WHERE TO TURN IN AN ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
By Dr. Rick Perrin
“Do not be anxious for tomorrow.” Matthew 6:34
A friend of mine who raises great sums of money for Christian causes called the events of the past few days, “a catastrophe.” You have watched your retirement accounts and savings melt away as the stock market dives. Foreclosed homes dot our streets with and “For Sale” signs advertise the death of dreams. Financial institutions all over the world teeter on the brink of collapse. Wall Street wrings its hands in despair. Banks have failed. Credit lines that keep businesses running are drying up. General Motors may be bankrupt in a year. And soon the ripple effects will produce huge layoffs and job losses. Blame the government for its stupidity and corruption. Blame our greedy selves. But these are frightening times, and no one knows what to do.
So I thought I’d better talk with you today about "Where to Turn in an Economic Collapse," rather than on my intended topic of missions. Let’s go to the teaching of Jesus contained in Matthew 6:19-34 To help us process what Jesus would have us understand, I am going to approach this passage in three parts. Jesus tells us 1. Three Things to Do, 2. Three Things to Look At, and 3. Three Things to Believe.
1. Three Things to Do. This passage in Matthew 6 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was preaching to huge crowds of people who lived in Galilee. Many of them were relatively poor. But all around them were people who lived in prosperity, enjoying the best the world had to offer. But then as now, the money and material comforts that people scraped together could be lost in a blink. For example, the generation that followed those to whom Jesus spoke would lose everything as the Roman army marched through their land, laying waste to the homes and businesses of rich and poor alike. When Jesus speaks about economic uncertainty, wise people listen.
The first thing Jesus says to do is, Invest in Heaven. In verses 19-20 he says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon 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 or steal.” Jesus is not saying it is wrong to be rich. God gives material blessings to many, and as a general rule, they come to those who follow his commandments for wise living. Abraham was rich. Job was rich. Solomon was the richest man in the world, and you will find not a word in the Bible criticizing such people. Rather, Jesus is telling us where to place our priorities.
Perhaps the greatest illustration in the Bible of the difference between laying up treasure on earth and laying up treasure in heaven come in Matthew 19 where we find the story of the Rich Young Ruler. He came to Jesus searching for something to fill the emptiness in his soul. He had everything this world could offer, but it was not enough. Jesus put his finger on the young man’s primary problem. In Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.” Matthew says the young man went away grieved, for he owned much property and he could not bear to part with it, not even for Jesus. Again, it’s not wrong to be wealthy, but if it is more important to you than following Jesus, you’re going to end up with nothing in the end. Invest in heaven.
Second, Ignite the Light. In verses 22-23 Jesus says, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” In 1923, six years before the stock market crash of August 1929, nine of the greatest financiers in America met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago: Charles Schwab, the steel magnate; Samuel Insull, president of the largest utility company; Howard Hopson, president of the largest gas company; Arthur Cotton, the largest wheat speculator; Richard Whitney, president of the New York stock exchange; Albert Fall, a member of the President’s cabinet; Leon Fraser, president of the Bank of International Settlements; Jesse Livermore, the greatest Wall Street investor; and Ivan Krueger, head of the most powerful monopoly.
Within a few years of that meeting, Charles Schwab died in bankruptcy after living for five years on borrowed money; Samuel Insull died in a foreign country, a fugitive from justice; Howard Hopson was insane; Arthur Cotton died abroad, insolvent; Albert Fall was pardoned after a government financial scandal so that he could die at home; Leon Fraser, Jesse Livermore, and Ivan Kruger all committed suicide after the market crashed. No light in their lives. Make sure you ignite the light in your own life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
Third, Indicate Whose Side You’re On. In verse 24 Jesus says, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will love the one and hate the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches.” My three sons live in Washington DC. One works for a law firm and he is often on Capitol Hill representing the firm’s clients as legislation makes its way through the congressional process. One works for a company that provides internet communications, and many of their clients are candidates who run for public office. One works for the Secret Service and he has spent the last three years at the United States Treasury Building. They each know and meet Christians who face the temptations of political and economic pressure. They have seen otherwise well-meaning people slowly get sucked into the culture of compromise.
I have advised my sons, “Be very, very careful. Be overly careful that you do not slip into the pattern of going along, just to keep your job.” You don’t have to be in Washington to face those temptations. Elvis Pressley had everything. One day one of Elvis’ aides found him sitting at the piano playing, How Great Thou Art.” The aide asked, “How do you feel?” “Alone,” the king replied. Whose side are you on? You’d better decide.
2. In the first part of this passage Jesus has raised our attention. But Jesus knows how difficult it is to do the things he says to do. So, in part two he gives us Three Things to Look At.
First he says, Learn from the Birds. In verse 26 he says, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”
One day last week I was sitting in my office talking with someone when through the window I saw a V-formation of geese flying low across the gray clouds of the sky. They’re arriving in the south for the winter. Do they know where the are going? Not in the way you and I know where we are going. We open our maps and plot our course and decide out how we’re going to travel to get where we’re going. It’s a rational, cognitive process we follow. Those geese have little pea-sized brains. They didn’t give a thought to what they were doing. God placed inside them the instinct that when the days grow shorter and the cold winds begin to blow, that they must migrate to the south where they can find food to eat. They don’t engage in agriculture or labor of any kind. They just take wing when the alarm goes off inside them and when they land they find food to eat.
Now I don’t know about you. The financial winds that blow are mostly beyond my ability to comprehend. I cannot sow and reap the financial fruit that others seem able to do. I feel a lot like those geese. I know when I need to fly to where God is: when the shadows turn long on Wall Street. And the wonderful thing is, Jesus says that I’m more valuable to God than all the geese in the world. Do you remember the Bible story about Elijah when he had to hide in the wilderness from the king’s soldiers who were searching for him? Do you remember how God fed him? The ravens brought him food!
Second, Jesus says to Learn from the Blooms. In verses 28-31 he says, “Why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will he not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?” Jesus is giving us a general rule here. It’s called an analogy from nature, but it nevertheless is a form of proof. It’s a legitimate argument, reasoning from one principle in how God acts to another, greater principle that we cannot see.
Last Spring a friend of Barb’s gave her some bulbs to plant in her garden. They are a form of spider lily called hymenocallis or more popularly, Silver Queen. The blooms are absolutely stunning. They’re white, but they have these spidery petals, as intricate as Irish lace. Picture the most beautiful bride, dressed in her elegant gown, and then multiply it by a thousand times. Jesus says, if God takes such care with the flowers which do nothing but grow, bloom, and die, he’ll dress you up even if you don’t have much faith! You may not get Silver Queen petals to wear in a time when money is short. Maybe it’ll be dandelions. Take time, not to smell the roses, but to look at the blooms, and let God remind you that he’ll clothe you from the flowers that grow through the cracks in Wall Street.
Third, Jesus says to Learn from the Buyers. Now he jerks us back to take a quick peek at the other side. In verses 31-32 he says, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ’What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?’ For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek.” About twenty miles south of Nazareth there was a world class city called Scythopolis. It’s not mentioned in the Bible, but it was called the Gateway to the Eastern Empire. It was the first century equivalent of New York City with a population of about 200,000 people. Jesus would have passed it many times. In the city center there was a magnificent temple of Jupiter and a prominent statue of the god with the current emperor’s head upon it. There was a reflecting pool. The city had a large amphitheater that seated 7500. There was a large public bathhouse and gymnasium. Everything the world could offer was available in Scythopolis. There were rows and rows of shops.
But everything came tumbling down on June 28, 743 AD when a violent earthquake struck. Strangely, no skeletons have been found in the commercial or municipal sections of the city, suggesting that the earthquake struck at night. There is one exception. In one shop there is the skeleton of a man clutching a bag of gold coins. Apparently the shop owner was trying to retrieve his treasure when a column fell on him. Jesus says the people who do not know God eagerly seek this world’s goods. In other words, they have a passion for material things because they have nothing higher in their lives. He says to us, if you must have the best car, the biggest house, the most stylish and up to date clothing, something is out of balance in your life. These things are not wrong in themselves, but there’s something much more important. Learn from the buyers!
3. Jesus has gotten our attention. He’s shown us why we should trust God. Now he gives us Three Things to Believe: Three things to hang onto in uncertain economic times.
The first of these, no surprise, is that There’s More to Life than Things. In verse 25 he asks, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” We usually think when we hear this line, about our relationships, the people we love, our families. We talk about virtues like truth, honesty or righteousness. We value character or love of country. What things do you never want to compromise? What would you be willing to die for, before you gave it up? But Jesus has something else in mind.
J. P. Morgan was the greatest financier of his time. His name lives on in J. P. Morgan Chase, the largest banking institution in America. Morgan twice bailed out the United States government. But the most important transaction J. P. Morgan ever made appeared in his will. “I commit my soul into the hands of my Saviour, full of confidence that, having redeemed me and washed me with His most precious blood, He will present me faultless before the throne of my heavenly Father. I entreat my children to maintain and defend, at all hazard and at any cost of personal sacrifice, the blessed doctrine of complete Atonement of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ once offered, and through that alone.” Have you trusted Christ to take away your sin and to give you eternal life? Knowing Christ is far more valuable than any thing you can possibly attain or possess.
The second thing Jesus tells us to believe is that God Knows What You Need. In verse 32 Jesus talks about the basic necessities of life—food, water to drink, and clothing. He says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” God understands what we require in order to live. We believe that. But what you and I really worry about is that God isn’t aware of our specific circumstances. “Oh, Lord,” we tell him. “I had money saved up for retirement, and now half of it is gone! How will I survive for the next twenty-five years?” Or we tell him, ”Father, my husband is going to lose his job. We’ve got a big mortgage and car payments, and the children need braces, and after that, there’s college!” God nods sagely and says, “I know.”
Does it help to know that God knows? Yes, it does. When we’ve said it, somehow we feel better. That’s why the apostle urges us in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Train yourself so that every time you start worrying, you identify what’s bothering you, and then pray about it and ask God to take care of it. Dear friends, God isn’t looking the other way when you’re in trouble. He knows exactly what you need. And he loves you!
However, what we truly want to know is, will God do anything about our needs? And this is the third thing to believe. God Provides for Those who Love Him. In verse 33 Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Again, in Philippians 4:19 the apostle promises, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Of course, this is a general promise. We’ve all heard of Christians who have died of starvation or who have suffered unspeakable horrors, and God hasn’t seen fit to deliver them. Sometimes it’s God’s will that his people pass through unspeakable horrors.
God did allow his Son to die on the cross so you could be saved, and the silence of the Father was so intense that Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken Me!” So don’t expect that God will do for us what he wouldn’t do for his own son. We must yield to the greater wisdom and purposes of God. But the general rule is that God does supply our needs. I still recall the night Barb woke up and began to total up what it was going to cost us to get three sons through college. For one year there would be three at one time! In the morning she told me, and then the next night I couldn’t sleep! We didn’t have that kind of money! But through those years we all worked hard as a family. We did without some things we’d have liked to have. And we prayed. When each semester’s bill came, God had the money there, and not one of our sons owed a dime when they graduated. Some of you can tell similar stories. Being a Christian for a long time builds confidence. Young believers will worry the most! You may not receive everything you want, but God will provide you with what you need.
Notice, however, that there are a couple of conditions attached to the promise in verse 33. If God is to supply all that we need, we must (1) put a priority on his kingdom and (2) we must obey God.
Let’s take the second condition first: obedience. Jesus is simply telling us that you can’t play games with God. He’s not Santa Claus. He’s not a magic button you can push. If we have sin in our lives we must come as humble children to our heavenly father, honestly seeking the Father’s forgiveness. Surrender to his will. You don’t have to clean up your act before you ask for help. Obedience is the expression of your thanks. As for the first condition—seeking his kingdom—Jesus is saying that our priority must be his church. This is a missions Sunday. Seeking his kingdom means we work to bring people to Jesus. It’s to be our life’s priority.
When God supplies our needs, then, we don’t give him the leftovers. Abraham and his nephew Lot stood on the mountain looking over the Promised Land. Abraham said to him, “You choose the valley or the mountains. I’ll take what’s left. Lot saw the richness of the valley and the lights of Sodom, and he chose the valley. In the end he lost everything he held dear. Abraham struggled in the rocky and barren heights. One night God led him outside and pointed him heavenward and said, “Count the stars. That’s how many descendants you’ll have.” God was talking about those who would put their faith in Jesus. Abraham saw you and me that night. He sought God’s kingdom first, and he never lacked. You won’t either.
Preached by Dr. Rick Perrin on October 12, 2008, at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, 5637 Bush River Road, Columbia SC 29212 and Northwest YMCA on Kennerly Road Tel. 803-772-1000 www.DiscoverCornerstone.com Copyright 2008