m supposed to be satisfied with this?!?!”  I don’t want to settle for the American Dream.  I want God’s Dream.  The American Dream is too small.  I’ve been given a taste of God’s passion for the nations and I can’t imagine settling for anything less. But, it took God prying away those idols from my life so that he could change my unwilling heart into a heart that he could use. Please don’t misunderstand–I had nothing to do with this.  God alone deserves the credit.  But by God’s grace, I now treasure him–not as I should, of course, but more than I once did.

God has a purpose for your life, and it’s not for you to fulfill your American Dream.  He has bigger plans for you than that.  He wants to give you the Kingdom!  Don’t settle for fool’s gold.  He alone is the true treasure, the only thing worth living for.  What’s your treasure?

 

Please excuse any ads that may appear below my posts.  I cannot control them or prevent them from appearing, and I know that sometimes they can be offensive.

Your Problem is Worse Than You Think

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’ He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”(Mark 7:6, 7, 20-23 NIV)

Today as I was reading Mark 6-7, this passage where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their traditionalism jumped out at me. The Pharisees have just criticized Jesus and his disciples for ignoring the tradition of ceremonial hand washing before eating, which symbolized spiritual cleanness. Jesus responds by rebuking their philosophy of traditionalism and their propensity toward substituting their traditions for the commands of God. He also states that it is not what one brings into their body which defiles a person, but what comes out of their body which defiles a person.
Since this passage mainly deals with the errors of traditionalism, I have often missed a more subtle but profound truth hidden in these verses. Jesus says that sin–and he cites the examples of adultery, sexual immorality, murder, greed, etc.–comes from the heart, not from things external to oneself.

This reminds me of a very helpful sermon illustration that I believe John Piper once used. I have adapted it here. Imagine going to a doctor because of a fast heart rate. You tell the doctor, “Doc, I think I may have high blood pressure or something. I just can’t seem to get my heart to calm down.” The doctor reviews your symptoms and takes your blood pressure. He replies, “Well, your blood pressure is a little off, so why don’t we run an MRI just to see what we can find.” You feel that’s entirely unnecessary–you’re guessing that you just have high cholesterol and need to eat better and exercise more–but you consent because the doctor says so.

A few days later, the Doc calls you into the clinic to discuss the results. Imagine your horror to discover that it’s not high cholesterol, but a deformed, diseased heart which is causing your symptoms. Most of us would agree that this discovery is very bad news.

Here’s the thrust of what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, and to you and me: we have a dangerous tendency to downplay the severity of our sin. We tend to think, like the Pharisees, that we can simply perform a few ceremonial rituals (i.e., go to church, tithe, etc.) and be declared clean in God’s sight. Or, like the cardiology patient, we tend to self-medicate our sin with diet and exercise in a futile attempt to lower our blood pressure or relieve the symptoms. If we are willing to admit that we have sin–and often we are not–we usually fail to see its severity and, therefore, resort to inadequate means of dealing with our sin. We go to church, read self-help books (even Christian ones!), and we try to eliminate external temptations for our sins. All of these things are good, but they fail to address the root of the problem of our sin. By themselves, they’re no more effective than taking ibuprofen for a brain tumor or changing your diet to fix a deformed heart.
Jesus said that our sins cannot simply be washed off in a ceremonial cleansing. The horrible news is that our condition before God is far, far worse than we could have ever imagined. We have a sinful, deformed heart. We don’t need medication, we need a heart transplant. Without such a transplant, the result of our sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Do you struggle with “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly?” Jesus says “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” You and I struggle with sin because we have sick hearts and we are in desperate need of the Healer.

While this is decidedly bad news, there is an element of hope in it. At least now that we know the severity of our true condition we can properly treat it! At least now we know better than to expect diet and exercise alone to fix our heart. What you and I need is for God to give us a new heart. We need new desires, new passions, new eyes to see and new ears to hear.
The good news? That’s exactly the business in which Jesus thrives.

When we give our lives to Christ, Jesus gives us a new, restored heart with new desires and longings. I was, at first, puzzled by the name of John Piper’s ministry: Desiring God. I used to think it was an odd name for a ministry. But, I’ve since come to realize that a burning passion and desire for God is exactly how you and I can live our lives in such a way that brings us the most happiness and God the most glory. Why? Because we desire sin least when we desire God most. But, unfortunately, that heart is still often plagued by sin. We live in a fallen world, and until we are reunited with Christ in heaven, we will always struggle with sin. But, rather than give up, we ought to pray for a renewed heart every day–a heart for God and His glory.

I struggle with sin every day. I battle it. And, I need those external temptations removed; I need diet and exercise for the soul. But that alone will not suffice. Washing my hands won’t clean my heart. My external religious observances are necessary and good, but they are worthless unless they proceed from a clean and pure heart. Let us recognize the severity of our state before an almighty and holy God, lay aside our futile efforts to wash away our sins externally, and pray as David did when he had sinned:

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:9, 10, 16, 17 NIV)

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart… (Psalm 24:3, 4 NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25, 26 NIV)