Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Two Masters

In the last couple of months, I have seen some major changes in consumer confidence in the economy, slight increases in wages and more jobs for all. The stock market is roaring and everyone seems to be enjoying the ride of plenty. Most economic indicators are pointing to happy days and people are spending more. Consumer credit card debt is soaring again. Student loan debt is now over $1 trillion. Everyone seems to be giddy to make and, with that, spend more money.

There are a few economists who are predicting that this growth cannot be sustained and there will be a day of reckoning. Another recession, according to them, is just around the corner. Most say the same thing, “It is not a case of if; it is a case of when.” In every season of plenty, there are those who will warn of impending doom and remind us that we, as individuals, need to prepare for that moment when the economy implodes and unemployment occurs again.

When you look at what is going on in the economy, you will also see that people are spending beyond their capacity to repay their debt. In a recent article in the New York Times, people age 65 and older are declaring bankruptcy three times more than those in 1991. Everyone is being told to go to college and spend more and more money on degrees in order to hold their jobs. Colleges and universities are pushing students to take out more and more loans to fund that education in areas where the return on investment is very low. Many do not even have enough in their savings account to cover an emergency of less than $1000. Most do not even have retirement accounts.

On the flipside of that coin, there are those who are enjoying the “high life” and are able to pay whatever they want. Mansions, luxury cars and expensive toys are the order for the day. There is no limit to the money and, for most of them, they are on easy street. Life is a walk in the park on a sunny day and there are no clouds on the horizon for them. But, there is a nagging feeling that something is stalking them. Most of those enjoying the “high life” also spend well beyond their means. They continue to buy and buy more and more. Think of it this way. Suppose you were to put a child in a candy store with a credit card. What do you think they will do? Will they just stop at one candy bar or lollipop? 99.9% of the time, they will buy and buy and buy. As long as there is money or credit available, they will continue to buy.

There is an interesting and common trait between all of the financial classes of individuals. All want and desire the “high life” and will work until they die to achieve it. They will work to make more so they can pay for what they purchased on credit or buy more and more things to fill their lives. Some have mortgages they cannot possibly ever hope to repay. Others will just refinance their debt and hope that they can make the minimum monthly payments. Still more will buy cars that they really do not need.

Do not get me wrong. I am not against capitalism and the free market system. I believe that capitalism is a good system and allows individuals to build businesses and enjoy the fruits of their labor. However, when the fruits of that labor become the center of our lives and we end up working not for ourselves but for our lifestyles, then there is a problem. 

Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, provided us with some very valuable guidance for our lives. Even if you are not a Christian, his words are sound advice to all those who just desire to have more toys and things in their lives. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “24 No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

He is absolutely correct. I want you to really think about his choice of words as well. Jesus uses the word, “serve”. That word sums up our relationship to money and the things in our lives. When we make money the center of our life, we serve money as our god and worship it. We believe it will provide everything and more. As we make more money, we desire more things in our lives. We buy more things. Ownership begins to change. We no longer own them; they own us. They require us to spend even more and more money to maintain them. Think about it. If you buy a boat, does the expense end at purchase? No. It does not. There is maintenance and upkeep that costs even more money. Repairs, upgrades and other things add to the purchase. In time, the boat begins to own us and demand more and more from us. Mansions, expensive cars, jets, yachts and so many other things begin to own us. We are slaves to our lifestyle.

In time, we have to make a decision in our lives. We have to decide which will be the one we serve. Do we serve God or do we serve money as our god? Elijah, when he addressed the people assembled near Mount Carmel, made his point very clear in 1 Kings 18, “21 'How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!' But the people were completely silent.

We have a choice to make in our lives. Do we remain silent and continue to serve money? Or, do we declare before the Lord that we serve Him and Him alone? We cannot remain silent and just continue to go down that path, because that path will only lead to emptiness. That profound emptiness only drives hunger. It is a hunger that cannot be satisfied.

My father often reminded me of one of Aesop’s most famous quotes, “Much wants more and loses all.” That one quote has stayed with me. Yes, there have been occasions when I have, from time to time, forgotten the lesson and soon discovered that I had replaced God with money as the center of my life. I allowed materialism to become my religion and I worshiped at its alter only to be sadly disappointed and unfulfilled. I had received much and only desired more. I wanted bigger, better and more expensive only to count all as lost.

When I had everything almost stripped away from me including my own health, I stopped and remembered the lessons of Jesus and the words of my father ringing true in my heart and mind. I had allowed my lifestyle to be my god and worshiped it. I sacrificed everything for what? I got a few moments of pleasure only to discover that those feelings faded just as quickly as I had experienced them. 

When I was growing up, my family and I did not have much, but what we had was priceless. We had our faith and the love of Jesus in our hearts. We helped those in need and served God. We realized that our real treasure was not here on earth where rust and bugs could devour them. Our treasure rested up in Heaven and a crown of gold and mansion waited there for us.

I had several jobs when I was college. The one that made me think about the lessons of Jesus was working as a night attendant for a funeral home. One evening, I realized something that made me stop and think about my life and life in general. When you are born, the first piece of clothing you realize is a borrowed sheet at the hospital. When you die, the last piece is a borrowed sheet before you are placed on a gurney and carried away. You come into the world with nothing and you leave with nothing. 

In Job 1, Job says, “21 I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” Everything we receive in life belongs to the Lord. He can give and He can take it away. It is His and His alone, All blessings come from Him and He can choose to withhold those blessings when we become disobedient or when we begin to stay from Him. 

It is our choice to make. Will you serve God with all your heart, mind and spirit or will you choose the other master, money, and worship at the altar of greed and gluttony? Just remember if you serve the latter, you will despise the former. During the course of this week, I want you to think about your life and consider whom you serve. Do you serve God or do you serve money? If you serve God, then I can assure you that you will stand firm in His grace. 

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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