Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Treasure in Heaven

As the great Polish composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was gasping for air on his deathbed, he reportedly whispered, “Remove my heart after I die and entomb it in Poland.” He wanted the symbol of his soul to rest in the native land he pined for while he was exiled in France.

After his death, his sister apparently sealed his heart in a jar of cognac and smuggled it to Warsaw beneath her skirt past Russian border soldiers. It passed through the family until it was buried in a church. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, they seized the heart, but it was eventually returned after the war. In 2014, Polish officials secretly exhumed the relic and inspected it for damage before reporting that Chopin’s heart, thankfully, was still “in good shape.” It now resides undisturbed in a pillar of Warsaw’s Baroque Holy Cross Church.[1]


When I read that story I was reminded of what Jesus said about the connection that exists between our heart and our treasure, “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” (Matt. 6:19-21).

Chopin’s heart longed to be back in his native homeland because that is where he had the most familial connection and financial investment. In the same way, our investments in eternity should cause our hearts to yearn for our heavenly home more than this world. This world is not our home (1 John 2:15-17), we are strangers and pilgrims just passing through (1 Peter 2:11). Therefore, we need to learn to loosen our grip on our possessions by holding lightly to what is earthly and holding tightly to what is eternal.

In his book, The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn makes an astute observation. “What we do with our money doesn’t simply indicate where our heart is. According to Jesus, it determines where our heart goes. If I want my heart to be in one particular place and not in another, then I need to put my money in that place and not the other. I’ve heard people say, “I want more of a heart for missions.” I always respond, “Jesus tells you exactly how to get it. Put your money in missions, and your heart will follow.” Suppose you’re giving to help African children with AIDS, or you’re sponsoring a child in Haiti. When you see an article on the subject, you’re hooked. If you’re sending money to plant churches in India and an earthquake hits India, you watch the news and fervently pray. Why? Because your heart is where your treasure is. As surely as a compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure.”[2]


So if we invest in eternal things then not only will our affections change, but so will our priorities. The truth is we are either moving towards our treasure or away from it. The wealth of this earth does not convert into the currency of heaven. I once heard a missions speaker compare the value of U.S. dollars with the currency of a central African nation. He said that one American dollar would purchase 1,700,000 units of that country’s currency. Wow! We could take $1,000 over there, convert it, and ship back billions! But we wouldn’t be rich because that nation’s money is worthless in the United States.

The same is true of the treasures of earth. They may be of value down here, but they have no worth in heaven. How much better it is to accumulate the treasures of heaven through service to Christ, obedience to Him, missions, the Word of God and investing our lives in helping others! So are you paying it forward? Ultimately, if we store up treasures on earth we will be disappointed, but if we plan for heaven then our treasure will be there when we arrive. -DM

[1] Vaness Gara, “Chopin’s Heart Exhumed, Like A Relic,” Yahoo! News, 14 November 2014 <http://news.yahoo.com/
[2] Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2008), 44. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Weighted Down

The Vasa was going to be the pride of the Swedish navy. Commissioned by the Swedish King, Gustavus Adolphus in 1626, she would take two years to complete and no expense was spared in the construction of this floating fortress. Measuring 226 feet long, painted in vibrant colors, topped by ten enormous sails and adorned with ornate wood-carved sculptures, this ship was intended to project military might. Vasa was more than just eye-candy though, she also was armed to the teeth with 64 cannons and enough barrack space to house 445 men. At its time, she was one of the most expensive ships ever built with a multi-million dollar price tag in today’s economy.  

However, there were problems with her that only a few knew about. Her makers knew that Vasa was overweight, but they didn't dare say that to the Swedish king who was off fighting in the Thirty Years War. That’s why August 10, 1628, was a dark day in naval history. As the Vasa set out on her maiden voyage from the Stockholm harbor hopes were high and so was national pride. But the onlookers would be horrified by what they witnessed next.

About a mile out to sea Vasa encountered a violent gust of wind. Initially, she heeled to one side, but slowly righted herself. Then moments later she listed again—so far that water washed into the lower gunport. To the amazement of the people on shore, the Vasa sank and an estimated 50 lives were lost. Vasa was rediscovered in 1956, salvaged in 1961, and today she can be seen in a Stockholm museum.[1]

Weighed Down

In our Christian life we can become overweight with too much excess baggage. Encouraging us in our spiritual journey, the book of Hebrews says: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (12:1-2). Like the lavishly decorated ship, we may project to others an impressive exterior, but if we are weighed down with sin, guilt, regret and the other burdens of life our perseverance can be severely impaired.

In context, the writer of Hebrews is actually drawing an analogy from runners in the ancient Olympic contests. No runner would think of running a sprint or marathon in a winter coat and steel-toed boots. In fact, many ancient athletes competed in the nude to be free of any clothing that would cause friction or hold them back. The command to divest ourselves of sin and other worldly hindrances applies to you and me in our spiritual race.

Consider the words of Bible teacher Kent Hughes on this, “We each have characteristic sins that more easily entangle us than others. Some sins that degrade and tempt others hold little appeal for us—and vise versa. Sensuality may be the Achilles’ heel for many men, but not all. Another who has gained victory over materialism may regularly drink down jealousy’s deadly nectar. Dishonesty may never be an issue for some, but just cross them and you’ll see the Devil’s temper! Whatever our sin looks like, it must be stripped off and left behind or we will not finish well.”[2]

In other words, we must learn to travel light. God help us to identify what sins threaten to sink our ship, or trip us up in life’s race. And then give us the power to throw those hindrances overboard or cast them aside never to return again. -DM       

[1] Dennis Fisher, “Weighted Down,” Our Daily Bread, 20 February 2015 <http://odb.org/2015/02/20/weighed-down/>
[2] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1993), 159.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Disastrous Results of Getting Ahead of God

Not long ago I came across a Chinese folktale that illustrated one of their many proverbs. The saying is loosely translated, “Beware of plucking up a crop to help it grow.” The story that is told to explain this expression is about an impatient farmer who lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The man was eager to see his rice seedlings grow quickly and he became agitated that nature was moving so slow. So he thought of a solution. He would pull up each plant a few inches to “help” them grow. After a day of tedious work, the man surveyed his paddy field. He was happy that his crop seemed to have “grown” taller. But his joy was short-lived. The next day, the plants had begun to wither because their roots were no longer deep.[1]

The moral of the story is fairly obvious. We have to let things go about their natural course and being too anxious to help an event to develop often results in us making a mess of things.

This parable reminded me of the true story that transpired in the tents of the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham. In Genesis 16 we see that God’s promises are not being fulfilled in Abraham’s life at the speed his wife Sarah thought they should. God had promised the old man and his barren wife a son and descendants so great that their number would compare to the stars in the sky. God’s nation building program and salvation plan was beginning with Abe.

The only problem was that God was working on His eternal time table, not the human one. The promise had been given, but it seemed that either God had forgotten about it or that He was moving as slow as molasses on a winter morning. Sarah and Abraham hatch a plan to help God out and speed things up. Down in Egypt they had acquired a servant-girl named Hagar.

Sarah suggests that Abraham spend a night with Hagar and nine months later they got Ishmael. This was not God’s plan, but nonetheless even the Lord would not undo this done deed. The result was disastrous for Abraham, and we are still feeling the effects today. Unable to have a son, Sarah became green with envy and there were years of discord in his household.

Eventually, when Isaac, “the son of Promise,” was born by Sarah there wasn’t enough room under Abraham’s tent for Hagar and Ishamel, and at the urging of Sarah they were sent packing. Of course, this must have broken Abe’s heart. Worse yet, the two nations which came from theses sons—the Jewish people from Isaac and the Arabs from Ishmael—could never get learn to coexist.

Many years later, about the year 610 AD, an Arab, a descendant of Ishmael, a merchant by the name of Muhammad claims to have visions and visitations from angels. 

While living in the country of Saudi Arabia he decides to start his own religion. So he takes some of the Middle Eastern folklore of the day and some of the stories he has heard from the Hebrew Old Testament and the Gospels and he marries them into the religion of Islam. 

It’s fascinating to note that in the Koran’s retelling of Abraham’s story, Ishmael is the son of promise and not Isaac. Muslims contend that since Ismael is the elder son then he has claims to Abraham’s prosperity and promises. I submit to you that much of Muhammad’s redacting of the truth is for Arab peoples who want to see that Ishmael and not Isaac is the one that God loved and worked through as the son of the promise.

This in a large degree is what the Arab-Israeli conflict is about today. This is why the Muslims and the Jews hate each other. We’re dealing with the implications of a really bitter old family feud that has been going on for thousands of years. Every time you see a sea of white gowns bowing down towards Mecca, an act of Islamic terrorism or the threat of war in the Middle East it’s all because Abraham went to bed with a woman he wasn’t married to. We are still living in the fallout of Abraham’s household and his decision to “help” God out.

The application for you and me could not be more clear—don’t get impatient with the Lord and produce an Ishmael out of your own energy, when He wants to give you an Isaac.  We can get “ahead” of God when we don’t see things developing in our life like we think they should. If we will wait on the Lord we can save ourselves a lot of potential heartache by trying to do too much. Don’t trade a good thing, for God’s best thing. Wait on His timing and His provision. -DM    

[1] Poh Fang Chia, “Chinese Proverbs,” Our Daily Bread, 3 February 2015 <http://odb.org/2015/02/03/chinese-proverbs/> 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Snake Salvation

Dr. Douglas Oliver, a scientist by training, was deeply entrenched in Darwin’s theory of evolution and was an ardent atheist. However, his worldview began to crack the more he researched in his area of specialization—herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Oliver wrote, “I remember how frustrated I became when, as a young atheist, I examined specimens under the microscope. I would often walk away and try to convince myself that I was not seeing examples of extraordinary design, but merely the product of some random, unexplained mutations. As I progressed in my education, I was especially drawn to the designs of the venomous reptiles, and eventually I completed my PhD with a dissertation on rattlesnake venom. Early in my studies, it became quite evident that the snake’s venom and the venom delivery apparatus were extremely complicated and appeared to have been perfectly designed for their specific purpose. The more I researched, the more obvious it became that every aspect of a snake’s behavior and physique, not just its venom and delivery system, are designed to aid its survival and to sustain its kind on this planet. As an atheist, I was at a loss for the answers.”[1]

It wasn’t long before Dr. Oliver had to concede under the tremendous weight of evidence that there had to be a Divine Designer. Fascinating isn’t it? God used the design of a snake—a creature that we typically associate with evil and Satanic activity—to breakdown an unbeliever’s arguments against a Creator.  You might say this was a case of snake salvation, because the snake led the scientist to the Savior.

Fang Design

Dr. Oliver’s testimony reminded me of a neglected story in the book of Numbers. As the nation of Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years they became experts at bellyaching and complaining. In response, God judged his people with a plague of snakes, “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died” (Num. 21:6). Since the Garden of Eden, when Satan took the form of a serpent, snakes have been a symbol of sin, and here they’re sent in response to sin. Apparently these snakes had a venomous bite that caused a burning sensation in the body. Ouch!   

When the people repented God was willing to give mercy. He gave Moses strange instructions to alleviate their suffering, “And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:8-9). Notice once again, a curious case of snake salvation.    

This is a story of judgment and grace. Perhaps, Moses and company didn’t realize it, but they were prophetically acting out something that would be fulfilled in Christ. Jesus used this Old Testament story to explain to Nicodemus the Gospel, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Notice the connection between the bronze serpent and the Cross.

Mankind is poisoned with sin (Rom. 5:12).  The judgment of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  However, the only way to be saved from death is to look to the cross and see the Savior hanging there in our place.  Just as the Israelites looked at the bronze serpent by faith, so too it is by faith alone that we must look to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross to save us from sin (Eph. 2:8-9). In both cases of the bronze serpent and the cross, God used symbols of death to become the basis for saving life. Only God could turn a curse into a blessing. Only the Sovereign could use a snake to point to the Savior.

So next time you see those slithering creatures be reminded of the beauty and mystery of salvation. Then look to the future. For one day we know that those creatures will be redeemed from the curse with the rest of creation (Rom. 8:20-23). In the New Earth every viper will be defanged and, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy.” (Is. 11:8-9).   -DM

[1] Douglas Oliver, “Designed to Kill in a Fallen World: The Incredible Design of Snake Venom,” Answers Magazine, 27 May 2009 <https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-for-creation/design-in-nature/designed-to-kill-in-a-fallen