Why Jesus Told You To Hate Your Momma

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”- Jesus, Luke 14:26 (ESV)

In the course of His time on Earth, Jesus said some pretty crazy things. Of these “hard sayings,” though, none seems quite as confusing- or as offensive- as the one that heads this post.

“Hate my family, Jesus? Seriously?”

Most of us read this command and react initially in shock, dismissing Jesus’ words as the ramblings of a religious fanatic who is thoroughly out of touch with reality. While this may be understandable, to do so would be a massive mistake. Rather than pushing away from the table in the face of Jesus’ words, we must instead lean in and engage Jesus on this matter, asking the question, “What’s behind this command? What is Jesus really getting at here?”

As we do that, digging beneath the surface of this seemingly extreme instruction, what we find is that Jesus, in giving it, is providing us with a warning about a grave but subtle danger regarding relationships, and in turn offering us one of the practically freeing principles available to us as His people.

You see, Jesus is using hyperbolic language here to speak to the issue of what is ultimate in our hearts, minds, and lives- in short, what we treat as our god. And in doing so, He is telling us that as much as we are to love people, care for people, and build healthy relationships with people, we should never, under any circumstances, make the crippling choice to worship people.

Magnifying people- that is, making another person the absolute most important thing in your life- actually sets the stage for wrecked relationships. It is a tremendous irony, but putting someone on a godlike pedestal in your heart is actually one of the most unloving things you can do for them. Why? The reason is actually pretty simple- Because there is not a person in this world who can bear the weight of being your god. It isn’t their fault; they simply weren’t created by God to fulfill that role.

When we magnify people, we do incredible damage in four specific ways…

  1. We rob ourselves of individual identity
    We believe the lie that our worth, value, and dignity is intertwined in others’ opinions of us and relationship to us, that outside of being someone to someone else, there is no true “us.” This deception that others can somehow “complete us” ignores the reality that we have inherent worth, value, and dignity simply because God has created us in His image, for a relationship with Him.
  2. We create crushing expectations of others
    Everyone- everyone– will eventually disappoint you in some way, and the higher you have elevated that person in your heart, the harder that disappointment will fall on you. Unfortunately, those whom we first idolize, we often later demonize when they fall short of the unfair expectations we have placed on them. One of the fastest ways to squeeze the life of a relationship is to remove from another person the permission to fail.
  3. We are motivated to exclude and even abuse others.
    If your identity is intimately tied up in another person or relationship, you will have no choice but to seek out and destroy any and all perceived threats to the security of that connection. Hear me well- It is important to love, provide for, and protect those whom God has placed closest to you, but be careful not to allow those good things to lead to justify neglecting or mistreating others.
  4. We devalue and displace God.
    As with all forms of idolatry, or false worship, the ultimate offense is against God Himself. To remove God from His rightful role in our lives, and replace Him with another person, is to commit an act of cosmic treason, of ultimate betrayal. It results in a trade of ultimate joy in our Creator for ultimate judgment from our Creator. Though the ripple effects of magnifying people are many, in the end it is ultimately comes back to a fracture between us and the One who made us for Himself.

So then, if Jesus isn’t actually telling us to “hate our families”- a command which, if taken literally, would directly contradict others in God’s revealed Word- what is He telling us to do? How can we love people well, recognizing their great value in our lives while maintaining a rightly ordered heart that worships God and God alone? To do so, we must build every human relationship we have on the foundation of a right relationship with God.

When we love God supremely, and allow our love for others to flow out of this “first love,” we actually set the stage for the richest, most resilient relationships we could ever know. Why? Because the only way to learn how to really love others is to be loved– and in Jesus, we have been loved perfectly! Recognizing the amazing grace of God toward you in the face of your failings equips you with a deep well of grace from which to draw and give to others when they inevitably fail you.

What’s more, when you have tasted the perfect love of God in Jesus, that ache for something ultimate is satisfied, and you no longer need others to be your functional god. This is incredibly freeing, enabling you to love others radically even in the face of their inadequacies, because you no longer need them to fulfill a need that they were never equipped to fulfill in the first place. No matter how many times others fail you, Jesus never will, and the more you come to recognize and live in light of that powerful truth, the more pressure and tension will be released from your human relationships.

This week, I implore you- Let God alone be God, and let people be people. Love Him first and most, and in so doing, you will be given more grace to love them than you could ever muster up for yourself. Go ahead and “hate” your Momma this week, because as Jesus defines it, it could be one of the most loving things you’ll ever do.

Sneaky Little Masters (Part Three)

victory

So I struggle with treating success like an idol…what do I do now?

That is not really a question I thought I would be asking. It is, however, a reality I live with. A generally successful person can, in times of struggle, come face to face with an unhealthy priority they were unaware they had.

I want to clarify my use of idol here. I do not bow down and worship success. I simply allow it to come before God and anything that is before him is above him, and there is nothing or no one above him.

In Matthew 23:25-28 Jesus throws down some WOES to the religious leaders of his day. He tells them that they wash the outside of the cup and call it clean or that they whitewash tombs and pretend they are not filled with death. He teaches that it is not just the outside that must change but the inside, too. It is the root of the matter that musty change, not just the fruit of it.

So, how do I experience that? Here are some practical points from Matthew 23.

You might have a success idol if…

1. WHAT happens matters more than WHY it happened.
Does why matter to you at all about the things you hope to accomplish in life? Or is what you are striving for your only concern?
2.  WHAT I am matters more than WHO I am.
When you deal with a success idol what you become trumps who you are. If you are not careful you can have an “everyone loves a winner” mentality towards life…which eventually causes you to act like a loser.
3.  WHAT I do matters more than HOW I do it.
Do ends justify means? Winning at all costs comes at a very high price to everyone involved.

Burning a success idol requires…
1. Emptying the cup.
Emptying the cup means pouring it ALL out. Money is perhaps the best illustration of this. You are not faithful to God with money because you give a certain % at church. Every penny is his. You are not faithful to God without the % either, but that % is much easier to give when it is all his anyway.
2.  Open the door.
The best way to clean out the stench of death is to open the door and let the light of truth in. Opening the door to your sins and struggles usually requires sharing the worst about your self with someone else. “Confess your sins one to another.” Are you?
3.  Pray inside out.
Get to the root issue, don’t just treat the fruit.
4.  Be what you are.
Jesus’ final illustration was a tomb. A tomb is a tomb. It is what it is. Often our greatest struggle with success is desiring to be what we are not…or the desire to not be what we are. Be what God made you.

The greatest truth we must all remember about our struggles with success is that Jesus is greater than our biggest failures. Give to Jesus your best. Give to Jesus your worst. And give him everything in between.  You cannot give him one without the other.

Sneaky Little Masters (Part Two)

victory


Anything kept for or to ourselves is, inherently, before God. Thus, it is an idol.

This statement is from part one of this blog. God commanded us to have no god before him. Jesus clearly taught that man could not serve both his selfish desires (mammon or money in most translations) and God at the same time. It is one or the other.

In Ecclesiastes Solomon, the most interesting man in the world, wrote about the vanity of all the things he experienced in life. (Remember Solomon was the richest, most famous, most successful person of his day. He had everything this world offers.) In chapter 2 he writes that it is vain to live wisely because all one earns is eventually left to another. The one it is left to could easily be a fool. He teaches how vain it is to work and toil because in the end you die the same. Yet he concludes that it is good for man to eat and drink and enjoy his toil….why? It pleases God.

Success is a small, short, little trophy.
Success is the idol that Solomon is ultimately speaking of. As he speaks of living wisely and working hard he is speaking of the things that we sum up with that one little word…success. Success is working and accomplishing and achieving in life. It is living wisely and attaining in this life.

Our earthly successes are, however, very small in the scope of history, much less eternity. Our earthly successes are short in the scope of our own lives or their value to others. Time keeps ticking and success is short-lived. Success quickly becomes failure if one does not keep moving forward. Success is little in the emotional and personal benefit it actually offers. Success is often not as satisfying in the moment as we hoped it would be, much less in the scope of our ongoing lives.

Success, however, is a good thing. We are called by God to give our very best and to work unto him and not unto man. The problem is the priority we give success.

We get burned when we magnify right things in wrong ways.

Success is no more the problem in our lives than money is actually evil. The love of money is the root of evils.   It is the priority and place it gets in our lives that causes it to be a source of sin and rebellion against God. Success gets more than it gives when it gets more than it deserves.

I wrote in part one that I would be preaching this past Sunday about an idol I struggle with. This is it…success. I love to succeed. Honestly, I have for the most part in my life known success. There are very few things in life I feel I have failed at. I was not as good at certain things I wanted to be good at along the way, but I did not fail at many.

This year I have dealt with what I feel is the biggest failure in my leadership. Our church has set some goals we are not reaching. We have some things we must do to move forward in our mission and we are struggling to get there. I set out and led out on an initiative to move us forward, and it has not worked as planned. I see that as failure.

Others tell me other wise, but I struggle to see it differently. Some times preachers just need to be real. This is my greatest struggle with an idol. I realize God has us right where he wants us, but I see that as failure too. If this is what God wanted then why did I lead us towards something that looked so different? I have a very black and white view of success. It is far less subjective to me than it is to many people I love and know.

You see, I love giving God my successes. I want his glory. I truly and sincerely desire the spread of the Gospel and building up of the Church. It is all for his glory. The problem is that I love giving God my successes, not success. Success is mine to keep . God can have the glory when I get done.

This struggle is real enough in my life right now that I am taking personal growth steps to learn more about myself and God so that I can be healthier in this area. I will blog tomorrow about some steps for identifying and burning success idols.

But, God put this question on my heart and mind as I studied this topic and I want to ask it to you. Maybe it will help you evaluate your love for success and the priority you give it in relationship to God.

Is God worthy of your biggest failures?

If God asked you to do something that did not “work” would you be okay with that? Can obedience to God, at least in seasons and moments in life, look like failure to the world and be obedience to God? If so, are you okay if God so asks?

Till tomorrow…

Sneaky Little Masters

victory

The Ten Commandments start like this…

“And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.  “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20)

This commandment, to many modern hearers, sounds fairly easy to follow. Fewer and fewer people in the modern world ever bow down to an inanimate object they made and call it a god. Yet this commandment, like it was for the nation of Israel, is harder to obey than most of us realize, or at least, want to admit.

Jesus tells his followers this 1000s of years after the giving of the 10 Commandments.

“No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money. (Matt. 6:24)

The problem with idols is that we don’t see them as idols. We actually see them as good things in our lives. An idol is anyone or anything we put before God.

Our thinking about idols is usually not wrong. It is simply incomplete. We believe we can choose to not give certain passions, desires, or hopes entirely to God and them not become idols. That is how money becomes evil and robs us of our ability to serve God. Money is no god, until you keep it to and for yourself.

An idol can be anything. Money is the most typical one. It can be your spouse or your family. It can be your job or your career. It can be a hobby. Your child’s sports endeavors.   A sin pattern. Alcohol. Drugs. The list goes on and on and on.

Anything kept for or to ourselves is, inherently, before God. Thus, it is an idol.

I have one. I have come face to face with it this year in a way I have never experienced before. It is a sneaky little master, this idol. I almost took this Sunday off because of the topic we are addressing in our Burned series. Why? It is the idol I have come face to face with this year.

 Idols are sneaky little masters because we think they serve us while all along we are unintentionally serving them.

Consider this as you prepare for Sunday.
How does doing a good thing become a wrong thing?

Cashing Out

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”…Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

Early in our marriage, Kerri and I were mercifully introduced by some older, wiser friends to the work of Dave Ramsey. With his hard hitting, no nonsense style and a wealth of incredibly practical principles, Dave literally changed the face of our financial world, teaching us how to budget, save, and get out of debt in a way that was relatively simple, straightforward, and even at times fun. Additionally, he taught us how to understand our own unique personalities when it comes to viewing and using money.

Ramsey argues that there are two basic types of financial personalities, which he plainly labels “free spirits” and “nerds.” If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised at all to know that I land firmly in the “nerd” camp. I love to set goals, make plans, and work to turn them into a reality. There are few things, at least financially speaking, that are more energizing to me than to save now to spend later, to work a plan in the present that leads to a satisfying future payoff. Graciously, God gave me a smart and savvy wife who thinks much the same way, and as a result, we’ve been able to walk together in a unified effort to meet some significant goals in our years together.

Now that you know this about me, you can pretty easily imagine that one of the most frustrating, disheartening scenarios possible in my world would be to spend weeks, months, even years “storing up” diligently in pursuit of a goal, only to find on the back end that everything I had saved was gone. No goal met…no payoff to get…nothing. Only shattered hopes and the feeling that I had wasted a ton of time, energy, and resources. Even if you aren’t a “nerd” about saving like I am, you’d probably feel much the same way. There are few things more discouraging than to invest, and invest, and invest in something that in the end amounts to nothing.

This is why what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6 is so absolutely critical to wrap our heads and hearts around. He argues that all of us, everyday, are “storing up” treasure somewhere, in something, in the hopes of a future payoff. Two options are before us- we can “store up” treasures in the things of this world, or in the things of the world to come, on earth or in heaven. Our culture draws us- quite loudly, at that- to choose the former, to relentless pursue “more and better” of the seemingly endless trinkets and toys that this world has to offer us. Jesus, though, warns us that to make such a choice is to set ourselves up for one of the most disheartening ends we can imagine.

Jesus doesn’t pull punches here. He says to us that a life spent in the pursuit of this world’s “treasure”- as alluring as it is on the surface- ultimately amounts to nothing. Everything money can buy in this world will eventually decay to nothing (note the moths and rust) or be taken from us (note also the thieves). We can expend immeasurable energy acquiring it and accumulating it, saving it up and storing it up, and on the day we die (and make no mistake, that day is coming for all of us), it is gone in an instant. If our ultimate treasure is stored on earth, every day we live we grow one step closer to losing it all. That’s sobering.

Contrast this, though, to the alternative which Jesus proposes- “storing up” treasures in heaven. Such treasure, while perhaps less alluring and exciting in the short term, can’t be touched by the inevitable decay and destruction that awaits the things of this world. There is no “moth” that can overtake the Gospel of Jesus, no “rust” that can corrode the church of Jesus, and no “thief” that can steal the righteous reign and rule of King Jesus in this world and in the lives of those who trust and follow Him. An investment in a relationship with Him, and participation in His ongoing work in the world around us, won’t return void; quite the opposite! Indeed, if our ultimate treasure is stored in heaven, every day we live we grow one step closer to gaining it all. That’s encouraging, to say the least.

I think often, especially in our context of extreme American affluence, we read Jesus’ words here and mistakenly believe that He is trying to take something from us. But recognize that God is not in the business of making His people miserable. He loves us, and as a result, He is offering us a vision of something so much better than the cheap substitute peddled by our culture. He doesn’t want any of us to come to our end and realize that our lives have been wasted on the passionate pursuit of everything that doesn’t last. No, He desires instead that we would invest in a Kingdom that will never pass away, one whose “return on investment” is beyond anything we could ever ask for, hope for, or imagine.

The question, then, becomes clear- Where are you “storing up” your treasure? Are you setting your hope in the things that money can buy? Truth is, it will be satisfying to you- for a little while. But in the end, your hopes will be dashed when you realize that it all evaporates the day you die. I encourage you, echoing Jesus, to make your ultimate investment in the something- in Someone- far better. Enjoy God’s good gifts, but live open handed with them. Prioritize people over things. See past what’s right here, right now to that which lasts forever. “Store up” your treasure in heaven, and on the day you go to “cash out,” it’s guaranteed that you won’t be disappointed.

Under The Sun

Everyone- including you– is looking, living, and longing for something to make life matter.

We give that something a variety of different names- purpose, meaning, significance, hope, even God. It doesn’t matter much what we call it; what is critical to recognize is that we are all, without exception, searching desperately for it. No one, however much they may insist, sets out with a conscious aim of wasting the life they’ve been given.

Understand that this reality is no accident; we didn’t invent this search for ourselves. Quite the contrary, in fact. Each of us has been created by God with a natural desire to find ultimate meaning in something beyond ourselves. In a very real way, we’re all born with a “hole in our hearts”- a gap placed there by God Himself, and a gap that He desires to see filled.

Over the course of a lifetime, we try many different things on for size to fill that gap, to “complete” what’s lacking in us. Some of us look to stuff. Others of us look to success, however we define it. Still others of us set our hope in people and relationships. And yet, for all of our trying, none of us can ever seem to “get there,” to escape the nagging sense that there is something still missing.

Most of us, if we’re being honest, respond to this haunting reality with an internal conversation that goes something like this…

“So I’m a little unsatisfied with my life. But if I could just have ________, do ________, achieve ________, experience ________, then things would be different. If I had a different life, then I would be satisfied.”

Tell me you haven’t had that conversation with yourself more than once. I know I have. Problem is, it is rooted in a lie- a deeply deceptive and destructive lie that traps us in a cycle of futility that God never intended for us.

God, in His infinite wisdom and love, anticipated that we would think this way. And in response to it, He gave us a little book in the Bible’s Old Testament called Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is an undeniably difficult book to read, in part because it’s rather depressing, and even more significantly, because it’s a whole lot truer than most of us want to admit.

The primary power of Ecclesiastes- aside from the fact that it is inspired Word of God- is in who wrote it. Solomon, referenced as the “Teacher,” was one of the most impressive men to ever grace our planet. He was a man of nearly unparalleled wealth, power, skill, fame, pleasure, and wisdom, living the life that most in our world dream of living. Bottom line, Solomon had it all– which makes his conclusions about his life, recorded in Ecclesiastes, really uncomfortable, and really necessary.

Solomon tips his conclusion in the book’s opening verse, declaring everything in this world- “everything under the sun”- “meaningless.” His wealth? “Meaningless.” His pleasure? “Meaningless.” His achievements? “Meaningless.” His wisdom? “Meaningless.” Again, I can’t stress enough how seemingly perfect Solomon’s life was in nearly every possible way. And yet, in the face of it all, without hesitation he declares it all “meaningless.” What gives here?

It is important to recognize what Solomon is, and is not, saying to us here. He is not saying that none of what he had, did, achieved, and experienced was enjoyable and meaningful in its time– it almost certainly was. What he is saying, though, is that as quickly as that pleasure and purpose came, it left, and on the back side of every single thing he “auditioned” as ultimate in his life was the same nagging sense of dissatisfaction that with which he began. Like running on a treadmill, Solomon ran and ran- exerting all that he was in the pursuit of that “something” we’re all looking for- only to end up in the exact same place he started.

This is the trap of setting our hope in “everything under the sun”- as legitimately alluring as it may be on the surface, and as temporarily satisfying as it may initially be when we get it, in the end it leaves us as lacking as we were before. That’s what Solomon is attempting- in very strong language- to communicate clearly to us. It isn’t that God’s gifts in this world aren’t good; it’s that they aren’t qualified to be God. The only thing that can bear the weight of being God in your life is God, and the longer we persist in the cycle of “auditioning” temporary things in His place, the deeper our disillusionment with life will become. The solution to what’s broken in us simply cannot be more of what’s already broken in us.

When we magnify anyone or anything “under the sun,” we inevitably get burned. The quickest and easiest way to destroy something or someone- all the while destroying yourself- is to make it bigger than God ever intended it to be. Instead, we must learn to illuminate everything in the light of Jesus, looking to Him alone as our “sun”- the ultimate source of our hope and meaning- and allowing Him to set all things in their proper order. When we recognize God alone as God, it puts things in life in perspective, and enables us to fully and finally find what we’ve been searching for all along.

What are you magnifying in your life? Where has your God initiated search for hope led you? If this answer is anything other than your Creator God, be warned by Ecclesiastes- you’re playing with fire, and if you haven’t been already, you’re going to get burned, probably badly. Be honest with yourself today about what means most, and ask God to stir up your heart with fresh affection for Him. Set Him in His rightful place at the center of your heart and life, and cease the round-and-round “search cycle” of life “under the sun” for good.