Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Gospel Confronts 'the Winners of the World '

They got a name for the winners in the worldAnd I want a name when I loseThey call Alabama the Crimson TideCall me Deacon Blues 
(Steely Dan 'Deacon Blues')

There are some people in the world where it just all goes according to plan. They were born into the right family, at the right time, with all the right stuff and life seems to be one grand charm after another.

Sure, there are setbacks for everyone- but these folks just walk on through and seem to have it all go their way.

Stereotypically, there is a body type- personality- intellect- and social status attached to what the mainstream culture yearns for.

And there are segments of the world who don't like them for that as well......

Who comes to mind when I describe that person? If it is a male- you think of someone 6'2- fit- a bright smile and perfect hair- eyes that put on the charm- a magnetic personality- spot on fashion- Mr. Persona with a flair for leadership- charismatic and magnetic.

The female? Goddess like features- the cover of a magazine- the right social circles- and the perfect tastes in colors and clothing. The subject of conversations. Strong and desirable- but always in control.

Do those people really exist? Well- no and YES!

Though the images we are presented in media are photoshopped and iconic caricatures- there are those people who come close enough to these arbitrary standards that they pass for the 'fortunate ones'- they won the races- they are in the right circles- they have spun a positive world of winning momentum- their life is more yes that no.

What does the gospel say to this 'winner'?

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”   29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There was a sign on a teacher's room that said: "What is popular may not be right- and what is right may not be popular".

The above passage has always intrigued me.... does it teach a salvation by works? What is meant by 'a camel through eye of a needle'? And what does this say to us?

This man (Luke 18 calls him a 'ruler'- Matthew 19 calls him 'young')  initiates the conversation and even 'falls on his knees'- what do we make of this passage?

Here is what the conversation says to those who seem to have it all......

Worldly success and adulation can be enough of a distraction to cause ultimate demise. If you have been blessed with wealth, or looks, or talent-- oh, you are in a tough circumstance spiritually.

Paul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

This young man approached Jesus thinking he had won- "I have done all these things from my youth up- I AM A SUCCESS- (I even guess he saw his riches as proof of God's approval).

So Jesus explores this... 'So you have kept al the law..Hmmm Law 1 says that Love God first above all else- so I am asking you to sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor.'

And the young man walked away...'grieved (Matt 19)- very sad (Luke 18).

Jesus replies to the remaining audience "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven"- "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle"- now I have had Bible teachers explain for years that this is a reference to a gate in the wall of Jerusalem where the camel could still fit- and that may be true- but the idiom is still a reference to a small hole and a big camel.

This shocked the observers "Who can be saved?" and the VERY IMPORTANT response "With men it is IMPOSSSIBLE, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."

The gospel confronts the 'winner' by telling him- you are losing and will lose the most important area- you cannot please God with your record of success. You are as much of a failure in the area of righteousness as the gutter ridden sinner. Compared to God's holy standard of true heart holiness.. you are not a winner.... you are Deacon Blues.

Now, why is this good news?

Well- as an American, I am rich. You can look at my net worth and wonder what I am talking about- but I live better that all of the Kings of the ancient world and enjoy comforts that most of the world can't even imagine. My material status does create spiritual dullness - Proverbs tells us that to the man who is full even honey seems bitter. If I am depending on my spiritual zeal to usher me into usher me into the heavenly hall of fame.. I am in trouble. I don't feel guilty for my lot in life- I am so grateful fro God's grace.

But here is a 2nd point- and this is the most important one. There is a trap that the 'winners' fall into. Compared to others in our society, I am not rich, or handsome, or famous, or talented- but to those who are- you have to beware of a terrible trap.

The trap is that you use the social status as an apparatus. You don't have IT..IT has you. You are in a grip of acceptance and luxury that has no end of the appetite and no compassion for the rejects. You never feel secure- all of the mounds of gain offer not even an ounce of security or love.

Some of the wealthiest people in the world are also some of the saddest- the stuff doesn't love you back and it doesn't really satisfy. The famous French writer Guy De Maupassant's sad quote- "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing."

The the good news of Christ can save this person. I believe it begins with a true repentance which produces a fruit of gratitude. Grace causes a fruit of giving. The fragrance of both causes a warmth for people of all kinds.. even the destitute.

It is a freeing message. The rich young ruler was sad to think of losing his possessions- and the sad irony is that they were going to go away eventually. Rust or theft or old age will take it all away.

The born again person will remain joyous even if everything is taken away.

As I close- click on the link here to meditate on the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt'- it is a long view of wealth and what is important in life.

If you a person with persona, don't get to enthralled with your power or status. The smallest package in the world is a man all wrapped up in himself.

The next chapter will outline how the gospel confronts the 'loser'.

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