If I Only Had Seven More Days

The previous three posts probed the question: “Do I truly believe that Christ may return soon?” An affirmative response should be reflected in my actions and my priorities.

If I knew for certain that I only had one more week of life on earth—one more post here on Standing on The Promise—what should I say? Is there an urgent message for those of us who say that we believe Christ may return at any moment?

I believe there is, and that’s why I am revisiting my previous post, “Anticipating Christ’s Return- A Thorny Issue.”

Several issues threaten the health of the American Church. Lack of unity and theological drift are obvious threats, but is there something more pervasive? Less obvious?

So, what is this present danger? Money. Affluence.

Jesus, in his Sermon on The Mount, boldly warned against the danger of wealth. He also shared stories about farmers planting and harvesting grain to illustrate the danger of affluence.

In Jesus’ story about a farmer planting seed, the focus was not on the farmer or the seed. Instead, it was the condition of the soil. Soil packed hard like a pathway or shallow and rocky produced no harvest. The third kind of soil was potentially fertile except for one fact: weeds competed with the grain for nutrients and water. At harvest there was only weeds; there was no grain. No fruit. Weeds unchecked affected the harvest.

When Jesus’ disciples asked for more details, Jesus identified the weeds as the “deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this world.” The problem was not money or wealth per se, but the negligent use of and misplaced confidence in money.

Money can be deceitful. Promising security but not delivering. The story of the “foolish” farmer was an example. After abundant harvests and granaries filled to the brim, the farmer felt he finally had enough to retire and to enjoy life. He had earned it! The problem was that his time had run out. There would be no tomorrow to enjoy what he had saved. God wrote his eulogy: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you…” The farmer had considered himself a success, and his friends affirmed him. However, he never got to spend a dime of his portfolio.

Jesus told another story about a man that had been deceived by riches. His problem was a matter of perspective and priorities. God had given him life and the ability to earn money. He had enjoyed the best clothes and gourmet food that money could buy. After all, it was “his” money.

Lying outside his gated yard lay a homeless man in dirty rags. Not just one morning but day after day and week after week there he lay. The man had a name, Lazarus, but he might as well have been invisible for all the wealthy homeowner cared. (Remember, I am not creating this story; Jesus told it first.) Like every poor man and every wealthy man, both men had an appointment with death. Both left everything behind. Lazarus’ dirty rags and the rich man’s purple linen were left for someone else to enjoy or to dispose of.

In each of those stories lies a clear and present danger that is relevant today. Our affluence, like weeds threaten to choke out potential fruit from our lives. Money cannot satisfy our deepest hunger. God has promised His children the bare necessities of shelter and nourishment. Anything more is a gift to enjoy and to invest in God’s kingdom. It’s a balancing act requiring discretion and wisdom.

Speaking of wisdom, I am reminded of an even greater fool than the wealthy men in Jesus’ stories. The greatest fool in the Bible was also the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon inherited amazing wealth and a position of power that had been earned through his father’s sweat and blood. God offered Solomon, the young king, anything he asked. Solomon humbly asked for wisdom to rule well. God granted Solomon’s request and so much more including lavish wealth.

Solomon’s wisdom was featured in his first recorded legal decision. The challenge before him was to determine which of two women, each claiming to be the mother of an infant son, was the real mother. Solomon’s perception was as precise as the blade of the sword he had raised to dissect the baby.

However, Solomon’s thirst for more wealth, more pleasure, more prestige and more of everything his heart desired was a dead-end street. He was deceived by his fortune and fame. The potential fruit from his life withered and died. He, like the rich farmer, left everything behind for others to squander. After his death, the kingdom was severed with ten tribes heading north to follow Jeroboam.

So, back to the subject at hand: Do I truly believe Jesus could return momentarily? Do my actions and priorities support my claim? Or am I squandering good things that God has given me to enjoy. Am I investing in things eternal? Am I pursuing justice for the invisible people in my world?

Anticipating Christ’s Return – A Thorny Issue

Today’s post is the third in a series about expecting Christ’s return..

The Good Samaritan and the Sower and the Seed may be the most familiar parables Jesus shared. Both parables, I believe, are applicable to the question of whether or not I truly believe Jesus may return at any moment.

First, let’s consider the parable about the seed. The farmer and the seed are almost incidental to the story. The focus is on four types of soil. Each received seeds from the Sower. Every kernel came from the same container. Every seed had potential to produce fruit. The only difference was the condition of the soil. Only one soil produced fruit.

The third soil permitted the seeds to germinate. But tiny weed seeds in the soil also sprouted and grew among the good plants. Competing for nutrients they began to choke the good seed. The plants grew and produced leaves, but there were no kernels of grain at harvest.

So, what’s the point of this parable? What was the take-away for the listeners—for us? To ask that another way, what were these weeds that choked the plants?

Here’s Jesus’ answer: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:14–15, ESV)

Consider the phrase, “as they go on their way.” The struggle to be fruitful is part of everyday life. We may begin loving God’s Word and desiring to follow Jesus. We anticipate seeing Him and hearing His affirmation. But concerns began to distract us. That’s life. Trials become detours rather than opportunities for faith to grow deeply.

It’s the next two “weeds” in the parable that may challenge us most today: “riches and the pleasures of life.”

Both wealth and pleasure were meant to be enjoyed. Matthew quotes Jesus, “the deceitfulness of riches.” It’s as if wealth is a living organism—a weed seed—seeking to germinate and wage war against my soul and choke out my anticipation of Christ’s return. Distorting my priorities. Telling me, “It’s mine to enjoy; I earned it.” Justifying what I have by comparing my cache with others. A siren singing, “More!” A security blanket destined to become moth-eaten. Certainly, to be left behind when Jesus returns or I die.

Those are strong words meant to warn me and you about the deceitfulness of riches and the pursuit of pleasure in our pleasure-driven culture.

So, if I truly believe that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, it should be reflected by my bank account and my daily calendar.

Am I investing resources and time in things eternal? How do I spend discretionary money? Do I care that children are dying from filthy water or lack of food? In this hungry world, am I a sheep or a goat? A good Samaritan or a pre-occupied priest? A foolish farmer building bigger barns?

Those are severe questions, I know. But Jesus warned about letting weeds choking and rendering unfruitful. Choking may be subtle, but it is always lethal if ignored.

When I am choking in my affluence, I welcome anybody to wake me up with a spiritual Heimlich maneuver.

Choking may be subtle or gradual, but always lethal.

But, when I am choking in my affluence, I welcome anybody to wake me up with a spiritual Heimlich maneuver.

Focus on the Handoff

In the previous post, I shared how Israel’s failure to pass on the stories about God’s deliverance from bondage and His provision in the wilderness resulted in their grandchildren abandoning the faith. Here’s the sad account:

 “When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. …And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Judges 2:6, 7, 10*, emphasis mine)

The obvious question is “Why?” Why did Israel fail to pass the baton of faith to the third generation? Why are children that have been reared in Christian homes and churches are abandoning the Faith in greater numbers today? Is there a correlation between the biblical account and today? Trying to “get into the biblical story,” I discovered clues as to why Israel dropped baton of Faith.

Affluence- enemy of faith

The generation that survived forty difficult years in the wilderness had to leave their camp every morning to gather their “daily bread” and every Friday gather sufficient for the Sabbath. Every time they broke camp to follow the Cloud, they had to trust God to lead them to potable water. But they were no longer pilgrims in the wilderness. They were now home enjoying the abundance of a land “flowing with milk and honey.” A land suitable for their herds and flocks and blessed with fertile fields of grain.

The survivors had personally experienced a story that was so exciting they couldn’t help but pass it on to their children. Although their children knew the story well, they failed to pass it on to the next generation. Perhaps the children, now living in houses rather than tents and enjoying fresh produce instead of boring manna, found the story irrelevant like Moses had warned:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:10–18*, emphasis mine)

Before Moses died at age 120, he had passed the baton to Joshua who would lead the people into the Promised Land.

Years later, Joshua, “old and well advanced in years,” summoned the people together and rehearsed in detail the story of God’s provision during the wilderness trek and the conquest of the land. He also warned them about forgetting God while enjoying prosperity in the land. ((You can read Joshua’s challenge in Joshua 23 & 24*.) Here is an excerpt: “God gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:13–14*)

Joshua also set up a memorial stone to remind the people of the covenant they had affirmed. He also “wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:26–28*)

The people returned to their homes with Joshua’s warnings ringing in their ears. The rest of the story is captured in these words: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Judges 2:10, 12*)

The third generation drifted into the trap Moses and Joshua had warned against. Life was good and the living was easy so they forgot that God was the source of all their blessings. In the midst of abundance, there was no need for faith.

Sound familiar?

Throughout history, trials such as war, drought and economic depressions have brought nations and individuals back to God. In times of peace and prosperity, we tend to drift. We divide and quarrel.  

Isolation- the enemy of faith

Perhaps another factor that resulted in Israel’s drift was they became less connected with each other. They no longer lived together as one big family. Everyone was living within the borders of their tribal land. Everyone was busy in their own pursuits. Sounds like 2023, doesn’t it?

The life of faith is meant to be lived in community, but we value individualism. Away from the corporate flame, we become embers destined to cool. We need each other, especially as our culture become more secular and hostile. Persecution removes walls and draws Christians together. The author of Hebrews encouraged a persecuted church to stir up one another by consistently gathering together. (See Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Israel dropped the baton when life was good and everyone was in pursuit of more. Are we any different? Israel also failed to pass on their stories about God’s provision. Have our children witnessed our confidence in God? Have they heard our stories about God’s provision? Have we set up memorial stones—family traditions—to remind our children and grandchildren how God has led, protected and provided?

This morning, I was reading in Leviticus and discovered another example of parents using traditions to pass the story on to their children. Every Israelites was to dwell in rustic shelters made of branches of trees for seven days during the Feast of Booths so that their children would experience the story of God bringing their ancestors out of Egypt and providing for them while they lived in tents because they needed to know that “I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42, 43)

I believe there may be another clue in the story of Moses and Joshua to illustrate why the baton of Faith was dropped back then and continues to be dropped.

But, that’s another story for another post.

*All Scriptures are taken from the ESV.

If you appreciate these posts, please share them with your friends.