Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Who Is Your Master?" (Jan. 31, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Who is Your Master?”

(Jan. 31, 2019)


          There was a farmer who reported very happily to his wife that his best cow had just given birth to twin calves, one red and one white.  He said, ‘I have been led of the Lord to dedicate one of the calves to Him.  We will raise them together.  Then when the time comes to sell them we will keep the money from one calf and give the money from the other to the Lord.’  His wife asked which one he was going to keep and which one he was going to dedicate to the Lord.  He answered ‘No need to decide right now,’ since he was planning to treat both the same.  Several months went by and one day he walked into the kitchen with a long, sad face.  His wife asked what was wrong and he answered ‘I have bad news, the Lord’s calf is dead.’  His wife said “But you had not decided which was to be the Lord’s calf and which one was yours.’  ‘Oh yes,’ he said.  ‘I had always determined that it was to be the white one, and it is the white one that has died.’  Sadly, it seems to always be “the Lord’s calf” that dies.  It is something of a metaphor for our lives and our stewardship unless we make a conscious decision, at the beginning that we will put God’s interests first.  We cannot put God first and ourselves first.  We have to make a decision.

          In Matthew 6:24 Jesus taught “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.”  There is an old saying which goes “Money is a wonderful slave, but a lousy master.”  The ancients came to see that money is like sea water.  “The more you drink, the thirstier you get.”  In the day in which Jesus spoke, slavery was a common practice and a slave had absolutely no individual rights of his own.  People in prison today have far more rights and privileges than slaves did back then.  The slaves’ master had absolute authority over him, including every single moment of the slave’s time.  The slave was on duty at all hours.  In our society we may say someone is “moonlighting” meaning they have two jobs at once.  Someone could work a full-time job during the day and then have a part-time job in the evening.  The two do not really conflict.  But a slave in Jesus’ day had no off hours.  He belonged entirely to one master.

          Many have thought they could love both God and money, or at least like both, but Jesus says “No – it does not work that way.”  Jesus can always see a lot further down the road than we can and He knows where everything is leading.  With that knowledge of where the road leads, He tells them bluntly, “You cannot serve two masters.”  It is just that simple.  Both “masters” make total demands on us.  Yet, we are so prone to compromise.  Time after time, in my work as a pastor, I have seen people who were serving God start to love something more than God and it quickly took the place of God in their lives.  Invariably their love for God diminished in equal proportion to their love for something else increasing.

          We cannot serve both God and wealth/money.  Commentator James Montgomery Boice writes “In the original text of Mat. 6:24 the word translated ‘money’ is mammon (KJV).  Mammon came from a Hebrew word meaning ‘to entrust’ or ‘to place in someone’s keeping.’  The noun, therefore, referred to the wealth one entrusted to another for safekeeping.  At this stage the word did not have any bad connotations.  If something bad was meant, it was necessary to put another word with it, as in ‘mammon of unrighteousness.’  Yet as time went by, the meaning of ‘mammon’ shifted from the passive sense of ‘that which is entrusted’ to the active sense of ‘that in which one trusts.’  When that happened, the word originally spelled with a small ‘m’ came to be spelled with a capital “M,’ as designating a god, which is why, for instance the NIV capitalizes the word Money!” (James Montgomery Boice; The Gospel of Matthew; The King and His Kingdom; Vol. 1; 105)  “Mammon,” “money,” “wealth,” has been, and continues to be, a “god” to a great many people.  In Luke 12:15 Jesus warns “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

          Believers, of all people, should know better than to trust in money.  It might be something we do in the immaturity of youth, or perhaps when we are a new Christian; but there is no excuse for the longer-term Christian.  In Mat. 6:24 Jesus is essentially admonishing them to get their priorities straight and to get on down the road toward maturity.  This love of money/wealth is essentially bringing down our society.  Commentator Craig Blomberg writes “Many perceptive observers have sensed that the greatest danger to Western Christianity is not, as is sometimes alleged, prevailing ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, the New Age movement, or humanism but rather the all-pervasive materialism of our culture.  We try so hard to create heaven on earth and to throw in Christianity when convenient as another small addition to the so-called good life.  Jesus proclaims that unless we are willing to serve him wholeheartedly in every area of life, but particularly with our material resources, we cannot claim to be serving him at all.” (Craig L. Blomberg; Matthew; NAC; 124)  Every person has got to decide who their “God” really is.  It is not just who they say it is.

          In 1 Kings 18 we read of Elijah’s dealings with the Prophets of Baal.  Elijah lays out the truth for them.  In vs. 21 it says “And Elijah came to all the people and said, How long will you falter between two opinions?  If the Lord is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” (1 Kgs. 18:21)  If money is god, then follow it.  If sex is god, then follow it; if some particular possession of yours is god, then by all means follow it.  But, if the God of the Bible is God, then follow Him!  God does not like, nor does He deserve, divided loyalties.  In Luke 17:32 Jesus warns His followers to “Remember Lot’s wife.”  God told Lot and his wife to flee the wicked, perverse city of Sodom and “Do not look back,” but she did look back and consequently she was turned into a pillar of salt.  Forever and always she would be an example of “divided loyalties.”

          When a marriage ceremony is performed and two people make their vows to “forsake all others;” and to be loyal to the other person only; suppose the groom said in his vows, “Yes I will love my new bride, but I also have 3 other girlfriends and they mean a great deal to me and I am just not willing to give them up.  I will make my new wife a good husband, but I am not willing to sever the relationships I have with my other girlfriends.  I think it is only fair that I should be able to spend time with them and enjoy them also.  We would say of such a person, he is no where near ready for marriage, because he does not seem to know the first thing about it!  Does God deserve any less from us who claim to be Christians?  Our faithful God deserves our undivided loyalty and utmost faithfulness.  He deserves to be our only Master!


In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, January 24, 2019

"How Do You See Things?" (Jan. 24, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “How Do You See Things?”

(Jan. 24, 2019)


          A man was planning a visit to New York City and he asked a friend who knew the city well to tell him what kind of city New York really was.  The friend told him that New York is both the best city in America and the worst city; he told him it would depend on what he looked for.  In New York he could find some of the most beautiful churches in the world.  He could hear some of the greatest preachers.  He could see in the art galleries some of the most beautiful paintings.  He could hear some of the world’s most glorious music played there.  He could attend some of the finest dramatic productions the world affords.  He could eat in some of the nicest restaurants.  Indeed, if he looked for it, he could find in New York the good and the beautiful and the true.  His friend told him on the other hand, in that same city, he could find some of the worst slums.  He could see some of the most hardened criminals.  He could visit some of the cheapest and the most vulgar night clubs.  There he could associate with people who had sunk to the lowest level of life in every respect.  If he wanted to look for it, he could find New York to be the very worst city there is.  Therefore, whether his visit to New York was to be one of joy and inspiration, or one of despair and discouragement, ultimately depended on what he looked for.

          People will often refer to something (politics; economy; a news story; a personal story; etc.) by saying “The way I see it . . .” then they will go on to share their opinion (give their 2 cents worth).  The way people see things is based on such factors as their experience, their stage in life, their perspective, and much more.  All of our senses come into play when we try and “perceive” or understand something.  Perhaps, none of our senses plays a bigger role than our sight (seeing).  A person may not believe what another one is telling them and, as a sort of “proof that no one can argue with” one blurts out with frustration “I have seen it with my own eyes.”  I have made the statement on a few occasions myself that “I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.” 

          People in ancient times saw things much like we see them, but they were much more superstitious where the “eye” was concerned.  Today we can look at eyes, examine them, get corrective lenses, treat diseases of the eye, and more.  Most of us probably see an eye doctor on a regular basis.  But, for most all of human history, the eyes were very mysterious and little was known about them other than just very basic things.  There is a very real sense though (they had it, and we still have it) that “seeing” and how we “see” and “perceive” things is very, very important.  The “eye” is the organ with which we do that, but it is so much more than just the organ called the “eye.” When Jesus spoke of the “eye” in Mat. 6:22-23, He was talking about much more than the physical eyes.  He says “The lamp of the body is the eye.  If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But, if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mat. 6:22-23)

          With the eye, we can do a lot of “good” things.  It would be impossible to name them all but our eyes are used to glorify God.  We are a very visual society.  Everything from T-shirts to pick-up trucks come in different colors.  Those who make the products know that people will make purchases based on color preferences.  Over 20 years ago I worked for a period of time in a shoe store.  Every day, without fail, someone would look at a shoe and ask “do you have this in a lighter/darker color?”  “Do you have this in brown/black?”  If you allow your eyes to do so, they will control your life.  If you insist on having everything in the exact shade you desire, you are letting your eyes – your appetites – control your lives.  But, if you have a good, disciplined, well-trained eye it will “serve your body, your mind, etc.  If your eye desires dark/sinful things the eye will lead you down the wrong path into darkness.  Jesus said it was better for a person to pluck out an eye, and live without it than to have both eyes and let them destroy your soul.  In Mat. 5:29 He says “If your right eye [dominant eye] causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

          Sadly, people are prone to want to look upon dark things, but several places in Scripture they are told to look away from sin and sinful things.  Jesus says, for instance in Mat. 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” 

          If a person has a “bad eye,” one that controls the body and leads it astray to sinful purposes, it can utterly destroy the whole person right down to their very soul!  People can allow lust/desire for “things” to lead them to steal, manipulate, and become obsessed with how to get it.  They may have to lie, cheat, or do who knows what to get it, but their eyes lust after “things” or “objects” so much that they become consumed.  People allow lust, desire for sex, desire for a relationship with a man or a woman due to the lust of the eyes to lead them into bad (even terrible) unhealthy, hurtful relationships.  People allow lust to lead them to pornography, to strip clubs, prostitutes, adultery, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and every sort of “pornea” which is the general term used in Scripture for sexual sin.  People allow the lust of the eye to lead them to eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, get into too much debt, and watch too much TV.  People allow the lust of the eye to put more emphasis on the “physical” realm ruled by Satan than on the “spiritual” realm ruled by God.  Paul warned in Rom. 1:25 of a day when there would be those “Who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature [created things] rather than the Creator [God] who is blessed forever Amen.”  John wrote in 1 John 2:16-17 “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

          I have been both amazed and discouraged, along with other pastors and youth ministers I know, at how quickly strong kids in the youth group turn away from God and toward the world once they graduate high school, go off to college, or generally begin life on their own.  Before you know it, many of these kids have dropped out of church, are having pre-marital sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and may not even really believe some of the most basic and fundamental tenets of the Christian faith any longer.  Many of them quickly become money and/or possessions oriented and life becomes about fulfilling the “American dream,” and the Scripture they had been taught for years fades quickly out of sight.  What causes this to happen on such a consistent and predictable basis?  Nothing short of what John calls “the lust of the flesh” and “the pride of life.”  They let their eyes take over their bodies, thereby allowing their eyes to take control of their whole lives.  This is certainly not limited to young people.  I have baptized people who gave every indication of having a true change of heart who were only months later posting vile things on social media and acting in all sorts of ungodly ways.  I have seen and even counseled many young women who were committed to God and growing in their faith and service to the Lord by all appearance, yet a guy comes along into their lives, they believe the lies he tells them and almost instantly they drop church like a burning hot coal.  What happens in these common instances?  Quite simply, the devil has taken control of their eyes and their eyes are now controlling their bodies.

          Maturity, dedication, and resolve are all things that help us control our eyes.  If our strategy is to just be strong in the moment, when it comes, we are packed and ready for a trip to failure!  Just as the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner comes to repentance, I believe it is safe to say, Satan and all his demons rejoice when people let what their eyes see, and lust after, be their god.  In the last sentence of Mat. 6:23 Jesus is telling them that if the light inside them, the thing that keeps them going, is really a dark, devious, sinful thing then there are hardly words to describe that level of darkness.  You then are identifying with the Prince of Darkness – Satan.

          Commentator R. Kent Hughes writes, “The believer who has a generous spirit, who is not tightly grasping the things of this world, maximizes the reception of light  (divine truth) in his life.  The Scriptures are open before such a heart, for his is seeking the things above.  Then not only does the eye of such a person receive light, but it radiates light to those around.  This person is ‘a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.’ (Mat. 5:14).  This person’s light shines before others in such a way that they see his beautiful works and glorify his Father in Heaven (Mat. 5:16), and as we might expect, a person with a generous spirit holds the things of life loosely bringing great joy to others and experiencing it himself.” (R. Kent Hughes; The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom; 220)


In Christ,

Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Laying Up Treasure in Heaven" (Pt. 1) (Jan. 10, 2019)

Allen Raynor Weblog: “Laying Up Treasure in Heaven” (Pt. 1)

(Jan. 10, 2019)


          Human beings are naturally thing/possession oriented.  People are strongly inclined to be seeking, pricing, considering, shopping for, acquiring, enjoying, storing, organizing, insuring, admiring, envying, and protecting material possessions.  There is enormous pressure to build our lives on, and around, “things.”  Everyone else is doing it, so why not us?  John Stott writes “Worldly ambition has a strong fascination for us.  The spell of materialism is very hard to break.” (John Stott; Christian Counter-Culture; 154)

          The subject of money/possessions often comes up in Scripture.  Why, we might ask?  Was Jesus obsessed with money and things?  Was Jesus a closet accountant?  Roland Leavell offers explanation when he writes “Jesus knew that no man is any stronger spiritually than his attitude toward money and what money can buy.  Jesus understood the vital relationship between gold and godliness.  He was aware of the plague of materialism, the very antithesis of spirituality.  Jesus did not discourage the making of money; he deplored the fact that some men give money the place that God should occupy in the affections.” (Roland Leavell; Studies in Matthew: The King and the Kingdom; 47)

          We live in “the land of plenty” so it is kind of hard for us to discern whether or not we have a problem, or obsession, with money and possessions.  Someone has suggested a simple thought to help us look more honestly at ourselves and our attitudes about these things.  R. Kent Hughes writes “If anything in this world is everything to you, it is an earthly treasure.” (R. Kent Hughes; The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom; 211)  Where do our priorities lie?  What are our priorities?  Jesus taught His followers to re-think where they laid up their treasures what they considered to be their priority.

          In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  First of all, in verse 19 He states that this earth is a poor investment.  James, in his epistle, warns the rich (those with plenty) as he says “Come now, you rich, weep and howl, for your miseries that are coming upon you!  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.  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.” (James 5:1-3)  We need to clarify just who are the rich.  We all are!  Everyone is rich compared to someone else who has far less.  What James is saying is that there is enormous danger in investing in corroding riches and wealth.  Paul wrote to Timothy “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men to destruction and perdition.”  (1 Tim. 6:9)

          Many people have worked, saved, and collected all types of things; all these sorts of things have been destroyed by fire, tornados, hurricanes, floods, and have been stolen.  Jesus warns them that, in this world anything made of fabric sewn together can be dismantled, eaten up by insects, and destroyed.  He warns that anything made of metal can, and will, corrode and rust, and ultimately be no good at all.  I have been to salvage yards, on several occasions, and I always see cars, sometimes stacked upon one another.  Some are smashed up, some not.  But, all are junk and are worth nothing except for possibly some parts or pieces.  But, not that long before, these were someone’s new car that pulled into the driveway and made them the envy of their neighbors.  With pride they drove it places.  Now look at it.  Jesus further warns that just in case insects cannot destroy it and rust and corrosion do not destroy it, then thieves will steal it.

          Everywhere we look, it seems, we get further encouragement to be more “worldly” minded rather than to focus on God and those things that are truly important.  The world sees just about everything in opposite terms than do Christians.  It is tragic that the supreme effort of our lives seems to be about making preparation for the here and now instead of for the hereafter.  Basically the next few years instead of eternity!  It really makes no sense at all except to very earth-centered worldly people.  We certainly should want to live, but we also need to keep in mind that there is a big difference between living today and living for today.  There is a story that is told that St. Philip of Neri (Italian Priest in the 1500s), known by all as a great teacher.  He would question his students who came to study law under him.  He would ask each student “Why did you come?”  they would respond “to study law.”  He would ask “What will you do when you have studied the law?”  They would respond “I will set up an office and practice.”  He would ask “What then?”  They would respond “I will get married and have a family.”  He would ask “What then?  They would respond “I will enjoy my home and my work.”  He would ask “What then?”  They would respond “I will grow older.”  He would ask “What then?”  They would respond “I will retire.”  He would ask “What then?”  They would respond “I will eventually die.”  Philip of Neri, the great teacher that he was, forced the student to recognize the need for doing more than merely preparing for this life.  Our destiny is not to be found in this world, but in the next.  (Taken from Charles Allen; The Sermon on the Mount; 120).  If we only think a little harder and a little further out, we will see that much of what we do is nothing more than pursuing and attaining things that will only be in our grasp for a moment.  We must train ourselves to think eternally.


In Christ,


Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor