In two previous posts we’ve been considering the story of the Rich Young Man’s encounter with Jesus. We discussed the story itself and then in the last post we looked at two major errors Christians make in thinking about money. Today I want to start with the idea that we need to start with ourselves before we judge others.
One of the problems in our society is that we like to create groups of people and then judge the groups that we don’t see ourselves in. This is true in many aspects of our lives but I think money is a great example and it’s the theme of this thought we are in right now.
You hear all the time about wealth or income inequality, the 1%, the 10% and so on. We talk about people that have an income over a certain amount. Mostly we like to judge whatever group has more than us.
Today I want to continue to think about how we view history as a Christian. Last time I wrote about the idea that we are called to love the dead. In other words when we study people of the past we are called to study them with love in our hearts towards them. Each and every person who has ever lived was created in the image of God. When Jesus says to love our neighbor that includes everyone. It includes our enemy. It includes every person in history. Basically the idea is that the dead are our neighbors and we should treat them as such.
That alone is a major game changer. It means that I don’t get to sit in some sort of superior, self righteous place as I judge the people of the past. It means we should not act as if we are better, smarter or somehow more morally superior to those in the past. Because quite clearly we are not. Any fair reading of history along with any fair assessment of our own culture will tell you this. And that goes for all cultures.
This leads me to my second thought on how we should view history from a Christian worldview. This is also going to be uncomfortable by the way. Here it is. We should read history as if we are the perpetrators.
Today I want to continue some thoughts about the story of the rich young man who encounters Jesus. Last time we laid out the story and saw that perhaps the most important point is that without God, no one can enter the Kingdom. Today I want to share some thoughts about money/materialism and how it relates to the Kingdom.
It seems to me that we are really, really confused on this topic in the Western Church.
Today I want to begin to talk about one of the most used passages in scripture. It tells of the encounter between a wealthy, moral young man and Jesus.
The story is told in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. They all tell the same story. A man comes up to Jesus and says to Jesus, “Good teacher. What things must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking why he calls him good? He says God is good, and if you want to be good, follow the commandments.
The man answers that he has kept all of the commandments since his youth. He does not lie, murder, commit adultery etc. It then says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. He said this, “One thing you lack. Go and sell all your possessions, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.” The man then went away sad because he had great wealth.
I’ve had Romans 12:2 on my mind and heart a lot the last few weeks. In the first eleven chapters Paul is basically laying out theological truth after truth for the Roman Christians. He begins chapter with a transition of sorts. He is about to share how to live this out and what it might look like. But he starts with this in 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
It’s the second part that has had my attention lately. The idea of not being conformed to this world. Not being conformed to this age. In other words not being transformed away from Jesus but towards him. Not following the fads, directions, lifestyles, or flow of the culture. Really, we shouldn’t be following anyone but Jesus. And we should be leading. We can test what is happening around us and lead with what is good. We should be leading others towards Jesus, at least whoever might follow.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another parable. It is the story of the landowner and the workers that he hires at different times during the day. In the parable the landowner goes and hires men first thing in the morning and tells them he will pay them the daily wage. They agree and get to work. Then at 9 AM, 3 PM and 5 PM he goes out and finds others promising them a just wage for their work if they start right away. They all go. At the end of the day he pays them all. He starts with those hired at 5 and pays them a full day’s wage. Then he does the same with those he hired at 3 and at 9. Finally when it comes to those he hired first, they think that he will pay them more. But he doesn’t. They complain about the “injustice” because they got paid the same as those who started only a short while ago. The landowner says that it is not unfair. He paid them what they agreed to. He says who are they to challenge what he does with his own money and asks if they are envious of his generosity.
Now people can read this a lot of ways. It’s actually a really tough parable. I think first when we read scripture it’s important to think about what it meant to that group of people at that time. Jesus was in the middle of many confrontations with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The heat is getting turned up as we are approaching the time when they would look to kill Jesus. One of the things that they are most mad about is that all sorts of “sinners” seem to be allowed into this kingdom that Jesus keeps talking about and they seem to be on the outside and they don’t like it. After all, they’ve followed all the rules. They’ve been in this since the beginning. They should be first, not last.
I’m a big lawn guy. I love a good looking yard and I work probably too hard to have one. There are a lot of keys to a good lawn and I’ll come back to this analogy at another time. But today I want to talk about preparing the soil for seeding.
If you want to have a good lawn you have to prepare the soil. If you just throw seed on top of the bare spots nothing will happen. You can water it and everything else, but it won’t matter much. What you need to do is till up the soil. Get at least three inches deep. You need to get rid of anything else growing there as well as any sort of rocks or debris. Then you rake it smooth and if you’re really into it, which I am, then you get a roller and roll it smooth. Then and only then do you drop some seed, spread evenly of course. Then you gently rake it in to the loose top soil. Then I typically throw some straw on top of it to protect it from erosion and getting washed out. Finally you water it . . . . for a while. You have to keep it moist until it grows. This is to say nothing of the maintenance of the yard to keep out weeds and encourage deep rooting. It’s a continual process.
The same is true of our hearts when it comes to the soil we become for the word of God.
Last week we began to look at the parable of the sower from Luke 8. Today I want to take a closer look at what these soils look like.
The first soil is that by the road. This is the soil that the seed falls on but then the devil comes and steals the word before it can take root.
This soil is what we might call the people who reject the word outright. They have a hard heart and therefore the word just stays on the surface. It’s like when I seed my lawn and some of the seed gets on the driveway or sidewalk. It has no chance.
In Luke 8:4 Jesus shares the parable of the sower. Jesus tells of how a farmer spreads seed. Some falls on beside the road and is trampled or stolen by birds. Some falls on rocky soil and grows quickly, but withers quickly because it has no root. Some falls in the soil where there are thorns and grows well until a certain point and then it is choked out. Other seed fell on good soil and grew and produced much fruit.
Jesus later explains this to the disciples. He says that the sower is God and the seed is the word of God. Those on the side of the road are those who have heard the word but devil comes and steals it from their heart so that they can’t be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who receive the word with joy, but then, because they have no root, when tempted fall away. Those who are among the thorns are those who receive the word and grow but are choked out by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life and don’t produce fruit. The final group are those who receive the word with an honest and good heart, hold fast and produce much fruit through perseverance.
This is a tough parable for a lot of reasons. First, it appears that only 25% of people end up producing fruit. Although to be fair, it doesn’t say anything about percentages. Heck 90% of the seed could have fallen on any one of the soils. But as someone who has tried to spread the word to people for over two decades, it sure does seem like 25% of people being the good soil seems about right.
Luke 7:36-50 tells an interesting story that I think is often misinterpreted or glossed over. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee who has requested dinner with Jesus. Let’s push pause right here before we go further.
One of the mistakes we make reading the gospels is that we often turn the Pharisees into one monolithic group. They were not. They were actual people. And Jesus loved them too. Yes they got a lot wrong. Yes many of them did not like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t hate them. He loved them. He kept loving them all the way through the end. Even when He was challenging them He was doing it to try to get them to see the truth. He asks them once – who will save you from hell?! Jesus was trying to get them to get it. Just like everyone else. And some of them were interested. Obviously this Pharisee was curious.