Friday, October 20, 2006

In Gold We Trust?

In Gold We Trust
Luke 12:13-21

[13] Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

[14] Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" [15] Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."[16] And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

[18] "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '

[20] "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

[21] "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

One week-end several years ago I visited my daughter Janice and her husband Gilbert when they were working with Taylor University. We went to church Sunday morning at the United Methodist Church in Matthews Indiana where Gilbert was to be the guest Lay Speaker.

We had Sunday dinner with Doyte and Mary Kibbey who where members of that congregation. We had known the Kibbey’s for many years, since our daughters Janice and Joan were college classmate and friends of their daughters Becky and Ruthie.

Matthews Indiana is a small Farm town, with picturesque, tall silos around. As we sat around the Kibbey’s Sunday dinner table, Mr. Kibbey told us the interesting story. He said that in 1902, Matthews Indiana was a booming oil town! Imagine that now!

In 1902 oil was discovered in Matthews and people drove in setting up camp, expecting to get rich in oil. It was like a gold rush, he said! Liquor Store people moved in and set up 20 saloons in the small town which had only one grocery store and two churches.

Mr. Kibbey said the old timers told him that many people had oil lights burning on their property day and night. They reported that night was so lit up (maybe "lit up" in more ways than one)... it was hard to tell day from night.

But …alas in a few years the oil was gone!

He said they thought they had an endless supply and wasted it.

WOW. How timely that 1902 story is to 2008. Kroger moved out of West Rome a few years ago…in order to build one huge luxury Grocery Store. As someone who grew up in the South during the great depression, I am just amazed at our wealth and conspicuous consumption…seeing all of us shopping in all the luxury places like there is no tomorrow and our waste like the gold rush in California and the 1902 oil rush in Indiana.

It seems Wall Street and Main Street in America have thought we had an endless
supply of money and resources and wasted. We are in a world where many of us have so much stuff, we have to rent storage places…and our houses have large and larger storage closets and attics.

Perhaps some of us have learned a little from the past what others of us are having to painfully learn now. But none of us, certainly not I, can point a finger at someone else. Selfishness and wastefulness is an all too common trait. We are all sinners and self centered in one way or another.

It seems we all have all been guilty of worshiping the Almighty dollar more than believing in Almighty God!

We have "In God we Trust" on our coins (although as Jeannie has reminded us, there are people in our nation seeking and lobbying to get that important phrase removed from our currency). In fact some are seeking to remove all vestiges of Christianity from our culture and even distort or delete it from our history books.

In our scripture lesson (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus was asked to settle an inheritance dispute and it gave him the opportunity to deal with the insidious blight of money and “things” on our souls. (vv 13-15)

Jesus was not showing indifference to the claims of legal justice, but was insisting that there are greater gains in life than getting an inheritance, and greater losses in life than losing an inheritance. ( The Layman’s Bible Commentary, page 110-111)

The rich man Dr Luke tells us about in this lesson looked upon his possessions as his…and only his. He saw them not as gifts...We read…”my barns, my grain, my goods , my soul.” He seems to think possessions make life…and here comes Jesus reminding us that possession not only, do not give life…possessions do not even give “existence.” As Jesus told the rich farmer, Death separates us from any possession …anything and everything we think we own.

Jesus talks further to his disciples to explain that faith in God frees us from covetousness, which is the tenth of the ten commandments Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Covetousness is a disease of the soul which always brings with it uneasiness and unrest and longing that cannot be satisfied. When we covet, our neighbors house, or our neighbors wife or anything that belongs to our neighbor, Jesus taught, we break most of the other commandments…at least in our heart.

So the Lord wants to free us from coveting and also from undue anxiety about the necessities of life.

The tenth commandment telling us not to “covet” comes silently after the booming “Thou shall nots” about lying, stealing, adultery and murder.

Our community was shocked - in fact it made news all over Georgia and beyond - in July of 2004 when a respected youth leader in a church in Rome was accused of the murder of a fellow church leader. We were later dumbfounded when it was alleged the murdered man’s wife was in an affair with the alleged murderer and was an accomplice in planning the murder.

I do not know the couple, but probably none of us were more shocked than this man and woman still waiting in jail to stand trial for murder. When we begin the hidden sin of coveting, we never know how far down the slippery slope it will take us.

It seems so harmless when we first engage in a flirtation that might lead to adultery. It seems so harmless when we first engage in perhaps soft core pornography that requires more and more explicit materials and often leads to acting out, according to statistics.

These “little” offensives are only revealed when an overt action like adultery or murder brings it into the limelight. Jesus tells us sin begins in the heart with hidden lust and anger.

To covet is dangerous because it is silent and hidden. We do not see “covet.” There are no civil laws against covetousness.Yet this tenth commandment about coveting covers the other nine. Covetousness is deceptive and goes hand in hand with discontentment, lies, lust and hate. We are not to “covet anything that belongs to someone else… house, spouse, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor.”

Our God of love has given us guidelines for what it means to be a civil and liberated human being as well as what it means to be a covenant person and a follower of Jesus Christ.

So Jesus goes on to teach us that our life is in God’s hands.
He reminds of God’s bounteous provision for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. His care of things which are transient indicates his major concern for us who have an eternal destiny. It is all too easy sometimes to forget God is more aware of our needs than we are.

It is all too easy to forget in is "In God we trust" and slip into the concept and behavior of "In Gold we Trust!"

In our scripture lesson Jesus called the man a fool for basting his life on money. The passage starts out with a man coming to Jesus out of the crowd and asking Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute between him and his brother.

Barclay and other commentaries tell us this was not uncommon for people then to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis. But Jesus refused to get mixed up in this kind of family dispute about money.

Then Jesus turns to the people, “Take care. Protect yourself against the least bit of greed’ Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot. Jesus loves us and wants to protect us against the destruction that greed brings into our life. (the Message)

But Jesus did go on to have some things to say about the place of money for those of us who have little money and for those of us who have an abundant supply of money.

Jesus came to reconcile us to God and to each other and not to re-apportion wealth. But Jesus reminds us here and in other scripture passages that possessions do not give life it's meaning...and he illustrates it with the parable of the Rich Fool.

This man was rich and getting richer. He thought his only problem was to find a place to store and to invest!

He needed to expand…he had to make a decision...he said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater!” He faced a problem to which many of us aspire. Yet, Jesus said he was a fool!
He certainly would have been successful in our society. We would consider him anything but a fool.

Success is something tangible. It can be measured economically by our bank account...our stocks and bonds...our property. Success can be measure socially by our popularity, our education, our accomplishments, name recognition.

It seems to never have occurred to him to give any of it away.
Jesus tells us…a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15)

Malcolm Muggerage was a successful TV personality in England who became a Christian. He went to India to interview Mother Teresa who was working among the dying in India. He reported that he saw many houses on mercy by churches of many denominations, but not even one by an atheist nor a humanist.

We all talk about teaching our children the value of money. But Jesus is also teaching us here…the value less ness of money.

There is a difference in possessions and ownership. It is said that shortly before the crash of 1929, a man gave Emory at Oxford enough money to build a large building. After he and other wealthy people lost most of his money, he said, “What I gave away is all I have left.”

All of us are amazed to see people work, to get to what the world calls success. Then when they have made it big time, to their dismay they realize happiness is not found there. So they self destruct with alcohol, other drugs and even suicide.

Jesus warns us that possessions, our storage buildings, our gold or bank accounts may have become a weight that prevents us from rising to the heights that God has prepared for us.

It is good to have "In God we trust" written on our money, but it also must be written in our heart. AMEN.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Liberty In Law

One of the popular Norman Rockwell paintings shows a woman buying a turkey.

The turkey is lying on the scales and the butcher is standing back of the counter with an apron tied around his waist and a pencil behind his ear.

Both the woman and the butcher have a pleased expression on their faces as the butcher is pushing down on the scales with his big thumb and the woman is pushing up on the scales with he dainty forefinger and neither is aware of what the other is doing.

Both the woman and the butcher would be indignant if anyone called them a thief. But apparently both of them saw nothing wrong with a little deception that would make a few cents for the butcher and save a few cents for the woman.(1)

This gives us a picture of our human tendency toward selfishness and deceit. And here comes God with the Ten Commandments reminding us that there are eternal laws in the universe by which to live if life is going to come out right. (2)

God our Maker knows what is wrong for us. The Ten Commandments are a gift from God because the moral laws of the universe were written in our body and our psyche before they were put in our Book of Faith.
Life does not support stealing. Life will not support murder. Life will not support adultery. Life will not support working 24/7. God tells us to take one day a week to stop and take time to rest and worship and remember we are more than what we do! This is just as true today as when Moses brought these important instructions down from Mt. Sinai.

In other words God’s commandments are our directions for life. They are our Manufacturer’s instructions … straight from our Loving Father. God wants to protect us, just as we who are parents want to protect our children so they can live to enjoy life.

In a Zogby poll of college students, 97% said they believed their professors had given them a good education in ethics. But only a quarter of them said they had learned that there are clear and uniform standard of right and wrong.
A reporter from Forbes Magazine observed an ethics class at Harvard Business school where they discussed case studies but avoided coming to any moral conclusions.

I read recently a comment that students, rather than developing moral principles, merely, in the reporters words, not mine … “develop skills enabling them to rationalize anything short of cannibalism.” How many of you think cannibalism is wrong?

The fact that most of us believe cannibalism is wrong indicates that we all draw the line somewhere in issues of right and wrong. So, in our post modern age when people say there are no absolutes and find it impossible to agree on standards of right and wrong, we are seeing scandals rocking the business world as well as on our college campuses. What more and more of us are beginning to realize is that this kind of behavior is the logical result of the moral relativism that permeates our culture. It is so much a part of our daily news that we are all affected.

A recent poll shows that over 50% of people who identify themselves as born again Christians do not believe in ultimate moral truth. But we are seeing those who have been concerned by the economic and political scandals, college debaucheries and public school murders willing to take time to listen to biblical teaching on ethics.

No document has influenced the world as much as the Ten Commandments! In our Western civilization, Jews and Christians both Protestant and Catholic, hold the Ten Commandments as principles upon which to build their lives and upon which to build a civilization. Indeed our civil laws of liberty and justice for all are rooted in this covenant law of God on tablets of stone given to Moses at Mount Sinai.
We remember when Alabama Chief Justice Ray Moore made national news, after the Alabama federal court of appeals said he must remove the monument of the Ten Commandments from the lobby of his state judicial building. Lawyers for the ACLU said if they allowed the ten commandments to stay there “every government building” could be topped with a cross, a menorah, a statue of Buddha … etc ... depending upon the views of the officials.

Of course, this begs the question. With all due respect, our founding fathers were not Islamic or Buddhist or atheists. It was the Christian concept of freedom and justice for all that enabled us to become the “Great Land of Liberty” because Liberty in Law is an important Judea-Christian concept.

The Bible tells us human beings are special! We are all made in the image of God including those accused of crime. Our due process tradition was not begun by the American Civil Liberties Union but by "the Book " they have fought to keep out of the hands of school children.

I love the hymn “America the Beautiful” and the second verse that says. “America, America, God mend Thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in Law.” The Hymn writer knew and God knows that liberty is found in law and not in lawlessness.

A God of love gave us these laws. The Ten Commandments are the source of our laws and as such were framed and placed on the walls of courthouses and schools throughout our country.

So It is not some new or imported religion. The phrase “separation of church and state” simply means that The United States is not to have a “state church.” England had a state church: The Episcopal Church in England is still the “Church of England.” In fact the Queen of England is the titular head of the church as well as the state.

George Washington was so loved and revered some wanted to make him King after our revolution; but Washington and our founding fathers decided we should not have a King. Not Rex Lex.. (King is law”) …but “Lex Rex” … (”Law is King” ). We would also not any one of the Christian denominations be “The Church of the United States” but have equality and freedom of religion. Some of our founding fathers were Deists but most were Christians. None were members of any other religion.

Some of us remember a time when , after a revival meeting, people would remark, “John got religion last night,” meaning he was converted to Christ”. In other words, "religion" in the United States and the West was Christianity. Our liberty was based on the Law of God as given to us in the Christian Bible.

The heritage of the West is like none other the world has ever seen, in spite of it's accomidation to the worldwide system of slavery, class and race discrimination and "survival of the fittest."( For example, most of the less than 10 percent of people in the United States who owned slaves were caucasions but a few slave owners were African Americans and a few were native Americans.)

It was Christianity (not any other religion) that gave us new concepts of law, government and human rights based on Biblical values that slowly brought about the New Testament teaching that God is not a respecter of persons. As more and more citizens became committed Christian and literate, this concept slowly but surely brought about laws promoting equality of opportunity and civil rights for all.

Christian artist and composers created masterpieces ... in the sciences, in literature, and art. We see the same story in medicine. For example, Christianity built the first hospitals. The Greek and Roman civilizations were great in many ways but in the whole city of ancient Rome, there was not a single hospital. As Baron Von Hugal said, “ Christianity taught the world to care.”

Our founding fathers were wise enough not to want the state running the church, which would make problems for the church as well as the state. But it would have been unthinkable for our founding fathers to take all vestiges of the Christian faith from our schools or government offices. If we do not have laws we become lawless. We are seeing a law-less-ness now … even in some public schools.

“IN GOD WE TRUST” is now on our coins, and scripture verses are etched in stone at the Jefferson monument as well as many other historic places in Washington DC. Our love and liberty that has welcomed other cultures to come into our Country and enjoy our freedoms come from the Christian World view.

A few years ago, Ted Turner, in criticizing the negativity of the Ten Commandments came forth with his own “Ten Suggestions” and the Atlanta papers gave them a prominent space.

When we see our toddler hitting someone with his little hand and little strength, we might just suggest “no ... no … honey.“ But when we see him running toward a hot stove, or running toward the road or some real or potential danger, we dash out and command that he stop.

I have used a computer to do a mountainous amount of typing for many years. I have found I have to follow certain instructions from the maker of the computer. If I ever decided I knew more than the maker of the computer knows, I would be in serious trouble. In fact it is interesting that the computer is set up by commands, not suggestions.

We have to follow the instructions of the maker, and the more we follow, the better the computer works and the more awesome it is. In fact, it does not take long to realize one had better follow the commands or it will not work.

Some people seem to think God roams the world looking for people who may be having a good time so He can zap them. No! God’s law is the gift of His love. It is in God’s law that we are given freedom and liberty. God’s rules for our life are not arbitrary; because God knows without rules we cannot successfully play the game of life!

My grandson Dow, visited me one one day when he was about 7. When Dow came in he said, “Well, Grandmother, what are we going to do today?” I asked, “What would you like to do?” He replied, “Lets Play Clue.” I said, “All right ... if you will teach me the rules.” I learned how to play the game of Clue and we had a good time.

We have rules for games … rules for the road … traffic laws … otherwise there would be chaos; and there is chaos if we do not obey the rules. Even to play a game of checkers we must have rules, directions, laws. We do not just move the pieces here and there without rules. If so it is like babies, throwing things in every direction, making a mess to be cleaned up.
What an analogy of people trying to live without rules! We do not break the laws of God, we only break ourselves if we ignore them.
The activists in Hollywood and other enemies of righteousness have managed to convince some of our people that “religion” is a “private matter”, that people who witness outside the church are “fanatic and intolerant.” But if our fore parents had kept their faith a private matter, we would never have had the “protestant work ethic”and the progress and prosperity we have enjoyed in this country.

We do not have to reinvent the wheel of morality. Yet we have people expecting our teenagers to go out into the world to make up their own rules for life as they go along. No direction … no absolutes. As a result, many are messing up their lives with alcohol, other drugs and sexual experimentation because they are expected to live without direction. They are expected to experiment, to invent, to imagine and re-imagine and to decide through trial and error down one road and then another when a God of love has already written out clear directions for a way for life that works.

This belief in one God sets the Israelites apart from other ancient religions. Before God gives this first commandment, He identifies Himself,”I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

The basis of this commandment is …we are told that the “Lord our God is jealous God,” This statement used to puzzle me because I tend to connect jealousy with envy, pettiness. But “jealous” in this passage comes from the Greek word that means “emotional.” God's care for each one of us is personal and emotional. God is not indifferent to what we do and how we live just as we cannot be indifferent to our children or to those we love.
A man complained to me about his wife getting upset when he “took a drink” but he said she did not seem to mind if other people drank alcoholic beverages. How many of you understand this wife?
We have concern about those we love … not only concern about what they do but who they are! There is a fine line here. That is why couples have such a hard time understanding one another. But the marriage is not in trouble when we fight as much as when we become indifferent to one another.

The God who brought the Hebrews out of slavery wanted to keep them and wants to keep us out of an even greater bondage. He simplified the rules of life down to ten…one for each finger. No other gods. No idols. God's name is important. We are to bless not curse. For our own sake, we are to stop working one day a week and remember we are more than our possessions or what we do. Honor our parents. They are our roots. Don't murder, Life is precious. We are not to play around with our marriage vows. Keeping our covenant with one person is our best chance of growing up. If we take what belongs to another, we are the loser. Speak the truth. .When we twist our word, we limp through life. (3)

The Tenth commandment telling us not to "covet" comes silently after the booming "Thou Shall not” about lying, stealing, adultery and murder.
Our community was shocked, in fact it made news all over Georgia and beyond, in July of 2004 when a respected youth leader in a church in Rome was accused of the murder of a fellow church leader. We were later dumbfounded when it was alleged the murdered man's wife was in an affair with the now confessed murderer and an accomplice in planning the murder. ( The man is now serving life without parole and the murdered man's wife is serving 20 years for her part in the murder of her husband.)

Probably none of us were more shocked than this man and woman found guilty in this sad case of murder. When we begin the hidden sin of coveting, we never know how far down the slippery slope it will take us. It seems so harmless when we first engage in a flirtation that might lead to adultery.

It seems so harmless when we first engage in perhaps soft core pornography that requires more and more explicit materials and often leads to acting out, according to stats.

These "little " offensives are only revealed when an overt action like adultery or murder brings it into the limelight. Jesus tells us sin begins in the heart with hidden lust and anger. (4 )
To covet is dangerous because it is silent and hidden. We do not see "covet." There are no civil laws against covetousness. It is even hard to pronounce so we do not denounce it. Yet this tenth commandment about covetousness covers the other nine. Covetousness is deceptive and goes hand in hand with discontentment, lies, lust and hate.
We are not to "covet anything that belongs to someone else… house, spouse, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor." (5)
The awesome message of these commandments is that a God of love has given us guidelines for a successful life as well as given guidelines for what it means to be a civil and liberated human being as well as what it means to be a covenant person and a follower of Jesus Christ.
I have found God’s laws to be the liberating directions on the road of life. Someone has said,” When in doubt read the directions." God’s directions in the form of the Ten Commandments (6)are the gift of God’s boundless love and amazing Grace fulfilled in Jesus. “Amen!

1.Cecil Myers, Thunder on the Mountain. p 119-20
2. Maxie Dunham. Communicators Commentary. Loyd Oglivie, Exodus. p.252.
3. Barbara Brown Taylor. Gospel Medicine. p 57
4. Exodus 20:17
5. Matthew 5:22-27
6. Exodus 20:1-17