October 2017  
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Hazardous (part 1, Affluence)

Hazardous—Affluence

Acts 5:40-42They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Being a follower of Jesus in the 1st century and in many countries today is hazardous and life threatening.  As we heard last week, the hazards we should be most concerned with here in the U.S. are not those outside, but those that exist inside the church. We must face up to our own internal problems before God can unleash His Power upon us. He is waiting for us to empty ourselves so He can fill us with Himself. What is preventing this from happening? One possibility we must ask ourselves: Are we distracted by affluence? (not are we affluent, but are we distracted) Let us consider this question more closely.

Jesus is calling us to put down all the things that distract us from him. Our purpose is to serve him, but in a way that brings us closer to him, not in a busy way that distracts us from knowing Him.
For most of us, the great hazard is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted, rushed, and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre relationship with Jesus.

Having the right priorities is very important. We must put Jesus first, then others, and then ourselves. We must take time to sit at his feet, learning his Word for our lives. We need to spend quiet time with Jesus every day. Otherwise, we become busy, but not blessed; religious, but not real like Jesus.

If we are not spending time in prayer and reading the Bible, we won’t have the Word saturating our spirit. Then, when hazards come into our life, the Holy Spirit has nothing to bring to our remembrance. We won’t know what to do or what to say according to the Word and we will give a fleshly, worldly response.

If we get away from the distracting idols of affluence and into the Word, prayer, and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we will have power and the right response to whatever hazard the enemy places in our way.

We must become affluent in the Word and God’s power, not in things of this world.

Mark 8:36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

We mentally agree with this Scripture, but we are afraid of being poor. The stories and sights of poverty scare us. Our grandparents or great-grandparents went through the Great Depression and instilled in us a mentality to work hard and accumulate things, because you might need it someday. We question the wisdom of anyone who elects to simplify life, give to others, or live among the poor in 3rd world countries or the inner cities of this country.

However, Jesus said, Matt 6:19-34    "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus did not say to his followers, “Seek first”—food and drink. Money. Clothing. Cars. Houses. No, but “the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Do we believe Him?

What are we seeking first?  Most of us seek a job and work many hours a day—for what purpose—to purchase luxuries that become idols? We will pray for a job and then forget God and His purpose for our life after He gives the job to us. There is a hazard that the job and income will become our idols.

Furthermore, affluence causes us difficulty in relating to the poor. They are not like us. We tend to judge them on assumptions and not take time to understand their problems. Sometimes we give them a few dollars and send them on their way, thinking we have done our duty. When we do that, we have failed in our purpose—to make disciples. Jesus is the answer for the poor, the rich, everyone. We must relate to the poor as Jesus would and patiently disciple them.

In addition, affluence creates a fear that we may lose our possessions or our investments. This fear is the opposite of faith in God, our Provider. Fear comes from the devil and distracts us to take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our possessions.

Affluence also causes discontentment and a desire for more. When do we have enough stuff? At what point are we content with what we possess?

1 Tim 6:6-11 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.          But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

Worldliness is a preoccupation with ease and affluence. It elevates comfort to the point of idolatry. Large salaries and comfortable life-styles become necessities of life. But more importantly, worldliness is a poor cover-up for pride, arrogance, and selfishness. Worldliness is never content.

For example, a man was a regular diner at a restaurant. The owner always did his best to please him. One day he complained that he only received one piece of bread with his meal, so the waiter promptly brought him four slices.

The man said, "That’s good, but not good enough. I love bread!" So, the next night he was given six slices with supper. He said, "Good! But aren’t you still being a bit frugal?"

Even a basketful the next day didn’t stop the complaints. Finally, the owner decided to end this for good. The next night he had a colossal loaf of bread baked. It was six feet long, three feet wide. It took the manager and two waiters to carry it to the complainer’s table. When they laid it on the table, the huge loaf took up five place settings. They stood there and smiled, waiting for the man’s reaction.

The man looked at the gigantic loaf of bread and said, "So, we’re back to ONE piece again?"
 

Matt 19:21-29 Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?"            Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

2 Pet 1:3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

We are given God’s nature through the promised Holy Spirit. This should cause us to think and act differently from the world.

For example, we should realize the provision God has made for His children. ‘Oh, I can’t afford to do that ministry,’ we say, but that is a lie. The truth is everything of Almighty God’s is ours in the Lord Jesus! And He will give us anything we need to accomplish His purpose if we obey Him.

What does it matter if external circumstances are hard? Why should they not be! We are the ones with God’s grace to be able to stand them!

If we indulge in self-pity, we forget God’s riches in our own lives and hinder others from entering His Kingdom. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it ignores God and puts self upon the throne. It causes us to grumble and complain, and there is nothing godly or generous about that.

When God is working in us, He will diminish every worldly wealth, until we learn that all our riches are in Him. Land, houses, investments, bank accounts, IRA’s are all distractions that become less important to us as God becomes more important in our lives. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the 1st century Christians understood this and willingly sold worldly things to gain what money could not buy—God’s peace and joy.

If the grace and power of God are not evident in us, God holds us responsible. Again, He is waiting on us. God is able to make all grace abound. We are to lavish the grace of God on others. Be filled with God’s Spirit, and His blessing will come through us all the time.

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

It is a sin to allow external hazards to make us sulky, fearful, or selfish. We are to turn to God for grace and power when we face hazards. He wants to fill us with His joy and peace. That is what the world is seeking, but they will only find them in Jesus. We, who carry His Name, should be witnesses of these characteristics of His Spirit.

Ps 28:6-7 Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

No hazard can touch that kind of affluence in Christ Jesus. The thing that is precious and highly valued in the sight of God is faith that has been tried. Tried faith is wealth stored up in heaven, and the more we go through trials of our faith, the wealthier we become in the heavenly realm.

Over time, we find behind the hazards the Father’s Presence, an abiding day that has no night, a still small voice that comforts with a comfort that is unspeakable and passes all understanding.

It is the glory of God to conceal His treasures in hazards that involve us in difficulty. We would never suspect that treasures are hidden in the “valley of the shadow”. In order to get those treasures, we have to go through things that are hard. The valley of the shadow gives us time to reflect, and we learn to praise God for the valley because in it our soul is restored in its communion with God. God gives us new revelations of His kindness and love in the valley of the shadow.

What are the experiences that have increased our faith the most--the days of green pastures, of absolute ease? No, they have their value; but the days that have furthered us most in faith and character are the days of stress and hazards, the days when we could not see our way but had to stand still and wait. And as we waited, the comforting, sustaining, and restoring of God came in a way we never imagined possible before.

1 Pet 1:7 These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Faith must be tried or it is not faith. Scriptural faith is not demonstrated by our commonsense life. Faith is trust in the character and Word of One we have never seen, in the integrity of Jesus Christ, and it must be tried.

Jesus said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. Are we prepared to trust God when commonsense facts and our faith in Jesus Christ do not agree? Are we stepping out on His word with no worldly support? When we have gone through the test and are standing firm, we lay up much treasure in Heaven. And when the next trial comes, we have something in our account to withdraw to carry us and others through it.

It is a blessing to meet a man or woman who believes in God, one who has not only retained their faith in Christ through hazardous trials, but is continually growing closer to Jesus. Are we one of the people with a growing faith, someone people can look to and find hope in Jesus?

Are we drawing people to Jesus or to a way of doing church? Are we more concerned about our style, competing with other churches, than we are for the lost, who are silently crying out “can you help me?” Are we pointing them to Jesus and the Word or offering them a quick fix? Are we offering them our love and patience while pointing them towards repentance, death to self, holiness, and life in the Spirit? Do we exhibit those things in our own life and demonstrate how to walk in the Spirit through faith, or do we just offer a safe, comfortable, good-time religion?

All of us are affected by the hazard of affluence. We are either pursuing affluence or worried about retaining our affluence. We are afraid to suffer. This calls for repentance, a change of heart, thought, and action. God is waiting on us to repent so He can unleash His Spirit and power upon us. The summary question is, “Do we want God or do we want affluence?” In which, do we trust?

Each of us gets to choose. I pray you will choose God, who is more precious than anything this world has to offer. You can make that choice now. If you have never decided to follow Jesus, come in repentance, confessing your sin, and submit to baptism so you can receive the life of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If you decided to follow Jesus at one time, but you have been distracted by the hazard of affluence, come to Jesus and confess your sin and ask for grace to repent. God has waited patiently a long time for us to desire Him more than the things of the world. He wants to unleash Himself upon us.