Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’


In the supermarket checkout line, a small boy surveys the candy options.  He selects a bag of Skittles and places them on the conveyor belt.  The cashier checks with the boy’s dad, who nods his approval.  The boy runs off to look at the flashing lights of the supermarket lotto machine.

As checkout is happening, the boy briefly returns to make sure his candy is still at the register.  Then he’s off again, until the purchase is completed.  He digs through the bags to find his prize, and skips off in victory.

Dad reminds the boy to save the candy for later.  Walking backwards, the boy smirks at his dad and grabs the bag as if to tear it open.  At this point dad hustles son out of the store.  The conclusion to this drama happens elsewhere.


I giggled as I saw the boy check on his candy.  I might have raised my eyebrows a bit as I saw how he dared his dad to catch him opening it.  As a parent, I’ve certainly put in my time in these negotiations (I’d love to see seasoned diplomats try to work with a three-year-old.)

Movies and books are full of characters chasing a prize, much like this little boy.  However, in movies/books, we often find the one with the prize changing for the worse once it is won.  Observe the character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings:  having acquired his “precious” the ring, he finds himself worse off than if he’d never touched it in the first place.  It was amazing to see how the acquisition of candy quickly changed the little boy from a cute bouncy kid into an imp.  Dad did not find the boy’s antics amusing!

Jesus said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21) Often we think of treasure in terms of money or things (candy, clothes, cars.)  What if our “treasure” is not the item itself, but rather the energizing feeling of possessing something?  And by extension, what if our heart simply yearns for the power of possession?

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to like cars or clothes or candy.  Personally, I enjoy seeing a well-kept vintage automobile cruising the highway.  I fell in love with some maple candies a colleague brought me from Canada.

However, the pride of possessing something can overwhelm the owner and turn personal relationships sour (think of the expensive and beloved car in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)  The spark of love can, if not managed, become a raging fire of possessiveness and jealousy for one partner, and a slow burn of resentment for the other.  Sadly, the pride of possessing a treasure (car, relationship, anything really) can become a disease that hardens our heart.

It happens so quickly … we get our hands on something and the experience changes us for the worse.  Perhaps that’s why Jesus warned us to be careful of what we treasure, and  to watch what is happening to our hearts.

What is your most precious possession?  Does having it empower you to be a better person, or has the experience changed you for the worse?

let them

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’  (Matthew 19:14)

Yesterday at our church a man who had been homeless was baptized.

He gave his statement of faith to the congregation, and talked about how the love and acceptance he felt here enabled him to begin rebuilding his life.

The thing that astounds me is, he said that it all started when we “allowed” him to volunteer at our annual mission fundraiser.


Sure enough.  A couple in our congregation volunteer with a local homeless ministry, and they recruited some of the men being served by the ministry to watch over the items during our huge yard sale/bake sale day.  The men were astounded, I guess, that someone trusted them with this much responsibility.  Then these men started to attend worship here, and they were astounded again at how people shook their hands and greeted them, as if they were any other visitors.

Sometimes we church folks get so caught up in worry about the supposed decline of the church, that we neglect the very people who want to be here.  It may seem unbelievable, but there are still folks in our towns and neighborhoods who would receive the church with childlike amazement and delight.

Indeed, let them come.

what to do on Sunday

This past Sunday I preached at First Greenville, but the good old CD recorder wouldn’t work … so here are the notes from my sermon, for those who wanted a recording.  (For those of you who don’t attend First Greenville, just know that I use few notes or none at all, so this is pretty rough…)


Matthew 12:1-8, 7/24/11

We were made to worship and serve God.

  1. Famous question from the Westminster Catechism — what is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  2. You can see bits of this purpose of glorifying & enjoying God peeking through when:
  • you’re on a mountaintop or see a beautiful sunrise,
  • or there is a crisis and you drop everything to serve those in need

Often we don’t worship and serve as we should.  Sin gets in the way and distorts the connection God wants to have with us.

  1. God created commandments to help heal the rift, give us a bridge to reconnect, remind us of our true purpose
  2. Many of the commandments are about how you live your everyday life:  keep the Sabbath holy, don’t covet or lie or steal, honor your father and mother
  3. In your experience, you may have seen how not following the commandments can lead to difficulty:
  • If you get off-track with your spiritual life you feel distant from God.
  • If your relationship with your loved ones turns sour, it impacts your whole life.
  • If you run with a crowd that cheats and steals and lies, chances are you’ll do those things too.

So the commandments are a help, to turn and re-turn to the right direction.

There’s a funny thing about commandments, though.  Some people wind up worshiping them instead of the God who created them.  This is the problem Jesus experienced.   Other rabbis were asking similar questions about the purpose of the Law (you may have heard the argument about whether to leave an ox that has fallen into a ditch on the Sabbath.  What if your livelihood depends on that animal?)

Jesus leads us to some tough questions:

  • Do we serve the Law or serve the God who gave the Law?
  •  And does the Law serve God and God’s creation, or does it serve itself?

Jesus engaged his opponents with a theological and Scriptural debate, drawing from the sacred texts of the Law, the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah, and the prophets.

I wonder if people worship commandments, and end up mis-using them, because they are angry.  They believe in a mean, vengeful, and vindictive concept of God, and in their anger they will use anything to bolster their belief.  The Laws of the Hebrew Bible, when twisted into the service of angry people, can become weapons.

The facts emerging about this shooter in Norway indicate that he believed in a twisted type of God — a God who wants everyone to look the same, believe the same, and act the same, and issues severe dictates to keep everyone in line.  I don’t believe this type of being is God — it’s something other, something evil, an idol.

The problem with this idol is that it promises security and freedom from people who bother us.  It promises us life at the expense of other people’s lives.  But the world can’t be forever twisted to meet our demands.  If we allow this vindictive idol to have space in our hearts, then we cannot handle the world around us.  Changes in society, political discourse, and personal freedom do not fit in the worldview of a hateful person who believes in a spiteful God.

Jesus of Nazareth came into a world that was changing rapidly — urbanization, spread of Greek and Roman culture, political changes — and many people felt threatened.  But he taught a way to live that witnessed to the Kingdom of Heaven, a way that was faithful, although maybe a little different from the way people lived when Moses stepped off the mountain with those 10 commandments.

I believe in a God who helps us adapt.  Our God gives us some foundational concepts that help us in any situation, and our God gives us a Savior who shepherds us through any circumstance.  Our God helps us figure out what to do when we’re hungry on the Sabbath.  Our God gives us guidance when we are in a hospital room with a dying loved one, trying to figure out the best course of action.  And our God gives us a spirit of understanding so that we can make it in a constantly changing world.  God can do these things because the world, its people, its laws, and its history all belong to God.

So what can we do with the Sabbath?  I hope that each of us will find a way to allow Christ to be Lord of our lives.  That’s what the Sabbath is about, allowing God to take over for a day.  Each of us can find some action, or a discipline, or a habit that reminds us who is Sovereign.  I’m grateful for the Sundays of my childhood, which were filled up with church activities — those Sundays taught me to rest in the presence of God.

Thanks be to God, who holds this earth, with all its sin and suffering, all its potential and promise, in the palm of his hand.  Amen.