Too Much

 

Too Much

(when the good life isn’t really good)

Lesson 1: Too Many Jobs (Materialism)

Introduction

That paragon of virtue, Liberace, with a twinkle in his eye and a winsome grin, once remarked Las Vegas was a town were “too much of a good thing…was just enough.”

Certainly we live in a land of excesses.  Not Clark County, but the United States of America.

Can you give some examples of excess you have seen just this last week?

Some of the answers might include:

Hummers

10,000 square foot houses

All-you-can-eat buffets

Price of show tickets

48 ounce steaks

A Lamborghini

Where else would radio stations have coveted giveaways of Disneyland tickets for Easter Sunday morning.  The gimmick was that the winners would be able to be in the park before the gates opened at 9 am.  They would be admitted at 5:30 am!  On Easter!  We have money to shovel into this or that, but never enough money to pay the credit card off.  We can eat all we want but who will tell us how to take the weight off—and make it really work?  We live in a land of perpetual youth, even if it comes from hair replacement clinics, plastic surgeons and silicon, yet we are all getting older.  We have to work harder to earn less, earn more to pay others to take care of jobs around the house so we can enjoy our leisure time.

Liberace was wrong.  Too much of a good thing is too much.  The inspired Agur was closer to the truth when he prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God (Proverbs 30.8-9).”

Let’s see how much too much of a good thing is bad all around.  With much help from the Holy Spirit who promises to strengthen us against all the devil’s temptations, may we live a life of contentment that finds just enough from our loving Lord’s hands.

Preliminary Considerations

1. Materialsim: A Definition

A doctrine that the only or the highest values or objectives lie in material well-being and in the furtherance of material progress

A preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things.

2. Government

Our government was established to promote and protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  To ensure the government does not meddle in affairs of faith in establishing one religion we have an iron-clad separation of church and state.  Only materialistic items can be on the government’s agenda.

3. Culture

We live in a materialistic world.  Every day we are confronted by materialism.  We are told we are what we eat, what we wear, where we live, who we associate with.  The wealth of our country is measured in dollars and gross national productivity.  Songs proclaim our daughters are “Material Girls,” or request an “Upgrade.”  It seems like hip-hop is based solely upon materialistic status. We quantify and value human lives in terms of dollars and cents for cost analysis regarding consumer legislation.  We can buy a bajillion Barbie dolls in a rainbow of skin tones, but, by and large, the religious nature of mankind is outlawed from the malls and public arenas of America.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s the “company town” dominated much of the West.  Workers were provided housing in inaccessible areas of the country near their workplace, but were charged exorbitant rent and the price of food and clothing in the company store was through the roof.  The workers, in some cases, actually went in debt working for the company in a company town.

Can you give some examples that might lead you to believe you are living in a “company town”?

Answers might include:

High price of show tickets

Exorbitant prices for gourmet meals

Housing prices

Growing debt load of families

Rising bankruptcy rate

Right Priorities

Read Matthew 6.19-21

Describe the trouble with earthly treasure and give some examples.

It can be stolen.

--Car thieves

--Friends “borrowing” your stuff

--Kids losing all your tools

It can be ruined

--Mold in a house

--Wear and tear on cars

Has to be insured

Has to be constantly maintained

--exterior of house (stucco, roof)

--replace air conditioner, water softener

Has to be secured

--homeowner’s fees for the security gate

--bill for alarm system

How is heavenly treasure far better?

It needs no upkeep, for there are no corrosive or criminal forces in heaven.

How do you know where your heart is and how does it show in your life?

What I treasure is where my heart is.  If I treasure money, all my efforts will be directed to getting more money.  If I treasure God, all my efforts will be directed to what he says I should be doing.  If I treasure myself, my prime goal in life will be to please myself and make things easier for myself.

What are your priorities?

John has a new job.  Actually, it is his second job, because he works during the day for the city (four ten hour days) and has picked up a weekend job with a paramedic service (three twelves).  Previously he had been a weekend orderly at a hospital.  Jane, John’s wife, also works, but they have their priorities—they do not send their small children (ages tow and four) to a day care.  They stagger work so one is always home.  Jane works nights, Monday-Friday.  They have a new house and are trying to buy rental properties.  Jane will go into business for herself after they have a few homes rented out.  They’ve been living like this ever since the second child was born.

What is the cost to this marriage?  What are the possible costs to the kids?  How would the cost be different if the kids were in their teens?

They never have time together.  They will be drifting apart because they have all the responsibilities of marriage with none of the perks.

The kids will never be able to see Mom and Dad together to see what a healthy marital relationship should look like and they will be able to tire both Mom and Dad out because they only have to work on one at a time.

As teens, the kids would already have the groundwork of healthy parental-child relations and a model of a marital relationship in them, but they will be lacking the supervision needed for teens.

What can you see happening to John and Jane?  Why?

Divorce, because they are not putting anything into their relationship.  There is nothing in it for them.

What comes first in their life?  Where do John and Jane fit in?

Money.  Way at the tail-end.

A Matter of Faith

Read Matthew 6.25-34

How does worry drive a John and Jane?

They are always working for what they will eat today, what they will wear tomorrow.  They distrust that they will have these things, so they are driven to extremes to get them.  They are never satisfied because they can never pile up so much that they won’t worry.

What is the connection with faith and worry?

Faith is the opposite of worry.  Faith trusts in God’s ability to provide through our reasonable hard work.  Worry trusts no one, not even self.

How does worry show itself and what are its rewards?

Worry drives people into destructive behavior—over-work, neglect of family—which is geared to material things.  Finally it immobilizes a person because he is so afraid of losing what he has or the chances he may have.  Worry has no rewards, only consequences (ulcers, high blood pressure, shortened life span, bitterness, miserliness).

What is the answer to worry?

Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Seek his kingdom first and all that is associated with it and Jesus promises we will have enough for this life.

A Way Out

John and Jane are divorcing.  Both are sick and tired of having nothing to show for their lives (lots of assets, all mortgaged) and always arguing about who’s going to take care of the kids.  They’ve managed longer than their former friends (no time any more) expected.  The oldest son, Johnny Jr. is a junior in high school and has fathered a child.  The girl is away at some troubled kid boarding school in CA.  The kicker is, the judge orders family counseling and refers them to their pastor (a real fairy tale, huh?).  He, of course, counsels them to stay together and leads them to see what they must do.

You’re the Rev.  What would you tell them to do to stay together?

Get to church.  Get the kids into Sunday School.  Go to a Bible class and immerse yourself in the Word.  Read it at home.  Climb out from some of the liabilities—sell a few houses, start putting time in your kids (it’s never too late) and spend time with each other.

A Struggle

Read 1 Timothy 6.6-12

What is the principle Paul sets forth and what’s its proof?

Godliness with contentment is great gain.

What are the dangers to disobeying this principle?

You will covet and fall into many terrible sins, foolish pursuits and finally, an eternity in hell.

Why is a life of contentment such a struggle?

The love of money is in all of us and will be in all of us until we die.  It is part of our sinful human nature which never wants to do things God’s way.

What are you going to become?

Discuss ambition and Christian stewardship in light of what we’ve just talked about.

Ambition: It is not wrong for a Christian to be ambitious, as long as he is content and thankful for what God has already given him.  To long for a Cadillac to the point that you think your Saturn is such a piece of junk you don’t maintain it is sinful.  A Christian who is content and grateful with what he has will keep and use it well, doing a good job, which will naturally o pen the door for advancement.

Stewardship:  If I am content with what I have and know I can’t hoard it for my use forever, I will recognize God has given me what I have and I will want to return a portion to him.

Next Lesson—Too Many Wives (Divorce)

 

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Too Much

(when the good life isn’t really good)

 

Lesson 2: Too Many Wives (Divorce)

Introduction

“Can’t live without ‘em, can’t live with ‘em.”  That’s the common wisdom about spouses.  The starry-eyed young couple in premarital counseling can’t figure out why God ordained it that there will be no marriage in heaven.  The saintly grandma and grandpa celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss together realize the Lord was quite wise in having human beings unmarried, “like the angels,” in heaven.  That’s part of what will make it heaven.

It is apparent that human sexuality is an area of great interest, especially when it makes us run afoul.  Perhaps nowhere in our country is the conversation likely to get more dicey than in talking about divorce.  Yet the Bible is amazingly simple in what it says.  We base our entire teaching on divorce on the basis of two passages.  It doesn’t seem to be a matter of clarity in the Scriptures as much as an unwillingness in the human heart to hear what Scripture says.

Here we go.

No Easy Divorce

The Pharisees had very liberal divorce laws.  They could divorce a woman literally for any and all reasons.  One noted rabbi (Hillel) counseled divorce was permissible if “she burned the soup.”  Another (Akiba) was even more forthcoming: if a man found a more attractive woman, he could divorce his wife.  One even expressed the wish to be married to a woman (in a distant land) for a day and then divorce her!  All a man had to do was present her and the local rabbi with a certificate stating he was divorcing his wife.  The rabbi could counsel (and the believing ones certainly must have, for there were more than a few who believed exactly the way Jesus did) or simply accept the certificate.

Read Matthew 19.3-12

What does Jesus set forth as the basis of marriage?  Why is this very important?

“In the beginning”--God’s order of creation.  The Christian’s view of marriage isn’t a cultural “thing,” it is an institution God has given to all mankind, in every land and at all times.

Who alone has the right to end a marriage?

God, through death.

Why is there divorce?

Because of the hardness of sinful human hearts.

What is the one grounds Jesus gives by which a believer can innocently seek a divorce?  Why is this grounds for a divorce?

Marital unfaithfulness.  Marital unfaithlness in a stroke destroys the faith and trust and commitment a marriage is founded on.  You can’t be one with your wife and one with someone else’s wife.

What is the result in God’s eyes, of unscriptural divorces?

The guilty party, even if remarried, is still in the sin of adultery.

The disciples react with disbelief.  Better not to be married!  What do Jesus’ closing words in vv. 11-12 address, marriage for life or being single for life?  Explain your answer.

Jesus is extolling marriage for life for the majority of people.  When the disciples say it is better not to be married, Jesus tells them most people cannot live like that, though there ARE some who do, eunuchs, either naturally so or made by man or those who willingly give up marriage for their faith.

Caught in the Web We Weave

An elderly gentleman has been a member of a church for the past five years.  The new pastor preaches on Matthew 19 in the course of his first year at the church (it’s in the regular Scripture series) and the man feels troubled.  He has not always been a gentleman.  Twice divorced in his wild Marine days, he is now on his third marriage which has lasted 22 years.  He comes to the pastor.  He is troubled because he’s been divorced.

What should the man be told—is divorce the unforgivable sin?

No, divorce is not the unforgivable sin.  There is forgiveness for divorce, also, to those who repent.  The man is showing his repentance by coming to the pastor and, by his actions in being married 22 years, has shown he intends to make his last marriage last—that’s a fruit of repentance.  He should be assured that the Lord has taken away his sin and will bless all who live in God’s ways.

No Impossible Marriages

The Apostle Paul gives us the second passage regarding divorce.  When he came into Corinth, not everyone believed.  Evidently there were more than a few people who believed while their spouses absolutely detested Christianity.  They hated Jesus so much, that they moved out on their spouse, abandoning them.  The Corinthian Christians wrote Paul asking if they were still married in God’s eyes.  Here’s what he said.

Read 1 Corinthians 7.10-16

How does Paul show he agrees with Jesus’ teaching on divorce?

He says it is the Lord’s command not to divorce.

Are ongoing religious differences grounds for divorce?  Is religion grounds for saying no marriage ever took place?  Explain your answers.

While ongoing religious differences may make for a rocky marriage—Paul shows this by mentioning them—it is not grounds for divorce.  If the unbeliever is willing to stay married, you stay married.  The “mixed” couple is married.  That’s what Paul’s use of “sanctified” means.  The life-style the “mixed” couple is living is holy, God-pleasing.  You cannot say this couple, even before one became a Christian, wasn’t really married.

Why is there the emphasis in some churches that only a marriage in the church is valid?

It is a man-made emphasis that tries to extol their church and elevate their ceremonies to the level of God’s ceremonies, to the burdening of consciences.  Certainly a marriage overtly blessed by God in a church service is beneficial, but it is not the essence of a marriage.  Marriages performed by the Justice of the Peace are legal and recognized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

What does break a marriage besides marital unfaithfulness?

An unwillingness to live together—we call it malicious desertion.

What might the “such circumstances” today be that show the unbelieving spouse is unwilling to live with the believing spouse?

Addiction to gambling, booze or drugs that makes the partner waste money needed for the essentials of the family.  Child abuse, spousal abuse.

Marriage a Matter of Will—and Faith

John and Jane did not have a perfect marriage.  He was a drinker, she a spender.  Over the years they had scarred each other greatly, but had managed to work through it all with lots of time in the pastor’s study.  They had a good pastor who realized he was the shepherd of all the flock all the time, not just the well-behaved flock or the flock that gathered on Sunday mornings.  Anyway, the years finally took a toll.  Jane had had it.  She was not willing to live with nothing to show for her life.  She was sick and tired of always looking after John, though he had been on the wagon for 7 years.  At the ripe age of 55 she wanted out.  John was willing to try to work things out, though he knew he couldn’t do a lot of reinventing himself, nearing 60.  After two more visits with the pastor, Jane said she wasn’t coming to counseling any more.  Her lawyer would be filing papers in the morning.  The pastor promptly put her under church discipline.  The divorce went through.  Jean was excommunicated.  Explain what that pastor was basing is decisions on.

Jean was no longer willing to work on her marriage, no longer willing to be married to John, even though she had forgiven him and been willing to live with him sober for the past 7 years.

Discuss divorce as it pertains to a pastor continuing to be a pastor.

If the pastor seeks an unscriptural divorce, it is pretty obvious he is unwilling to live by God’s Word, the very Word he insists his members live by—he can no longer be a pastor and should be removed by the people/synod immediately.

If the pastor’s wife seeks a divorce, the old thinking was that the pastor should also step down, because he is to set an example to the flock.  If he cannot keep his own marriage together, how can he help others keep their marriages together?  Lately this has been changing as society’s attitudes change, but I notice a lot of the guys who do go through a divorce and stay in the ministry are not faithful to it.  They join other synods or later drop out.  The wear and tear on them and the congregations they serve could be avoided if we stuck to the old ways regarding a pastor getting divorced.

Next Lesson—Too Many Masters (Addiction)

 

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Too Much

(when the good life isn’t really good)

Lesson 3: Too Many Masters (Addiction)

Introduction

Living in southern Nevada, one can’t help but notice addiction.  Certainly our nation has.  Drinking and gambling.  Don’t forget drugs.  But when you read between the lines, you discover a former poker champion for one year learned his “trade” from high stakes poker games back home—in Wisconsin!  And where is all that beer brewed anyway?  Golden, Colorado!  Before we sink to the level of others and blacken any state or community, let’s realize addictions come in many forms and are common to all communities in our country.  No family has an immunity to addiction.

Addiction is any perceived evil which masters human beings so that they are powerless to resist it and suffer for their addiction.  Generally, we consider addictions as something you put into your body (drunk, drugs) that affects one’s mind.  More recently we have also viewed other behaviors (gambling, binge credit buying) as also addictive.  In general, these activities have carried some stigma about them—the old time Methodists were always against “drinkin’ and card playin’.  More recently people have been identifying as addictions things which, if not socially acceptable, seem to be a matter of personal choice.  We’ll pass on this category since there doesn’t seem to be any well-grounded moral reasoning for such comments (just talk to your neighbor about his consumption of prime rib, coffee or tobacco or how much NFL football he watches).

We’ll stick to what God tells us in the Ten Commandments and, beyond that, will follow Jesus’ words to judge not lest we also be judged.

Predisposed Prey

Recent advances in genetics have allowed scientists to claim genetic predisposition towards certain addictions.

This, perhaps, isn’t as new as we’d like to think.  I believe the pioneers recognized at a rather early date that Indians couldn’t hold their liquor and easily became alcoholics.  The white traders, longing for the Indians’ furs rather than their souls, the white settlers, loving Indian lands more than their livers, stocked their stores accordingly.  Now we know they lack an enzyme to efficiently metabolize alcohol.

The catch is, though, that people are excusing their behavior because of genetic predisposition.  Addictions have become morally neutral diseases instead of sins with medical consequences.

Just because it’s in our genes, doesn’t make it natural or nice.  Consider something we all have inherited which is actually morally damnable.

Read Romans 5.12-19

Who is the one man who brought sin into the world and how did he do it?

Adam, when he ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Why has death come to all human beings?

Because all have sinned.  God condemned all mankind because of Adam’s sin.

One theologian has remarked that Original Sin is inherited and imputed.  Explain his words.

Adam and Eve passed on Original Sin to their descendants, for when they were born they did not have the original image of God that Adam and Eve were created with.  Instead, they had Adam’s image, that of sinful and lost human beings.  In this way Original Sin is inherited.

Original Sin is impute, that is, reckoned to our account, because God condemned the entire human race because of Adam’s one sin.

What do we earn because of Original Sin?

Death in hell.

What is the answer to Original Sin?

Faith in Jesus Christ by whose obedience we have been made righteous in God’s sight.

This puts words of Jesus in a different light.

Read Matthew 15.16-20

Why do people fall prey to addictions?

They have an unclean heart.

What does God call addictions?

Sin.

What is the answer to addictions?

Repentance through which the Holy Spirit makes the unclean heart clean.

Twelve Easy Steps or One Impossible Step?

“Hi, my name is Bill…”

Millions have heard the story of Bill, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is the father of “Twelve Step” programs, aimed at helping people steer clear of their addictive behaviors.

The AA program, coming from a Christian, sounds remarkably Christian—and it is!  Some in the clergy have found some problems with 12 Step programs because they are not overtly Christian.  Bill wanted to reach non-Christians as well and he knew he couldn’t do it if they had to acknowledge Jesus as the higher power in their lives.

As long as any 12 Step program does not become a religion, a Christian can productively participate in it, always keeping clear who this higher power is and not turning a counseling group into a worship group.

Some tenets of 12 Step programs are:

 

Admit to a problem.

Admit to personal helplessness to overcome the problem.

Admit to a higher power in one’s life.

Seek help from this higher power to overcome the problem.

Make amends to those you’ve hurt by expressing your sorrow for what you’ve done.

Seek group members to assist in the fight against temptation.

 

What is Christian repentance?

Christian repentance is sorrow over sin, confessing our sin and faith in the forgiveness of our sins which leads us to do better in fighting that sin in the future.

Discuss where it fits in with this sketch of the 12 Step program.

“Admit to a problem” falls far short of personal sorrow over sin.  Admitting helplessness likewise is fully short of confessing our sins to God to forgive them.  For the higher power to help overcome the problem, there is no mention of forgiveness being part of the help given.  In fact, the expressions of sorrow may easily seem like works of those running afoul to make up for their misdeeds.

A Matter of Master

“A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him,” the Apostle Peter wrote, in agreement with Jesus telling us we can only serve one master, either God or money.  To be addicted or not is a matter of mastery.  Paul talks about this too, in regards to the freedom Christian have when they are under God’s mastering hand.

Read 1 Corinthians 6.12-20 and 10.23-24

What determined whether something is beneficial for a believer or not?

Whether it masters a person or not.  If it masters a person, then it is not beneficial.  The person is to be in control of his own life.

If God will display his power in the resurrection of our bodies, how will he display his power already now in our bodies?

The Lord is meant for the body,” Paul says.  The Lord provides for our bodily needs, giving us clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife, children, land, cattle and all that I own and all that I need to keep my body and life.  Hmmm….where have I heard that before??

Since we are on Luther’s Explanation to the First Article, we might as well continue.

He also defends me from all danger, guarding and protecting me from all evil.

The Holy Spirit also resides in this temple of our body, moving us to live godly lives.

What external evidence do we see proving we are under the mastery of the Lord?

The Lord will raise us from the dead.

Under the Lord’s mastering hand a believer can do whatever they want.  They are completely free.  What, however, is their prime consideration?

The good of others.  I may do well by myself at the craps table, but if I am using money that could be going for my children’s education, I am not doing good for them, so it is not beneficial.

How does this play a part in whether or not we will participate in potentially addictive behavior?

If I will not be mastered by it and it is not harmful to others, I can participate in it.  If it is harmful to others, I will choose to forego it.

I Can’t Help Myself

After Jane left John his life went down the dumper.  He hit the bottle again, with a vengeance to make up for his seven years’ absence from the corner watering hole.  True to form, he never stopped going to church, worse for the wear though he appeared to be, and never stopped coming into the pastor’s study to confess his shortcomings, especially after the pastor passed him at a restaurant in town on a Friday night when Joe was totally inebriated.

“But I can’t help myself, Pastor.  Once I start drinking I can’t stop!”

“I know, John,” the pastor said, “I know.  But…”

But what?

John does have control of himself whether he takes that first drink or not.  After his first drink the disease kicks in, but before the first drink, that is the area where he has control and is morally accountable.  His sin is not the fifth drink, but the first drink.

Discuss how the legality or illegality of a potentially addictive behavior influences our views of it.

Humanly speaking, it makes all the difference in the world.  Natural man sees things only in terms of legality or illegality.  If the laws say it is all right, it is all right.  Unbelievers may have no qualms about seeking an abortion, because it is legal.  If marijuana were legalized, there would be the same reaction—one can do it because it is legal.  We see this in the world of gambling and in smoking.  If it is legal, people can a different view of it.  If it is illegal (murder), everyone must have the same view of it.

To a Christian, however, legality or illegality is not the question.  Benefits to the person is the question.  Does it help me and those around me in my walk with God?  If it does, I can do it.  If it doesn’t, I have to ask another question—Does it harm me and those around me in my walk with God?  If it does, I will not do it.  If it neither harms nor helps, I guess I can do it, but maybe I should ask whether it is worth my doing it at all!!

 

 

 

Next Lesson—Too Many Good Works (Self-Righteousness)

 

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Too Much

(when the good life isn’t really good)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson 4: Too Many Good Deeds (Self-Righteousness)

Introduction

I was going along happily in my life as a Christian until I came to Ecclesiastes 7.16

Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

I thought you could never be good enough.  Maybe Solomon was saying this sarcastically.  I read further.

Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?

Nope, he was for real. Being over-righteous is bad, as bad as being over-wicked (not that being just plain wicked is OK).  What could he mean?  Could it be possible that a person had too many good works?  Could a person be too good for their own good?  The thought was, quite frankly, tantalizing.  Then I remembered Jesus’ words, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5.20).”

The Pharisees were the bad guys, right?  Repeatedly Jesus rebuked them for their hypocrisy, their works of righteousness done only to be seen in the eyes of men.  Their whole religion was based on doing good to earn heaven.  Now I was on to something.  It was possible to have too many good deeds, good, that is, only in man’s eyes, but not in the eyes of God.  It was more than a remote possibility that I and every Christian could be self-righteous!

Blatantly Busy Beavers

Read Matthew 6.1-4

What was one reason the Pharisees were so religious?

They wanted to be seen and honored by men.

How did this show in how they gave to the needy?

They announced their giving with trumpets!

Jesus encourages just the opposite attitude toward good deeds—why does not letting “your left hand know what your right hand is doing” a good description of the attitude Jesus seeks?

You don’t remember it, you don’t keep track of it, so you are not tempted to brag about it to others.

If you are going to do something good in secret, you must have faith that God will see it—after all, you won’t get the earthly feedback of praise.  Explain how such a faith will not think what it is doing is earning that reward from God.

A humble faith that recognizes God sees every good thing we do also recognizes God sees every bad thing we do—and the bad far outweighs the good!  The only way he can stand us is through his forgiving love to us in Christ.  By Christ we stand before God, not because of our good works, real or imagined.

Have you ever heard of a “reward of grace”?  Think of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (those who worked one hour and got a whole day’s wage).  What is a “reward of grace?

God’s “reward of grace” to us is heaven.  It is a gift, really.  But God in his goodness to us also praises us, credits it to us as righteousness.  He treats us as though we did all the good deeds Jesus did.  In one of his parables Jesus says the judge will tell the believers, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a few things, be faithful over many things.”  That’s a reward of grace.

Read Matthew 6.5-8

In the Old Testament, people fasted to show repentance or grief over sin.  It was accompanied by prayer, so Jesus naturally talks about that, too.  You can’t tell, by looking, whether a person is fasting or not.  How did these busy beaver Pharisees fix that problem?

They prayed in public, right on the street corners and in the middle of the synagogues!

What kind of full reward would they get for being so blatant about their good deeds?

They will enjoy the (misguided) good opinion of men.  Maybe even some mothers would be twisting their naughty little boys’ ears saying, “Why can’t you be more like Alfonse Pharisee?”

What is the secret reward from God they will miss out on?

They will receive an answer to their prayers from God.

Can you give some examples of such hypocrisy among the pagans in our world today?

A lot of joint-faith prayer meetings or vigils.  They can’t agree on which is really God, but they all agree that whoever this God is he should answer their prayer.

There are some people to spend a lot of time doing good deeds, even donating large amounts of money to charitable building projects, that they might make some business connections, feed their pride or gain some fame.

One also wonders about the visiting political candidates in strange houses of faith.

Pretty easy, wasn’t it?  Now silently think of at least two instances where you have played the blatantly busy beaver this past week.  (Hint: all you have to do is remember times you got mad when someone failed to praise you for doing something you thought was rather exceptional).

Various answers could be thought of by each participant.

 

Self-Esteem

Our school system has a regular unit on self-esteem.  In some cases it is tragically necessary, for there are some students who are abused, berated and generally trodden into the ground by poor excuses for parents.  Also tragic, however, is the effect this unit can have on kids who already have a healthy self-esteem.

“Hi, good looking, you’re the best looking person I know!” they say into the mirror.  (It gets better.)  You’re the best person I know.  You are my best friend”  And so forth as the child is taught to praise himself.

Why would the sinful human nature see to it that this, of all the homework given at school, is the one that gets done?

The sinful human nature always is vain.  It always wants to be flattered and praised, in the most extravagant terms permissible.

What is a Christian’s (godly) self-esteem based on?

Our view of ourselves is based on God’s view of us.  We were worth so much to him that he sent his one and only Son to die for our sins on the cross.  We are worth so much to him that he lives within us.  We are worth so much to him he wants us to be with him in heaven.  With that as the basis for my self-worth, I will want to live up to my high calling as a Christian.

 

One of the Seven Mortal Sins

While we don’t, as Lutherans, subscribe to medieval Catholicism’s categorizing of sin into mortal (deadly) and venial (pardonable), we can certainly see why they listed pride as one of the big, bad, seven mortal sins.

In Psalm 73 Asaph complains about the life of the proud.  They have everything, the believers have nothing.  He almost lost his faith until he remembered Judgment Day.  Asaph has a fine description of human pride and its fruits.

Read Psalm 73.4-12

What do the arrogant have to be proud of?

Their care-free life.  Even health problems don’t affect them like it does the working poor.  Their money paves the way for everything.

What does pride lead them to do to others?

They are violent to others.  Their schemes to defraud others know no limits.  They threaten, bully and oppress their way to more wealth.  They act so holy, but their thoughts show earth is their home—they are so intent on possessing so much of it for so long.

How can they treat others in such a way?

They think God doesn’t exist, so there is no way God can either know what they are doing or punish them.

What, ironically, do they claim to be in spite of their lives of wickedness?

They claim to be good Christians, their mouths laying claim to heaven itself.

How do people today claim to be religious without being good?

I believe in Jesus, but I don’t have to go to church.

I say my prayers (claims the drug pusher/prostitute/con man).

The priest hitting on the church secretary.

They are listening to their sinful human nature and the devil get them into all sorts of absolutely terrible situations which so turn reality upside-down that they have to be spiritually insane to keep going through with it.

Can good deeds lead a person farther away from God?

Yes!  The deeds of a hypocrite simply ingrain in him the thinking God can be fooled or God doesn’t exist.  They succeed in getting what they want from me for their hypocritical deeds and their sinful human nature is pleased.  It’s a perfect combination of self-delusion fed by megalomania and a lofty form of hedonism.

Sober Judgment A Must

Let’s look in on John one last time.  He conquered his drinking—finally, though the last bout really has ruined his health.  He’s living alone, Jane moved away long ago and he doesn’t hear from her.  He’s got a job down at the Walmart, but is starting to spend a lot of time at church, doing the little jobs usually left to the pastor who has no idea how to do them.  People are starting to notice that John’s around church a lot.  The local paper even wanted to run an article on him because he found a young child wandering around the church one evening and he reunited the five year old with his parents.  Church members are starting to praise him, even thinking of making him one of the council members.

John doesn’t like it much.  “Pastor, I just want to be left alone.  I do what I do because that’s what I want to do for the Lord and to help out at his church.  I don’t want praise or recognition—I could go off the deep end tomorrow and embarrass everyone, if it weren’t for the Lord.  After all, I figure I caused you so much trouble, it’s the least I can do.”

Why shouldn’t pastor be planning a “Let’s Celebrate John Sunday” at church next month?

John doesn’t want to be celebrated.  He wants every Sunday to be a “Jesus Sunday” at church, because Jesus has brought him through (alive and forgiven).  Pride goes before the fall, John knows, and he just doesn’t want to face any more temptation about his pride and will-power.  It’s like the ex-smoker, who, as soon as he looks down his nose at the loser smoking in the car next to him at the light, will start smoking again within the next two weeks.

Why should pastor be planning a “make me more like John” petition for his daily prayers the next month?

He himself is feeling a bit “special” with all the good things he is doing around the church—and it takes so much time away from his golf game!—that he doesn’t think the members really appreciate him like they should.  Maybe a sermon (which he supposedly will write and will supposedly listen to himself) which stresses the value and virtue of unselfish service to the Lord out of pure love for what Jesus has done for us, will wake him up to what the ministry really is—service for the Lord by serving God’s people.  This will help him realize whether they compliment him or not, whether they notice his work or not, whether they appreciate his work or not, he is still doing it for the Lord out of love for a God who freely gave his life on the cross for his sins.  Maybe some of the other church leaders and members are feeling the same way, especially if they are starting to grind on each other.

Discuss how the modern fixation with diet, health and fitness can become the new Pharisaism.

These can be the ways to happiness, the highest good in our lives.  You can have a person touting the latest diet craze secretly using some weight loss pills to hide her binge eating (or worse yet, she has an eating disorder).

The way to live “forever”?  Join our running club—we run every Sunday morning!  (And don’t forget to feel superior to those tubs of lard sitting in the Lutheran Church you are passing by!  Keep this uip and we’ll really make the insurance industry effective—we won’t insure anyone who is overweight or has weight-related health issues because they brought it upon themselves.

And let’s do everything in our grasp to look healthy on the outside, though we may not be healthy on the inside.  Anna Nicole Smith evidently made a good looking corpse.  Maybe Michael Jackson will, too!

All these fixations will turn us away from God.