Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Deliverance: Treasuring the Right Kind of Treasure

Kim and I took a trip to New York last weekend. We had an interesting experience on the subway one evening. A teenage boy came onto the train and asked for everyone’s attention. He then presented us with his story: “I am going to be honest. I am not homeless. I have plenty of food. I hope you’ll respect my honesty; I need money to by weed.” That young boy left the train without any money to help his cause!

We tend to think everyone asking for money is like that young boy. But some are different. It was November of 2003, and I was walking with some friends in downtown Atlanta after an evening session for an academic conference. The day had gone just as I expected: Meetings, lectures, presenting papers. But, there was one unexpected thing that day, Lester. As we walked in the shadows of Atlanta’s multi-million dollar skyscrapers. We were suddenly blocked from going any further. Because a smelly man in rags was yelling at us! He was just talking out of his head, rambling on about who knows what. We, being the good Christian men that we were, tried to get away from him, fast. But we soon realized Lester wasn’t going anywhere. I know his name was Lester because, he proceeded to tell us his story.

We’ve all heard Lester’s story before. He ran out of money. He needed a place to stay. He hadn’t eaten in three days. He needed our help. Lester followed us for about five blocks, talking constantly, retelling his story over and over. Finally, we just gave him some money. You could say we did it out of our concern for Lester. You’d be more correct in saying we did it so he’d leave us alone. As he walked away, we all wondered the same thing.

I wonder where Lester is going to spend our money?

This morning we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount with these words:
“Do not treasure up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6:19-21
You know, our world is full of people like Lester. Sometimes they meet us on the streets in Atlanta. Sometimes they are holding signs outside of Wal-Mart in Tyler. They always force us to wrestle with one question. Where do we store up our treasures?

People today will do just about anything to accumulate enough power or prestige or wealth or stuff to satisfy their cravings. The collection of houses and cars and boats and clothes and stuff symbolizes the “good life” in America. And life is so good that we can’t keep it all in one location anymore. Leonard Sweet said that the most lucrative business to be involved in during the 1990s in America was storage. We need to rent off-site locations to store the stuff that we don’t have much time to visit. Because we’ve already moved on to other stuff.

Now, I think I need to stop and redirect for just a moment…

This sermon could very quickly turn into a bashing session on materialism. A sermon designed to guilt us into placing a few extra dollars in the collection plate this morning. But listen carefully, this isn’t a text about giving. Let me repeat that: Jesus makes many other declarative statements about giving, certainly. He speaks often about those who “have” taking care of those who are “have-nots.” But our text today is not about giving! Our text today is actually about “getting.” About treasuring up treasure. All of us treasure up treasure, the question is: “What kind of treasure are you treasuring?” Jesus says to pursue treasure that is in heaven. This treasure Jesus is talking about cannot rust. It cannot decay. It cannot ruin!

And just after He talks about these “treasures in heaven”, Jesus launches into this discussion about eyesight. Have you ever heard this: “The eye is the window to the soul?” Jesus believed that proverb. It’s true! And it’s frightening! Consider this: What if our eyes were actually video cameras? What if this morning all of the images from your eyes were played back right here on this screen? What would we see? What images have gone in through your eyes and occupied your thoughts? In other words, what images form your memory? What parts of this life have we chosen to record? Possibly good images:

  • Images of family
  • Images of our child’s first steps
  • Images of our child’s baptism
  • Images of our parent’s face when we were children.

If we could replay the images of your mind on this screen, is this what we would find? I think Jesus’ words here are especially telling because I think some of us have taped over these images in our minds. They were once there, but not anymore. We’ve replaced them with other things. We’ve replaced them with our own wants and desires: Things that rust and decay. Things that are here today and gone tomorrow. We’ve replaced them with all sorts of things. That new automobile we’ve wanted for years. That promotion at work. That person who seems so much more appealing than our spouse. We have these images in our heads, and often times we will do just about anything to get what we want. Sometimes that means we will work longer hours. Sometimes that means we will sacrifice time with our families. Sometimes that means lying to the people we love the most.

And perhaps the most frightening words of Jesus come next. Not only is the eye a window to the soul, but whether we realize it or not, our treasures can become our masters!
“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 mammon.”
This statement from Jesus ties these two sections together. This is one train of thought for Jesus. Treasuring up good kinds of treasure. Paying careful attention to what we see. So, how are these two things connected? We tend to treasure that things that dominate our thoughts. Over time, if we continue to come to places like this. We come to believe that God wants us to have those things that dominate our thoughts—no matter what those things are! We’ve spent 200 years now Christianizing the gospel of wealth. It’s part of the American dream. We find texts in Scripture that support the idea that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Some of the most popular Christian books over the last few decades support this idea. If you love God and follow Him only If you just ask God in good faith. He will enlarge your territory! That is the thesis of a best selling Christian book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson.

I read this week that the third largest Christian church in America is just south of us in Houston. Each week, the sermons that are delivered from the pulpit support this idea. The more you love God. The more you follow God. The more wealth God will bless you with. Each weekend approximately 52,000 people attend services to hear that message. But this theology wasn’t invented in America.

In 17th century Europe, there was a big stink in the church about helping the poor. There was a movement that began with the express purpose of educating the poor, giving food to the poor, and clothing the poor. In reaction, many Christian people stood and said, “Wait a minute! Those people are poor for a reason! They are lazy, and God is punishing them for their laziness.” But whether we are looking at 17th century Europe or 21st century America, we must come to grips with this ever present, clear reality. Jesus’ gospel does not teach that the one with the most stuff wins. But, Jesus does talk about the benefit of accumulation. But not the accumulation of wealth or power or success. Jesus champions the accumulation of relationships. Like I said before, this is a passage not about “giving” but one about “getting”. Not about giving our money or time or stuff. It’s about getting new relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is such a joy to witness kingdom people serving others as a testimony of their love for God. I think of people like Barbara Gilbreath. Barbara is known throughout this community. Not Glenwood, but Tyler. As a person who treasures up relationships with people. She doesn’t just volunteer her time at HiWay 80 or Path or the Gathering. She treasures up relationships with people. There are surely countless others that fall into this category.

I think the nature of this text forces us to challenge ourselves. This is a difficult text for many of us to read. It confronts us with some harsh reality. It’s especially difficult for us “rich Americans” to hear these words of Jesus. However, I don’t want to get out of here this morning without hearing the good news in this text! We need to acknowledge the many wonderful ways in which this church lives out this text. This family has so many times allowed relationships rather than money, power, buildings, or mortgages to become their “treasures.” There is a man here at Glenwood that came to me with a request. We had a conference on marriage. He said, “If you know anyone who wants to go but cannot…let me know.” Why? Because he values those relationships more than money! But, like I said before, this does not always have to do with money.

Several months ago, Larry & Rita Bridges happened to meet a perfect stranger from Habitat for Humanity. I think they ran into each other as Larry & Rita were donating some items. They could have simply said, “Take the things by the door…” But that is not how they do things! They spent time talking with Jonathan. A few weeks later, Jonathan was baptized! That’s what this “Treasure” business is all about!

A text like this one always elicits strong reaction. Some of you are angry that you have to hear a sermon about this topic at all! Others of you might be convicted that you are treasuring up the wrong kind of treasure. Others will leave encouraged by the many examples of generosity and selflessness evident in this family. In whatever ways we react to this text, however, we cannot let these truths escape our attention. Remember this: Jesus valued people over stuff. He valued relationships over money. As the story of Jesus shows us, He valued you over everything else. Now, let’s live lives of gratitude by following in His footsteps.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Deliverance: The God of Integrity

As they filed into the courtroom, everyone’s thoughts were on the key witness. He was the most important witness in the most talked about trial in history. His testimony would make or break the case. A person’s life depended upon what words he would reveal to that audience.

The people eagerly awaited the moment when he would be called. Everyone wondered what he would say. The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

Finally, the judge came in. Everyone rose to their feet.
They were asked to be seated. Then the Judge asked for the first witness. The prosecution replied, “Your honor, the state calls John Hodges.” The noise level rose in the room. Feet began to stir. Photographers readied their cameras.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Deliverance: Adultery, Divorce, and Deliverance

Our subject this morning has been the source of great contention in our world. Our passage has been used to “put people in their place.” It has been used as “a line in the sand”—delineating those who are in and those who are out. But, as we return once again to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I want us to find the good news of this message.


OK, enough said. Let’s go home!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Deliverance: War & Revenge

Imagine a fierce protest taking place in Washington D.C. You have seen this scene many times before. Two sets of protestors: those “for” and those “against.” They are separated by two sets of barricades. There are armed officers standing between them, keeping the peace. They are lobbing insults back and forth across the chasm that separates them from each other. Each side is waving its signs. Each side is passionate about its position. On one side of the barricade the signs read:
  • “Make Love Not War”
  • “Give Peace a Chance”
  • “Drop Beats Not Bombs”
On the other side the signs read:
  • “Pacifists are Freedom’s Parasites”
  • “Give War a Chance”
  • “These Colors Don’t Run”
This protest, as you can see, centers on the issue of war. Here is the million-dollar question this morning: In this scene, where should the follower of Jesus stand?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Deliverance: connected3D


What is the secret to living a long life? I asked that question one time to Sassy Marriot! Sassy was 100 years old when I asked her that question. She was a member of the first church at which I preached in Stamford, Texas. She was 100. She lived alone! She was at church every Sunday! Her answer: “A Dr. Pepper everyday!” Sassy was the first woman in the state of Texas to receive a master’s degree in education, but she was not a medical doctor!

What do you think? What factor is the most important factor in living a long life? Susan Pinker, a Developmental Psychologist spoke recently about that exact question.

Listen to what she said (click here).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Deliverance: Transforming Initiatives

A little over 2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth ascended a small hill in Galilee. Crowds flocked. People were amazed at the power of his words. And now you and I join those crowds once again. This morning we again gather to overhear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. My prayer is that God will allow us to hear that message for what it really is: good news!

Read Matthew 5:21–26 (CEB).

We are entering a pivotal section of Jesus’ sermon. After Jesus told the people, He came to fulfill the law, He then gave them a series of interesting statements. We know much of this section by heart.

“You have heard it said long ago …”
“But now, I say to you …”

It is kind of ironic. Just after Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law, He challenges these fundamental principles of the Jewish faith.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Deliverance: From Where Does Authority Come?

When you face an important moral choice in your life, where do you turn for guidance?

Your teenage daughter comes to you one afternoon with fear and trembling. She is only seventeen years old—not quite an adult—making decisions about her future, including college. All of that comes to a screeching halt when she tells you she is pregnant. You have a choice to make: how will you respond? You do not want to condone the activity that led her to this place. Yet, you do not want to say or do anything that will make matters worse. How will you respond? Or, better yet, when you face this decision, where do you turn for guidance?