For all of you who feel like you are not able to accomplish your goals… or anything productive for that matter.
This is a journal entry from today:
God, I feel like I have all these desires that i don’t fulfill. I want to order my finances, work out and eat healthy, order my spiritual life, journal often, write creatively and academically, and read many, many books.…
If you are hurting, it is so you can know the Healer.If you are hungry, it is so you can be fed with the Bread of Life.
If you are sorrowful, it is so you can know the Comforter.
If you are lonely, it is so you can know you are never alone.
Random Thoughts on the Passing Parade June 6, 2013 Joy vs. Cost: A New Way to Think About the Parable of the Treasure in the Field
I would like to say that I am indebted to Tom Richter for many of the thoughts that went into this post. He has a sermon about this parable here: http://youtu.be/Mt6jwAuW0Y
There are two views that often get portrayed in both Christian literature and from Christian pulpits. The first one is the “cost” gospel. This message of Christianity focuses on the cost of following Jesus. Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. Do you know where you are going when you die??? You better be a really good Christian and learn to take on the burden of Christian living. This idea of Christianity is often parodied in movies and cartoons. The other side of the pendulum comes in the form of the prosperity gospel. Basically if you are a Christian it will be all joy all the time. You are just gonna have sunshine and daisies for the rest of your life according to this gospel. Name it and claim it. Just enjoy the blessings of the loving Father.
Now the problem is that neither of these messages is wholly wrong. There is definite truth in both of these and even Scriptural evidence for both. However, we know that neither seem to satisfy the full meaning of Scripture. Jesus did ask us to take up our crosses but He also promised us life and life abundantly. The key here is to realize that even the yoke of Jesus (often commented on as symbolically related to the cross) is easy and light.
In the parable of the treasure in the field we get an important insight into how this could be. Matthew 11:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” In this one verse we have an answer to a theological dilemma that has been going on for millennia. A man is walking through a field he is thinking of buying and he sees a reflection of something covered by some shrub and goes over to check out what it is. He finds an 18th century pirate chest- just kidding. He finds one of the legendary treasure stores that it has been rumored were left by people who knew their village was in danger and hoped to come back after becoming captives and start life again some day. It was rumored that some of these treasure hordes were buried in places and had never been recovered. Basically, it is the equivalent of finding a sunken pirate ship loaded with Spanish doubloons and other precious materials or of striking oil in the middle of a field you want to buy. He finds this chest and he quickly begins counting. He very soon realizes that it is worth far more money than he had ever had or would ever have. Then (here is the crucial point) “in his joy he goes and sells all he has.” Now, this man would have looked absolutely insane as he frantically went and sold everything to anyone who would buy it. His wife and kids were no doubt very distressed over the sudden liquidation of everything they owned. He runs up to the landowner and tries to hide his excitement as he tells him that he wants to buy the field and he can pay cash. To the world he looks crazy, but he knows that he has a greater treasure.
We as Christians are invited to by the field with the treasure in it, it only costs all we have. It also brings the greatest joy imaginable (and unimaginable). Sure, it costs a daily decision to walk with Jesus, but it gives you true freedom. This is why Paul is able to encourage people to rejoice in tribulation. There is a glory that so far outshines any cost. Paul was a slave to Christ so he could be free. It is just one of those kingdom principles. It works in God’s kingdom, but it is foolishness to the worldly logic.
A final thought: maybe that parable isn’t just about us. Maybe earth is the field and God in Christ Jesus is the man who found a treasure and went and stretched out His arms on the cross and gave up all he had to purchase the world that He might gain a great treasure. Maybe you and I are the treasure that God, in His inestimable love and mercy and wisdom, believed was worth all He had, even His only Son. You and I are so lavishly loved.
Tonight I finally watched a documentary which my friend made about our missions trip to Utah a few years back. I was a senior in highschool and Brett Kunkle from Stand to Reason had been doing these trips for years. The year before he and my Bible teacher took us on a missions trip to U.C. Berkeley. The focus on this trip was to be vastly different from the year before. In Berkeley, you focused on general philosophical ideas like the objectivity and accessibility of truth. In Utah we hit the books, the Bible and the Mormon Scriptures. My real goal and strategy was to point out contradictions between the Bible and the Mormon Scriptures. This was thought to be a good technique because the Mormon’s also affirm the Bible as the word of God. So if there were any contradictions within God’s own word then one would hope that they would think further and question these things. Ultimately, I realized that there was something deeper than pointing out contradictions could solve. The strategy was really just to sow a seed that may blossom into further unanswerable questions and lead these people into a true discovery of the truth of Jesus. Now, this strategy can be extremely effective and many people have been challenged in ways that have forced them to truly consider what they believe. However, the fundamental problem was a sickness of the heart. Mormonism is not just a pseudo-Christian belief system, Mormonism is a lie that kills.
What is at the heart of Mormonism? Truly, at the heart of Mormonism is a desire to be “like God” and a belief that we can achieve this God-like-ness through our own works. First, to address the desire to be “like God.” The fifth Mormon prophet said, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may be.” Another story comes to mind every time I think about this desire to be Godlike. In the Garden Eve is conversing with the snake (traditionally understood as the Devil) and he says, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Needless to say, I want to draw a direct correlation with the Fall and our desire to make ourselves like God and it is always associated with certain works that we can do, like eating the apple. Further, God Himself freely gives us the ability to be true bearers of His Image. It is only pride that could convince us that we could achieve anything like the image of God outside of the free gift of grace. We are meant to be like God. It is what we are built for. But part of that calling is the receiving of our status as sons and daughters of God. The root attitude of Mormonism is pride, the root attitude of Christianity is humility. The interesting thing about pride is that it often (if not always) comes from insecurity. In the next paragraph I will address why a Mormon might feel insecure.The works side of Mormonism seems to be the place of greatest tragedy. The desire to be gods could reasonably be found in a person who was made to share in God’s glory, the desire to achieve that status on one’s own and for our own glory is sadly distorted. The worst part is that no honest Mormon can ever say that they have achieved salvation. In fact, I had a student explain to me that there is absolutely no hope of achieving Exaltation (the Mormon’s version of ultimate heaven, there are other levels but this is the only one which contains true joy). At Exaltation a Mormon would finally reach the level of a god of their own planet (and possibly universe). The student explained that the only way for a Mormon to achieve Exaltation was to become perfect in the afterlife because there is no hope of becoming perfect on earth. Now this isn’t just a random student espousing heretical views; The Miracle of Forgiveness is a book which goes into great depth about how forgiveness only sticks if the Mormon is able to achieve perfection. In the Doctrine of the Covenants (one of the Mormon’s three non-Biblical holy books) it is stated that if a sin is committed after forgiveness then the consequences and guilt of the sins forgiven are returned ten-fold. The tragedy in all this is that you have millions of people following a religion where they feel the need to be perfect. This leads to either disillusionment or dualism. Either the Mormon is driven to depression or they learn to lead a double life and separate the guilt they feel from the life they lead. There is no consistent way to live as though you must be perfect. We are either confronted constantly with our own inadequacy or we become adept at ignoring the faults in our lives. Authenticity and joy are robbed. The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Mormonism does these things.
Mormonism says, “Come to me all you who desire meaning, comfort, security, and power. Take your yoke upon you and I will show you the way to achieve these things. Oh and you must be perfect so if you are not perfect yet please put on a mask so we don’t have to see your brokenness.”
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
P.S. as a final comment I want to say that I love Mormons. I have many friends who are Mormon and I love them greatly and we have had many great debates and discussions. The goal in this post was to point out a dangerous deception, not to condemn the individuals who fall into this deception. Please talk to the Mormons who come to your door and show them the love of Christ. They need it.
I recently read a book by N.T. Wright titled After Belief: Why Christian Character Matters. It has greatly influenced my thinking on this subject and as I read the Daily Office Scripture readings this week I found revelation in the ways Moses talked about the Law. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt (slavery and death) and were heading towards the Promise Land (Life and Liberty and a New Kingdom). This progression foreshadows and mirrors our progression from death to life in Jesus Christ. Just as the Israelites were delivered out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover, so the True Passover Lamb died for the freedom of the whole world.
I think that how the Israelites are taught and wooed in the desert can draw relevant parallels to our thought process today. If the Law only brought death (as mentioned in the New Testament), then why is it relevant today? I think the purpose of the Law needs to be revisited. In Deuteronomy 4 Moses says, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules[a] that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (4:1) Again, “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (4:5) Again, “And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.” (4:14) Lastly, “Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time” (4:40) Now, the phrases about prospering, going well with you, and living have always struck me. The commandments are to be followed that we may “live long and prosper.” This thought is revolutionary. However, there is another phrase that I think helps us when thinking about how the Law and Grace interact. The phrase shows up again in Chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, “that they may observe them (the Law) in the land which I am giving them to possess” and, also about following the Law, “that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.” Now I know that the promises to Israel were for a specific people at a specific time, but the parallels in principle are sound: the Law is meant to teach Israel how to prosper in the Promise Land.
The Promise Land is a foreshadowing of the New Heaven and and the New Earth. Why do we attempt to follow “the Law” in Christianity when we are free from the consequences of the Law? Because that is how you prosper in God’s Kingdom.
It is as if you were given a free pass to a planet where there is peace and harmony and long life, etc. Nothing you did on earth would disqualify you from this planet, but you are encouraged to swim a lot for the rest of your life until you depart. Now you might think this was a strange request of you. In fact you might get angry that this free pass turned out to have some sort of “hidden requirement.” In the end, however, you decide you might as well swim. It is hard at first and you really have to work at it, but you become a formidable swimmer and very comfortable in the water. When you finally depart for the planet, you arrive and find that it is 100% water and all of the inhabitants there spend their whole life swimming. While your training on earth could not have prepared you for the reality of perpetual swimming, you were participating in the New Life you had inherited in the free pass.
I want to say that this is analogous to following the Law. Now, I should clarify that I do not mean the specific covenantal Law given to Israel, but the Law which Christ came to fulfill. I do not know all of the subtleties in the distinctions, but we can look to the New Testament and its parallels in the Old Testament to see that the 9 fruit of the Spirit and the 3 ultimate virtues (Faith, Hope, and Love) are apart of learning to be a Kingdom individual now. As N.T. Wright argues we should “put on” the new man and learn the language we shall be speaking for eternity. The language of the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated in His death and Resurrection is the language of Faith, Hope and Love. This is the true fulfillment of the Law as found in the first and second greatest commandments according to Jesus.
There is so much more to this discussion, but these have been a few of my thoughts. The Christian virtues need to be learned like swimming or a musical instrument or a language, so that we can live as we shall in the New Earth and New Heaven, and so that on earth we can be active participants in His Kingdom NOW. The Kingdom that has been initiated and we have the opportunity to operate in through the grace of Jesus Christ from now until eternity.
One last thought… In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard found in Matthew 20:1-16 we find a master recruiting laborers in His vineyard at different hours throughout the day. Some come in the morning, midday, and evening, but all receive one denarius for payment. This has always troubled me because it is just not fair. It even ends with the crazy statement, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” This is how Jesus says the Kingdom is and I think that if we don’t understand it then we run the risk of the grumblers who are upset over this “unfairness.” The Kingdom perspective is this: the morning laborers had been experiencing the Kingdom-living the whole day long while the people who came at the last hour had been idly sitting around all day. We often would think that the sitting around all day is preferable to the labor, but it is not so in the Kingdom of God! The morning laborers had the privilege of experiencing God’s Kingdom in the present. While they all received eternal life, the morning laborers heeded the invitation to come into the Kingdom now.
So “how then shall we live?” We shall answer the invitation, not only into God’s grace but into God’s labor bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. We are set free by God’s saving grace, but we are also invited to learn the ways of His Kingdom and be apart of His mission. The concept we need to understand is that this work is the fullness of joy and apart of becoming the people we are meant to be. Does this mean that we shoulder the burden of the Law and some how earn our transformation? Not at all! We participate with God’s work in our life. There is no separation (when we are participating) between God’s work and our work. He is doing it in us and through us. So why not jump in and learn to swim?