We Are Pando

The world’s largest organism (though a tad disputed) isn’t a whale or some mythical monsters swimming around a Loch…it’s actually much much larger…spanning 106 acres and having over 40,000 arms. It’s a monstrous grove of Aspen trees in Utah called Pando. To the untrained eye, it looks likes like innumerable individual trees all hanging out together like middle-aged men in the Lowe’s tool aisle. But in reality these aspens have an interconnected root system and all stem from the same individual ancestor. I think there are some really amazing parallels that can help us better understand and appreciate The Church

Interconnected

Shockingly, all the roots of Pando somehow connected every tree to every tree. They stem to and from one another so that they can help feed and be fed as ONE.

For us, every believer is connected to every believer. We need each other, feed each other and are fed by each other. Every believer from around the globe all connect to one another by the person and power of the Holy Spirit. I can meet a believer from a different country and not share language, appearance, culture, gender, age etc, but have infinitely more in common with her than a person that lives next door to me that isn’t a believer. I would shard the ultimate DNA with her rather than all the sub-dna’s that stem from this world.

Ephesians 2:22
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Better Together

Each individual aspen tree is remarkably beautiful. Their intricate white and fragile bark; their leaves that, when the Fall comes, seem to be fully electrified. But what is better than an aspen tree is a grove of aspen trees. My goodness. Compare one dolphin to a “superpod of dolphins“; compare one brick to The Great Wall of China. Now compare one aspen to 40,000+!

The Church is the same. Each individual child of God is beautiful, valuable and a stunning representative of the Image of God. But all together we are remarkable. This is one of the reasons why Jesus says that us being ONE is a shockingly valuable and instrumental tool for others to believe in the One True God (because it is so counter-cultural):

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Fruitful

Ok, so Aspens aren’t fruit trees. However, they are incredibly useful. We can’t even begin to understand how much nourishment and protection Pando gives to the wildlife around them, from shade to richer soil to branches for bird nests.

Likewise, We The Church are designed not just for ourselves but to serve those around us. Our very existence is primarily to glorify God, and one of the essentials ways we do that is to sacrificially love others around us, both inside and outside the church without exception.

Matthew 13:31-32
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Resilient

We don’t know how old Pando is, but we are sure that it is many thousands of years old. And the reason is that it is extremely resilient. When forest fires sweep through the Rockies, the conifers (that are not interconnected) get burned up and die. Aspen groves burn above the ground, but their roots stay alive and intact, regrowing after the fire is over, sending up aspen shoots in an act of defiance.

The Church is the same. We have the power of the Holy Spirit that is alive and active inside us, holding us through the storm, fire and drought. He holds us up when we are thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3); sawed in two (Hebrews 11); exiled to a foreign land (1 Chron 9:1); and murdered on a cross. The church cannot be killed. We will only grow stronger, wider and more fruitful. We individuals will all die and go to our Creator, but The Church cannot be overcome.

Romans 8:37-39
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Multiplication

Sadly some experts think that Pando is either dying or at least stagnant. Normally it perpetually produces new aspen shoots constantly, relentlessly expanding it’s Aspen Kingdom.

The Church is even more. Though many lament how the U.S. is now “Post-Christian”, the reality is that The Church is always expanding. We believers are called and empowered to produce “shoots” through evangelism our whole lives. Though countries and cultures will waver in spiritual allegiances, the Lord came to make and save a people that are his very own; and these people are a contagious virus, offering the sap that brings everlasting love and life as we leave gospel footprints with every step we take.

Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
[ the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

One Seed

Finally and most importantly, Pando can trace it’s very existence back to ONE ASPEN. Every aspen in Pando is part of macro “Clonal Colony” that all share identical genetic markers.

The Church is the exact same.

Romans 5:17
For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

We are all made beautiful and valuable as image-bearers of God Himself. We all carry the same genetic markers. These genetic markers were shattered in Adam, making us children of sin and death. But God wasn’t done with us. The fire of evil would not burn us all down. Instead, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1).

Jesus himself has become our One Seed, sending up shoots all over the planet to bring him glory and fruit. He was destroyed on the cross by the fire-of-evil that we produced so that, through the immortal roots of the Holy Spirit, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)

John 12:24
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Stink Eye

Matthew 20:15b Or do you begrudge (“stink eye”) my generosity?

If we keep our eyes open, we can see a lot of Gospel Truth being played out in the world around us. I am fully aware but wholly unapologetic that I most commonly “see the Gospel” in sports, Seinfeld and Johnny Cash music. But where I probably see the Gospel the most is in the animal world, most specifically met 2 dogs (Chili and Quila) and 2 cats (Glozell and RaFreaka….no snarky comments please).

In our dog-world, our lab (Quila) is ridiculously jealous. When I go up to our mixed brown dog (Chili) and simply say his name, Quila will run over and literally push Chili out of the way, getting in between me and Chili so that I will pet and give her affection. It’s not that I’m not giving Quila enough affection, she wants to make sure that she gets ALL of my affection. And this also goes for me and God…

Matthew 20:8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

This parable is really frustrating. Jesus lays out a situation that is so obviously unfair and annoying, and so relevant to how we see and treat God and others. It’s the story where men who worked 1 hour get paid the exact same as those that worked 12 hours, causing the “all day” workers to grumble and “begrudge” the Master (this word “begrudge” means to literally give the “evil eye” to the Master). Wouldn’t you? It simply isn’t fair. So what is Jesus trying to communicate? It’s not about how much we pay our workers, or get paid. He is revealing a dangerous and repulsive virus that is epidemic in our churches: Spiritual Pride.

The all day workers, the Jews in this particular case, have been the original part of God’s family for thousands of years. Jesus is coming in and saying that the Gospel is for all, without restriction and without preference. The religious mainline could possibly tolerate these “spiritual mutts” (Gentiles) into salvation, as long as they were still considered the insiders, the spiritually elite.

And we can very easily do this same thing. Those who have been around church for a long time may feel like we’ve paid our dues and deserve a higher consideration from God, at least higher than those who came in at the last minute and seemingly found the salvation loophole but living their lives centered on themselves, but coming to Jesus at the 11th hour. It doesn’t seem fair! “I gave my life to you, and they’ve given you nothing…but get the same eternal inheritance?” And as I do this, I wholly misunderstand my own righteousness and the gift of Jesus. I arrogantly think that my supposedly righteous actions somehow add to the righteousness Jesus has given me. I think that, by not doing those naughty things and doing those service projects have accumulated a better, richer inheritance. But the glorious and gracious reality is that all believers have been gifted the most excessive inheritance imaginable: the righteousness of Christ and being adopted into his family.

The Master in the parable told most of the workers what they would get paid “what is right.” What he actually said is that he would pay them “what is righteous.” That is exactly what we get from the sacrifice of Jesus: His Righteousness. He gets our rejection while we are given his acceptance…and there is more than enough love to go around. How arrogant and ridiculous it is when I look begrudgingly at God for his generosity when he has been shockingly generous with me. Instead, we are invited to see the vastness of His love for me, and then celebrate that same Love and the giver of the Love when it is poured out on others who, like me, don’t deserve it at all…and then they can celebrate the same, culminating in a full-blown festival of Thanksgiving as we celebrate the Master and his outrageous generosity…and we can participate in this festival forever…and we can call it Heaven.

Foundation

Isaiah 7:9b
“If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all.”

Have you ever walked on an icy path, trying with all your might, with arms flailing about, to simply keep upright? Each of your steps running the risk of landing your flat on your back (or worse). We all know what it’s like to have unsteady footing…on a sandy beach, mountain trail, crossing a stream. We all also know, but are usually unaware, of the unsteady footing we have in everyday life. We have an incalculable number of stepping stones on our life’s path that we use to get us from A to B.

  • I place my weight on the how happy, safe and satisfied my kids are
  • I place my weight on the happiness of my marriage
  • I place my weight on how well I do in my job
  • I place my weight on my financial safety net
  • I place my weight on my health report

This list is infinite. And shaky. And sinking. Inevitably sinking.

My kids (like me) are going to make bad decisions, have hard times, be unsatisfied, cry, yell and be in despair. If their satisfaction is carrying my weight, then I will fall.

My marriage will have great highs and terrible lows. My wife, though she is seriously strong, cannot hold my weight on her shoulders.

I may not be able to control my family, but at least I can control my job and how well I do. Right? Again, nope. I have some control, but one day I will work my last day; on many days my career will be overwhelming and life-depriving instead of life-giving.

Isaiah in the passage above tells us an eternal truth that we see all through scripture. If we put our weight on horses and men, kings and banks, health and approval, we will absolutely fall. They simply cannot bear the weight of our souls. And so Isaiah with great hope pleads with us to put our faith in the Lord as our sure foundation. But what does that mean and how can that hold the weight of my heart? Psalm 130 gives us a clue:

Psalm 130:7
“O Israel, hope in the LORD,
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.

God himself, the one who has given us our weight, is the only one who is able to carry it. We cannot even carry it ourselves. The Psalmist gives us hope by telling us Who God is and What God Does:

  1. Steadfast Love — This is the word “Hesed” (my favorite Hebrew word). He alone is and does Love. His love is sacrificial, eternal, unending and strong. His love is what we stand on; what carries our weight; what holds us up.
  2. Plentiful Redemption — It’s not just that God redeems. He has “plentiful” redemption (the same words used in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply). His redemption, his secure saving power is enough to carry all of me, all of us. “Redemption” means that God (alone) has purchased us from our other stepping stone. His redemption means that he 1) picked us up and out from the miry clay and 2) set our feet on The Rock. (Psalm 40:2).

In Isaiah and the Psalmist’s time, they were looking forward in faith to The Rock, The Redeemer. We now have the honor and blessing to look backwards in time to the coming and completion of the Messiah, The Rock. They looked forward to Jesus who was Plentiful Redemption; we look backwards to the same. Jesus himself is The Rock on which we have faith, on which we stand. He is the only unmovable, unchanging, strong and steadfast stepping stone.

Take a minute to listen to this promise through a remake of this classic hymn — remember the hope: “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

The Swing

Luke 17:10
“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

We have a scandalous religious pendulum swinging in the church.

Cheap Grace

Over the past 100 years, standing on the shoulders of incredible 20th century evangelists like Billy Graham and Billy Sunday, the Gospel went out to great masses, resulting in an enormous surge of people claiming Christ as Lord. One of the destructive misunderstandings of this Gospel Movement is called “Cheap Grace”, which essentially minimizes what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ, down to simply subscribing to “four spiritual laws” (or the “Road through Romans”) and saying a specific prayer, resulting in your eternal heaven-card being punched.

In real life, this is where being a Christian is a part of our lives, but not the whole foundation on which our lives are built; where we believe that we’ve been saved and are now free to live however we want (I can do whatever, Jesus will forgive me) ; seeing ourselves as the captains of our lives and Jesus as our first-mate; desiring what Jesus gives me more than desiring Jesus himself.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Earned Grace

The other side of this evangelistic movement has resulted in an elite spiritual class of church-goers that have taken the call to follow Jesus seriously (which is great) but have taken themselves too seriously. Those on this side of The Swing (which I see in myself more often than the other side) live under the impression that our behavior impacts our value and God’s view of (and love for) us. We see and are in awe of God’s pure holiness, and then try to live up to this level of holiness ourselves, and expect others to do the same, condemning them when they fall short of how well I pretend that I am doing. Yes, Jesus has saved me, but I need to live up to this calling…or else.

“We cannot be satisfied with our goodness after beholding the holiness of God” – Billy Graham

Thankful Grace

Jesus’ parable of “Unworthy Servants” in Luke 17 brings us away from Cheap Grace and Earned Grace

He is telling us that part of being a follower of Jesus is to see and treat Him as the Master, following and serving him with every shred of our lives as long as we live.

He is also telling us that the “afterwards” (Luke 17:8) is already planned; the Lord has perfectly prepared a banquet for us where we together will sit with the Lord and celebrate for all eternity. The banquet invitation has been given and our places secured by Him on the Cross, not based upon the goodness of our behavior.

So this incredible free grace of Jesus doesn’t motivate us to sit and do nothing but to run with great perseverance out of thanksgiving, not heavy obligation. Since my debt has been perfectly paid and His gift fully given, I am set free from the heaviness of spiritual performance as well as from the emptiness of spiritual laziness…and set free to love Him and Others out of uncontainable thankfulness for his Ridiculous Grace.

Abide

John 15:4
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

There is a war raging inside me.

I aggressively demand my independence, proclaiming my self-sufficiency.
I also secretly feel fearfully vulnerable and powerless, in need of protection.

We are designed in God’s image to be powerful and fruitful, making an eternal impact in the world. But we behave like little kids that have an over-inflated view of our abilities. Think about that little kid that is learning to dress himself. The day finally comes where he demands “I CAN DO IT MYSELF” as he sorts through his dresser, picks out an eclectic assortment that closely resembles an exploded circus clown, and puts on his clothes…backwards. As parents, we would just smile, laugh, and (sometimes) help him correct his mistake.

We treat our fruitfulness in much the same way. I believe (and therefore behave) like I am able to live and love by my own strength. I claim to be dependent on Jesus, but when it comes to street-level behavior I am actually living like “I CAN DO IT MYSELF!”

But Jesus never designed us to “do it ourselves.” Yes, we are given the fruit (Galatians 5) of self-control, but it’s fruit “of the Spirit,” which means that it is only activated when it is connected to the fuel-line of The Spirit. It means that our sufficiency is predicated upon our dependency; our ability is animated by his power.

So in real-life terms, what does that mean? What does it mean to “abide” in Jesus?

The good news is that scripture over and over reveals a two-sided abiding:
we in him; him him in us.

To abide in Him means to find our hope, love, life, power, fulfillment, satisfaction, peace and truth in Him. It means to declare our deep vulnerability and inability, followed by our personal dependency on nothing and no one but Him alone. And the only way we can even get to this place is because His Spirit first abides within us, giving us the heart to simultaneously admit our insufficiency while claiming and resting in his sufficiency. And this is the great irony. When we finally admit our inability, we are organically and powerfully propelled outward in miraculous fruitfulness…his fruitfulness. We become unstoppable agents of change, but begin to realize that it is all from Him, and He gets all the glory.

Today, in what are you abiding?

And what is abiding in you?

Where do you find your strength, your ability, your sufficiency?

What if the absolute vulnerability of God himself in the person of Jesus on the cross, the greatest irony of all time, could be transformed into the greatest strength as the resurrected King sends His Spirit to be inside of us so that, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead could be active and alive IN us and even THROUGH us. What if we are more powerful than we ever imagined, but that this power can only be activated when we admit our self-powerlessness? What would happen if we believed that, by His Abiding Spirit, we are men and women that are being used to bring about His Kingdom through loving him in worship and others in missions?

Carry Me

Matthew 7:13-14
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

As a kid going to Six Flags over Texas was absolute paradise. We would get there early and, when the gates finally opened, it was like the running of the bulls in Spain. We would all squeeze through the turnstiles and sprint in every direction, aiming to be first in line on whatever our favorite ride was (looping roller coasters was my thing). Coincidentally, this is all of life. We all have our favorite things towards which we run like bulls; beliefs, people, accomplishments, experiences, emotions…those things that will bring us happiness (like a looping coaster, but hopefully with less nausea).

This is the “wide way” that Jesus talks about. It is a crowded, easy way because we put ourselves and our desires first; over others and over God. We run headlong with our own customized spiritual beliefs that suit our preferences. Sometimes these spiritual preferences come in the form of a combo-pack of religions (for instance, I’ve known many “Buddhist-Christians”). Jesus is in the mix, but I don’t really “need” him, he’s just a great side-dish. Sometimes these preferences come in a tweaked form of Christianity which is based on a strict moral code in an effort to please God, but which actually deceives us into thinking that, because I (seemingly) adhere to this code, I don’t really “need” Jesus (at least as much as those other folks).

You see, each of us bull-runners are doing things in our own way, by our own means with ourselves in mind (even if we say it’s “for God”, it’s really for what we will get from God, and focused around ourselves and our behavior rather than around the finished work of Jesus, which brings joy and freedom).

Jesus doesn’t leave us on this wide path that only leads to a deeper and deeper prideful isolation. He invites us to the narrow gate (which is him) and the narrow path (which is also him). He invites us away from the tyranny of self obsession and into the freedom of being adopted children of God. The only catch is that we have to declare our desperation. We have to realize that it isn’t “all about me” and that I am need to be picked up and carried on the path, which is only wide enough for one set of footprints…His.

There is a band called Secret Sisters that wrote a song about daddies and how they carry us. Here’s one of the lines:

If I keep on hiding, how will I be known?
I keep telling myself that I’m better alone
When my father will carry me

We all march down the wide path, thinking we are “better alone.” But we need our Heavenly Daddy to pick us up off the wide path and put us on his back, the way he put The Cross on his back, and carry us home.

Lead me not into…

Are you more tempted by:

Amazing dessert or awesome pizza?

Fame or Money?

James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Temptation, which is actually the same Greek word as Trial from earlier in James, is a fruit of our heart’s passions. Every one of us have a God-given need (not want) for fulfillment, value, wholeness, completeness, satisfaction. Temptation comes when our hearts weight the different potential sources to achieve our deepest desire for satisfaction.

  • Cheating tells us that we can succeed through dishonesty.
  • Greed tells us that we can solve our problems by buying our way out.
  • Sexual looseness tells us that physical pleasure equates true satisfaction.

    These lies are infinite, and they all are built upon lies, that we saw in the garden:

Genesis 3:1-6
(The serpent) said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…

The lies are:

  1. God cannot be trusted
  2. True satisfaction can be found elsewhere
  3. You are on your own

But our hearts are horrible liars. The truth is that we are MADE to be satisfied and our efforts to find satisfaction in anything but Jesus is the equivalent of drinking salt water…it may feel satisfying for a second, but it only leaves us thirstier for the real thing, which is freely and fully offered by the Grace of God. When Jesus proclaimed his “thirst” on the cross he was simultaneously revealing that He Himself is the Living Water that is a wellspring of eternal life, pouring into and through us.

Spiritual Dysmorphia

None of us have an accurate view of who we are spiritually. Many of us are enamored with our greatness as we  show off our shelves full of participation trophies. Others of us sit in the dark and musty room of misery, overtaken by what a wretch we are. Reality reveals that most of us swing on the wrecking ball that bounces between both extremes, each one only holding onto half of the Gospel.

In James’ letter to the infant persecuted churches we are told:

1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

We all “look at ourselves” through a myriad of mirrors in our lives – friends, faith, social media – perpetually deciding what we think we “look like” based on them. And, here’s the kicker, we will behave based upon what who we’ve decided we are and what we’ve decided we “look like.”

James invites us away from the house of mirrors and to the True Mirror of the Gospel. He invites us to stare deeply (his word for “look” involves a deep almost archaeological inspection) into The Word, The Law. He is not saying to go back to the Old Testament and see all the rules we’ve failed to live up to. He’s telling us to look at the Perfect Law that his half-brother Jesus perfected…perfected by telling us it’s all about Love; perfected in how he completed it perfectly in his life and imputed his record into our souls. We are being invited to see he we absolutely fall 100% short of the perfect law, causing us to fall 100% onto his mercy. AND THEN to see the Liberation of this Law because we have been transformed and reborn back into His Image, set free to love because we have been and are forever loved.

This recounts the glorious phase from Jack Miller:

  • We are More Sinful than we Dare Face;
  • And More Loved than we Dare Hope.

 

The Heart…

The Heart. What a conundrum. We have really gone weird with this word. Everybody has their classic two-handed heart sign on their social media (am I the only one super tired of this thing?) and a heart emoji signifying some shallow degree of “love” which is more akin to “that’s kinda cool.”

But biblically speaking The Heart is the core of our whole person; the root of our intellect, emotions, behavior and faith; our personal operating system made in the image of God and broken in the image of man, filled with more malware than we could ever detect, much less remove. This is why scripture constantly comes back to The Heart about 1000 times (literally).

God’s people are “after his own heart”, yet it is also “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9-). Our hearts are the roots of our being, producing every other fruit. So to learn about your heart, look at what it is producing. Look at your roller coaster emotions, and divided intellect. Look at your actions, where you give selflessly while simultaneously speaking murderous gossip. Look at your faith that is a strong cornerstone, until the storm hits and you ask “Where are you God?”

You see, we perpetually get blinded by the fruit. We try to adjust our behavior; work at our emotional connection with Jesus; study more so we can be better theologians; pray harder so that our faith will be built. All of these are excellent, but they are fruit. Doing these things will certainly go backwards and grow the heart, but, taken by themselves, they are whitewashing tombs. Isaiah reminded us 29:13) And the Lord said: “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” We can easly fall into the religion of fruit-management rather than the Gospel of Heart-Transformation. But this Transformation is exactly the point and promise, and will end up leading to Spirit-Fruit. This Transformation is what Jesus purchased for us on the cross. Remember our heart-state before Christ: (Proverbs 19:3) “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” The hope and healing found in the Gospel is that God decided to not rage back against us as we raged toward him but instead focused his rage onto Jesus on the cross so that Ezekiel 36:26 could become true: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

So today, where is your heart? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of Who and Whose you are. Ask the Father to reveal how valued and accepted you are because of His Son. Tell Jesus thank you for exchanging his heart of flesh with our heart of stone so that now we can have the adoption as children of God.

Gospel Financial Advisor

I just heard a story about a pastor in a very poor part of Africa that was asked about the biggest issue plaguing his village. He shockingly and simply said “materialism.” Not hunger, mortality rates, sexual sins, theft. Materialism. He said that a guy in the village got a cow, not all the other men were coveting the cow and trying to figure out how to get their own cow.

This issue of money and possessions has been (and always will be) a universal disease. In the very beginning God gave all of creation to mankind, for our benefit and his glory….with the one boundary of “the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). But Adam and Eve were persuaded that they could (and should) use God’s gift for their own glory…exactly how we treat money and possessions.

The Book of Proverbs is saturated with financial wisdom, like these two:

13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.

Solomon, the world’s wealthiest man, is being a Gospel Financial Advisor, trying to keep us from the traps that encircle him while leading us to a place of freedom where we are not slaves to wealth, whether it’s never having enough or obsessed with keeping what we have. The real issue under the issue is idolatry: we want money to give us what can only be received from God. We want value, security, acceptance and security, and it truly feels like money will give us those things. And, in a shallow and short-lived way, it does. Money can get us to a place where we can “buy our way out” of most any problem. We can buy enough things to make us comfortable and happy. We can convince ourselves that we are better than others that have less. But this is as fleeting as being popular in high school. It works for us, for a minute. Until it doesn’t.

The heart of what we are truly looking for can be found in Proverbs 22:

22:1- 2
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together;
the LORD is the maker of them all.

We want a GOOD NAME, but that can only be truly given by Jesus who was essentially disowned by the Father on the Cross so that we could be adopted into his royal family, given His Name forever. The “favor” of man is always conditional, while the FAVOR of God is permanent, based upon Jesus and what he’s already accomplished.

But, honestly, the problem is that we don’t really have a proper filter. Our definition of “need” is horribly skewed, our view of the purpose of money is misplaced and our view of God’s goodness and generosity is anemic. We think we “need” the comforts of life that our neighbors have. We think that we “deserve” all that we have and it’s ours. We think that we need to acquire and acquire because God is likely to let us down and leave us in the ditch. So in light of this, we need to keep coming back to the outrageous trustworthy generosity of the King. Jesus, at great cost, gave up heaven and his Royal Riches in order to share his inheritance with us. He has proven over and over that he immeasurably loves us and desires to give us all good things, even though sometimes his (correct) definition of “good” is different than ours. And so we have to keep coming back to Jesus , asking him to loosen our tight clamp on this world as he has tightens his grasp on us. And as this slowly happens, we can start to live open-handed generous lives as God graciously invites us to join him as he blesses others with and through the finances that he has loaned us in this life.