Psalm 73: The Deceitfulness of Wealth

Whenever I have a hard time praying (which is a frustratingly common occurrence) I like to pray the Psalms. My common practice is to read the Psalm out loud, think about what the writer is trying to get across, and then pray the Psalm back in my own words. My brain thinks better when I write than when I speak, so I often journal these prayers. Here is my prayer from this morning. It really benefitted me to remember these truths and I hope it blesses you too.

Psalm 73: The Deceitfulness of Wealth (Ben’s Paraphrase)

I know God is Good to those whose hearts are pure, but I’m not one of them. I know this because my heart was recently captured by the things of this world – the love of money and envy for those who had it. Can you blame me?

Look around you! God says that those who love money and those who do as they please with no regard for Him and His ways are wicked, but I don’t see it. What I see are men and women living untroubled lives of luxury and elegance. They don’t have the worries of the poor. They stand outside of God’s Law, happy and content. I smell pride on them like strong cologne and the way they treat others is full of disdainful superiority. Everything about them speaks of wealth, luxury, power. They speak condescendingly to their “lessers” and threaten those under them with financial oppression. They speak arrogantly — even blasphemously! — against God and what does he do? Nothing.

Maybe they are right — maybe there is no God to dispense Justice or care for the oppressed. Maybe this is all there is. The ones who believe this are certainly doing well.

I’m beginning to think my devotion to God has been in vain, that I’ve read His Word and followed His commands for nothing. Every day I hear how foolish it is to serve Him, how foolish I am to believe in myths. But deep down I know the Truth.

I don’t understand why the wicked prosper or why God lets them go unpunished. Those mysteries are too great for me. But what I do know is that when I quiet my heart and come into Your Presence I’m reminded of what is Really Real.

Those well dressed men and high heeled women – they are walking uphill on a sheet of ice. Any moment now they will trip and fall. Everything they have trusted in will be stripped away and they will never recover. Everyone who sets themselves against God will be swept away. They will be forgotten faster than a dream upon waking.

Lord, I’m sorry… When my heart was lost in the love of money I grew bitter against you and I called your Way foolish. Thank you for never leaving me. Thank you for holding my hand throughout my temper tantrums – you are a Good and Loving Father. Thank you, too, for steadying me with your Word and reminding me of what is True by your Spirit. This world will soon fade away and when it does, I will be taken into Glory.

God, You are my sole desire. You are my greatest reward. I know I am frequently distracted from loving You, but I always return because, deep down, I know that there is no Life apart from You. 

So let the wicked revel in their wealth and the comfort it provides. I just wish they knew how fleeting it is and how much their pride will cost them in Eternity. It is better by far to have You, the Comforter Himself, than all the riches of this world. I have set my heart to know You and love You. You carry me through my doubt, You steady my through the storms. I will proclaim Your marvelous deeds forever!

Feeding the 5,000

On Sunday I got to preach from one of my favorite passages – Luke 9:10-17, the miraculous multiplication of bread. I’m still living in that story and I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you. This will be hodgepodge collection of nuggets rather than a formal post – hopefully you can follow along. 🙂

Jesus doesn’t despise weakness.

  • The prelude to this story is that Jesus has spent the last several months raising up a second tier of leadership while the Twelve have been away. He has been preaching and teaching, modeling and investing. He has been the sole minister while his team is away. On top of that, just as the Apostles return, Jesus gets word that his cousin, John (the Baptizer), has just been beheaded by Herod. Jesus and John were undoubtedly close – John was the only person (other than Mary) who really knew who Jesus was. What is more, a couple chapters back, in Luke 7, Jesus basically told John that he wasn’t coming to rescue him, that John would die in prison. Tired, grieving and looking forward to reconnecting with his friends, Jesus decides to slip away for some R&R.
  • The crowd, however, gets wind of Jesus’s intentions and quite literally runs around the lake to meet him. As Jesus and his disciples get to their destination, Jesus, tired and grieving, looks over the bow of the ship and sees a huge crowd pressed up against the shore – 10,000 people with their emotional vacuums pointed straight at him.
  • How does Jesus respond? His heart doesn’t sink, he doesn’t curse them in his heart or despise their neediness. Instead, the Bible says that he looked on them with compassion, like sheep without a shepherd. It says that he graciously welcomed them, taught them and healed them.
  • I love how compassionate Jesus is. I love that he can see beneath the surface, to what is really going on. These people were desperate for hope, they were aching to hear words of Life about Our Father. Jesus didn’t hold their sin, their neediness or their selfishness against them. Instead, he gave and taught and healed. He cared for them the way he wished they would have cared for him. Absolutely beautiful.

Bread from Heaven is far superior

  • I’m fascinated that, at some point in time, this entire crowd decided that it was better and more important to listen to Jesus than to go get dinner or find a room for the night. As long as Jesus was willing to speak, they were willing to listen. How good does a sermon need to be for people to be willing to override their legitimate human needs and choose something superior? I don’t know, I lose people about 10 minutes in.
  • What Jesus had to offer brought thousands upon thousands of people into the middle of nowhere. There was no shelter, there were no provisions, yet they came out in droves. Why doesn’t the world do that anymore? We have the same message, the same mission and the same Spirit… don’t we?

The Insignificant and Unworthy were the Seed of a miracle

  • In the original texts, only the men were counted. Women and children were considered insignificant, second class, less than. Yet it was a little boy, not the Apostles, who had something to offer. The Apostles, for all their spiritual power and ministry knowhow, hadn’t thought to bring anything to eat. But a young boy (more likely his mother) had. The boy was willing to give what he had, regardless of how small it was and that is what fed the multitude.
  • No matter how unworthy you feel or how insignificant you are in the eyes of the world, you are a miracle waiting to happen. What you have to give is valuable and, in the hands of Jesus, just might change the world.
  • The disciples really biffed it in Luke’s telling of the story. We know from John’s Gospel that the boy was the one with the food, but in Luke, the Apostles try to make it seem like they were the ones who had thought to bring some extra. It is an age old human tendency – we often try to make ourselves look better by taking credit for someone else’s idea. I think our challenge as followers of Jesus is to receive from “the least of these” in a way that broadly honors their contribution.

Expectancy is Key

  • When Jesus ordered the crowd to sit in groups of fifties, there had been no miracle. There was no mountain of food, no catering table. But the crowd obeyed. Even though they didn’t see the food, they acted with expectancy on a promise. The Master had said to sit and get ready for a meal. They didn’t know where the food was coming from, but they trusted it would show up.
  • I wonder how many miracles are waiting for the People of God to act on a promise? What would it look like for us to take Jesus at his word – to actually believe him?

Hoarding would have killed the miracle

  • When Jesus took the bread and blessed it, bread didn’t fall from Heaven like manna in the wilderness. It wasn’t as though thousands of loaves suddenly appeared for the Apostles to distribute. No. Instead, Jesus ripped apart a loaf and gave a chunk to Peter and said, “Go feed that group of fifty over there.” He gave another to Andrew and James and John and all the disciples, each with the same message.
  • When Peter got to his first group, I imagine his instructions to the first guy were, “Tear off some and pass it on down the line.” I think this is HUGE!!!! If they guy had looked around and said, “This is all there is, I’m keeping it” the miracle would have died. The miracle happened because each person shared what they had. They took a chunk and then passed it on.. and kept passing when it came around again. No one hoarded it. Instead, they shared freely.
  • But what if someone had hoarded it? Not only would the miracle have ceased to progress, but they would have still been hungry. The bread multiplied in the giving, not in the eating. Assuming each group of 50 got roughly half a loaf, that would not have been enough to fill one person up. Selfishness and greed would have resulted in no miracle and an unsatisfying meal for one person.
  • Think about the spiritual implication of this. Are you regularly sharing your faith, the life of Christ within you, the Bread from Heaven that made you a new creation? If not, then I’m assuming you’re not seeing miracles on a regular basis and that you are spiritually hungry. I’m guessing that hunger looks like:
  1. you’re dissatisfied with your current church because the music sucks, the preaching is lousy or the fellowship is superficial and you think some other place will “feed you”,
  2. you feel disillusioned because it seems like the Gospel isn’t quite as good as people claim it is,
  3. you feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers,
  4. you’ve compromised yourself morally because sinning seems like more fun and God loves you anyway,
  5. reading the Bible seems dull and irrelevant to your life
  • If any of those symptoms fits you, it is likely you’re fault – not your church’s fault, not your pastor’s fault and not God’s fault. You are hoarding what you’ve been commanded to share. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it but can’t flow out of it; therefore, it stagnates. Clear up the blockage, start sharing, start being life-giving to those around you and you’ll be surprised how quickly things turn around. The best part about things being your fault is that you have the power to change them. 🙂
  • Also, at the end of the story, once everyone has eaten their fill, the disciples collect the leftovers – twelve baskets full. They ended with more than they started with. Selah.

This story is the Gospel in miniature

  • I’m fairly certain that this story is the absolute apex of the Gospel narrative. Why? Because it is told in every Gospel and within a page or two after it is told (in Luke it is immediately after), Jesus talks to his disciples about his coming sacrifice for the very first time. It is almost as those the Apostles needed the object lesson in order to understand what Jesus was really about – he is the bread from Heaven, broken for the needs of the world. Jesus may have done “cooler” things, like walking on water, but nothing demonstrated his mission better.
  • Think about it this way: a son offers up everything he has so that it can be broken to satisfy the needs of many. That sure sounds like a Gospel presentation to me.
  • Jesus was broken so that we could be put back together. The Father rejected Jesus so that he would never have to reject us. God said “No.” to Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane so he could say “Yes!” to us at Calvary. One man, blessed and broken, is what was needed for a new creation.

I’ll end this post with some notes I didn’t get to share yesterday. These are the promises I see contained in this passage for us as individuals and as a community. I know some of them may be redundant, but I trust you’ll bear with me. Thanks for reading friends.

Promises

  • The Promise to the Giver – What you have, no matter how small it appears, is enough in the hands of God. These stories abound in the Bible. It is a recurring theme in Scripture that if you will offer what little you have in service to God it will be enough to satisfy the needs of the day. And as long as you keep doing it, God’s provision will go on indefinitely. Most of the time, however, you will never appear “full.” The widow’s jar of flour was never overflowing, but every time she reached into the jar there was always enough for one more day’s worth of bread.
  • The Promise to the Receiver – Did you notice that the crowds sat down in anticipation of a meal before Jesus had broken the bread. There was no catering table being set up, there was no physical evidence that food was coming. But the crowd had an instruction from the Master, “Sit down in groups of fifty and get ready to eat.” So they did. They may have grumbled. They may have looked around and been confused. They may have said, “Well, it sure doesn’t make sense to me, but OK.” Who knows what they were thinking at the time. And remember, this isn’t a small group of people, this would be like the city of Waverly getting together in some farmer’s field and expecting a meal. The promise to the receiver is simple – do what he says and you’ll get what he promised. We don’t have to understand. We don’t even have to agree. We just have to obey. Simple acts of obedience are profoundly freeing when we approach them with an expectant heart.
  • The Promise to the Hungry – You can’t buy enough to satisfy your hunger. No amount of food, no amount of drink, no amount of sex, no amount of entertainment, no amount of stuff, no amount of anything will ever be enough to satisfy your spiritual hunger. Nothing except Jesus. Life will always feel shallow and pointless until you submit your life to Jesus. This passage is a major turning point. Shortly after this passage appears in each of the Gospels, Jesus begins to talk to his disciples about his betrayal and crucifixion. The symbolism is clear, the bread is Jesus’s body. The bread was broken to satisfy their physical hunger, but that satisfaction was short lived. Jesus’s body was broken to satisfy the wrath of God and to open for us the way to Everlasting Life, and that is eternal. Life finds meaning and purpose in Jesus. Suffering and pain find purpose in Jesus. He is the Master at taking the broken and making it beautiful.
  • The Promise to the Broken, the Abused and the Insignificant – You are a miracle waiting to happen. It wasn’t the Apostles who were so thoughtful and wise so as to bring along some extra food. It was a child. It might have been the lunch his mother packed for him, it might have been something he thought of himself, either way, it was all he had and he gave it freely. He gave it freely even when the disciples tried to take credit for it. Without that little bit of generosity this miracle would have never happened. The promise to all of you who feel hurt, wounded, insignificant, unwanted, unloved, broken, abused or otherwise unworthy is that you have something to offer and that something is valuable. What you have to give might never become a miracle recorded in a book or blog, but it will change the world. Furthermore, God sees you. He sees you as you are and he sees you as you will one day be. If you can learn to see yourself the way God sees you, you won’t want to be anybody else. Your story isn’t over. God isn’t finished with you yet.
  • The Promise to the Community – The Gospel is for everyone. Jesus didn’t just miraculously feed himself, his disciples or a select group of followers. He saw the needs of the group. He saw that everyone needed something to eat and he commissioned his disciples to be the ones to meet those needs in a systematic and sacrificial way. Church, if we believe what the Bible says, then we have what the world needs. We have the Bread of Life, the Living Water, we have every spiritual blessing, all power and all authority. We have everything we need to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. Said a little differently and specifically, we have the capacity to make Waverly an outpost of the Kingdom of God on the earth. There don’t have to be hungry people in Waverly. There don’t have to be poor people in Waverly. There don’t have to be sick people in Waverly. There certainly don’t have to be people destined for Hell in Waverly. The answers to all of those problems are locked up in the Church – in us! If that sounds extreme, hard to believe, even a little “out there” then I submit that maybe our God is a little too small and our Devil a little too big. For real guys, if what the Bible says is true, then we have the Spirit of the Living God inside of us and we are promised that every time the Kingdom of Heaven collides with the kingdom of this world our side will win. Why are we not running into everything!? The promise to our community is transformation. It is the promise that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, within our reach, if we will only stretch out our hands and lay hold of it.