Seek and ye shall find

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Luke 18:1-8; Matthew 7:7-11

Everyone prays.  At least when they’re desperate.  But no-one seems to know why it works or how it could.

It’s an uncertainty that keenly afflicts westerners labouring under three false assumptions.

1) We think of “nature” as a closed system, grinding along according to iron laws.

2) We consider ourselves to be self-sufficient masters of our fate.  We know where our next meal is coming from so we’re just not that desperate.

But perhaps most troublesome of all is,

3) Our concept of God is deeply affected by philosophical theism.  God, if He has any kind of a role, simply pulls the levers, right?  Far off in heaven He doesn’t inter-act, let alone re-act to His creatures, does He? And so we are plagued by the suspicion that “God already knows what I need and He already knows if He’s going to give it to me.”  So why pray?

None of these hang-ups seem to affect Jesus.  He paints prayer as a continual and confident petitioning – asking, seeking, knocking.  And He paints God as an eager respondent to our prayers:

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Here is a vibrant and dynamic give-and-take between the pray-er and God.  There is heart-felt need – desperation even – as the requests turn to searches and the searches turn to hammering on heaven’s door.  But it’s not the desperation of doubt.  As we bang on the door, Someone is most certainly home.  He is about to open that door and to pour out heaven’s blessings.  So, Ask!  Seek!  Knock!

This is a revolutionary idea.  When we think of desperate praying we imagine reluctant deities.  Or if we consider bountiful gods we conclude there’s redundant praying.  But Jesus puts the two notions together – desperate prayer and a bountiful God.  How can Jesus speak like this?

Because God is Father.  That’s how Jesus explains it in the following verses:

“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”  (Matthew 7:9-11)

Pray because it is “your Father which is in heaven.”  That makes all the difference in the world.

Imagine if God were like the philosopher described – a distant individual, high on power, low on personality.  Before there was a universe this god existed in unopposed majesty.  Such a god orders every atom and act from a single centre of divine agency.  This god is always acting and never reacting.  If we ever prayed to such a god it could only be a pre-ordained request to receive a pre-ordained reply.  Essentially prayer is pageantry because this god does not and cannot genuinely respond.  Any appearance of prayers being answered is just that – appearance.  When we trace all things back to their root cause we only see divine action, never divine reaction.

Now imagine the God that Jesus describes – a Father.  Before there was a universe, this God was Father because this God has always had a Son. Therefore this God has always been acting and reacting.  From eternity the Father and Son have enjoyed give-and-take and back-and-forth by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In the beginning there was prayer.  Now we are invited into the prayer life of God.  In the Son we pray to the Father and His answer to us in Jesus is not pageantry – it is a genuine response.  And it is the genuine response of the ultimate Father to His most beloved Son.

Even we “evil men” know how to give good gifts to our children.  How much more will the Father give to His children good things – most essentially His Holy Spirit.  Therefore Ask!  Seek!  Knock!

So allow Jesus’ revelation of the Father to re-configure our thinking:

1) The world is not the product of a solitary power-god.  This is the creation of the triune God.  It is an open and relational reality.  Our world does not run on principles, it runs on prayer.

2) We may not lack anything materially, but in ourselves we are absolutely bereft of the Spirit.  We have the Holy Spirit in Christ – the Anointed One.  In myself I have nothing.  In Him I have everything.  Therefore I need to know my desperate need as well as God’s bountiful provision. Prayer is the articulation of my Christian life.  I am empty in myself (therefore knock) and full to overflowing in Jesus (therefore the door is open to me).

3) God is not some distant administrator.  Our prayers are not request forms lost in layers of bureaucracy.  He is our Father.  And we pray in the name of Jesus, His Son.  Therefore we pray with total desperation and complete confidence.  He knows, He hears and He responds.  With a Father’s heart.

Pearls before swine

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Matthew 7:1-6

The most precious of jewels and the filthiest of animals are combined into a single memorable phrase:

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”  (Matthew 7:6)

There are people who, at some point, prove themselves unworthy recipients of our “pearls”.  To continue to engage them is foolishness and counter-productive.

There are two things to note about this.  The first is that Jesus is speaking against any masochistic desire in His disciples to provoke their own persecution.  He has already warned us that we will be persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-12).  But we are not to invite it.  When hearers of the gospel turn nasty there can be a perverse pleasure in baring our necks and martyring ourselves.  But being persecuted is not the point.  The point is spreading the gospel which is as precious as pearls.  And so Jesus counsels later in Matthew:

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.”  (Matthew 10:14)

There comes a time when we close our mouths, stop preaching and move on.  And so we should pray for wisdom, asking the Father that we would know when to “let our light shine” and when to stop casting pearls and start “shaking the dust off our feet.”

That is the obvious implication of Christ’s teaching.  But there’s a surprising point to note also.  Consider for a moment who are the “swine”.  In the context, there is only one enemy which Jesus warns against – the religious.  Jesus has been preaching against the hypocrites throughout the sermon and particularly through Matthew chapter 6.  It is the judgemental and hypocritical religious who will be threatened by the gospel of Jesus.  The grace of Christ demolishes their self-righteousness and pride and, in the context of the sermon, they will be the ones to “turn again and rend” the disciples.

The Apostle Paul found this truth playing out again and again.  Whenever he came to a new place, he would go to the synagogue first (Acts 17:2). There he would declare the good news that the Messiah for Whom they had waited had come and His name was Jesus.  All was fulfilled, the shadows have given way to reality, rejoice!

Yet, almost universally, he would find them turning on him to tear him to pieces, sometimes literally.  Therefore he would often make speeches like this one in Acts 18:

“Paul… testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.  And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”  (Acts 18:5-6)

The pearl was the gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ.  But the swine who tore him to pieces were not the immoral and irreligious.  They were the most moral, the most religious.  They were the very people of the Messiah. Obviously not all of them.  Paul himself was Jewish and he was “clean.” Yet through rejecting the Christ, these so-called keepers of the faith have become unclean.  And Paul will go to the Gentiles.

Ironically the synagogue would have considered the Gentiles to be the dogs – they were the unclean ones.  But Paul stops arguing with them and simply takes the pearls of eternal life and casts them before those who will receive.  And the moralists are left in the pig-sty of their Christless piety.

Clean and unclean is not a matter of birth-rite, not a matter of nationality or religious fervour.  Whether we are clean or unclean hinges on one question:  will we receive Jesus?

The mote and the beam

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Matthew 7:1-6

George Carlin once noted a universal rule of the road:  Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot.  And everyone who drives faster is a maniac.

To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot.  To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac.  But one rule applies to all:  My speed is just right.

Hypocrisy is not limited to the highway.  It thrives in religion.  And Jesus saw the hypocrisy of religious leaders all around him.  They couldn’t give to charity without blowing a trumpet to announce it (Matthew 6:1-4). They couldn’t pray without standing on a street corner to advertise it (Matthew 6:5-15).  They couldn’t fast without disfiguring their faces so that all would know their ascetic piety (Matthew 6:16-18).  And such self-righteous pillars of the community could not help judging the hoi polloi (Matthew 7:1-2).

They had invested so much in their own displays of righteousness.  If they sensed that others did not match up, they were quick to find fault and boost their standing even further.

When Jesus saw their hypocrisy, He likened it to an ophthalmologist tut-tutting about the speck in his patient’s eye – whilst a plank of 4-by-2 protrudes from his own.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:3-5)

It is an image both comical and painful.  We can imagine a convention of hypocrites, a tangle of eye foliage and grumbling as they bemoan the dust they’ve spotted in others.  “Sheesh”, “Typical”, “For shame”, “Who said that?”, “Bill is that you? I can’t see.”

What’s the way out of such hypocrisy?

Firstly, laugh.  Not at others, at yourself.  This is what Jesus encourages with His humorous word pictures.  See the absurdity of your own smugness.  Bring to mind your over-inflated sense of self and burst that bubble with a sharp dose of self-ridicule.  What am I like?  I look like a human Dalek with a tree-trunk poking out of my eye-socket murmuring about the state of someone’s eye-grit.  I am ridiculous and need to stop taking myself so seriously.

Secondly, get proportion.  I have the beam.  You have the mote.  In every relationship that’s the proportion.  The problem is 99% me, 1% you.  Of course from your perspective it’s 99% you, but I leave that for you to figure out.  My burden is the beam.  Always.  That’s my priority.

Therefore, thirdly, every time I feel a critical spirit rising it’s an opportunity, not for conceit, but for contrition.  When I see sin in others my response should not be “Phew, at least I’m not as bad as that!”  It should be to question: “How is my sin reflected in this?”  Perhaps I do the same thing.  Perhaps I commit some equivalent sin – the modus operandi changed, the motive the same.  Or perhaps my superiority complex is what needs addressing.

Finally, look at Jesus.  When He came among us, He was the only one to see clearly.  Being sinless He is the only human who has ever truly appreciated the human condition for what it is – depraved, distorted, dead.  And yet His response was not to fold His arms, shake His head and say “Shame on you.”  He opened His arms, bowed His head and said “Shame on me.”  It’s astonishing grace.  And it shatters our pride.

Judge not, that ye be not judged

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Matthew 7:1-6

Last year the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and many other news sites and blogs reported a hoax as fact.  The hoax was this:  Internet Explorer users are less intelligent than those using other web browsers.

It was a lie that spread like wildfire, despite the thinnest of fabricated “evidence” produced by a website cobbled together in a month.  Why did this lie find such instant and universal acceptance, (amongst the web-savvy anyway)?  Because we love to judge.

We are inveterate self-justifiers who need to feel righteous.  But before we paint that beautiful word in sordid colours, let’s think about why we need to feel righteous.

We need to feel righteous because we were made to be perfect, as Jesus has just told us (Matthew 5:48).  The trouble is, we know that we are evil, as Jesus is about to say (Matthew 7:11).  So how do we cope with this vast gulf in righteousness? Jesus counsels us simply to hunger and thirst for His righteousness and we will most certainly be filled (Matthew 5:6).

But we don’t like to hunger.  We don’t like to admit any lack in ourselves. We want to be the ones who deal in righteousness.  We don’t want to be justified in that passive sense.  We want righteousness to be something in our own possession which we wield and apply to others. So we choose the only other option for unjust justifiers.  We judge others.

Having rejected a merciful justification we mete out legal judgements.  By sheer grace we have been invited out of the dock and onto the side of the Judge as a forgiven yet sinful child. But instead we prefer to remain in the context of earning and merit.  So we stay in the dock to fight our corner. And we imagine that somehow we improve our position by turning around to our co-conspirators with an accusing finger.  If we play the part of the judge perhaps everyone will forget that we are the accused.

This tactic is as old as Adam.  As soon as sin entered in, man hid and sought to cover himself by his own efforts.  The Lord came to expose him and, ultimately, to clothe him in acceptable coverings.  Yet in his excruciating exposure man rejects the way of repentance and receiving. Instead he goes on the attack.  Man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent and (as the old joke goes) the serpent doesn’t have a leg to stand on.  This has been the way of man ever since.

And Jesus says:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged:  and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Francis Schaeffer taught this truth by asking his audience to imagine an invisible tape recorder was hanging around their necks.  These days we might update the illustration and call it an iPhone app.  Imagine that it records every moral judgement you ever make about another.  Each time you hold another person to account, each time you tell someone they mustn’t, each time you bemoan a colleague or institution it records your judgement.  Imagine the litany of judgements – scores every month, hundreds every year, thousands in a whole life-time.  Imagine that on the last day Jesus retrieves these recordings and hits play.  Imagine if every standard you’ve held the world to was applied to you.  Who could stand?!

When we are humbled by that prospect, then we are ready to stop ranking everyone.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains it in these terms:

“Judgment is the forbidden objectivization of the other person, which destroys single-minded love.  I am not forbidden to have my own thoughts about the other person, to realise his shortcomings, but only to the extent that it offers to me an occasion for forgiveness and unconditional love, as Jesus proves to me.”

That’s an important qualification.  Jesus is not commanding me to abandon all discernment.  Yet in every discernment of my neighbour, their shortcomings move me to pity rather than pride.  When I see how the Judge has justified me, I am freed from the realm of judgement.  I leave the dock and I leave my imagined judge’s bench.  I come to Jesus, loved in my wickedness.  And now every difference I see in others is an opportunity, not for superiority, but solidarity and service.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God

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Matthew 6:25-34

Some people are good at multi-tasking.  No-one is good at multi-seeking.

Jesus has been teaching us that we have only one heart.  And our hearts attend to what we treasure.  Essentially we can treasure God or we can treasure the things of this world, mammon.

To invest in earthly treasure is the way of worry.  But, as the lilies themselves testify, care-free abandonment to God is the true path to peace.

At this point our flesh rises up and cries out, “We can’t survive on prayer and good intentions!  How will our daily needs be provided?”  To this Jesus responds:

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

Our Father has not forgotten our needs.  And He does not despise our needs.  As Father He provides.  But that’s how it has to be.  Godless folk seek things.  Jesus’ people seek God.  And therefore they appreciate “all these things” for what they are – gifts.

The atmosphere of a “Gentile” life is toil.  Everything is their own doing. All that they have is because they have sought it.  The atmosphere of a Christian’s life is grace.  “All these things” are enjoyed as a gift.  And of course God’s kingdom and righteousness are also gifts, as Jesus has made clear in the beatitudes.

The Gentile seeks to earn their essentials while they lack the one true Necessity.  The Christian seeks the grace which is already theirs, and even more is given.

CS Lewis was always speaking on this topic.  And I can’t say it better than him:

“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.  It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters.  Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you.  You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more – food, games, work, fun, open air.  In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object.  We must learn to want something else even more.”  – Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960) p.118-9.

“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.  The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.  It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her.  But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery.  It may be stated as follows:  every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made. . . You can’t get second things by putting them first.  You get second things only by putting first things first.”  – C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 280.

“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.”  – A letter to Dom Bede Griffiths (April 23, 1951)

Consider the lillies

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Matthew 6:25-34

Brian keeps getting mistaken for the Messiah.  In this scene he must come up with some pithy teaching on the hoof.

BRIAN: …Consider the lilies… in the field…

ELSIE: Consider the lilies?

BRIAN: Uh, well, the birds, then.

EDDIE: What birds?

BRIAN: Any birds.

EDDIE: Why?

BRIAN: Well, have they got jobs?

ARTHUR: Who?

BRIAN: The birds.

EDDIE: Have the birds got jobs?!!

FRANK: What’s the matter with him?

ARTHUR: He says the birds are scrounging.

BRIAN: Oh, uhh, no, the point is the birds. They do all right. Don’t they?

FRANK: Well, good luck to ‘em.

EDDIE: Yeah. They’re very pretty.

BRIAN: Okay, and you’re much more important than they are, right? So, what are you worrying about? There you are. See?

EDDIE: I’m worrying about what you have got against birds.

BRIAN: I haven’t got anything against the birds. Consider the lilies.

ARTHUR: He’s having a go at the flowers now.

The reason that so much of Life of Brian works, is that Jesus’ teachings are already saturated with comedic themes.  In this part of the sermon on the mount, He combines observation with comedy’s stock-in-trade: juxtaposition.  Jesus looks at the world and compares situations that we ordinarily keep separate.  Birds don’t sow or reap and “good luck to ‘em” we think.  It doesn’t occur to us that their way of life should have any bearing on ours.  And if we do compare we can only judge them by our standards – i.e. they’re scrounging!

But Jesus wants us to think the other way around.  Allow the lilies and the birds to judge us.  It’s not they that waste, it’s we that worry.

“Behold the fowls of the air:  for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.  Are ye not much better than they?  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  And why take ye thought for raiment?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?”  (Matthew 6:26-30)

Birds are cared for by “our heavenly Father. And we are much better than birds.  We are adopted children of the Father.

Grass is clothed better than Solomon who was a christ – an anointed king. And we are better than grass.  We are christs, anointed to rule by the Spirit.

Therefore (v30) let us have faith in this:  Apart from Jesus I am one of the Gentiles (v32) and I am worse off than birds and grass – certainly that’s how I live.  Yet in Jesus, I am a king of creation – I am a christ, a son of God.

Therefore if I want to see the epitome of worry-free living I should look to Jesus.  He is the Christ, the Son of God who is proclaimed in every detail of His creation, right down to the lilies.  I look up to Jesus and see incredible peace and poise.  I look around to the “fowls” and “lilies” and see divine dependence in every detail.  But I look within and find faithless worry and toil.

How galling that even flora and fauna outstrip me in care-free living.  O me of little faith!

Take no thought

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Matthew 6:25-34

In 1395, Wycliffe rendered it be not busy:  “Therfor I seie to you, that ye be not bisi to youre lijf.”  (Matthew 6:25)

In 1534 Tyndale put the warning, be not carefull:  “Therfore I saye vnto you be not carefull for your lyfe.”

From Tyndale until 1611 all the translations rendered Jesus’ warning as “be not carefull”.  But the King James Bible did something more literal with the underlying Greek word:

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”  (Matthew 6:25)

In modern versions this Greek word is translated as “anxious” or “worried”.  It’s a compound word, the first element meaning “parts”, the second referring to remembrance / calling to mind.  So it’s the sense of a divided mind – many parts, having many thoughts.  Thus the KJV repeatedly translates this warning as “Take no thought.”

“Take no thought” for your life; your food and clothing; for tomorrow; for how you will defend yourself; and again, for your life.” (Matthew 6:25,31,34; 10:19; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11,22)

Just imagine it: walking through life without that busyness and care and anxiety which besets us much of the time.  How can we face the world with an undivided mind?  The path to peace is very surprising and very practical if we follow Jesus’ logic.

Perhaps the first word of the verse is the most important – “Therefore.” The path to peace lies in appreciating Christ’s teaching on money.  Jesus has just told us “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (v24).  He has insisted that we “lay not up for ourselves treasures upon the earth” (v19). And now, having abandoned all confidence in money and switched our investments to heavenly treasure, Jesus expects us to “take no thought.”

This seems like madness to the affluent westerner.  Surely money gives you peace of mind?  Jesus seems to suggest it robs us of peace.

Christopher Hitchens, in this video, describes “take no thought” as “the central doctrine of Jesus Christ” (1:50-3:00).  Of course that’s quite absurd, but what is interesting is Hitchens’ reaction to the teaching.  He is appalled that there is no investment, no construction, no thrift advised here and so he labels the teaching as ridiculous and immoral.  He cannot imagine any wisdom in the practice of care-free living.  But Jesus would direct him first to v24.  Perhaps it is significant that Hitchens himself commands tens of thousands of dollars for each speaking engagement. There is, according to Jesus, the closest link between investment in mammon and an anxious mind unable to “take no thought.”

It seems counter-intuitive, yet Jesus insists that the pursuit of a financial cushion is not the way of wisdom but the way of worry.  Instead it is an undivided heart that produces an undivided mind.  And mammon is the distraction from our heart’s true Object of worship.  Therefore peace of mind does not come through careful worldly investments.  It comes from a care-free abandonment to our heavenly Father.

A financial adviser can give you sound advice.  What they cannot give you is peace of mind.  And the more we look to money for that peace, the more it will elude us.

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon

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Luke 16:1-13; Matthew 6:16-24

We are all worshippers.  We all give our hearts to something.  And yet we only have one heart.  Simone Weil put it like this:

“No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope.  Consequently, the only choice is between worshipping the true God or an idol.”

Jesus says the same thing, but more radically.  He identifies the idol that presents itself as God’s alternative:  mammon.

“No man can serve two masters:  for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  (Matthew 6:24)

What is mammon?  In the Greek of the New Testament the word is left untranslated.  It is transliterated from Aramaic where it means most straightforwardly “riches” or “wealth”.  It’s related to the word for trust and is therefore “that which is trusted in.”  Think less of cash and more of confidence.  It is that in which we invest to give us life and security. Mammon is not simply the currency of this world.  Mammon, according to Jesus, is a power that competes for our devotion.

And it’s one or the other.  God or mammon.  You cannot serve both.  Jesus does not say “you must not” as though it were possible but just ill advised.  Jesus does not say “It would be a good idea if you didn’t”.  He says it cannot be done.  Because mammon is a competing god in your life.

What does a god do?  A god offers some kind of provision and protection.  In return it asks that you follow it, that you bow down to it and worship it.  Mammon is a false god.  It promises provision – it will be the source of your needs and wants.  It offers protection – it will cushion whatever blows you may face.  In return it makes you follow it and bow down and worship it.  Mammon is a Master, a slave-master at that.

Jesus unmasks Mammon here.  Because to our eyes money looks like our servant.  We think ‘Money gives me security, status, comfort, power. Money is my servant isn’t it?  Money makes me a master doesn’t it?’  No.  Whenever we put our trust in money to save us we follow money into slavery.  And we will find that we don’t possess our stuff, it possesses us.

Just imagine all your worldly wealth collected together in a piggy bank. Imagine you have to carry it around with you.  How do you feel, clutching that piggy bank to your chest?  Free?  Empowered?  Happy?  No you would be scared stiff that you’d drop it, or lose it, or have it stolen. And there would be a hundred things you would refuse to do in case you broke your piggy bank.

Yet whilst we clutch our wealth to our hearts, we will be slaves to money. And haters of God – that’s the stark assessment of Jesus. Followers of money must despise God.  Because God is not committed to our financial security.  Not in this age.  God is not committed to our financial cushion.  In fact He’s into demolishing our piggy banks.  He wants to free us from them.  If we have made money into our great hope for protection and provision we are on a collision course with God.

And so Jesus urges us to reconsider our object of “desire, supplication and hope.”  Jesus reveals to us a God who is completely unlike mammon. Our Father protects and provides as a gift.  As we’ll see shortly He clothes grass and feeds birds out of the overflow of His generous heart.  How much more does He lavish gifts upon His children.

In mammon we see a god who promises life but demands our death.  We must literally sell our souls to him.  In Jesus we see the God who comes to die to give us life.  And our souls are bought at great price.

In serving the god of mammon we find ourselves to be slaves.  In serving the God of Jesus we find ourselves to be sons.   If we serve the one we simply cannot serve the other.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

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Matthew 6:16-24

Following His discussion of three religious practices – alms-giving, prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18) – Jesus returns to the topic of giving.  But here He doesn’t speak in terms of “alms” but of treasure.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus is not speaking about spare cash.  And He’s not merely speaking of money.  He’s speaking about everything of value – whether it’s money in the bank, or our pension or our possessions or our house, our car – whatever we consider our ‘treasure.’

And Jesus has a top investment tip.  You might label it insider trading but Jesus knows that earthly treasure is about to take a dive.  Meanwhile “treasures in heaven” are set to go through the roof.  So Jesus appeals to our good financial sense and says, Switch!  Stop investing in falling stock, it will crash spectacularly.  Use earthly wealth in the service of the Kingdom, that’s the only investment that will last.

But Jesus doesn’t simply want our money.  He wants our hearts:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Wherever our wealth goes, so does our heart.

We all know how this works don’t we?  Think of the last big purchase you made.  If you’ve spent a significant amount of money on something, what has your heart done in the immediate aftermath?  If you’re anything like me, you’ll instantly regret it, or wonder if you could have got it cheaper, or whether you should have gone for the more expensive model.  And/or you’ve been engrossed in it,  you’re worried about breaking it, you’re wondering whether you now need two of them.  The fact of the matter is, when you invest money you also invest your heart.

And so notice the order of Jesus’ words here.  He does not say: “Where your heart is the treasure will follow.”  Jesus might have said that, and there might be some truth to that.  But what Jesus says is “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”  Your heart will follow your money.  For good or for ill, our hearts follow our money.

Perhaps you have started giving to a missionary and then gained a fresh interest in their work.  Suddenly you’re praying more for them, you’re more eager to hear how things are going, your ears prick up when their country is mentioned on the news.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Do you want a heart for missions?  Here’s one way:  Give.  Do you want a heart that is more tender towards the poor?  Give.  Do you want a heart for the work of your local church?  Do you want a fresh enthusiasm for its work and fellowship?  Give.  And watch as your heart follows your treasure.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

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1 Chronicles 29:10-22; Matthew 6:5-15

Modern translations put this verse in footnotes.  It does not appear in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, nor in the earliest manuscripts of Matthew that we have.  It does appear in the Textus Receptus and so, for 300 years it appeared in all the English translations from Tyndale onwards.  In that time it has taken root, most particularly in Protestant Churches where it is said as part of the Lord’s Prayer.

It is a doxology (word of praise) that bears a resemblance to the prayer of David from 1 Chronicles:

“Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:  for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all.”  (1 Chronicles 29:11)

It is a glad-hearted affirmation of the LORD’s all-sufficiency.  And perhaps it’s significant that the Lord’s Prayer ends this way.  The prayer that begins “Father” ends on a note of power and glory.

The person who rests in the Son and is brought to the Father will, in the end, confess His power and glory.  To such a Father as this we ascribe all majesty, and gladly so.  But this is the way around which Jesus would have it.  He does not ask us to approach the glorious Potentate and then to seek fatherly care in Him.  That would be quite a different spirituality.  No, Jesus our Brother introduces us to His Father and invites us to call Him “our Father.”  As a little child we pray for His Kingdom to come and, as we wait, we ask for daily provision, pardon and protectionThen, knowing His Fatherhood and our own littleness, we confess “Thine is the kingdom!”

This total self-abnegation is not the precondition for prayer.  If it were, it would be something we drum up in ourselves, therefore not self-abnegation at all.  Instead what Jesus calls us to is a joyful outflow from delight in a Father who will indeed provide, pardon and protect.  How happily we place the kingdom in His hands, knowing who He is!

So, this is the Lord’s Prayer. And Jesus says, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” (Matthew 6:9)

Is this the manner in which you pray?

CS Lewis compared the Lord’s prayer to a Christmas tree.  The lines of the prayer are like the boughs and our own personal prayers are like the decorations that we hang.  That’s good advice.  When we pray, perhaps we can use the Lord’s Prayer like that.  At each line we pause, adding our own prayer, decorating the Christmas tree.  And as we put words to our desires and needs we can enjoy, in a deeper way, our union with Jesus and the Fatherhood of God.  Then we’ll gladly declare “Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen.”