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Our devotional this week is brought to us by Mr. David Taylor, junior economics major at the McLane College of Business.

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ Luke 12:16-20

Earlier this semester I had a forward-looking conversation with a close friend. He, being more experienced than me about employers, gave phenomenal advice: avoid the golden handcuffs; live simply, and they will have no power over you. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I was committed to the idea of wanting more: more food, more vacations, more exclusive gyms, more luxurious living spaces; my brain screamed for more.

Truthfully, my heart has always battled greed. I knew from a young age that one cookie was never enough. Growing up, I listened to preachers’ warnings, parents’ speeches, and friends’ jokes about being greedy, but it still seemed impossible to just be content.  Finally, after dozens of conversations, Jesus made it all make made sense. One parable later, and one cookie seemed just fine.

Jesus, as he tends to do, is proclaiming truth through a vivid narrative. In my mind, I see a man of average height, not too round, of medium skin tone, with brown eyes that scan his land, and dark hair that lies lazily across his head.  I imagine a relatively plain man, a man that could represent any of us, if we were afforded the same wealth and abundance. Jesus is creating a picture of a person who wants to burn his blessings, tear down his gifts, and construct better, so he can have more. We’re being warned of an individual, quite possibly ourselves, who desires far more than he needs.

Economics tells us desire is infinite, but there are only a finite number of resources.  In the text above, Jesus warns about greed, our infinite desires, and the joy of life, which is almost never found in the scarce possessions afforded to us. Satisfaction can only be found in Him, and so anything in the material world should never be coveted; God is fulfillment.

As business people, we need to remain aware that the temptation of infinite desire will continually press upon us.  In the midst of that pressure, our job is to keep our businesses and our goals centered on Christ, the only satisfaction, not pursuit of unnecessary resources.  Mark 8:36: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Humble Pie and Ice Cream

Think about a time you were offended by something someone said about you.  How can you put a stop to that?

I remember a friend of mine named Patrick who was mortally offended when someone alleged his operation was losing money.  He almost choked in anger over it.  I have another friend named Bill who was told that not only was his business going to fail but that he was so unreliable he could not be trusted.

The funny thing about these similar examples is that Patrick was in fact losing money so fast if he didn’t find a way to stop the bleeding he would be insolvent in just a few years.  At the same time, Bill was actually making money  and he would prove later to be extremely reliable.  If Patrick was offended when someone said something unflattering, but true, wouldn’t you expect Bill to be even more upset?

Bill was not upset at all.  He didn’t address the question of his profitability and on the issue of his reliability acknowledged that he wasn’t yet well known in the area.  He was nonplussed, relaxed, cool, unoffended.

Obviously, whether criticism offends us has nothing really to do with the veracity of what is said.  We are not offended by what we hear.  We are offended by how it makes us feel about ourselves.  If others’ statements undercut our attractive, rich, and successful self-image, we are liable to become offended.  If, on the other hand, we maintain a meek and humble attitude about ourselves and our position in the world, it is impossible to offend us.

Remember, our Master was lied to, lied about, betrayed, beaten, mocked, spit upon and tortured to death.  But he never became offended.  Christ was our perfect picture of humility, meekly accepting what the Lord had for Him without any regard to what He actually deserved.

The good news is that we control whether we will experience offense.  Jettison your pride my friends and fill your heart with the meekness of Christ.  Then let the world say what it will, you will never again feel the torment of offense.

“Continued peace is with the meek man but in the heart of the proud man is often envy and indignation.”  Thomas a Kempis

For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3rd John 3-4.

Last week my Research Assistant David found an old note in a book I loaned him.  It was a note with the phone number of one of my old friends, Skip.  Skip was a member of the church I pastored, a valued brother, and a good friend.  He and I used to meet for breakfast every couple of weeks to check on one another.  He was also a heroine addict in his 50’s, which are rare for obvious reasons.

During his time as a drug user Skip had been famous for lying (as is often the case).  He was particularly good at lying to himself about his condition and the rightness or wrongness of the things he did.  However, during his long climb out of the grip of narcotics, like many who make that climb, he became dedicated to the truth in a radical way.

You noticed in our text for today that John doesn’t commend the brethren for just telling the truth, but for walking in it. In the same way Skip didn’t just speak the truth, he lived it with starkly honest transparency.  He spoke openly about his cravings and fears and his past and his pain.  He didn’t have the luxury to play games; his very life depended on truth.  The only way to keep his addiction from killing him was to be completely self-aware of how he was feeling moment by moment, what he was doing with those feelings, and whether those actions made him sicker or healthier.

Skip had to give up just about everything to receive that kind of truth – his health, his relationships, his livelihood.  Skip passed away some years ago from an accident unrelated to his former addiction.  He died clean, and walking in the truth.

What will you pay to live the truth?  The terrible answer is that it will cost you all the games you are playing, with yourself and with others.  It will cost your pretension, your pride and the masks you wear to make yourself look better than you are.  Jesus is the Truth and if we want Him, we will have to surrender all our substitutes for Him. Embrace it my friends.  Embrace Him and walk with Him in humility.

Running (Gentle)Man

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.  Numbers 16:44-48.

As one gains experience and rank in the business world, one’s tasks tend to change.  You spend less time getting the work out and more time in meetings, more time planning and more time on issues no one else wants to handle.  You also may receive certain conveniences.  You get a parking space at the front so you don’t have to walk from the back of the lot.  You get an office so you can shut the door for private conversations and a little quiet time.  You get a secretary so you don’t have to answer your own phone.  There is a certain sense of dignity that comes with all those perks.

I confess, I love the picture in today’s scripture.  I envision an elderly Aaron, adorned in his high priestly robes and jeweled breast piece, his turban with the solid gold plate, and his bronze censer with incense burning on it, running like a madman.  There could not have been a more countercultural act for a priest of the ancient middle east to do than to run.  But he did.  I picture him looking very undignified at this moment, drenched in sweat, dust covering his fancy robes, heart pounding and eyes wide.  But he ran for all he was worth to stop the plague from killing his people.

It is a similar picture to that of the forgiving father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  Another elderly, dignified gentleman running to save his son from rejection.  It is the same as the picture of Christ in Philippians 2, emptying himself of His glory to come to the rescue of the world.  In each case, they completely shed their dignity for the sake of the weak and suffering ones.

There is no greater imitation of Christ than for us to do the same.  Christ calls on us to lay down our lives (1 John 3:16) but it rarely means to lay down our breathing in and out.  More often for us it means laying down the privileges life has brought us.  We regularly have the opportunity to lay down our dignity, and run – run to help those in need.  Let’s hold our perks lightly, my friends, and hold our hurting brothers and sisters so dearly as to think nothing of running full speed to their help.

One Law Under God

You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them.  But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people.  Numbers 15:29-30

 Even during their time of wandering in the wilderness the Hebrews were a mixed people.  Not everyone in the nation was descended from Abraham. Occasionally non-Hebrews would join their ranks (see e.g., Numbers 12:1).  In that sense, they were like a modern country, even like the United States.  There are many people living in the US (legally) who are not US citizens, not members of our nation.

People who are not members of the nation in which they live sometimes have to pay a price.  I lived in Hong Kong as a boy and occasionally found myself and my American citizenship the subject of jokes or mockery.  Sometimes it can be much more serious than that.  Non-citizens within a country, even one as freedom-loving as the US, can be limited in their ability to work, to buy property, to serve in government, and to participate in other rights and privileges held by citizens.

Many of those limitations have strong public policy reasons behind them, but the heart of the issue is what it means to be “foreign”.  Governments around the world have a long, sorry history of treatment of foreigners.

But the Lord makes it clear in our text for the today that His law applies equally to everyone, whether a full fledged, card carrying Hebrew, or a non-Hebrew who happened to be living among them for a time.  The Lord had one law in this case, the same for the Israelite as for the foreigner.

So there we see it, two distinct paradigms of how a community might interact with those who are foreign.  Government policy aside, it is now up to you and I to determine which paradigm we will follow in our personal interaction with foreigners – that of the laws of men or of the law of God.

The laws of men tend be based on a desire to protect the community and the interests of it’s people, even if to the detriment of the foreigners.  The laws of God, on the other hand, are designed to promote justice, unity, and a sanctified community that is right with Him and with one another.

This issue is too broad for laying down simple solutions but there is at least one lesson to be learned from our text.  The Lord sees us as the same.  For our part, let us build communities that contribute to His kingdom coming, and His will being done, on earth as it is in heaven.