Where is Your Treasure?

Do you still love the familiar passages of Scripture? Do they still teach you and challenge you? Do you grow from words of God that you know deep down? I surely hope that you do.

In recent weeks, I’ve recognized that I need to be better at loving the familiar. God’s word is so good and so rich. God has told us such glorious things. And if we are not careful, we will wander far from the familiar looking for something new, something deep, something others do not know. And when we wander like that, we often wander into trouble.

Thus, it was sweet for me, in my daily reading, to have some time with a very familiar passage.

Matthew 6:19-21 – 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus warns us not to lay up our treasures on earth. Here, moths, rust, thieves, and all sorts of calamities can take our treasure from us. Instead, we are to lay up for ourselves heavenly treasures. We are to find our joy in the Lord and in eternity with him.

Now, here is the place where the wandering reader will look for a new, deeper meaning for this passage. He or she will look for a way to say, “Well, most people think of the passage this way, but I think…” This is what I want to avoid, as the word here is clear, rich, convicting, and beautiful.

God wants you and me to know that heaven is our home. Heaven is where our treasure is to be found. And the treasures of this life pass away. Thus, we are to shape our lives in such a way as to focus our hearts on the eternity with Jesus to come.

Where might this convict you? Are you materialistic? Be careful before you say that you are not. Examine yourself. What things are treasures to you? It might be a particular possession—a car, an electronic device, a house, a yard. It is also possible that your treasure is something less tangible—a reputation, the approval of others, defeating an enemy. Maybe your treasure is experiences—traveling the globe, seeing a particular show, hiking a particular trail, or just having a certain comfort. We can make all sorts of earthly things our treasure, things that deflect our focus from the Lord God.

The key here is to remember that God has promised our souls eternal joy in Christ. There is nothing we must have or do in this life for joy that Christ will not infinitely surpass in eternity. Think about it. What sight do you need to see in this life that will hold a candle to the new heavens and the new earth? Honestly, for those of us who are pre-millennial, what sight do you want to see on earth today that will not be immeasurably better to see in that thousand-year kingdom? What experience of rest or pleasure or art or anything will even come close to what the Lord has in store for us? What can you possibly do to your home in the here and now that will make it look anything like as glorious as the home you will have with the Savior? What joy or approval can you have in the here and now that will even come to your memory as you stand glorified in the presence of the Savior?

I’m not suggesting what we do in this life is irrelevant. Nor am I trying to make you not take a vacation, appreciate art, or see the beauties of creation. All these things can help us to remember the kingdom to come. But if any of these things become our treasure instead of serving as hints at the treasure that we really want, we need to repent. We need to set our eyes on things above. We need to remember that we were made for eternity. We need to remember that heaven really is our home. We need to let Scripture remind us of what is important. WE need to remember that all the things we grab for as treasures in this life will pass away. We need to cling to what will last forever.

Focus on heaven. That’s a simple principle. That’ snot some new, profound word. It’s just challengingly, gloriously true.

Surprised by Judgment

A read through the New Testament repeatedly puts into our minds an eternal perspective. New Testament authors are constantly calling the church to look to the future, the return of Jesus, and the final judgment. Writers want us to hope, not in this life, but in Christ and in our reward in Christ at the day of the Lord.

Similarly, biblical authors regularly point out that the world around us does not set their minds on the day to come.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 – 1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul tells the people that they do not need him to write them about the times and seasons. Clearly, even in his three-week sojourn with the church in Thessalonica, Paul had talked about the day of the Lord. The people to whom he was writing should have had a solid grasp of that doctrine.

But Paul also knows that those who do not know Jesus do not have a grasp of what is to come. And it is this which grabs my attention. Notice in the verse what marks those who do not belong to God. They will be shocked when they face the return of Jesus. They will be utterly stunned at the idea that life does not go on just as it always has.

So, Christian, stop and think. It is a mark of the lost that they live in this world as if it will go on without change forever. It is a mark of being lost to assume that the Lord will not break into history and bring his judgment. It is a mark of being lost to live for this life and this life alone.

Now the question: Do you think like the lost? Are you given to a mindset that expects all to go on without change? Do you live with a mentality that assumes that God is not active in the world now? Do you live like the world, believing that there is nothing to the future but the same old same old?

Christians, we are to have minds that see out into eternity. We are to have a thinking that knows that the Lord who created this universe will break into our history and bring all things to a proper conclusion. We serve a God who will judge the world for living in a way that opposes him. And we are to be those who, were the Lord to return even today, are not caught off guard.

Take the First Step

You’ve been hurt. Somebody has done you wrong. Maybe it is a big deal. Maybe it is something seemingly smaller. What should you do?

You know that somebody in the church is upset with you. They feel hurt by you. They feel like you have wronged them in some way. But maybe you do not think you did anything wrong. What do you do?

I’m not going to make this complicated or flowery. If there is a problem between you and another person in the body of Christ, you take the first step to try to make things right.

Matthew 5:23-24 – 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus tells his followers that they need to be eager to make things right when conflict exists. He even goes so far as to tell them to leave behind a gift, be reconciled, and then return to complete their offering. His point is one of urgency.

So, if you know that a person feels wronged by you, what do you do? First, fight down the feeling of being offended that somebody would dare think that you had wronged them. You probably know that your first reaction, when a person says you have done them wrong, is to be upset that they would dare think so. Let that go. Fight down the urge to go and tell them why they are wrong for thinking you are wrong. Instead, go to them and listen. Go and hear. Perhaps you will find that you are not as perfect as you think. And even if they are wrong, at least you will have done them the kindness of hearing them. Then, if you are wrong, apologize, seek forgiveness, and try to make things right if possible.

But what if you really did not wrong them and cannot agree with their accusation? You can still take the high road. You can still be gentle and gracious. You can still be understanding. You can still tell them that, while you cannot agree with them about how they are feeling, you do care about them and are sad that there is something that has come between you.

What if you are the one wronged? The best thing you can do is take action. Of course, you might need to first evaluate your opinion to see if you have missed anything. But if there is away in which a fellow believer has hurt you, go to them. Do not go angry and accusing. Just go and ask them for a conversation. Ask them to hear what you believe has happened. Do not be shocked if they defend themselves. After all, that is your first reflex too. Get past their defensiveness and let the other person know that you want your relationship with them to be reconciled. Smaller things you can just let go. Larger things may require that the person own what has happened and express repentance.

In both cases, Christian, if you are divided from another believer, if no attempt to solve the problem has been made, you need to take responsibility to take the first step. If you are the one wronged, go and communicate, offering the person forgiveness when they repent. IF you are the one who has wronged another, go and seek their forgiveness. If someone thinks you wronged them, but you do not think you did anything wrong, go and listen, seeking to be at peace with them to the very best of your ability. No, do not lie and pretend you did something you did not do. But be gracious, kind, merciful, and understanding.

At the end of the day, Christian, what we need to recognize is that Scripture calls on mature believers to take responsibility to settle conflict. Decide that you will take the first step instead of waiting for somebody else to do it. The goal is not to win in a conflict. The goal is to glorify Jesus.

God’s Love and Hate

When we think about the things of the Lord, we can often misshape our picture of God into something of man’s own contrivance. We take a little Bible, a little Disney, a little culture, roll them up, and we come up with a depiction of God that is not that of the word.

Consider the idea of God’s love and God’s hate. Whom does God love? Everybody? Just some folks? Everybody but Hitler? Be careful before you answer.

The word of God speaks of God as loving the world. At the same time, the Bible speaks of God as hating the wicked.

Psalm 11:5
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Does God Love the world? Has he proved his love for the world? Yes, we see that in John 3:16. God sent Jesus Christ to save for God a people from every nation.

Does God hate the wicked? The answer here must also be yes. WE see it with absolute clarity. When the psalmist was writing about those who would do murder to the righteous, those who love violence, his language is uncompromising. God hates the wicked.

What do we do with this? We let the word speak and define God for us. God is gloriously loving. God has made it abundantly clear that any person who turns from sin and trusts in Jesus will be saved. That is true for the world, all people all over the entire globe. It is also true that those who do not have Jesus, who hate God and his ways, are under the wrath of the Almighty. They will face his judgment in fury and fire.

What do we do as Christians? We show the love of God in honestly proclaiming the gospel. We promote justice and mercy, holiness and righteousness, and all sorts of attributes of God that stand out in a fallen world. We share the genuine gospel with all we can so as to call people to faith, repentance, and salvation. But we do not soften the person of God by pretending that God does not hate the wicked. God says so. WE do not pretend that God is really sorry about hell, but his hands are tied. WE embrace the Bible’s picture of a loving God who welcomes all who come to him and who judges all who oppose him.

A Biblical Response to Persecution

Christians were persecuted in the past. Christians are persecuted in the present. Christians will be persecuted in the future. Christians will not be persecuted once Jesus returns. These may seem like simple truths, but we forget them quite easily.

In the United States, Christian persecution is a thing that is still hard to imagine. We assume that we are persecuted if a comedian takes a snide shot at people of faith or a news reporter says that we believe in myths. Some feel persecuted if a store clerk says, “Happy holidays.” And, I suppose you might be able to work the logic around until this is persecution. But, in the US, we do not find ourselves beaten or jailed for speaking the truth of Christ or for attending a service of worship, at least not yet.

All around the world, however, there are believers who are facing genuine hardships. True Christians are pulled from worship services, beaten, and jailed. Women are suffering horrible mistreatment at the hands of men who demand they identify with another religion. And, yes, Christians are being killed for the faith in the modern world.

What impact is persecution supposed to have on us? How are we to respond? IN the book of Acts, we see a scene where the apostles are persecuted by the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem. I think, if we pay attention, we can see a biblical response.

Acts 5:40-42 – 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

There are two responses to the persecution we see here that I want us to grasp. Understand, that this was genuine persecution. These men were beaten. Most people I know have never been beaten. I know that some have been, but most have not. We are not talking about a spanking here. We are not talking about a little slap on the face. We are talking here about a genuine, blood and bruises sort of beating.

First, the disciples left rejoicing. Stop and see that again. They rejoiced. Why? They rejoiced that they were counted by God as worthy to suffer for the faith. They saw the beating they faced, the persecution they endured, as an honor. They knew that, if God would let them suffer for the genuine preaching of the genuine gospel, he was trusting them to minister in his name. They knew that they were suffering, not for being obnoxious in general, not for their personalities, but for genuine faithful proclamation.

How does this response compare to most of our thoughts when we think about persecution? In our culture, we face less than beatings. WE face ridicule. We face harsh words. We may eventually face government opposition. A few, a very small few, have faced financial opposition through aggressive and illegitimate lawsuits in an attempt to make them comply with the culture’s embrace of sexual immorality. Some businesses have been vandalized or made the unfair targets of social media smear campaigns. But, at present, up until the point of this writing, most of us have not faced physical violence.

The disciples, who faced something worse than the vast majority of you who read this have ever faced, rejoiced in the face of persecution. They did not whine. They did not cry and start questioning the goodness of God. They did not scream, “It’s not fair!” They saw that the Lord was allowing them to enter a new phase of service, that of persecuted saint, and they rejoiced that they were counted worthy. Perhaps we should learn from that, stop whining if we are made uncomfortable, and rejoice that the Lord would count us worthy if he lets us suffer for his name.

I am not here saying that we do not engage in the legal system or the political process to try to make our nation more just. The idea of not whining about your discomfort is not a recommendation that you allow people to attack without recourse. If a person violates your legal rights or commits a crime against you through persecution, there is not a prohibition against you using the court system to seek justice. Neither is there any sort of prohibition against you voting or even running for office to try to set up a system that is more friendly to the things of God. My point is simply not to act as though you have been mistreated by the Lord if he allows you to face discomfort.

Then, the second thing we see the apostles do, they kept on preaching. Verse 42 tells us that they did not cease preaching and teaching. Yes, they knew they faced the threat of persecution. Yes, they knew that they faced potential beatings or death. But they kept at it.

Christians, when we face persecution, we too need to keep on preaching. We need to not compromise to meet the world’s standards. WE need to obey God instead of man. WE need to rejoice if we are allowed to suffer for the name of Christ, and we need to keep on preaching. If they call us names, keep preaching. If they try to shut down our businesses, keep preaching. If they tell us that they will take away our license to practice in our chosen profession if we keep preaching, keep preaching. If they pass a law that says no more preaching, keep preaching. If they throw us in jail, keep preaching. If they threaten our lives, keep preaching.

Christians, I expect that we live in a nation that will make things harder before they ever get easier. It is surely possible that persecution will come. If it does, will we respond as the Lord shows us here? Will we receive persecution with joy as a sign that the Lord has counted us worthy to suffer for his name? Will we stand strong and keep preaching, even when the world threatens its worst? May we honor Jesus by being faithful to the gospel.

Lying to God

Ananias and Sapphira are a couple we meet in Acts 5. This husband and wife make a show of giving like others in the church, but they were not honest. And, if you recall, their dishonesty cost them their lives. God himself struck down this pair who pretended they were giving their all, but who were really giving for show.

Look at Peter’s words to Ananias.

Acts 5:3-4 – 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

What is interesting to me here is the fact that the money itself was not the problem. Peter is quite clear that Ananias and Sapphira had every right to keep or sell their land as they saw fit. Nobody told them they had to sell their property and give its proceeds. But this couple wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They wanted to look to others like they were giving their all while simultaneously holding back some of the financial benefit. Peter says that the dishonesty of this couple was the problem.

Without going deep into the odd spiritual occurrence here, I want us to think about the temptation that got hold of Ananias and Sapphira. It was clearly a big deal to the Lord, as the Lord saw fit to take the lives of this couple. What was the problem? They lied to God.

For sure, these folks lied to impress the people around them. That was a problem. It is terribly tempting to try to look like you are more spiritual than you are. In fact, I’d guess that many of us do this on a week-to-week basis. WE put on a plastic smile and pretend to others around us that we are doing better than we actually are, that we are loving God more deeply than we actually do, that we are willing to serve in a greater capacity than we ever actually have. I certainly am not suggesting that every person must bare the depths of their soul to every other person every Sunday. But I do think we would be wise to strive to avoid the temptation to try to gain status by pretending to be stronger or more spiritual than we actually are.

But Ananias and Sapphira also lied to the Spirit of God. This tells me that, in the process of carrying out this deception, Ananias actually said things to God that were not true. HE lied in his heart to the lord. When standing before the Lord, he said false things. He took his pretending so far that he would say things that he knew to be untrue for the motivation of looking stronger and more spiritual.

Friends, the Lord sees through us in every sense. He sees our thoughts and our motivations. We have no ability to deceive the Lord at any turn. Attempting to do so is foolish on our part and offensive to the Lord. God has never asked people for false claims. God has demanded from us true worship.

What then are we to do? When it is time to worship the Lord, and our hearts are hurting or rebellious, what do we do? Do we lie? Obviously that is a bad idea. Do we avoid the gathering since we are not feeling it? No, that too would be sinning against the Lord by absenting ourselves from worship without providential hinderance. But why not gather with the people of God, be honest about our need, ask a friend to pray for us, and then tell the Lord the truth. When the songs are songs of truth about God, declare them with gusto. When the songs are songs about how we feel, sing them if they are true and talk to God in honesty when they are not.

Friends, take two lessons here. First, do not lie to God. HE knows you. You cannot perform a religious ritual that you do not care about and impress him. You cannot go through the motions of a sacrament and make God think you love him when you do not. But, second, do not let yourself give in to the temptation to pretend a spirituality you do not have in order to impress the believers around you. That kind of dishonesty is deadly dangerous. Let us be people of truth, honestly growing together through our times of weakness and hardship

A Look at Predestination Apart from Election

When the word predestination is used, people get nervous. Are we about to have a fight about the gospel, about the love of God, about Calvinism? So much emotion is invested in the discussion of salvation, free will, and the extent of the atonement that I fear that many do not see things that Scripture says quite plainly.

This thought came to my mind as I was reading through Acts 4, in a passage where the word predestined is used. Here we see a thing God predestined that is not individual salvation. Perhaps a look at this will help us think more clearly about the use of predestined in other places.

Acts 4:27-28 – 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

The disciples, in a prayer to the Lord, acknowledged that God had used Herod and Pilate along with the people of Israel to accomplish the crucifixion. And in that declaration, they said that these people did what God had predestined to take place.

What must we understand the word predestined to mean in this context? God had determined beforehand that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ would happen. Not only that, God had determined that Herod and Pilate along with the religious leaders and the crowds would be a part of what happened. The destination of events, the final outcome of events, was set by God “pre” or beforehand. In simplest terms, that is what predestination means: to set a destination or outcome before it takes place.

Now, ask yourself a few important questions about the predestination mentioned here by the apostles. First, is there any possible way that the crucifixion of Jesus could have not taken place? Did God leave the door open to a potential future where Jesus was not crucified? The answer here must be no. God predestined that Jesus would be crucified. This was his eternal plan. It could not have not happened.

Second, ask if there is any way that Herod and Pilate could have avoided being involved? It surely does not look like it from the passage above. God predestined that Jesus would be crucified. God also gathered in Jerusalem people who were predestined to be involved in the crucifixion. Nothing in the text indicates anything other than the idea that these men, Herod, Pilate, the crowds, the religious leaders, they were all going to be involved in doing exactly what they did.

What about free will? Did Herod, Pilate, and the others not make a free choice? Of course they did. Herod chose in accord with his greatest personal desire. Pilate chose in accord with his character. Every individual in the crowd or on the religious council did exactly what they wanted to do. There is nothing in the text to indicate that God overrode their freedom to accomplish what he had planned.

So, what happened here? Is the issue here simply that God knew the future? Did God simply understand what these men would do if put in a particular situation? Did God only shape events to make the outcome of the crucifixion an extremely likely outcome based on the free choices that he could foresee? That is not what the text says. The text says that God predestined the crucifixion. God determined beforehand that it would happen and that the men involved would be involved.

Here is what we must conclude. God, by his power and for his glory, set beforehand exactly what would happen. He set it in such a way that there is no possible way that it would not happen. Nor was there any possible way that the people involved would not be involved. And, as the people involved did what they did, they acted in perfect concert with their deepest desires. God is totally sovereign over the event. The people acted from their freedom. Which is the greater determiner? At no point should we assume that man’s freedom is greater than God’s sovereignty. But, from within that sovereignty, God never committed sin or forced men unwilling to commit sin to sin.

I know that I have Christian friends who struggle with the issue of predestination. So often the primary issue has to do with a defense of free will. Can I simply encourage you not to take a worldly view of human freedom? Is man free? Yes. Is God free? Yes. Is God sovereign over all? Yes. Who is more free, man or God? We must conclude, if we are to have a biblical worldview, that God’s freedom, God’s ultimate will, and—yes—God’s predestination is more important than human freedom.

Understand, dear friends, that God predestined the crucifixion and the involvement of men like Herod and Pilate. But God never wronged those men. The sovereign will of God was accomplished. Herod and Pilate were willful sinners who brought the wrath of God down on their souls for participating in the unjust execution of the Son of God. And all is in concert with the glorious eternal plan of God to glorify his name as he saves a people for himself.