The same four words appear on every single American coin and every single American dollar. Four words that reveal a conviction. Four words that confess a truth. Four words that identify a belief. Do you know those four words? ‘In God We Trust.’
That motto first appeared in 1863, right in the thick of the American Civil War. Half of America faced extinction! Ideas and people could be lost! So, a concerned American requested the phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ be stamped onto American coins. Should civilization crumble and return to sand and timber, archaeologists and historians could find these coins. They could read the inscription and conclude that America was not full of godless heathens (https://www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx). That motto made headlines again in 1957, just as the Cold War got colder. The Soviet Union outlawed religion and promoted atheism [a belief that no God exists]. So, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ appeared on dollar bills. It implied that God favored American morals and would lend his divine support. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust). That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security.
So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It is. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. So which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
Calamity has a way of exposing the heart’s security. You have an object of trust. When troubles rage, you flee rely on it. In that moment you then determine if that object could keep you safe or not.
Just look at our reading. Calamity barrels towards the leaders in Zion (that’s southern Israel) and against those on Mount Samaria (which is northern Israel). God guarantees punishment. Northern Israel chiseled out figures in stone; they have carved wooden statues. Israelites leave their homes and trot out to a shrine filled with prostitutes. They hope sharing bodies will make for a good financial year. Farmers trust the cow-god Baal, relying on him to make a good growing season. Masses flock to deities that do not exist, shamefully shatter God’s commands— and the leaders do not care. Governors do not shut down these pagan temples. They do not elevate worship of the true God who rescued them from Egypt and gifted this land to them! So, God guarantees: You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god— which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus (Amos 5:26-27).
Go to Calneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Each city once stood equal to northern and southern Israel. They had the same amount of land, the same level of safety, the same economies. Now, it’s all gone! Tiny Calneh destroyed by superpower Assyria! Hamath conquered by northern Israel and Gath held captive by Zion! God warns: Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? No! ‘What happened to them will happen to you! You will be destroyed.’
That warning meant to alert sleepy hearts. ‘Wake up!’ Instead, Israel’s leaders lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on couches. [They] dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. [They] strum away on harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. [They] drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, [no one] grieves over the ruin of Joseph. No one cares about the threat of exile because… well… nothing bad has happened. No armies threaten their borders, and therefore no fear of captivity. Economies flourish; money passes through hands, and therefore no worry of food shortages or home foreclosures. Peace reigns in the region, and therefore no concern that you could lose a familiar landscape or friends or freedom. So, hearts wallow in every pleasure money offers. Getting drunk makes this negatives news of destruction go away. Money spent on choice meat could still be used to hire more armies and better defenses. Little musical fantasies drown out God’s warning. In Whom Do They Trust? They love what pleasure money can purchase. They love how money can make them feel safe. They trust money’s ability to provide everything needed for life.
God has this to say: You put off the evil day and [you] bring near a reign of terror. ‘You worship temporal pleasures and let your spiritual life rot.’ Money can bring satisfaction to every area of life except one. Money cannot save your soul.
Calamity erupted just like God promised. The Assyrian powerhouse that steamrolled Calneh obliterated northern Israel. Governors turned to wealth. They thought it could buy weapons. They thought it could buy armies. They thought it could buy peace. It did not. Even worse, those who placed trust in wealth over God died spiritually bankrupt. Money could not buy their way into heaven.
What a reminder, then, those four words on money serve for us! ‘In God We Trust.’ Do you still pay attention to those words? Do you remember they are even there? Maybe we only care when some group wants to erase it! Yet, the heart does a fine job of erasing it on its own! Do you think that a new house will solve a sore relationship? Or that new a car will finally satisfy you and you will never anything else again? Perhaps you think more income will finally take away every fear— no more restless nights, no more stress about bills, or no more counting every cent you spend. Maybe you find security in a large savings account— relying on this cushion to make you feel happy and secure. Maybe that’s why we can easily forget those four words found on money: ‘In God We Trust.’ We can look at the green paper and shiny coin and think this object will give us the happiness we crave. This object will solve any tension, any struggle, any aching worry. This object will save me.
If that is where your trust lies, then God has this to say: ‘Woe to you!’ You will leave this earthly life and your wealth will not come with you. You will stand before God naked and penniless. If money remains an object of trust, then Calamity (we could say ‘death’) exposes the heart’s security. It exposes money’s inability to provide real peace.
God makes that point pretty clear on a mount called ‘Calvary.’ There, Jesus hangs naked and penniless. Attached to him is your (and my) trust in everything money could buy. He hates the sight of it so much that he rains down punishment on Jesus. The punishment meant for you (and me).
Calamity exposes the heart’s security— and when you look at the heart of Jesus, you do not find reliance in wealth. You find a pure trust in God to provide! He does! God provides Jesus with life! God provides you (and me) with Jesus’ life! That you now carry Jesus’ innocence. Something money can never buy! Something that allows you to stand before God, completely confident that he cares for you. That he provides for you. That he opens heaven for you.
In Whom Do You Trust? Calamity exposes the heart’s security. When troubles rip into life, you will turn to an object. Money might address physical shortfalls, but it will never satisfy you completely. Only Jesus fills you with real peace. The real peace of forgiveness. The real peace that comes from knowing that God still provides all things in this life. ‘In God We Trust.’ That becomes apparent by the way we use money.
Believers in the Old Testament had an opportunity to give a ‘firstfruits’ offering. They set aside about 10-percent of the crops coming off field first and gave that to God. Now, if you farm, you realize that giving your first crops can be a little nerve-wracking. After all, the previous year’s reserves run low. You could use that corn and hay. Still, God says, “Give me your firstfruits” (Deuteronomy 26:1-15).
People did. They willingly give that offering; you give the first of your resources confident that God will give you more cuttings of hay and more corn. Giving demonstrate a trust in God to provide. A trust that drowned out personal fear. Actions reveal a trust in God’s promise.
What do your actions say? You (and I) are able to evaluate our income and consider what we may set aside. Maybe that means we set aside an amount for offering before we pay bills. You set a portion and then spend what is left over. Maybe that means we determine key bills first and then set aside an offering. If we do not have enough to be at McDonald’s every day, we thank God for still feeding us. Or, if we cannot buy five new outfits this month, we thank God for still clothing us. Setting aside a portion of income for an offering allows us to rely on God to keep providing for us.
We can look at the money in our hand and see those words ‘In God We Trust,’ we can use it confidently. If you’re not sure, then for one month (that’s four Sundays), see what you are able to give. Be bold. Trust big. You offering may increase price of a hamburger spread out over four weeks. That amount might not look like much, but it is much. It comes from heart that trusts God to provide. Maybe your giving increases by the cost of a tank of gas each week. Even that generosity demonstrates a reliance on God. You are not worried that you will need that amount back later. Our act of giving reveals our certainty in God to do what he promises; that he will give what we need.
That phrase: ‘In God We Trust’ clearly confesses that only God can grant real security. So, how ironic that a confession of God’s protection is found on an object in which many want to find protection! Ponder that for just a moment. Money is capable of bringing pleasure into your life. It can buy vacations and cars, houses and outdoor toys, clothes and shoes. Money provides for you. Still, stamped on American money is the confession: ‘In God We Trust.’ Only God grants real security. Which one is it? Which one do you expect to provide for you? God or Money? In Whom Do You Trust?
This is an Equal-Arm Beam scale. (You have probably seen one of these before; it’s a pretty common scale.) As you can see, the main beam balances and pivots in its exact center. Each end of the beam is an equal distance from that center pivot. So, you can add weight to each end and study how the beam balances. A heavy object will cause one side of the beam to drop and the other to rise. To balance the beam, you must add weight to the light arm until the beam levels. Then can you conclude the two objects have equal weight.
Scales perform wonderfully in comparing weight. In fact, scales do not care about the value of an object— whether you weight gold and rocks or food and dirt. The scale simply reveals which object is heaviest.
This morning God uses a scale to reveal what has top value in your heart. Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. So, Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.
In our Old Testament selection you see scales at work. In fact, you see them as they are most commonly used: in business. Ancient coins did not have a number-value attached to them. For example, today’s money has a value stamped on it. So, the same-sized scrap of green paper can be worth different amounts simply due to the number printed on it. Yet, ancient coins (like the shekel) had value based on weight. Two shekels could weight different amounts. So you needed a scale. If loaf of bread cost two shekels, the merchant would hang a two-shekel weight on one side of the scale and you would weigh out shekel-coins until the scale balances. That balanced scale allows the merchant to receive and you to pay the right shekel-weight.
A scale makes transactions fair. So, some tweaked it. Merchants made the ephah small and the shekel great[.] An ‘ephah’ measures about a half-bushel… but the merchants adjusted those measurements. If you are selling grain, they pull out a slightly larger basket and you give away more grain than needed. If you are buying grain, they break out a slightly smaller basket and you receive less than desired. Or, if a loaf of bread costs two shekels, the merchant would hang a weight heavier than two-shekels on one side. You shelled out more coins and the merchant gained more wealth! Yet, they do not stop there; they hoard more by giving less. No one lowers food prices for the elderly and disabled, those between jobs and those honestly trying to get by. After all, donating is money given away! The merchants would sell— not give— but sell a measly peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for 8-hours of labor. And if your bare feet needed a pair of cheap, two-dollar-sandals, they made you scrounge for two dollars first. They even swept up the grain kernels and husks, leaves and stems, pack it into a bag, and sell it. Those sneaky merchants do all they can to suck a little extra money from you.
Let’s be clear: God does not condemn gaining money. It is not wrong to be rich. It is not wrong to make six-digits. It is not wrong to buy a big house or new car. God does not condemn an individual person. He does not say: “Listen up you merchants and business-owners!” No, he condemns those who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. That can refer to any person: rich or poor, business or customer. Simply put: God condemns an attitude.
Here’s how that attitude appears. On one side [of the scale] hangs God. On the other side hangs money. Greed consumes more attention than God. Greed says, “When will the New Moon be over[…] and the Sabbath be ended?” Weekly worship allows people to leave work, leave business behind, and reflect on the spiritual rest the God provides. People worshipped, but not because they wanted to. Instead, they sit in the pew and stare out the window wondering: ‘When will church be over so that we may market wheat [and] that we may sell grain?’ Those with much want more. Those with little want more. Greed has no limits; it will only consume more and more of the heart. Worldly wealth never satisfies.
You (and I) live in the wealthiest nation in the world (https://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/). And I’m not talking about the ‘Top 1%;’ this is you (and me), middle class. You (and I) are able to select a day and retire. You receive so much extra money that you can literally stop working and still get paid from retirement accounts. I have known people whose retirement lasted longer than their working years. The prices at McDonald’s goes up and we complain, but we still go there. In fact, we can afford the menu and maintain our standard of living. Social Security received a raise last year (after having six flat years!) and you still hear: ‘Well, it’s still not enough.’ You have already been living without that raise! You had food and shelter, clothing and transportation. What necessity did you go without that Social Security must cover? You learn the financial needs of your congregation and can still say, ‘Well, if I had more, then I could give more.’ If you find those words coming out of your mouth, then it appears the problem is not with a lack of money, but with the priority of money. That starts with the attitude of the heart.
That’s what a scale reveals. When money becomes an object worshipped, it demands more and more time devoted to it. That keeps us from wanting to let it go. God keeps filling your pockets for daily bread and still comes the complaint that it is just not enough. We make excuses as to why we cannot even consider giving more to God. We create reasons as to why cannot even give food to the needy or blame a struggling neighbor for his poverty. When money becomes a priority, it has become your god. The object consuming your heart, mind, and soul. You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Luke 16:13). When the scale of your heart (and mine) tips in favor of money, The Lord [swears]: “Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
You know what? God has not forgotten the greed that exists in your heart (and mine). That name, ‘Lord,’ is capitalized for a reason. That name: ‘Lord’ tells you that God is (1) absolutely serious to punish greedy hearts and he is (2) absolutely serious to forgive greedy hearts. In fact, God is so serious that he swears by the ‘Pride of Jacob.’ That ‘Pride’ is himself. He promised Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, to send Jesus. Nations would rejoice in that forgiveness and Jacob’s family tree could rejoice in their great Descendant. God kept his oath. He sent Jesus.
Look at the scales of Jesus’ heart. The Jews offer him crown and throne; every physical need would be forever met! Yet, Jesus does not come to accumulate wealth (John 6:15). He comes to give. He gives bread and fish to thousands. He gives taxes to Caesar. He gives life to the lifeless without charge. Jesus comes into contact with money, but it never becomes his god. And that is what makes Jesus life’s most priceless treasure. Out of the billions of people who have lived, currently live, and will live, Jesus is the only Person who received God’s seal of approval (Matthew 3:17). And he gives that priceless seal to you.
God is so serious about greed that he condemns Jesus for our greed. He takes away help and rescue. He takes away life. That is what greed deserves— and Jesus made that payment. Now you stand ‘Not Guilty!’ Look at the cross. See Jesus pour his pure life into your spiritual account (and mine). See Jesus fill you with his perfection, his unblemished life, his innocence. See how Jesus has paid your complete price for heaven. Money will never satisfy that eternal debt. Yet, God’s mercy always overflows.
God has straightened out our bent hearts. Now our hearts look like this: Jesus’ payment for sin is far more valuable than money. Do you see what happened? The scales shifted. Money is not life’s most valuable item. If the heart does not consider Money ‘god,’ then it becomes something less than God. It becomes a ‘tool,’ an object used.
Have you ever thought of money like that? Money is received so that you can use to address your needs! The money you receive is used to satisfy hunger. The money you receive is used for home and heat so that you remain warm and safe. The money you receive is used for time off so you can relax. You save up money and use it when your body cannot handle work, when you need nursing home care, when you need to cover funeral expenses. Do you see what role money has in life? You use it, not hoard it!
That gives you the ability use money like a tool. You can use it for an offering. You actually give away something the world considers ‘valuable.’ Yet, giving an offering admits that your love for God trumps love for possessions. Giving an offering also allows God’s house to be maintained. To have lights and heat on. To enhance gathering places and maintain worship space. To support a Pastor who brings God’s Word to your heart each Sunday, in the hospital, at your house. To support a Pastor who teaches your children about God’s love and equips them for heaven. Your wealth (and mine) is a tool used to share God’s life-giving Word.
Prices will always rise. Healthcare expenses will always rise. Same with groceries and utilities and maintenance and college. Thank God that you have had enough. You have always had enough food for each day. You have not neglected your body because of cost. You may need equipment, but God provides a new furnace or used car. You may not attend university, but still get education in college. When you look and see needs met, you can thank God for giving us what we need.
Because money is a tool An object used. That’s why it does not carry a heavy place in the heart. We do not worship the object, but the One who gives! Money always leaves us and we thank God that he never does!
So, what has top value in your heart? Out of all the objects in this worldly life, only one holds eternal value. Fix your eyes on Jesus and you will Keep Balanced the Scales of Your Heart! You will see Worldly wealth never satisfies, but God’s mercy always overflows.
Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’? I mean, did you feel pulled into the story? Try to place yourself into the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found? The parable really wants you to choose a side, doesn’t it?
It’s important that you do. Jesus does not speak these words to first-century Jews only. The point of his parable carries eternal implications for all people of all time. That is why it is important for you to answer: Where are you in the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’?
Go back to our gospel lesson and you find two distinct groups, right? In Group #1, you have ninety-nine ‘found’ sheep. In Group #2, you have one ‘lost’ sheep. Those groups even have characteristics. In verse 7 Jesus says: I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Who are those people? More importantly, where are you?
Well, look at verses 1 and 2. Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No one likes the tax-man. He takes your hard-earned money and ships it off. None of your money goes towards improving your city. Instead, your taxes pay for extravagant projects done some 2,000-miles away in Rome! Yet, a bigger problem exists: The tax collector is a Jew! One of you! Your high-school classmate! Your next-door neighbor! Your brother-in-law! Someone who lives in your community and sees your struggles and hears your frustrations and knows for a fact that Rome cheats you— and still participate in this injustice! As if that was not bad enough, that Jewish traitor can deliberately overcharge you! If you owe $100, he could bill you for $200. He sends $100 to Rome (it keeps Rome happy) and then he pockets the other $100. You can do nothing about that because Rome’s own soldiers protect their man.
So, the Pharisees have marked this tax-collecting group as ‘beyond hope,’ ‘not-going-to-heaven.’ You know what? They would be right! Those tax collectors will never enter heaven without Jesus! So, Jesus sits with them. He exposes a heart that worships money more than God, a heart that deserves hell. Yet, Jesus does not stop teaching there. He points to himself; he reveals that his obedient life cures them.
In our parable, the tax collectors are the spiritually lost found by Jesus. That makes the Pharisees the ninety-nine who see no need to repent. Why would they? The Pharisees have already set themselves in the column: ‘loved-by-God.’ They go to ‘church’ and give big offerings. They dress in fancy clothes. They have respectable wives and well-behaved children. They commit no crimes and carry no moral baggage. The Pharisee feels God must welcome him into heaven because his life is superior.
That feeling of superiority has an effect. The Pharisee sees no need for Jesus because of their action. Then, the Pharisees resent the Word of Christ reaching a group deemed ‘undesirable.’ Just look at those messy lives! It might appear that certain groups are undeserving of a good thing like God’s love.
That attitude did not only exist years ago. It still erupts today. Our congregation recently collected money for a Pastor-Training Institute in Vietnam. Now Vietnamese pastors will receive better training to share God’s Word with the Vietnamese. Still, after the history of violence, crimes, and torture the Vietnamese inflicted on Americans, you might not wish to help them. Maybe those foreigners deserve hell— or, at the very least, maybe they do not deserve my support. Last Wednesday, you relived horrific terrorist attacks. Innocent thousands died and even more still suffer! It might have been difficult to think anything good of the Middle East— without even considering that those people without Christ will go to hell. Still, maybe you think: “Good riddance!”
We could bring our thoughts closer to home. Many in your community behave far different than you (and I). You may even realize those lives inflict negative consequences. The meth-house does not really seem deserving of Jesus; it seems more deserving of punishment! The scruffy guy always walking around town, well, he looks lazy. That laziness does not deserve free forgiveness! That stranger who walks into church at the last minute— frazzled and disruptive and acts weird— well, what is she doing here?
We could bring thoughts even closer home. You know people who have different values and priorities. Your child has not been in worship for a long time. Your brother, your sister may worship the lake. Your neighbor treats travel teams like God. So many other things take priority! Maybe you think: ‘That’s fine. God will have mercy on them. They are good people. They cannot possibly go to hell.’
How do we reach these conclusions? By my own standard. I pull out my behavior, my home life, my worship attendance and expect the world to be what I am. If that person fails to match up, then just leave them lost. Just like those Pharisees, my own heart can rank people as ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ of Jesus. It boils down to me saying: “Well, I deserve forgiveness.” And Jesus says: “You have no idea how lost you are.”
So, Jesus searches. Isn’t that an astounding fact in this parable? Out of ninety-nine fluffy white bodies, Jesus actually notices one is missing— and he looks for it. He leaves heaven’s safety and puts on human flesh. He literally walks to hearts wandering in greed. He literally walks to hearts absolutely oblivious as to what happens after death. He literally walks to those who resist hearing a desperate need for the Savior. Jesus walked all over earth to rescue you. He walked into the death you earned and rescued you. He returns from death— alive! Alive, holding you alive in his hands.
Hearts can think only a select few deserve Jesus. Yet, this parable makes clear: The Lost Means the World to Jesus. That is why he searches for all. He wants all saved. We could put it this way: The Lost Means IS the ‘World’ to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
[W]hen he has found [the lost], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Do you see where you are? On the shoulders of Jesus!
When did that happen? Because maybe you don’t feel saved. Can you be sure that lie on Christ? Yes! [Y]ou who were baptized into Christ and have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). In baptism God attached his Word to water. So, when you were baptized, he said, you carry the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Yes, baptism has washed pride out of your (and my) heart. God does not recall your past. He does not lay out criteria you must meet before he will ever re-love you. Nope. He lays you on his shoulders and rejoices. He carries you into the family of believers with hop-in-step. It’s like he’s holding back from breaking out in a sprint! The Lost Means the World to Jesus. He rejoices over the found.
Yet, God is not the only one rejoicing. Neighbors and friends rejoice. They so desperately want the lost found, and so they rejoice as another lost is found! Those neighbors and friends are you.
Did you know that on an average Sunday, about half of our fellow believers do not worship? You know those faces. You watched them baptized. You heard them, on their Confirmation Day, promise to regularly hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. They confessed their faults, heard God’s forgiveness, listened to the same messages you do. They are not here! Some worship only Christmas and Easter. Others barely come at all. Does that bother you?
Dear friend, those who love Christ love hearing his Word. Love for Christ does not make up excuses to be out of church. Love for Christ does not pack weekends with camping and fishing. Love for Christ does not brag that they already know everything about the Bible (and so they do not need to hear anymore). No, love for Christ finds reasons to be with God (read Hebrews 10:25 and John 8:31). Step back for a moment and see to whom Jesus speaks. You have Pharisees and tax collectors, the curious and the disciples. Understand, it is not only the Pastor’s job to go and reach the drifting. It is our job— together.
We gain motivation when we go back to these words and see where we stand in this parable. You are that once lost, now found sheep. You did not deserve rescue, you needed rescue. So, Jesus made you his priority and he rejoices over that!
Those drifting are worth our time. Each soul is worth our effort of hearing the gospel. Maybe your daughter who has not been in worship for a while. She’s just ‘taking a break from church,’ as she puts it. Maybe your friend is completely oblivious to anything ‘God.’ He just feels that everything will be alright in the end. Maybe you recognize a few faces you have not seen for a while. You really just do not know where they are. It is incredibly easy to say nothing, but then again, someone shared Jesus with you.
As able, take the opportunity to seek the stray. Use your own words and tell your child why you find worship important. Share your experience. Share your comfort. Share what you gain. Invite your neighbor to church— but do more than that. Tell them why you want them in church. Tell them about heaven after death. Tell them that you stand absolutely certain of heaven because of Jesus. Pray for the wandering. Pray that someone brings news of Jesus to the meth-house. Pray that violent nations find peace in Jesus. Pray for courage to welcome those walking by your church into church.
The Lost Means the World to Jesus. The world. Everyone. Seeing how Jesus gave up the world for you, you rejoice that Jesus gave all for the world.
The ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’ pulls you into its story. It puts you in the setting of sheep and Shepherd, lost and found. It does that because Jesus in not speaking to first-century Jews only. He speaks to you.
The point of his parable carries eternal implications. You, once lost, now stand found. How humbling to see how undeserving we were! How amazing to see how rich we are! Now found, you, like Jesus, seek the lost because The Lost Means the World to Jesus.
His little head rises higher and higher. Soon, his hazel eyes stand level with the glowing burner radiating heat. Ever-so-slowly that tiny hand creeps toward that red ring… “Don’t touch!” warns mom. He freezes— and his mind instantly begins dissecting that warning. The orange glow does not appear harmful— after all, the heat feels like summer heat and orange is a pretty color. The circle element kind of looks like a toy-ring. He weighs mom’s warning against his observations and reaches a conclusion: Mom is wrong! Disregard the warning! So, those tiny fingers continue their journey closer and closer to the glowing element. The fingers descend on their goal, and… INSTANTLY pain shoots up his fingers, through his hand, and down his arm. Fingertips turn fleshy red. His hand burns. Tears stream down his face. This young child did not expect the searing results he received.
We have a word for a person who acts like that: a ‘know-it-all,’ someone who behaves as if he knows everything (https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/know%20it%20all). That behavior not only affects little children (and your bossy siblings), it can infiltrate your heart too. Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you.
A ‘know-it-all’ doesn’t describe you, does it?
This morning, Ponder Wisdom’s Two Questions. (1) What is wisdom? And, (2) Are you wise?
Maybe you find it difficult to define ‘wisdom.’ If you are like me, it’s easier to describe ‘wisdom’ not with a definition, but with an application. You identify ‘wisdom’ when you see it. Perhaps you consider ‘wisdom’ as avoiding harmful choices and selecting beneficial choices. Maybe you equate ‘wisdom’ with experience. You perform some action and gain results. Then you evaluate the results in order to shape future decisions. You realize that we tend to define wisdom as this cause-and-effect notion.
Yet, in Proverbs 9:10, God does not leave us fumbling for a concrete definition of wisdom. Instead, he explains (1) what wisdom is and (2) how wisdom functions. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. So, God links two items together. (1) ‘Fear’ and ‘Wisdom,’ (2) ‘Knowledge of Holy One’ and ‘Understanding.’ Have fear, you have wisdom.
That’s where wisdom begins? With ‘fear?’ That sounds strange. I mean, in our English language, if you “fear” someone that usually means you are scared of that person. So, being “scared” of the Lord is how you become wise? In a way, yes! He is the Almighty God who stretched a measuring line across our universe, who shut the sea behind doors, clothed the skies with clouds, and brings out the sun every morning (Job 38). Your God is the Holy One who lives in heaven, far above all rule and authority, a place reserved only for the perfect! That is scary, that is terrifying because I am not God and God is not me. I fail people; I deliberately choose to do evil. God never fails people; God never does evil (James 1:13). I do not compare to him. In fact, I fall short.
That takes ‘fear’ to admit that. Yes, to be afraid that you (and I) fall under God’s punishment for failure. Yet, ‘fear’ also means something else; it means, ‘to respect.’ It takes ‘fear’ (or ‘respect’) to admit that God judges over me and I stand judged by God.
So, that wisdom places me at a starting point. Real wisdom recognizes two truths: (1) It recognizes the deadly consequences of sin and (2) sees Jesus as the antidote to those consequences. The fear of the Lord… that is, respecting God’s position over me… is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
That ‘Holy One’ is none other than Jesus Christ. Just look at him! He is holy! Morally faultless! The sick crowd around him and he does not prescribe treatments for a better life on earth. No! He points people to a healing for their soul. When he preaches, he points to the Bible—and not what he thinks. Even though he has no savings account, no permanent home, no bed, Jesus still confidently relies on God to provide. Jesus ‘fears’ the Lord; he ‘respects’ God’s impact in his life and proves it by shaping his entire being around God’s commands.
You know that; you know Jesus is the Holy One. You also know just what God thinks about human wisdom: He hates it. The Holy One hangs on the cross, groaning under God’s righteous frown. God finds your (and my) ‘know-it-all’ attitude on Jesus and cannot stand to look at it. So, he turns his back and leaves. He does not rescue Jesus. He answers no cry for help. He forsakes his Son and our worldly wisdom with him—and then he buries it. He buries our wisdom with his Son in the ground. Three days later Jesus comes out of the ground. He comes out without our wisdom and with his message of wisdom: ‘Cleansed! Purified! Pardoned!’
So, What is wisdom? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Quite simply: (1) You recognize the deadly consequences of sin and (2) trust Jesus as the only antidote to those consequences.
That leads to our second question: (2) Are you wise? Wisdom is not a mere definition, but also application. Think back to that little child. He holds a warning about the hot stovetop, but did not put it into practice. Holding God’s Word in high regard brings eternal life. Still, those are not lifeless words. For you, the Christian, those words are put into action. So, Are you wise?
Do you apply wisdom? Verse 8 says: Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you… A mocker is a proud person, a ‘know-it-all.’ He thinks he knows everything there is to know about everything. The worst trait about that attitude is that he refuses to take God’s truth to heart. He refuses to admit that his lifestyle clearly contradicts God’s clear commands. He refuses to admit that his life needs changing. Really, he is pushing God out of his heart—which is foolish because only God brings life. [R]ebuke a wise man— someone who humbly admits that God and his Word carries authority over him-- and he will love you. So the question is: Are you wise?
Today marks the beginning of our Christian education year. Think about many opportunities to grow in God’s Word. Sunday School teaches Bible accounts of God’s love. Catechism class studies God’s teachings for life. Bible class examines life’s questions under the microscope of God’s Word. An online class puts a book of the Bible into simple words and simple application. God presents teachings to guide decisions and form answers, comfort and console, and most of all, keep your heart close to him.
That is why the devil works on you. He tries to make you into a fool. He will tell you that you are too busy to read your Bible. He will tell you that you already know every Bible story, every Bible topic, every discussion any class will have. He will tell you that you have another day, another time to be in the Word. I know he does that because he tries to convince me of the same things. “You’re a Pastor. You already studied all this.” “You instruct people. You do not need instruction.” “You’re so busy today. Study tomorrow …Start again next week …next anniversary.” Do you know why Satan whispers these excuses? He knows that if he can just get you to put the Bible down, to stop using it so often, you will begin forgetting God’s promises. You will forget God’s commands. You will start creating Bible-sounding sayings. You will begin clinging to made-up statements about the Bible. You will rely on what you think you know— and you will never figure how wrong you are until God exposes how distant you stand from him!
Let’s find wisdom in verse 9. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. Did you catch that? ‘Instructing’ always leaves a positive impact! (read also Isaiah 55:10-11). You will always have room to learn more information, better identify God’s promises, and grow in applying the Word to life. After all, life changes, right? Like, a 4-year-old just wants loving care. The 14-year-old worries about acceptance by friends and classmates. The 24-year-old worries about getting a job and starting “life.” The 40-year-old worries about retirement. The 84-year-old worries about health in later years. Throughout life certain things change. What does not change is the instruction God teaches. A 4-year-old knows the Good Shepherd lovingly cares for him. The 14-year-old knows the Good Shepherd accepts him as a dear friend. The 24-year-old sees the Good Shepherd satisfy fear by providing education and job, spouse and income. The 40-year-old sees the Good Shepherd provide for both life on earth and in heaven. The 84-year-old knows the Good Shepherd will lead her through death’s dark valley and into heaven. Just this one timeless psalm provides a myriad of application for every age!
That is the reason these education opportunities exist. That is why your congregation encourages using these many Bible opportunities. That is why your Pastor prepares to ‘instruct’ you, the ‘wise man.’ So that you become wiser still.
After all, you are not a ‘know-it-all,’ are you? May God forbid it! Thinking that you already know every Bible teaching and application, warning and encouragement, promise and guarantee leads you to think that God has nothing left to teach you. That does not benefit you. Instead, a ‘know-it-all’ attitude actually stunts your life with God!
Maybe a better phrase to stick in mind is: ‘Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.’ (https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2017/05/dont-be-a-know-it-all-be-a-learn-it-all/). That happens when our hearts remember that real wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Cherishing the fact that only Jesus stands us right before God! That, dear friends, changes life. That dismantles excuses. What joy we have to keep pondering the wisdom we have received from God! Jesus cures us from death. That Word continues guiding life.
There is probably no greater blessing/curse than the forward facing camera on a smartphone. Yes, this tiny invention paved the way for the “selfie.” (Now, to have a common definition, a ‘selfie’ is a ‘self-photograph,’ a picture you take of yourself.) You can include yourself in a picture of friends. You can show an outfit instead of describing what you wore. You can insert yourself in front of mountains and monuments without having to find someone to take your picture. Selfies unlock opportunities for uniquely different memories.
… But then you have that disturbing news report from a few years ago… A surveillance camera in downtown Pittsburgh captured a woman assaulted and left unconscious. The attack happened in public; witnesses instantly swarm this victim— but things got strange from there. A group whips out their phones, but they do not dial 911. They stand there and record videos. One man even marches right up to this woman, kneels down, and records a close up. Then, another guy lies down right next to her and takes a selfie! No one helps! Not a single person calls 911! This woman lies motionless until she regains consciousness. (https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2017/10/26/get-marty-beechview-woman-knocked-out-video/)
How terrible! Maybe more terrifying is the gnawing, never-satisfied hunger for more attention. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride. God dismantles even our selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need?
Just think about that. What has God done for you? These closing chapters of Hebrews string together this unbroken, flowing truth: Jesus Christ is all you need! Only Jesus completely cancelled out God’s anger over what you (and I) have done wrong. Because of Jesus, you now stand before the Judge of all things without fear. You have the assurance of eternal life in heaven! You have the assurance that God hears you, cares for you, provides for you! From that point of view, you must admit: There is really nothing more you need. It does not matter how many ‘likes’ your Facebook post gets or how many friends you have. It does not matter how much money you make. It does not matter your job title— if you are the mayor or a manager or general labor. None of that matters because the only thing you can take out of this life is trust in Jesus as Savior. What More Do You Need? Only Jesus provides real value.
Lose sight of that and then you begin sinking into the world’s standard of value. A standard continuously snatching for more attention, more praise, more respect. Care for your brother? Only when convenient! Only when people can see you and praise your leadership and praise your talents. Only when you gain a sense of feeling good after giving to charity or sacrificing time. Only when your Christian friend is nice to you first. How selfish! To serve only when your ego stands to benefit! Be hospitable? Warm and friendly? That means caring for each other just as you care for your family. That means giving up time talking with friends and welcoming someone (in church) who looks lost and unsure. That means paying attention to the physical limitations of that elderly lady. That takes effort! That takes time! You are too busy! You have to focus on yourself! Hospitality sounds pretty inconvenient. Our selfish hearts can even label God’s commandments ‘Inconvenient.’ Honor marriage? That command does not satisfy pleasures; it does not make you feel happy. In fact, that command makes you stand out, and then people call you names and that does not feel great. So, you lay aside God’s unbreakable command for the sake ego. For the sake of pride. For the sake of convenience. That’s dangerous.
A selfish heart thinks it has the right to strut up to the King of the Universe and explain how you will live and then expects God to accept it. That is a form of insubordination! That is a form of rebellion against God— and God will not put up with it. Those who think so highly of themselves and live convinced that God must accept your pride, will be forever humbled.
Really, What More Do You Need? Right in the middle of our reading God zeroes in on the one thing needed. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Yes, God specifically addresses greed, but he teaches something broader: Contentment. Contentment with your finances. Contentment with your status. Contentment with your time, your achievements, your relationships, your identity as God’s child. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have… Why? because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
God cannot stress that promise enough. (Remember, the New Testament is written in Greek. The Greek translation uses five negatives in one sentence. Our English language does not do that!) God literally says: ‘I will never ever desert you [it is impossible to do so], nor will I ever forsake you [it is impossible to do that].’ Jesus will never leave you in eternal shame; it is impossible. For proof of that just look at the cross.
You (and I) stand empty-handed before God, holding nothing that he wants. Yet, Jesus purges pride and fills your (and my) empty heart with his undivided love and loyalty to God. This is what Jesus accomplished for you (and me). The cross has forever linked him to you. What More Do You Need? Really, if you have Jesus, What More Do You Need? Because Only Jesus provides real value.
That changes perspective. We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Humanity can do nothing! Yes, your paycheck might be short some dollars, but that’s alright! Your bank account means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, your sister’s drama might never stop, but that’s alright! Getting the last word, looking smug means nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Yes, the world might look at you weird for saying, “Wait until marriage,” but that’s alright! Your god is not popularity, opinions mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity! Humanity cannot forever shame you because Jesus has forever exalted you!
Jesus laid aside attention, praise, and respect in order to make you eternally rich! That means you, as someone connected to God, are not out gaining more attention, praise, and respect. You already have it all! It means you live opposite the world: giving attention, praise, and respect.
Stop for a moment and consider those who gave. Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you… Think how your Sunday School teacher gave up Saturday night preparing Bible lessons and gave up her Sunday morning in order to bring Jesus to you. Consider the Pastor who wanted to teach you God’s love even though you, as a teenager, maybe did not want to listen— and still he patiently taught! Recall that kind grandmotherly-lady who could have huddled with friends her age, but instead went out of the way to talk to you. Remember that Christian friend who addressed your sinful living. He risked friendship; he did not seek pride. He wanted to keep you close to God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Remember those who gave so that you have! Consider that you may be the Sunday School teacher with an already-busy-schedule. You might be that teenager who really does not want to be in catechism class. You might be that grandparently-person. Just as your leaders laid aside ego in order to touch you with God’s love, you may now be those leaders to benefit others!
Continue keeping in center focus the love Christ has for you, the love which moved others to love you. Only Jesus stimulates willing service.
A willing service like loving each other as brothers… That is what you are: brothers and sisters. God looks past your family tree and points at the one thing we all have in common: faith in Jesus as Savior. Since you are connected to Christ …and you are connected to Christ …and you are (and so on…) Keep on loving each other as brothers. Maybe you get called names when you approach a child about returning to worship. Maybe no one praises you for a generous offering or hours of volunteering. Maybe your abilities are not needed at this moment. That’s fine! Your motivation for service is not about what you can gain. Jesus, who gave you his all, motivates you to give all.
Do not forget to entertain strangers… People move often— away from classmates, away from familiar communities, away from family support. That means, a group of believers quickly becomes a family. Even though you belong to this ‘family’ now, be willing to include more. Lean over and ask the person next to you how the week went. Welcome a new face. Ask where he lives; that always creates discussion. Simply acknowledging presence makes a person feel welcome.
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners… because prisoners are out of sight— and can fall out of mind. Pray for those in prison, pray they may know Jesus, the One who freed them from the shackles of hell. Yet, pray also for Christians around the world, those who have done no wrong, but languish in prison simply because they worship Christ. Pray that God sends people to comfort them. Pray that God uses government to free them. Pray that God strengthens their resolve to rely on him more.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure… Yes, today’s society considers marriage something ‘good’ and ‘harmful,’ something ‘beneficial’ and ‘not needed.’ Yet, God created marriage to be a blessing, something that fills you with satisfaction, commitment, and companionship. If those you do not see those blessings, it does not come through any fault of God. (So do not blame him!) Instead, those tensions come from proud hearts refusing to love the other. Have the awkward conversations; point your children, siblings, friends to the joys God gives in marriage. Aim to serve them spiritually, leading them out from under God’s wrath.
Dear friends, What More Do You Need? If you already have faith, then you already have life’s real treasure! You have no greater status to grab after. Instead, you realize you have much to give. Jesus stimulates willing service.
That will stand out in the world. It appears so many live infatuated with themselves. Taking selfies for more attention. Fixating on popularity. Reaching for more social standing. The human heart indulges in such selfish attention-seeking just to puff up pride— a pride that considers you ‘God.’
God dismantles selfish, self-centered cravings with one simple question: What More Do You Need? Really. Only Jesus provides real value— and fills you with a treasure that lasts forever. You already have everything needed. Because you do, Jesus stimulates us for willing service.