Sunday, May 20, 2007


“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "
-Matthew 6.19-23

We judge of man's wisdom by his hope. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Heaven. Our personal thoughts of this place so often mentioned in sermons and common spiritual discussion are varied and subjective. Our first thoughts are often of streets of gold and great palatial mansions of glory, of joy and crowns of gold as a reward for the work we have done here. In many ways the description of heaven reflects our ideals for what we would like here on earth – praise, possessions, ease and comfort. The world around us looks in through the glass doors of our communities and sees us gazing heavenward, and we find that their thoughts of heaven are not much different. The nouns may change, but in essence we have a view that sticks to the same norms and such.

Jesus, sitting there, teaching the masses, knows that this truth, to lay up your treasures in heaven, much like the parables, will be misunderstood. Let me throw a curveball on this idea, take it or leave it.

The very thought of mansions and crowns and all of that, is sin. We find that often our very understanding of these verses, to store up you treasures in heaven, is so misunderstood that affects every other connected thought. The world asks us why they should take this hope on, and we have to spin it like it’s a value-based idea - If you give me this, you’ll get this, and if you offer enough before the throne of grace, He will return it ten-fold to you. But the story of grace is not one of returns on investments for us, rather it is for Him. We give because we know that we are at best poor stewards, afraid that giving back to Him, we might not make it through to the next thing, to the treasures of this earth. So, we have transposed this even to heaven – a place that no thought of self will emerge. This is a place where we will finally be free of the torment of thoughts of self, and of minds that only calculate the cost as a prosperity-based equation.

In the end, often the idea and focus on prosperity of man becomes death to the world around us. We offer nothing different to them, there is no light, only darkness masquerading as light, which the blind can see as no different, as we lead them (and ourselves) into a ditch, we are destroyed. To become like the world is not to act as they do, seeking the things that rust and the moth destroys. This is the core of sin - to seek self.

But it is hard.

It is hard because as Luther says, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”

Or Jenny Lewis would say, “You are what you love.”

It is hard because we, in keeping up with the proverbial Jones family, we are convinced somehow that what they have is somehow better than we have – so we play and endless game of catch-up. They provide for us our next thing, our desire, and in the end our hope. We may not even know the Jones’ – they may be a character made up in our mind of where we would like to be, how we would like our story to work out, how we would hope that our short years on earth would end up leaving us legacy-wise.

There are a couple stories to look at in regard to this,

In Hosea, we see a prophet standing on the edge of the nation of harlotry, suddenly called to go in and marry a harlot. His reputation before men is about to be broken, his testimony of “righteousness” about to be slandered, and the world around him will no longer want to listen – at least from our perspective.

(To be sure, Hosea is worried about his reputation, and everything that he might have worked for to this point is about to take a shot, at least in the eyes of the community at large. But we should fear this – that our worries of the reputation within the space around us comes before the obedience. The obedience that shows the actual worth of the reputation to the throne of the One who has the power to condemn or redeem. And redeem He will.)

But he is obedient.

And though man looks on and is ashamed, Hosea understands that he has laid up his treasure in that moment to heaven. The passing desires of man, of self, are put aside for the greater glorification of God. He, through this work, points to another work (in Christ) and calls the people of the Lord to come home. She then leaves him to play the harlot once again, and he goes and pays the price to buy her back. He bears the shame so that the greater hope may be set forward. He clings to hope, not understanding, but hope.

You can be sure this is not how he thought the story would go, in fact, I am pretty sure that she didn’t exactly think things would go this way either.

I’m sure she was looking for a hope, any hope, as much as the next, but when Hosea came along, and said – come marry me, you can be sure that she blinked. Me? You? Married? But much as Christ comes to his soiled bride and offers Himself up, giving us hope, Hosea through obedience offers her redemption – hope of what was to come. She stumbled somewhere out of the gate, but he came back around, and offered hope once again – because hope was the only thing he really had left; his life plan, like many of the prophets, left by the wayside.

Ezekiel 24:15-27 “and the word of God came to me saying, ‘Son of man, behold, I am about to take from you the desire of your eyes with a blow; but you shall not mourn, and you shall not weep, and your tears shall not come. Groan silently; make no mourning for the dead. Bind your turban, and put your shoes on your feet, and do not cover your mustache, and do not eat the bread of men.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. And I did as I was commanded.”

Now this story, out of context is hard – if not difficult. It is hard because Ezekiel is one of seemingly few who get it – who understand that the Lord is God, and that He is One, and that He loves the nation with a love that is furious and divine. If we desired standards, his would be a high mark to stand against. It is hard because on the value scale, marriage is seen as a sacred institution, much as family is, and to take that from the obedient, from those who are faithful even, is one more stack against our idea of the fairness scale. But his reputation (much like Hosa), even in a world that is seemingly against his message in every way, is seen and held closely under the scope. This reputation, laid bare, tested by fire, presented as an offering before the throne of God, is invaluable in terms of showing what love is.

Does this scare us? Does the possibility that God might call us to such a thing?

If we head quite a few chapters back, we see that this was not out of the norm for Ezekiel. He had started his work of ministry by binding himself up in his own home, tongue stuck to the top of his mouth by God so that his would refrain from rebuking the nation on his own before the proper time. He then follows that up by laying on his left side for 390 days, representing a siege of Jerusalem, bearing the iniquity of Israel, then flipping over on his right side for 40 days, bearing the iniquity of Judah, being bound by the Lord so that he cannot turn over. It goes on, spectacle upon spectacle, to prophesy against Jerusalem and the greater nation of Israel for the way they chased every wooden, golden, and iron god but the One.

All of this was to call people home through the example of unabashed obedience, through a life of a man desperately clinging to a hope that this all is passing away, that we are but grass, and the only thing we have is that eternal place where all we know is Him.

This goes on and on, shame upon shame, reputation dismantled in ever growing ways, eventually the story leads us to see the coming death of his wife, the very desire of his eyes. But the story is one of grace, as this will lead to at least some of the nation coming back to knowing that He is the LORD. And that really is the point of it all here on Earth anyway, if we believe everything that we might say we do.

This nation, Israel, was chasing every earthly desire, everything in which they could take part. Ezekiel says that they play the harlot in such a way that they pay others to let them be a harlot. They, instead of earning the wages of their labor, offer wages as an enticement for others. They were so perverse in their living that the pagan nations around them were disgusted with the level of debauchery in which they lived. The very people God called His children were lessening the judgment on other nations who had not ever even known this God. And the sweetness that might lead them to Him was gone. The joy they had was joy spoiled - and they were so turned over to their sin that they forgot the very purpose for which He had called them out. And the punishment, the destruction of the nation, was the only way to see hope returned.

To keep our hope close, either by fear, or shame, or laziness, or plain misunderstanding of the hope itself; to see heaven as anything but a fulfillment of the hope set before us in I Peter, in Philippians, in the threads of the Old and New Testaments, again, is sin.

So, what if the prosperity of man (of ourselves even) could mean the death of the world? What if the hope we cling to of heaven is no different than the hope of reincarnation, or another shot at the same go around with a slighted tilted set of rules. What if selfishness strapped itself to the back of hope and hope itself became a dream of a man unsatisfied with the good gifts the Lord has given him according to James? What if the light of life was the death of self and to fully know Him we had to lose track of the numbers and demands – what if hope was the restoring of everything that was in the garden? What if the mansions of gold were shacks of straw, tents of canvas, camped out before the throne of God? What if gold was pavement, so plentiful that we would cast it aside as waste? What if the only king in heaven was the only one worthy of a crown, so that all other must be put before Him in perfect and final submission?

Would it still be a place any of us would want to go?

Hope must be stripped of our sin, and laid again before the Lord. We must believe that without a hope that is from Him that we have no light, and that those in darkness, without hope, can no more see us then any other thing that catches their eye. But they are looking, and I dare say that everything they do is but a search for hope.

Any hope.

So, we come back to the Word, and I’ll offer this to close out:

"But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." -I Peter 3.14-18