In Jesus’ Words: God and Money (Matthew 22:17-21)

“Tell us, what do You think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites?  Show Me the coin used for the tax.”

So they brought Him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.  “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.

Then He said to them, “Therefore, give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:17-21)

Jesus seems to get a little sassy here.  After all, he had just spent a lot of time with the Pharisees telling them parables about themselves and they still didn’t get it.  Instead they were spending their time plotting how to trap and kill him.  I’m sure Jesus knew their true intentions when they asked this question, but again, Jesus’ answers could not be defeated.

Jesus challenged the things of the day, but he was not political and he did not seek to change world structures, only the hearts of mankind.

When he spoke of giving to God the things that are God’s, I was reminded of these words from Dr. K.P. Johannan, missionary and author of “Revolution in World Missions”, written in 1986.  K.P. confirms in today’s world what Jesus was saying to us.  Jesus’ words were not only to the Pharisees but to us as well.  I hope we do not miss the point.

“Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence – they almost seem to despise it at times.  When I came to America, I stared in amazement at how they treated their beautiful clothes and shoes.  This nation routinely takes its astonishing wealth for granted.

How can two so different economies coexist simultaneously on the earth?  I was alarmed at how misplaced are the spiritual values of most western believers.  It appeared to me that for the most part they had absorbed the same humanistic and materialistic values that dominated the secular culture.  Through their abundance, it was as if they were trying to escape from a guilt they had not yet defined.

They were simply incapable of understanding the enormous needs overseas.  I sometimes cannot freely order food when traveling in the U.S. – I look at the costs and carelessness and realize how far that amount of money would go in India or Philippines.  Suddenly I am not quite as hungry as before.

Is it God’s fault people are going hungry?  No, God has provided enough money in the highly developed nations to feed the rest.  Here are people of privilege and great affluence and more free to act on the Great Commission than any other nation in history.  Yet, they didn’t comprehend this.”

Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. – Francis Chan

In Jesus’ Words: Let’s eat! (Matthew 15:32-37)

firstthanksgiving

Now Jesus summoned His disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with Me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry; otherwise they might collapse on the way.” – Matthew 15:32

Jesus had compassion.  He loved being with people.  He encouraged them.  He fed them.  The miraculous feeding of thousands of people is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels, except for the Resurrection.  It wasn’t the raising of the dead or healing the blind that captured the attention of so many people.  It was feeding them.

This event would be equivalent today of filling an entire stadium with people, who have come to hear and see Jesus, and Jesus feeds them all from nothing.  It was recorded four different times by four different men, and witnessed by thousands.  Matthew even tells of it happening twice.  If this event were not true, they would have easily been discredited.  But they weren’t.  Jesus can make something out of nothing.  He can fill your needs.

As we begin this wonderful holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, share your food, be compassionate, and help others.  You will be blessed.

~ Matthew 15:32-37  Feeding of 4,000 ~

The disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to fill such a crowd?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked them.

“Seven,” they said, “and a few small fish.”

After commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, Jesus took the seven loaves and the fish, and He gave thanks, broke them, and kept on giving them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were filled.

feet with waves cropped

A Halloween observation from an outsider

The question comes up every year this time – should Christians celebrate Halloween?
Clearly, a person’s salvation is not determined by this holiday, so it then becomes a secondary matter for Christians.  It is more a matter of impact and image.

I am not talking about the American tradition of handing out candy to cute little neighborhood kids.  This is part of what makes America unique and great – the fact that we can still have our neighbor’s kids come by our house with anticipation that we will greet them with candy and smiles.

But what about the rest?  What about the decorating of ghosts and witches and tombstones in our yards?  Or the barrage of horror and evil associated with the holiday?  My co-worker from India, who was traveling to the United States for the first time, told me a sobering observation.

He arrived in the U.S. in late October.  Just like anyone visiting a new country for the first time, he was excited to see what it was like.  After settling in for a few days, I took him out to lunch.  As we drove down the streets of Atlanta, looking for a place to eat, my friend became quiet.  He hesitated a little, and said, “I thought America was a Christian country.  Why does everyone put out decorations of evil spirits and magic?”

I felt embarrassed.  I tried to explain as best as I could to an outsider looking in, about our Halloween traditions.

He still seemed disappointed.  “In my country,” he said, “there are people who worship evil spirits, so you do not put those things around your house if you do not want to welcome evil spirits.”

All I could say to him in return is that I was a Christian and I did not celebrate Halloween.  “Ah, ok,” he said.

Impact and image are important.  Does Jesus look welcome in this home?  What would you think if your church pastor decorated his home like this?  It would seem kind of weird.  Why should it be any different for other Christians?

halloween-decorating

 

 

 

In Jesus’ Words: The parable of the good crop (Matthew 12:48-13:9)

grocery storeThere are 7 billion people in the world.  350 million live in the United States of America.
America has 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 40% of the world’s resources.
One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water.
The average American uses 400-600 liters of water every day.
800 million people will not eat today.  Every 7 seconds a child dies from hunger.
The average American family throws away between 15-40% of the food they purchase.
92% of the world’s population does not own a car.  One-third of American families own at least three cars.
Research suggests the cost of providing basic human needs (water, food, basic health care) for everyone in the world to be around $20 billion.  Each year Americans spend around $20 billion on ice cream.
Americans spend more every year on trash bags than half of the world does on all goods combined.
(source: UNICEF)

I am an American.
I am every one of these statistics.

“Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence – they almost seem to despise it at times.  I stared in amazement at how they treated their beautiful clothes and shoes.  The richness of the fabrics and colors was beyond anything I had ever seen.  As I would discover again and again, this nation routinely takes its astonishing wealth for granted.
Americans seemed to have a need to surround themselves with noise all the time.  It was as if they were trying to escape from a guilt they had not yet defined or identified.
Sometimes I cannot freely order food when traveling in the U.S.  I look at the costs (and the carelessness) and realize how far that amount of money would go in India or Philippines.  Suddenly I am not quite as hungry as before.”
– K.P. Johannan, Revolution in World Missions

But there is hope.

“The U.S. is one of the only nations in the world founded by believers who made a covenant with God – dedicating a new nation to God.  Born into influence – we should be most thankful and ask what we should do with these unearned favors.
If you want to meet the needs of the poor, there is no better place to start than sharing the Gospel.  It has done more to lift up the downtrodden, hungry, and needy than all the social programs imagined by secular humanists.”
– K.P. Johannan

I don’t want to wait until the end of my life to fully embrace what Jesus is telling us.

~ Matthew 12:48-13:9  The Parable of the Good Crop ~

“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, Jesus said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow.  As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.  But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered.  Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them.  Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen!”

feet with waves cropped

The Response

images

It has been heartbreaking to watch the news this last week, with riots and looting and angry words being thrown back and forth.  But what I noticed most on the faces of the people I saw on television was a look of deep pain and hurt and frustration.  It goes much deeper than the cries of racism.  This was a look of pain accumulated from many years of injustice – from substandard schools for the poor, people not caring, families torn apart from alcoholism and drugs, single moms trying to raise their families against the odds, being poor in a country that has so many extremes in wealth, and a general lack of morality in our culture.  The tone spread throughout the country like a bad virus, and spilled over into family Thanksgiving celebrations and times where we should be coming together.  It brought home the fact that the holidays are very hard for many people, those without families or means to provide, and loneliness and hurt feelings are heightened.

What is the correct response, and what is the solution for a hurting country and the world?

There is only one answer, one person, that can satisfy all our questions and truly take away the pain and injustice.  Jesus Christ.  No other person, no other religion or doctrine or leader, has spoken the words that Jesus said and acted as Jesus did.  Jesus faced many of the same issues that we have today, but he is not just a historical figure to be studied.  His truth is still true today.  Jesus offers compassion for the forgotten, the poor and lonely.  Only Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, no matter who you are or what you have done.  Jesus often spoke against the wealth and power of this earth, yet no one has ever found any fault with him other than he claimed to be who he said he was.  He healed.  He understood.  He cared.  He carried all of our pain to the cross.  He died for us.  No one else has done this.

As my younger self, I might have considered this to be a lesser response to the world’s problems.  I wanted to solve it my way.  But as I have seen more of the world now, I know there is no other answer.  Jesus is the only way out of our circumstances, and the only one who can ease our pain.  During this Christmas season we see the images of baby Jesus lying in a manger, but I hope we will also see Jesus the man.  Read the spoken words of Jesus in the New Testament (red-letter edition) and you will see why He came and what He stood for.  In your pain, look to Jesus.  Trust in Him as your Savior and He will lead you out.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5

 Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  John 12:46

feet with waves cropped