Friday, October 16, 2009

Consider the Raven

Good morning everyone. It is nice to see all the boys and girls up for the service this morning. And I’ve brought a special guest just for them: my pet raven, Edgar.

E: Oh! Look at that! I guess I didn’t get in enough trouble the last time I was here.

D: Not at all. In fact, we should have brought you back when we were having problems with squirrels!

E: Mmm. Squirrels. I like squirrels.

D: But that’s not why you are here this morning.

E: Oh no? Why am I here?

D: Wow! That’s a deep question for a raven.

E: Huh? I mean… why am I here, here, now?

D: Oh! Well, I was reading my Bible.

E: That’s always good.

D: And I was reading in Luke chapter 12.

E: Ok.

D: And in Luke chapter 12, Jesus tells his disciples to consider the raven.

E:

D: What?

E: You’re crazy.

D: No! I’m serious! If Jesus says to consider the raven, I thought that I’d be doing the church a big favor by bringing in my favorite raven and letting them all consider you.

E: I should have worn my good suit.

D: Aw. Come on. If Jesus says that we should consider the raven, then I’m sure that he has a good reason for saying it… I just don’t exactly know what it is quite yet.

E: Do you think it is because I’m so good-looking?

D: I dunno about that!

E: Do you think it is because I’m so very intelligent?

D: Well, we could be getting warmer! I’ve read that recent research shows that ravens are more intelligent than we thought.

E: MUCH more intelligent than you thought.

D: Let’s not get carried away. After all, you’re just a silly puppet.

E: Look who’s talking

D: Hmm. He has a point, doesn’t he? But seriously, if you’re so smart, could you give me some investment advice? My retirement plan is seriously in trouble after the economy of the last year.

E: Well, ravens are great with investments!

D: Really?

E: Really! Why don’t you just read your Bible? If you’d only listen to Jesus, he’d tell you that my investment advice is exactly the reason why you should be considering me in the first place!

D: Oh! You mean, I should read a little further in Luke chapter 12?

E: Exactly!

D: Who knew? Let’s see (Luke chapter 12, verse 24): “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Consider the raven’…

E: Dude!

D: Sorry. ‘Consider the raven… they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds?” Hey! Hear that – we’re more valuable than birds?

E: Get over it.

D: Hey this is really interesting! Would you mind?

E: No worries. I can listen just fine down there.

D: Thanks, Edgar.

It must be time to get a bit more serious, so let me pray?

So just what do you think that Jesus means here? “Consider the ravens: they do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them.” You know, back when Jesus was saying these words to his disciples, “sowing and reaping” were the ways that people got their food. They didn’t go to the Metro and buy their dinner. Sowing is when you put seeds in the ground. Reaping is when you collect the grain when it is ripe. So sowing and reaping are the work that people needed to do to have food at all. And Jesus is saying that God feeds the ravens even though they don’t do work to have food. But please notice: Jesus isn’t saying that we should be like ravens. He is just saying that we should think about them.

And what about that “storehouses and barns” business? Back when Jesus was saying these words to his disciples, “storehouses and barns” were the ways people invested for their future. By putting grain in barns, it can be kept all winter without going bad, and then there will be some to plant the next spring. They didn’t buy stocks, or put money into retirement plans. So having storehouses and barns is the work that people needed to do in order to look after their future. And Jesus is saying that God feeds the ravens even though they don’t do work to look after their future. But once again: Jesus didn’t say to become a raven. He just asked us to think about the raven – to consider them.

At least Edgar set me straight on one thing. Instead of just paying attention to one thing that Jesus said, Edgar reminded me that I should look at what else Jesus said. So let’s read some more… verse 27:

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these lilies. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you!”

The ravens get fed; the grass gets fancy clothes. If God looks after the ravens and the grass, then God is certainly able to look after you, too! That’s really good advice. But once again: notice that Jesus doesn’t say we should become a lily. He is just asking us to think about lilies. So let’s do that this morning.

What is it that a lily does in order to deserve God’s provision of exquisite clothes? Nothing. Of course. The lily doesn’t deserve it at all. But God delights in giving those clothes to the lily anyway. How about a better question: What is it that the lily does in order to enjoy God’s provision? What is it that the lily does in order to receive such beautiful clothes? It’s a trick question, isn’t it? The lily simply needs to be a lily – to behave as a lily should. The lily drinks up moisture from the earth and reaches out to the sun. When the lily is doing what a lily is designed to do – when it is simply being a lily – all of its needs are looked after.

What about the raven? What is it that the raven does to deserve God’s provision of food? Once again: nothing. But God delights in providing the raven with food anyway. What is it that a raven does in order to enjoy God’s provision of food? He is just being a raven – behaving like a raven should. A raven is made to clean up dead things. When a squirrel gets hit by a car, it is the raven’s job to go pick up the dead squirrel and take care of it. When a raven is doing what the raven is designed to do – when it is simply being a raven – all of his needs are looked after.

But the same principle is true of human beings. God can look after all of our needs. God wants to look after all of our needs. We can’t do anything in order to deserve God’s provision. But if we want God to meet us and bless us, then all we need to do is what we were designed to do. If we behave like we were made to behave, then we don’t have to worry about food and clothes! What do you think of that?

There is an important difference, however, between you and ravens. And the same important difference is between you and lilies. The raven can’t help but be a raven. The lily can’t help but be a lily. But human beings are broken. Inside every one of us is the ability to fight against our true nature. And fight we do! And we see the results of that fight on the news every evening.

When people fight against their true nature, when they struggle against what we are designed to do, we can’t help but be unhappy. This summer, I was able to spend a week at camp. And the nurse that week brought along her dog. Now this dog was bred for three things: it was bred to run fast; it was bred to play games; it was bred to be a companion to people. This is what the dog was designed to do. And you could tell that when that dog was running, and playing, and keeping people company that it was really, really happy. And when she was kept indoors because some camper was scared of her, you could tell that She. Was. Not. Happy. And so it is with us. So it is with me and so it is with you.

When the raven does what a raven is designed to do, God provides it with food. When a lily does what a lily is designed to do, God provides it with beautiful clothes. So what is it that we were designed to do? What do our blueprints say? Why are we here? What is the purpose to our lives that will make us happier than anything else and enable God’s provision in our lives? Well, Jesus tells us, doesn’t he? In verse 31: “Seek God’s Kingdom, and these things [food and clothing] will be given to you as well.”

Did you know that there have been several scientific studies of happiness? It is true. And the things that they have discovered in these studies are very interesting. They are also entirely contrary to the messages that we receive continually from entertainment and advertising. What did they study? They studied the factors in people’s lives that signal happiness. And what did they find? They found that money, education, success, health, beauty or youth were not at all indicators of happiness. Seriously! The number one most significant factor correlated with happiness was this: a spirit of gratitude. And the second was similar: unselfishly caring for and helping others. How about the third: learning to give and receive forgiveness. The fourth was along the same lines: finding a real sense of meaning and purpose in life by giving ourselves over to something bigger than just us.

Hey! Modern psychology agrees with Jesus! Gratitude to God. Kindness to others. Forgiving and being forgiven. Those items are a not at all far from the Kingdom of God. As the Philosopher J. P. Moreland writes: “You’d almost think that we were designed by God for life in his Kingdom.” And, indeed, that is exactly what Jesus is saying to us this morning. That is why we have been designed. That is the source of our sense of purpose. It is what we know we are here for. And it is bigger than just us. Seek the Kingdom of God, and these things will be given to you as well.

We have a choice: we can worry, and fret, and obsess about the future, and about our retirement, and about our career, and about our cash-flow… or… we can do what we’re designed to do and let God look after all of those things. I can remember – and if you are a parent, I bet you can, too – times when disaster strikes, and your well-meaning if misguided child wants to “help”. Picture the sump-pump failing in the spring, and there you are bailing away. If your child is young, and you’ve just asked them to do their piano lesson, chances are that they will see the crisis as an opportunity. But it isn’t helpful to have a little one under foot while you are doing your best to contain the damage. You want to say, “Thanks, buddy, but let me take care of this, ok? – please do your piano like I asked you to.” And that is exactly the picture that Jesus is painting for us this morning. God is ready, willing, and able to look after all those things that we are inclined to worry about. But instead of worrying about them, God wants us to trust him for them, and to do what we have been asked to do – to do what we have been designed to do: to exercise gratitude and kindness and forgiveness. And when we do, then we find that God provides exactly what we need.

The other famous verse in the Bible about God’s provision is Phil 4:19 “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” But we’ve already learned the importance of context this morning, haven’t we? And what was the context of this verse in Philippians? Well, Paul is thanking the church in Philippi for their gift to the church in Jerusalem. There was a famine in the land of Judea, and collections were coming in from all over the Roman Empire to help the church in Jerusalem. Paul says: because you have been generous, God will be generous to you. Give, and it will be given to you. Give a little to God, and he will give you a lot back. Pressed down, shaken together and running over into your lap.

And that brings us to verse 33: Jesus says “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted” In the gospel of Matthew, this passage is a little more familiar (chapter 6, verse 19): “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is such brilliant advice. Stock markets tumble. Houses and furniture wear out. We can fill ourselves with vitamins and work out continually, but we’ll all grow old anyway.

In the last fifty years, folks in Canada have become obsessed about their treasure on earth. According to the numbers, they are twice as rich as they were before. But they aren’t happy. But that’s what happens with treasure on earth. It just doesn’t live up to its promise. It just doesn’t last. Jesus says “Whoever would save his life will lose it.”

But there is something else. Something bigger than any of us; something called the Kingdom of God; something that even though we might not understand it, we’ve been designed to participate in. And when we look for it, Jesus says we will find it. And we don’t need to look far. Jesus also says that the Kingdom of God is right here. It is near. It is among us. Let’s be practical…

Whenever you talk to someone, you build up treasure. If you only talk to people to use them to enhance your own life, you are building up treasure on earth. On the other hand, if you give up your own time or energy to enhance someone else’s life, then you are building up treasure in heaven. And guess what? Life is more fun when you do exactly that.

Whenever you are tired or sick, you build up treasure. If you focus on the illness, feel sorry for yourself, and insist that others look after you, you are building up treasure on earth. If you rather focus on heaven, in which you are going to be healed, and work a little harder than you feel like at the time, you are building up treasure in heaven. And guess what? You’ll find yourself healing much faster when you do that.

Whenever you need to work, you build up treasure. If you focus on the tedium and the unfairness, if you attempt to do as little as possible, then you are building up treasure on earth. On the other hand, if you work as if working for God, and for his glory, then you are building up treasure in heaven. And guess what? You’ll find that work isn’t nearly so bad when you do that.

Whenever you exchange money, you build up treasure. If you spend money thinking only of yourself – your health, your toys, your pleasure, you are building up treasure on earth. But if you spend money thinking of the effect that it has on your family, or your neighborhood, or your community, or your world, you may be building up treasure in heaven instead.

Whenever we do anything, we build up treasure. But the choice is yours. Do you want that treasure to be on earth, where it won’t last, or in heaven where it can be something that you enjoy for eternity? Whatever you think about this, listen to what the Bible says about it: “Don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Let me tell you one final story about one of my kids. Not that long ago, I woke up in the morning, came down stairs, and there on the white board. Isn’t that sad? The only reliable way I could talk to my teenagers during the summer was on the whiteboard – they would often come home after I was in bed, and they would often only wake up after I was already at the office. But no matter. There was this note: “Dad, could I have some $$ to go to La Ronde with my friends? I understand it is last minute, so it isn’t that important.” Kind of sounds like a teenager thing to do, doesn’t it? Well, as it happens, I was entirely out of cash. LaRonde was going to cost about $35 for the day, and I just had nickels and dimes. So guess what I did? I wrote on the white-board: “L-O-S-E-R!” Just kidding. J I threw on some clothes, jumped in the car, zoomed to the bank and I got out some cash. Then I came home and tiptoed into said teenager’s room and put the money on the night-stand.

Now you might be thinking “you must love that child of yours”. And you’d be right. I most certainly do. But the interesting thing about this story isn’t so much what I did, but what was going on in my head at the time. You see, when I put on my clothes, I really wasn’t thinking “Oh. The sacrifices I make for my teenagers.” Honest! And when I hopped in the car, I wasn’t thinking “Oh. This is so inconvenient. That teenager better pay me back!” Really! Instead, I was thinking “I so hope that this precious person has a really fun day with friends at LaRonde.” I was! And let me tell you why. You see, the previous night, this same teenager was on the phone with a friend, and I overheard plans about getting together, and after the phone was hung-up, I heard a bit of scurrying and then the door slammed. Thunk. And thirty seconds later I heard the door open again. And this same teenager came up to my office door and wanted to let me know what the plans were for the evening.

You see, just those few seconds in which my child invested in me… made me want to invest in my child. Driving to the bank was a joy that next morning. So it is with God. Any investment in God’s Kingdom – time spent doing what we have been designed to do – never fails to come back to us multiplied in value according to God’s riches in glory.