Righteous Conduct by Dr. Abidan Shah

RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: Many of us tend to idealize or remake our past. Parents do that with their kids. It usually begins with “When I was your age…” or “When I was growing up, we had to walk 10 miles to school. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. With my fat kid brother on my back.” Couples do that too when they argue. One will try to make his/her upbringing far better than the other. This does not mean that we need to disown our past or all our past was horrible. But, by glorifying our past, we tend to make it look better than it really was. Sometimes, we even return to our old ways, which leads to bad conduct. As we return to our series in 1 Peter, we are going to learn how to have RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT from our new story in Christ. Main point: Righteous conduct requires discarding our old and false narratives and embracing our new and true narrative as found in the Scriptures. In other words, in order to live holy lives, we have to embrace who we are in God’s narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:17 “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.”

Context: In this verse, Peter was calling his readers to conduct themselves in the here and now in light of God’s judgment to come. If you remember, Peter was writing this letter to the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers in Asia Minor) who were facing rejection by their own and societal discrimination by their neighbors. Peter was calling them to holy living by discarding their old family values and embracing their new family values. Listen to verse 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Here “former lusts” refers to the old family values and old behaviors. In contrast, they were to choose holiness as their new calling. If that’s not enough, listen again to verse 17, “And if you call on the Father…” Here “the Father” is our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. 17 “…who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.” Now, notice carefully verse 18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.” Here “your fathers” are the earthly fathers representing our past life and values. Peter was clearly drawing a distinction between the readers old family and the new family.

Principle: During trials, if we’re not careful, we will return to our default setting. Trials can cause us to revert back to our old ways, the old family values we grew up with.

Application: How did you face your trials in 2020? Were you more Christlike or more Devillike? Did you grow in holiness or did you slide towards sinfulness? Did you revert to the old lifestyle or the new life in Christ?

How do you stay in the new lifestyle? You have to embrace your new narrative of redemption through Jesus Christ. Peter gives us a new timeline between verses 13-21, that is past, present, and future (Joel Green):

  1. Before Time:

20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.”

Before the foundation of the world: Jesus talked about this time in John 17:24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” Again, Paul talked about in Ephesians 1:4 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Also, John said in Revelation 13:8 “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

In a world of nostalgia where the old is glorified, it doesn’t get any more glorified than this. The plan of salvation was not hatched after sin came into the world. It was already part of God’s plan before time began. It is much more than foresight. It implies the sovereign plan of God. The key here is “for you.” You may not have felt wanted or appreciated under the old plan, but you are wanted and appreciated under the new plan.

Application: Did you realize that you were in the heart of God before the foundation of the world?

  1. Time of Ignorance and Emptiness:

14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.”

Ignorance = not as much about lack of knowledge but about failure to grasp the character and purpose of God. It is a failure to align our lives with the purposes of God. This period was marked by “lusts” = epithumea, which refers to self-indulgence and evil cravings.

18 “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.”

“Aimless” = “mataios” refers to worthless, useless, empty, vain life. Of course, we appreciate scientific, medical, and technological progress, there is not much gain that is left from the past. By the way, without Christianity and Judeo-Christian foundation, Western Civilization is nothing.

Application: How much do you value your past? Have you manufactured a fake past?

  1. End of the Ages/Last Times:

20 “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

“Last Times” = “eschaton ton chronon” refers to the end times. Hebrews 1     1 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” Acts 2:17 “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.”

Application: Did you know that we are living in the last days?

  1. Rescued and Restored Times:

18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

“Redeem” = “lutruo” meaning rescued and restored. The image is of slaves set free. It is taking us back to the Exodus event to the Passover. By participating in the Passover, the people were not only memorializing what took place on that night of the Exodus but they were also “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” Now, it is the precious blood of Christ that rescues and restores us. More importantly: we are not redeemed just from sin but also from our old behavior.

Application: Have you been rescued and restored?

  1. Exile/Temporary life:

17 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;

Time of your stay = “paroikias humon chronon,” which means “your exile life,” “temporary life,” or “foreigner life.” In every aspect of life – family, church, finances, work, social compassion, justice, integrity, neighborliness, etc. – we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are different. Remember, that you have to give an account to your Heavenly Father who is also your judge. Before you talk about praying, examine your life to make sure that it is approved unto God. Make sure your fear is directed in the right direction – towards God.

Application: How are you living in every aspect of life? Are you aware that God will judge you for your daily actions? Do you examine before you pray? Is your fear directed in the right direction – towards God?

  1. Revelation of Jesus Christ:

13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Revelation” = “apocalypses,” which refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion: What is your narrative? Where do you stand in God’s redemption story? Are you living in a way that he will be pleased when he returns? Trials are not an exemption to holy living. God demands holiness, especially in the midst of trials.

Are you saved?

Faithfulness by Dr. Abidan Shah

FAITHFULNESS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: If there is one refrain or chorus that we have all said or heard again and again, it is “what a crazy year 2020 has been!” None of us ever imagined in our wildest dreams or nightmares that this year would turn out this way. Although, this year was quite serious and sad in many ways, people found humor in it as well. Check out some of the memes that people sent me – “T-shirt with the year in review stars – ‘Very bad, would not recommend,’” “picture of a knight in his armor with the caption ‘me being prepared for 2020’ and the next picture with an arrow through the eye slit,” “a bunch of porta potties on fire with the caption ‘if 2020 was a scented candle,’” and this one with “Sorry folks, the world is closed.” As I was praying about what is it that God would want us to remember at the close of this crazy year, he directed my attention to Psalm 66. Here’s the main point: If we look at our trials only through the lens of our personal story, we will become fearful and hopeless. Instead, we have to look at our trials through the lens of our collective story; then we see that we have faced worse situations before and God has been faithful. The foundation of our faith is not our own experiences but the collective experience of God’s people in the Scriptures. If he was faithful then, he will be faithful now and in the future. I can pray to him in confidence and know that he will answer the prayer of the clean heart.

Psalm 66       1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! 2 Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.”

Context: Many of us treat the psalms as second-class literature compared to the narratives, prophecies, gospels and epistles. This is false. The psalms are equally Scripture. They are theology that sings. Once we decode the symbolism and the literary structure, they have some deep theology that is not found anywhere else in Scripture.

To start with, the psalm we just read (Psalm 66) can be divided into 2 halves: Verses 1-12 and verses 13-20. The first half is focused on corporate worship and the second half is focused on personal worship. In other words, first, we hear the chorus of the whole community singing and then we hear the voice of the individual worshipper. The first half lays the foundation for the second half. Without the corporate worship, there would be no individual worship.

First half – The choir calls all believers to praise God for his wonderful works. Listen again – 1 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!” In the context, I would say that “all the earth” is referring only to the “God-fearing Israelites” or only to “all the believers of the earth.” After all, how can the lost world shout joyfully to the living God? Also, 2 “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious.” Again, how can the lost world sing out the honor of God’s name and how can they make his praise glorious? Romans 3:23 is clear, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Moving on to verse 3 “Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power your enemies shall submit themselves to You.’” Every human being is an enemy of God until he/she meets Jesus Christ.Romans 5:10 “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Also,Colossians 1      21 “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Once we receive Christ as our Savior, we can join the throng of those who sing praises to God’s name. 4 “All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah

Application: Have you been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? Are you saved? Are you singing praises to God?

Now the choir invites all believers to take a trip down memory lane – 5 “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot…” Here the choir of God’s people are singing about the exodus from Egypt of their ancestors, particularly the time when the people of Israel found themselves hemmed between the Red Sea before them and the chariots of Pharaoh behind them. Remember, after the final plague of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh allowed the people to leave Egypt. As this massive crowd of 3 million began their journey, the land of Egypt was a wreck and the Egyptians were scared. The people of Israel had to walk right past the fortresses on Egypt’s eastern borders. There were soldiers and chariots in these fortresses with plenty of hatred and anger towards the people of Israel. Even though they were large in number, these former slaves (less than 24 hours) were no match for trained angry soldiers in chariots. God led the people to set up camp in a place called Pi Hahiroth, which was right in front of the Red Sea. Just then Pharaoh changed his mind and decided to pursue the people of Israel with a couple of thousand chariots with soldiers. What a horrible tactical decision!

What was the response of the children of Israel? They were very afraid and they cried to the Lord and to Moses – Exodus 14     10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, “Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” Listen to Moses’s response in Exodus 14     13 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” Then, God commanded Moses to stretch his rod over the Red Sea to divide so the people could go on dry land. God sent a strong east wind that divided the sea and made dry land for them. Now, listen carefully to what happened next – Exodus 14    19 “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” As the children of Israel crossed over on dry ground, listen to what the Angel of the Lord did 24 “Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians.” This Angel of the Lord and pillar of the cloud was the pre-incarnate Christ who guarded God’s people until they were safely on the other side. Then God gave the command and the sea came back and drowned the entire Egyptian army.

Let’s return again to Psalm 66:6 “He turned the sea into dry land; They went through the river on foot. There we will rejoice in Him.There is a shift in the “person” from third to second. There is something very subtle here which is very substantial for our faith. The singers/congregation were not there at the Red Sea. Their ancestors were there. Nonetheless, they were there in the sense of the confessional statements (Deuteronomy 26:5-9). In theological terms, this is known as the “actualizing identification with Israel’s salvation history.” It means that by faith we are part of the whole story of God’s people. In other words, even though I wasn’t there physically, I was there spiritually and I saw the faithfulness of God in my life. We do that as Christians through the Communion – 1 Corinthians 11:26 “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

The choir/congregation continues – 7 “He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; Do not let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah 8 Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, 9 Who keeps our soul among the living, And does not allow our feet to be moved.” This is the key verse of this psalm. God has preserved our feet from slipping into the netherworld. This does not mean that people have not died in 2020 of various causes, but God has our times in his hands and none have left this world outside of his time. 10 For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. 11 You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. 12 You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Everything from the exodus experience is now personal.

Application: What is your faith story? The Bible is our faith story. We have been through worse. If God brought us through fire and water, he will bring us through 2020. Can you sing that? Can you shout that? Do you understand now why we need community? We understand those who cannot be with us because of health concerns. That’s why we go above and beyond to make sure that we have the best online experience possible for those who cannot attend in person. To stop assembling is to take away our faith story. We have to remind each other of it.

Second Half – The individual proclaims his personal thanksgiving to God and promises to keep his vows. Listen – 13 I will go into Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows.” There is a shift in the “person” from second to first. The choir goes silent now and all eyes are turned towards the individual as he makes remembers the promises that he had made to God through the trials. 14 Which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer You burnt sacrifices of fat animals, with the sweet aroma of rams; I will offer bulls with goats. Selah Many different kinds of sacrifices are in view here.

Applications: What promises did you make to God in 2020? You say, “I didn’t make any promises.” So, you just asked God to get you through? Get you through for what? Why should God give you another year? If were truly honest, many of us got through but our faith disintegrated. Many have destroyed the faith of others.

Listen to the conclusion of the psalm – 16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul. 17 I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue. 18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear. 19 Butcertainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” There is confidence in our prayers when our heart is clean before God.

Application: Is your heart clean before God?

Conclusion:

  • We need both descriptive praise and declarative praise.
  • We need to go back and then we can talk about the now.
  • We need both the community and the individual.
  • We need both worship and thanksgiving.
  • We need hearts that are clean if we want our prayers to be heard.

Can you see God’s faithfulness in the past and the present? Are you saved?

Firm Resolve by Dr. Abidan Shah

FIRM RESOLVE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  How many of you know of the “Loser’s Limp?” Zig Ziglar (in his classic book “See you at the top”) described it like this – “Characteristically, when a person falls victim to Garbage-Dump Thinking, he develops an assortment of ‘Loser’s Limps.’ You know what the Loser’s Limp is if you’ve ever attended a football game or watched one on television…The offensive player slips behind the defensive player, reaches up, pulls in a pass and heads for the end zone. The defensive man quickly recovers and takes out in hot pursuit. When the offensive player gets about 20 yards from the end zone, the defensive player realizes he’s not going to catch the man with the ball. Everybody in the stands knows it too. So, the defensive player frequently pulls up limping and the people in the stands say, ‘Well, no wonder the poor guy couldn’t catch him. Look, he’s crippled.’ Now that is his Loser’s Limp.” As we move forward in this series on 1 Peter, we’re going to learn how to avoid the Loser’s Limp during trials; and instead, make a FIRM RESOLVE (title) to press forward in the Christian life. Please find 1 Peter 1:13. Main point: When going through trials, it’s easy to become irrational, hopeless, and even revert back to our old ways. In such times, it is imperative that we make a firm resolve to be sober and look to Jesus, our source of hope. Ultimately, hopeful lives are holy lives.

1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Background: This verse marks a shift in the focus of the letter. It begins with the Greek word “dio,” which means “therefore.” If you’re a Bible student or a Sunday School teacher, I’m sure you’ve told your students that “when you see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, ask yourself ‘what is it there for’ or ‘what is its purpose?’” “Therefore” is a call to action based on what has been said thus far. What has been said thus far? After the opening greeting in the first two verses, Peter gave a long doxology from verses 3-12. In this long Greek sentence, he reminded the pilgrims of the Dispersion (Jewish and Gentile background believers in Asia Minor who were facing rejection by their own and societal discrimination by their neighbors) that even though—

1. Their own had rejected them and their neighbors had ostracized them. 1. God had chosen them and rebirthed them into his family.
2. They were feeling hopeless. 2. They had a living hope which was based on God himself.
3. They had lost their inheritance. 3. God had an inheritance – incorruptible, undefiled, andunfading – waiting for them.
4. Their trials were causing them grief. 4. Trials were opportunities for God to test and purify their faith so that they will receive praise, honor, glory when Christ comes.
5. They felt like mourning. 5. They were to rejoice with an exultant joy, the shouting joy that opens the pressure valve through trials.
6. They hadn’t seen Christ and still couldn’t see him. 6. They had a special love and trust relationship with Jesus Christ.
7. Christ was invisible. 7. Christ become visible to them and filled their hearts with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
8. They felt unsure as to where life was headed. 8. Christ had given them the assurance of their salvation.
9. They were people with no past and no future. 9. They were part of God’s greater plan of salvation, which the prophetshad tried to search it out and the angelsstill try to figure it out.
10. They could only see suffering. 10. The salvation plan included the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. If they suffered with Christ, they will also share with him in glory. No sufferings, no glory.

 Here’s the point: God gives us plenty of reasons to overcome and press forward through our trials.

Application: What reasons do you have to overcome the trials in your life? Can you see the purpose of trials in your life? Have you been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do you have a love and trust relationship with him? Is your life tethered to God’s greater plan of salvation? Do you know that there is no glory without suffering?

Listen again: 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” “Gird up the loins” is a Semitic idiom that means “tuck your long robe into your belt so you can move freely, rapidly, and without hindrance.” We would say, “roll up your sleeves.” Peter went a step further – 13 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind…” In his characteristic style, Peter mixed metaphors here. He was telling the pilgrims of the Dispersion not to let the trials and circumstances of their lives cause them to lose their mind, their focus.

Application: Are you guarding your mind? What do you allow to go into your mind? Who has the key to your mind? Here are some scriptures to remember:

  • Romans 12: 2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5 “…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
  • Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

Instead, “nephontes” (be sober), which was the opposite of being drunk and losing self-control.

Application: Are you sober enough to properly process information and be judicious and prudent? Do you make rash decisions?

Instead of losing your mind and indulging, 13 “…and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Rest your hope fully” is the first imperative (command) of 1 Peter. Keep in mind that in verse 3 Peter had told them that God had begotten them to a living hope, but now he told them to hope fully in the grace that is coming when Jesus comes. Also, in verse 10, Peter had told them that the prophets had prophesied of the grace that would come to them, but now he told them that grace is still on the way. The point is this: the work has begun but more is on the way; this glimpse of the fuller reality should help you live confidently today. The fact that we have lost confidence in the present is because we cannot see what lies in the future. As you see the heavenly city, it should help you live even more confidently now. This should make you fight even harder! For example: VE-Day was May 8, 1945, the war was already over on D-Day, June 6, 1944 when in “Operation Overlord” 1000 ships carrying 200,000 soldiers sailed across the English Chanel to France and landed on the shores of Normandy.

Application: Can you see what is coming for believers? Do you know that we win? As the adage goes, “we don’t fight to victory, but we fight from victory.” “If your faith cannot get you through one year, what makes you think it will get you through eternity!”

There’s more – 14 “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” Because they had been born again by the Father through the resurrection of the Son, they were to be “obedient children.” They are not to be obedient slaves but obedient children. There is a sense of dignity and choice implied. God doesn’t want us to obey out of fear but out of a willing heart. We are living in a culture where people will obey every mandate of human beings but disobey the commandments of God, even Christians. Peter warned them not to revert back to their former lusts in their time of ignorance. The word for lust “epithumia” is not just about the worst sins like gluttony, lust, greed, and pride, this is about the kind of life that lives to please self and reject God. It is about self-glory, self-preservation, and self-promotion. This is from the time of “ignorance.” This does not mean “lack of knowledge” but a life that doesn’t understand the need for God and his salvation in our lives. Some of the smartest people are ignorant because they haven’t realized that they need to be saved through Jesus Christ.

Application: Are you still in your time of ignorance? Are you still living by your fleshly lusts? Do you recognize your need to be saved?

Finally, what should be our standard through trials? 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Peter points back to the Holiness Code between Leviticus 11-20 (11:44; 19:2). Nothing has changed with regards to what God expects from his people. Keep in mind that Holiness is separation from the profane.

Application: Are you taking the time to be holy, to be separate? Are you set apart for God’s purpose? Are you sober minded? Are you resting your hope fully in what is coming through Christ? Are you obedient? Are you saved?

Word Perfect by Dr. Abidan Shah

WORD PERFECT

WORD PERFECT by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  Words are important, especially in an election year. Pop quiz. Who said these words? “Fourscore and seven years ago” – Lincoln. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” – FDR. “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” – Kennedy. “Read my lips – no new taxes” – Bush Sr. “I didn’t inhale” – Clinton. Last week, we learned from Solomon in the Old Testament that words are incredibly powerful. They can be used to give life or cause death. In today’s message, we will go to James in the New Testament to learn how to have perfect words. Here’s the main point: How we use our words is a direct reflection of what is in our hearts. Hateful words come from a hate-filled heart. Christful words come from a Christ-filled heart. It’s only when we are jostled in life through trials that we reveal what is truly inside our hearts. Today’s message is called “WORD PERFECT” from James 3:1-12.

As you know, James is probably the most practical and down to earth book in the New Testament, if not the whole Bible. In this section, he deals with the incredible power in our words and how to keep them in check.

James 3:1 “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers…”

Apparently, as the infant church was growing, many were seeking to be teachers of the growing Christian tradition. Maybe, it was on such basis as – “I lived next door to someone who knew Peter” or “Jesus came to me in a special dream” or “I have the gift of teaching.” Such self-proclaimed teachers were probably the source of division, infighting, and hateful speech in the early church. Hence, James was warning them not to be so eager to become a rabbi. Why? “…knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” Did you know that pastors, Sunday school teachers, and Bible study leaders will give a special account on the day of judgment? People ask me “Is it easier for you to preach, now that you have been preaching for all these years?” My answer: “It is actually harder because I know now what is at stake—people’s lives, marriages, and future destinies!”

Now, James addresses everyone, not just teachers, regarding their words. 3 things:

I. Our Words Control Our Actions.

2 “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” There are 2 ways to see this statement:

  1. If you can control your mouth, which is so unruly and uncontrollable, you can definitely control the less unruly members of your body. Think about it – Which is easier to do? Lie or murder. Lie, of course. But, if I can keep myself from lying, then there is a good chance that I can also keep myself from murdering somebody. If you are a liar, you are one step closer to being a murderer.
  2. Your mouth controls your body. That sounds strange, but think about it—Things don’t just happen. There’s always a progression. We might conceive an action in our minds but the thought is first expressed in our words. Words are the first building blocks to action. Things move from our mind to our words to our actions. I think this may very well be what James had in mind because of the 2 illustrations he gives:
  • A horse and its bridle: 3 “Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.” A Horse can weigh on an average a 1000 pounds or more, but a 100-pound girl can control the horse because she has the reins which control the bit in the horse’s mouth.
  • A ship and its rudder: 4 “Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.”

Here’s the point: If you don’t like where you are headed, change the way you talk. Some people have a self-denigrating and self-deprecating talk. If you say, “I am just a loser. I am so stupid. I am an idiot,” you are living up to your words. We shape our words and then our words shape us. Many of us are speaking our world into existence!

Sometimes, it’s not our own words, we are living up to the words of someone else in our life. Sometime back I was listening to a message by someone who ministers to prisoners. He said: it does not fail when he asks them to raise their hands if they ever heard their father say: “Boy, someday you will end up in prison.” Almost all the hands go up. The direction of their life was set by the words of their father. As a pastor, I have to be careful who I let speak into my life, especially before preaching.

As a pastor, I can predict with a high level of accuracy which way you are headed by the words you use:

  • Pitiful words – headed towards depression;
  • Angry words – headed towards violence;
  • Boastful/prideful words – headed towards a fall;
  • Adulterous/flirtatious words – headed towards an affair. Listen to David in Psalms 34  12 “Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.”

This is not pop psychology. This is God’s Word. Pop psychology stole this concept from God’s Word!

Application: Which way are you headed? Are you dissatisfied with where your life is going? Better Question: What are you saying? What words are ringing in your ears?

II. Our Words Can Cause a Chain Reaction.

5 “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.” A better translation: A tongue is small but it boasts of big destructions.

Again, James gives us 2 illustrations to prove his point:

  • Forest Fire: 5 “…See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” Thousands of acres are destroyed due to one tiny spark. 6 “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” The tongue can start a forest fire from hell.
  • Deadly Poison: 7 “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue…” James takes us to the circus with elephants, horses, lions and tigers. He takes us to Sea World with Dolphins and Killer Whales. All of these can be tamed but not the tongue. “…It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” The King Cobra in India can with one tiny bite send a person into convulsions within minutes and die. Listen to David in Psalm 140 1“Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men; Preserve me from violent men, 2 Who plan evil things in their hearts; They continually gather together for 3 They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips.”

What’s the point? Just like a tiny spark can cause a forest fire unexpectedly and one tiny bite can kill a full-grown person, the tongue is small but it can cause big damage.

For e.g. Imagine a Mr. Kindle (Remember – “See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”). One Monday morning, Mr. Kindle was running a little behind for his 9 am meeting. So, he checked his rearview mirror and gently stepped on the gas. “5 miles over is alright.” He looked at his watch again and decided to make it 10 and then 15 miles over the speed limit. Unbeknownst to him, a policeman at the intersection clocked him at 20 miles over the speed limit, pulled him over, and gave him a tongue lashing and a ticket to go with it. Mr. Kindle was furious – “Look at this cop giving me a ticket instead of catching some real criminal out there!” Now Mr. Kindle was really late. He marched into the office, yelling for his secretary Mrs. Henderson – “Where are the files that I told you to have ready for the meeting?” Mrs. Henderson – “You told me not to worry about them and that you would print them yourself.” Mr. Kindle – “Stop making excuses and get me those files. Don’t think that I cannot replace you!” Mrs. Henderson is now furious. She stomps back to her office mumbling, “How dare he talk to me that way!” As she is turning on her computer, she notices the new temp Karen looking at her phone. “Karen!” she yells, “We did not hire you to play on your phone. Get busy or go home.” Karen is now furious – “How dare Mrs. Henderson talk to me like that. I was simply trying to access Google docs to help her out! Fine! She can find it herself!” Karen takes an early lunch, still fuming over the morning’s happenings. Just then, young Nick comes by her window to take her order. This is his first week on the job. He is nervous. He is still learning. He forgets to greet her. Karen says to herself – “Look at the kind of kids they hire these days. When I was working, we had standards.” She gets her order and as she is driving off, she notices that her fries are missing. She’s had enough. She stomps back to the window – “I need to see your manager and I need to seem him now!” The manager comes over – “This young man was extremely rude to me and he purposely messed up my order! If you don’t do something about it, I will call corporate!” Reluctantly, the manager sends Nick home for the day. Nick is now mad – “That is so unfair! I didn’t do anything wrong!” He screeches to a halt in his driveway. Just then his dog Spot comes to greet him, as always, but this time, Nick is in no mood for that – “Leave me alone, you dumb dog!” – and he kicks at him. What he doesn’t see is that as Spot jumps back to avoid the kick, he turns over the charcoal grill from last night. Even though Nick’s dad had checked to make sure that there was no live coal, one smoldering ember rolls into the patch of dry grass behind the house. That evening, hundreds of acres of woods were on fire. Question: Who started the fire? Spot, Nick, or Mr. Kindle? Mr. Kindle!

Do you see how our words can cause a chain reaction? Are you a verbal arsonist? If you think that all this is just pop psychology (the human potential movement), this is where that stops but the Word of God keeps going.

III. Our Words Convey What is Inside.

9 “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” Something interesting here: James has shifted the terminology from word to tongue to mouth. Why mouth? Maybe because Jesus used that word. Matthew 12:34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 15:11 “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” The point is that this is no secondary injunction. Jesus commanded this!

What is the problem? 11 “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” The problem lies in the heart. Our words are a good indicator of what is in our hearts. Both Jesus and James explained the Freudian slip centuries before Freud.

The Content of the Old Well: Sin Nature, Upbringing, Bad Examples, Bad Experiences, Daily Barrage from the World, Flesh, and the Devil.

The Content of the New Well: New Creation through Christ, Feeding on the Word, Godly Fellowship, Rejection of Worldly Values, New Habits.

For e.g.  Someone said this:

  • Show me a harsh tongue and I will show you an angry heart.
  • Show me a negative tongue and I will show you a fearful heart.
  • Show me an overactive tongue and I will show you an unsettled heart.
  • Show me a boastful tongue and I will show you an insecure heart.
  • Show me a filthy tongue and I will show you an impure heart.
  • Show me a critical tongue and I will show you a bitter heart.
  • Show me someone who says “hell” all the time and I will show you what’s inside.

Invitation: Has your heart been transformed by salvation through Jesus? Are you saved? How much do you care about the words that come from your lips? The work has to begin here (heart) and then here (mouth). It begins with humility, acknowledgment and repentance. Just like Isaiah we need God’s touch on our lips.

Prayer: Practice by Dr. Abidan Shah

Prayer Practice update.jpg

PRAYER – PRACTICE by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: How many of you have ever said, “Lord, have mercy?” If you grew up in the south, I’m sure you have either said that or heard that at some point. It’s a prayer, but it’s really a stress relief or an exclamation of happiness, surprise, or anger. It’s like the other one – “Lord, help me.” Again, not a real prayer, just a colloquialism. Unfortunately, they are no different from some of our “real” prayers, which are a little longer, but they have also become just an extended colloquialism. Here’s the main point of today’s message: Just because we begin with “Dear God” and end with “Amen,” it does not mean that we are really praying. Prayer is a conversation with the living true God as our heavenly father. We come to him in sincerity and speak from our hearts. As we recognize who he is and express what we need, we receive the assurance that our heavenly father is already working the best answer for us. Last weekend, we focused on the doctrine of prayer. Today, our focus is on the practice or the mechanics of prayer.

Matthew 6      5 “And when you pray…”

Before we go any further, notice that Jesus did not say “if you pray” but “when you pray.” God assumes that we will pray to Him. He expects us to pray to him. Prayer is our daily dialogue with God in which we ask Him for our needs and receive from him the answers. Since the beginning of time, men and women in the Bible have prayed daily. Even Jesus had a daily time of prayer. Mark 1:35 says, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” It’s like the song “What a friend we have in Jesus,” where it says, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.” Many of us are not praying. How do we know that? You don’t return from God’s presence fearful, hopeless, defeated, doubtful, and discouraged.

Application: Do you come to God in prayer? What comes first? Plans or Prayers. Are you bearing needless pain?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered 3 important guidelines for prayer:

  1. Avoid prayer as a show.

6      5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.”

Context: After the Jewish people had returned from their exile, they were serious about religion. The priests and the scribes created an elaborate ritual of prayer and liturgy. Their daily prayer was a long list of 19 petitions known as the “Shemoneh Esreh,” each starting with the statement “Blessed are You, O Lord” and ending with “The whole world is full of His mercy.” They had to pray this prayer standing up. Hence, the daily prayer is also called “Amidah.” You had to pray facing the “Aron Kodesh,” the ark that houses the Torah scrolls. Observant Jewish people would begin by taking 3 steps backwards and then 3 steps forwards. The steps backwards symbolized moving away from the material world and the steps forwards symbolized approaching the King of Kings. During the prayer there was a certain way of bowing – “Barukh Atha Adonai.” You had to come back up when you said “Adonai.” Then when you said “Kadosh,” you had to get on your toes about 3 times, with each time rising a little taller. Again, not everyone followed this and there were many variations. When it was over, you bowed to the left, then to the right, and then to the front and said – “He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen.” Then, you had to do the same stuff after the prayer – take 3 steps backwards and 3 steps forwards.

Some of the people would be on their way to the synagogue and be running late. So, they would stop in the street corner and start their Amidah. Keep in mind that the Jewish people were not expected to pray in the streets but some would do it anyways. It was forbidden to interrupt anyone praying the Amidah unless it was a safety issue or you had to go. It was a big show! Jesus knew the hypocrisy of their hearts. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not saying, “Don’t pray in public.” Instead, he was saying – “Don’t pretend to pray only in public.” Imagine if your kids only talked to you in public with grandiose words! At home, “Get out of the way, old man!” Jesus knew their hearts and he confronted their hypocrisy. One antidote for hypocrisy in public prayer is private prayer. Public prayer is like the edifice, the visible part of a building, and private prayer is the foundation.

Application: Do you pray for a show? Are you pretending to be more spiritual than you really are? How is your private prayer life?

  1. Avoid vain repetitions.

7 “And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do…”

Background: The word for “vain repetitions” is a Greek word battalogew, which is a very unique word. It is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or in ancient Greek literature or the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament). It was a description of the worship of heathens. Listen to what Jesus said about it in verse 7 “…For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Therefore do not be like them…” We may not be heathens but it is not much different than what we do even today. We mumble unnecessary words in prayer that add nothing to our conversation with God. Imagine if your kids talked with you and repeated your name and used unnecessary words! Sometimes, we even use “magical formulas” like “Plead the blood of Jesus” or “In Jesus Name.” Other times we repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Doxology or the Apostles Creed. I’m not suggesting that any of this is sinful or wrong but the point is this – “Do we really mean what we say in prayer?” 8“…For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Here’s the whole point – Prayer is family talk. It is a loving conversation between a father and a child. You cannot fake it.

Application: How do you see God when you pray? Can you see Him as your Father?

  1. Approach God as your Heavenly Father.

9 “In this manner, therefore, pray…”

Now, we come to what’s known as the Lord’s Prayer or the Pater Noster or sometimes even known as the Disciple’s Prayer. It is found twice in the Gospels – one here in Matthew 6 and a shorter version in Luke 11. It could be that Jesus taught the same prayer several times or it could be that Luke placed it at a different point in his gospel, as he often does. What is interesting about Luke’s version of the prayer is that he gives us the context in which Jesus gave this model prayer. Listen to Luke 11:1 “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.’” What is very interesting to me is that the disciples did not ask Jesus – “teach us to preach” or “teach us to evangelize” or “teach us to do a miracle” but “teach us to pray.” Why? Because they witnessed how important prayer was to Jesus. Everything in this prayer has to be read with the mindset of God as our heavenly father.

9 “…Our Father in heaven” = God is our Father—Creator, Superior, and Redeemer.

“…Hallowed be Your name.” = God’s names are His character and His work in our lives. He will hallow his name. But, how about in my own life?

10 “Your kingdom come…” = It is the sovereign eternal rule of God over His world. It begins in our hearts when we are saved and will be completed when Christ returns.

“…Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” = God has a revealed will (what God expects) and a secret will (what is God up to). Here the prayer is for the secret will.

We’ve come to the midpoint in the Lord’s Prayer and, so far, we have looked at the first 3 lines known as the “Thou Petitions” – “Hallowed be thy name,” “Thy kingdom come,” and Thy will be done.” Now we will look at the next 3 lines known as the “We Petitions” – “Give us this day our daily bread,” “Forgive us our debts,” and “Lead us not into temptations but deliver us from the evil one.”

11 “Give us this day our daily bread.” = Daily we should come to God as a little child looks to his/her parent for sustenance. But, the bread is not just physical but also spiritual.

12 “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” = This is probably the hardest line in the Lord’s Prayer, if not the whole Bible. E.M. Bounds said “A heart all love, a heart that holds even its enemies in loving contemplation and prayerful concern, a heart from which all bitterness, revenge, and envy are purged—how rare! Yet this is the only condition of mind and heart in which a man can expect to command the power of prayer.”

13 “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one…” = Even though God allows us to go through trials to purify and humble us, he wants us to come to Him as a child to his/her father and plead for “mercy and grace to help in time of need.”

“…For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” = He is the rightful owner, now and forever. He can change circumstances, now and forever. He gets the glory now and forever.

Invitation: How is your prayer life? Is it a show? Is it filled with vain repetitions? Is it a child coming to his/her father? Have you said the sinner’s prayer? Have you prayed to ask Jesus to be your Savior and King?

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on December 9, 2017)

Most Wonderful Time of the YearOne of my pet peeves is reading or listening to claims that many of our Christmas traditions are just pagan rituals that should be abandoned. Here are some facts on a few of them:

Are Christmas trees just some pagan ritual borrowed from the Scandinavians? While it is true that many cultures have worshipped certain trees, this was not the case for Christians. For them, trees were never sacred, just symbolic: Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Abraham lived by the Oaks of Mamre where He built an altar to the Lord; The people of Israel were promised to become “Trees of Righteousness”; Jesus hung on a tree for our sins; and in Revelation we see the tree of life in the middle of the street of the Heavenly City. So, next time you see “O Tannenbaum” with lights, ornaments, and gifts, think of the many wonderful promises of God, especially the coming of Jesus to die on the wooden cross for us!

What does kissing under a mistletoe have to do with Christmas? In ancient times, mistletoe was considered a miracle plant. When everything was dead in the harsh winter, this rootless parasitic plant would still be flourishing. It symbolized life, hope, and fertility. Ancient Druids and Vikings thought this plant was so sacred that they would marry under it. When they became Christians, the mistletoe took on a deeper meaning. It reminded them of God’s power to bring life where there was death. Later on, in England, when a couple passed under the plant, they had to stop and kiss. If they did, God would bless them with an everlasting love. So, next time someone says, “Hey! You’re under a mistletoe!” Think about the undying love of God in Jesus Christ and oh yes, pucker up!

Do you know that house during Christmas that has everything lit up, even the doghouse! If you’re like me, you wonder how they pay their electric bill! Where did we get this tradition? Legend has it that Martin Luther, the German Reformer, was taking a walk through the woods one late December night when he saw the moonlight sparkling on the snow-covered branches of the evergreen trees. He was so struck by their beauty that he tried to recreate the sparkle by attaching candles to his Christmas tree. It reminded him of Jesus the light of the world. With the coming of electricity, people began to decorate even their homes and yards with light. So, when you drive by that over lit house, ask yourself, “Is Jesus shining brightly in my life?”

Every Christmas you hear complaints about how we have commercialized the birth of Jesus and how we’ve lost the true reason for the season. Ever wonder where the tradition of gift giving at Christmas comes from? Contrary to what you may think, it was not inspired by the magi. In fact, the Christian practice of giving gifts began with St. Nicholas, the pastor of Myra, who rode across Asia Minor distributing gifts to poor children. December 6th in the Western Church and December 19th in the Eastern Church became St. Nicholas’ Day – a day to give gifts to children – and in time this practice merged with December 25th. So, next time you go shopping, enjoy buying gifts for your loved ones but don’t forget to be generous to the less fortunate. After all, we were all undeserving but God graciously gave us the gift of Jesus.

Some people have a problem with Santa Claus. After all, how does some overweight old guy who lives at the North Pole with reindeers and elves fit into the Christmas story! Well, Santa Claus was actually St. Nicholas of Bari who lived in the fourth century. His parents died when he was young and Nicholas distributed all his wealth to the poor and became the pastor of Myra in modern day Turkey, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. He was known for his prayer life and his strong convictions regarding the deity of Jesus. But more than anything else, he became known for his generosity to the less fortunate, especially children. Stories about his kindness travelled everywhere and Nicholas became known as the giver of gifts in the name of Jesus. So, next time you see someone in a Santa costume, don’t frown but smile and remember to be generous like Ole’ St. Nick. Merry Christmas!

BUSINESS IS GOOD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

BUSINESS IS GOOD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on April 29, 2017)

“Local business gives back.” “I like to support companies that give back.” “We feel that we need to give back to our community.” It seems that “giving back” is the new litmus test for being a good business. It is assumed that most businesses are basically bad because they only take from the people. Behind such thinking is the idea that deceiving people is the only way that businesses grow and their owners get rich. Hence, “giving back” is the moral way to come clean and make things right.

Is this really true? Do businesses profit only because they exploit the ignorant masses? Are the rich getting rich only because they deceive and take advantage of the poor? Before I answer that, let me acknowledge that throughout history there have been those who have prospered by manipulating the unsuspecting or seizing from the weak. I call them the “Mr. Potters” from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” With that being said, most are more like George Bailey.

The Bible is replete with examples of such businessmen and women whom God used in his eternal plan. In the Old Testament, he called Abraham and Sarah, a wealthy couple, to initiate his plan of salvation for the world. He led Boaz, a prosperous farmer, to redeem Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. In the New Testament, Jesus chose a small business owner to lead his church. Yes, Peter was not just some poor illiterate fisherman, as his letters (I Peter & II Peter) prove. Paul was helped by Lydia, a businesswoman from Philippi. But doesn’t the Bible warn the rich in James 5 to “weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten…you have heaped up treasure in the last days”? True, but keep reading – “Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out…you have condemned, you have murdered the just.” The rich who were being condemned were those who were cheating the defenseless workers. The point is that God is not against those who have justly accumulated wealth through business. In fact, he frequently used them and even blessed them with more!

The slogan “giving back” wrongly portrays businesses as one-sided and parasitic. To the contrary, “giving back” happens when you receive goods or services in exchange for money. For example: When you buy a sandwich, you are getting back a full stomach; when you pay for a lawn care service, you are getting back a well maintained yard; etc. Good business is recognizing what people need, meeting the need, and making a profit from the exchange. Booker T. Washington (Founder of the Tuskegee Institute) said it best, “No one who continues to add something to the material, intellectual, and moral well-being of the place in which he lives is long left without proper reward.” The reward can then be used as the owner pleases. Personally, I know many who give very generously to the community but choose to stay anonymous.

Lately, it has become fashionable to march down the street and hold up a sign against the greed of the rich. I wonder about their true motivation. As Father Robert Sirico once told Dinesh D’Souza, “If greed is the natural vice of those who have more, envy is the natural vice of those who have less.” How about dropping those self-righteous signs and check how much you’ve “given back.” Compared to the millions in the third world countries, you are rich!

Gain by Giving Away by Pastor Abidan Shah

GAIN BY GIVING AWAY by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

gainbygivingawayIntroduction: We’re in our series called “PUTTING ANXIETY TO WORK” from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is giving us life principles on how to deal with anxiety and worry. Today’s message is titled – “GAIN BY GIVING AWAY.”

Matthew 6   19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Overall Background: The passage we just read has been misunderstood quite often. Some people think that in this passage Jesus was getting on to the rich who lay up treasures on earth. Others think that He was warning against having material things in life instead of heavenly things. Still others think that He was really talking about the unpredictability of life where moth, rust, and thieves come unannounced and destroy and steal. To understand what this passage is really about, we have to understand it in its context. When we keep reading, we realize that Jesus was building His argument leading up to verse 25 where He says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life…” In other words, “I am saying all this to you so that you may learn how not to worry in life.”

Here’s the point of this message: Worry or Anxiety has nothing to do with your bank balance. It has to do with attitude of your heart. When your heart is in hoarding and guarding what you have, worry and anxiety will follow. When your heart is in letting go, sharing and helping the less fortunate, then there is assurance and peace and joy.

The question this morning is not “How much money you have?” but “What is the status of your heart?” Are you struggling with worry and anxiety? Are you hoarding or are you sharing? In which bank are you making deposits? The earthly or the heavenly? The earthly will fail but the heavenly will give eternal dividends. There’s never a run on that bank. Are you saved? You’ll have only a partial understanding of today’s message unless the Holy Spirit helps you. Only those who know Christ have the Spirit.

To understand today’s message, we have to understand 3 things.

I. WHAT IS THE HEART? 

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Background: The Greek word for heart is “cardia” from which we get our English words cardiologist, cardiogram, or cardiac arrest. Since the time of Homer, the heart came to represent the seat of our emotions and our mental faculties, to some extent. But in the Hebrew Bible and especially the Greek translation (LXX), the word “cardia” had a much deeper meaning. It meant our emotions, mind, inner life, will, and the very center of being a human. In fact, it is found over 900 times in the LXX. Here are some examples:

  • Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Meaning: Love God from your essence and not just your outward actions.
  • Exodus 7:13 “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.” Meaning: He made up his mind to disobey God.
  • Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Meaning: God, cleanse from the inside out.
  • Psalm 27 David says, 13 “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. 14 Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart…” Meaning: If you trust God, He will strengthen your will and your perspective on life.

So also in the New Testament:

  • Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Meaning: The source of sin is inside of us not outside.
  • Romans 5:5 Paul says, “…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Meaning: God begins His work deep within our being.

Here’s the point: The heart is the indefinable, indescribable inner life, and the center of our personality. It’s what makes us who we are. It’s the location of God’s work and interaction with us. Our heart can be either full of God and set on the things of God or it can be full of self and set on things of this world. Your heart is who you are.

Application: Where is your heart? Is it full of Christ? Or, is it full of sin? If you haven’t received Christ as your Savior, you are full of sin. The solution is given in Romans 10:9 says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Meaning: Believe in Jesus inwardly and not just outwardly. Let Him come into your life.

II. HOW DO YOU STORE UP TREASURE IN HEAVEN? 

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Background: People have all kinds of ideas as to how to store up treasures in heaven – doing things for God, studying the Bible, praying more, serving in church, and winning the lost. None of these things are wrong and we should be doing them but that’s not what Jesus meant when He told us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. To understand what He meant, we need to compare the parallel passages in Luke that give us some additional information. Luke 12  33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In other words, to store up treasures in heaven, you need to help the poor and the needy. Don’t hoard your money but help the less fortunate and you will start making deposits in the heavenly bank.

Why didn’t Matthew include this clarification by Jesus in his gospel? Because he was writing to a predominantly Jewish audience who already knew this principle. In an apocryphal work known by Ben Sira, which was written two centuries before Christ, it says in Sirach 29   Help a poor man for the commandment’s sake, and because of his need do not send him away empty. 10 Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or a friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost. 11 Lay up your treasure according to the commandments of the Most High, and it will profit you more than gold. So also in Tobit, another apocryphal work written two centuries before Christ, it says in Tobit 4 9 So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. 10 For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; 11 and for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High. Please don’t misunderstand – these are not scriptures, but they help us understand how the people in the time of Jesus understood “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Christ and Rich young ruler by Heinrich Hofmann

Christ and Rich young ruler by Heinrich Hofmann

In Matthew 19 Jesus explained this very clearly. Do you remember when the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him how to have eternal life? Jesus told him to keep the commandments. To which he replied, “Already done it since I was a kid. What’s next?” Mark says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Meaning: He had compassion on him and said in 21 “…If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, (Mark adds take up your cross) follow Me.” The point is this – giving what you have to help those less fortunate than yourself and needy is storing up treasures in heaven.

By the way, Paul says the same thing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6   17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

Application: What is your attitude towards what you have? Are you hoarding it or are you sharing it? Let me clarify – sharing it does not mean that you go around throwing your money indiscreetly to anyone or everyone; sharing does not mean that you don’t plan and budget for your own life, family, and future. It simply means that you are willing to become the hands of Jesus.

III. WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WORRY AND ANXIETY?

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

Background: Just like in our world today, imported fabrics were very expensive in the ancient world, especially woollen clothes that had been processed to look bright white or dyed purple. So also silk was like gold in the time of the Romans. But just like today, moth larvae could get into the closet and destroy those expensive clothes. But it was not just clothes but also scrolls, books, and title deeds could be destroyed. How about “rust?” The Greek word is “brosis” which is not really about rust or corrosion but a better translation would be “eaters.” It was a reference to plagues of insects or birds destroying crops and pastures and eating food that was stored away. Then come thieves that break in and steal.

For e.g. I have talked to people who had their home broken into. I asked them how they felt. They felt violated, unsafe, paranoid, anxious, afraid, and the list goes on and on.

What Jesus is saying is – “You can either hoard it and hang on to it and the subtle criminals of life can steal it from under your noses or you can give it to help the less fortunate and put it in the heavenly account where moths, eaters, and thieves cant reach. The choice is yours.” James says the same thing in James 5   1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.

To deal with worry and anxiety, put your wealth where no one can touch it. Not only that but it’s a bank that has eternal dividends. “There’s no U-haul behind a hearse but you can UPS it. “Unending Possession Sharing.”

Illustration: Many people don’t know but John Wesley was a very rich man. We only think of him as a godly man, travelling on horseback, founder of Methodism. He made a lot of money from the books and the hymns that he wrote. When he died, he had only 28 pounds to his name. What many people don’t realize is that he gave all his money away, at one time, as much as 40,000 pounds. Let me ask you – “Did he die rich or poor?”

By the way, this is not just about money but knowledge and love and everything.

Application: Are you struggling with worry and anxiety? How much are you giving and sharing with those who are in need and those who are less fortunate than yourself? Are you saved

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