Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?

I appreciate the creativity of the Tricuna Tribe of Brazil.  These indigenous people who live in the Brazilian rain forest, capture monkeys in a very clever way. They put a small hole in a hollowed-out gourd and then the fill the gourd with a piece of fruit.  Then they attach the gourd to a tree.  When a monkey comes along and smells the sweet fruit inside the gourd, he reaches his hand down inside to get the fruit.  But once he makes a fist to hold onto the fruit, his hand is too large and he is unable to get it out of the hole.  He could let go of the fruit and easily remove his hand, but he won’t let go. He is now trapped because he has a grip on his prize and won’t release his grip.  (Watch how this is done.)

We might be tempted chuckle at the monkey’s foolishness, unwilling to let go of a piece of fruit in order to set himself free. Silly monkey!  And yet, I wonder sometimes if we might find ourselves trapped in a similar way: in unhealthy patterns of thought, in bad attitudes, in resentment and bitterness, in toxic relationships, and poor habits.  Perhaps we should learn to let go and set ourselves free.

Jesus once encountered a man who was trapped by his unhealthy attachment to wealth.  He had accumulated a lot of it over the years, storing up his earthly treasures.  When Jesus invited him to let it go and set himself free, he wouldn’t do it and walked away a sad man trapped in his self-imposed prison (Mark 10:17-27).  

Is Jesus saying that it is impossible for rich people to be accepted by God?  The good news is that Jesus does not teach that wealth is evil or awful or that rich people are evil or awful just because they have achieved some level of financial success in this life.  Having money, being wealthy does not put eternal life out of reach.   Jesus is not offering a blanket condemnation of wealth, but He is telling us something very important that we need to remember.  So having clarified what Jesus is not saying, let’s look at what Jesus is saying. 

What we find here is a warning to heed, a practice to engage in, and a promise we can count on:

First, the warning.  Wealth can be dangerous to our soul. Wealth can exert a corrupting influence on our heart, our soul, our character.  I chuckle at the tee shirt I once saw that said, “Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won’t spoil me.”  Truth is, winning the lottery actually ruins a lot of people.  If the main goal of our lives is to grow a healthy God-honoring soul, then money can become a danger to that goal if we aren’t careful.

Now here is the practice.  Be consistently generous.  Put together a plan for regularly and consistently giving away portions of your wealth. Generosity is a character quality that must be intentionally cultivated, and it only gets cultivated through regular and consistent practice.   This requires discipline.  Discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you know you should do whether you feel like it or not.  Jesus tells the rich man to give it all away.  There are instances in our lives when that might be the best approach.  But when you read through the Bible, you don’t find any other instance where Jesus insisted that someone sell everything and get rid of all material possessions in order to experience eternal life.  But let’s make it very clear that there will be times in our lives when Jesus will call us to be very generous in our giving, more generous that what we would be comfortable with.  Maybe not giving away 100%, but giving a lot more than we want to give.  We do need to let some of it go, regularly, consistently, generously.  

Now here is the promise. Eternal life is available to all people no matter what their socio-economic status.  You aren’t so poor that you can’t have it and you aren’t so rich that you don’t need it.   Jesus doesn’t hate rich people.  In fact, today’s scripture lesson tells us that Jesus loved this rich man.  Remember, when Jesus warns us about wealth, he does it out of love for us. And he offers us this promise: That nothing is impossible with God.  No matter who you are, no matter where you find yourself on the socioeconomic ladder, you have an eternal soul and you matter to God. But we can’t save ourselves.  We need God’s grace and mercy.  That’s why Jesus came into the world.  That’s why he died on the cross and rose from the dead.  Eternal life is possible, the promise of Heaven is real and it is available.  And you’re not so poor that you can’t have it and you’re not so rich you don’t need it.

I wonder, are you “trapped” in any area of your life right now?

Are you ready and willing to do whatever must be done in order to be set free? 

Perhaps you need to let go of something in order to receive what Jesus wants to give you. 

Think about it, pray about it, and then ask Jesus to help you release your grip on the things that hold you back. Listen to the sermon, “Can Rich People Get Into Heaven?”

Pastor Mark Miller

​4 Truths About God’s Wisdom

When I was younger, I got in trouble for taking apart my parents’ cable box. I’m still not exactly sure how I broke it, but I know that somewhere between my taking it apart and putting it back together the cable box was no longer working. It sat lopsided on top of the TV, the clock was blinking zeroes and I still had about eight screws leftover. See, I was in the third grade, and we had just learned about electricity. Amidst my typical afternoon of a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a Captain Planet cartoon, my curiosity took me captive, and I had to know how the electricity in that cable box worked. 

I learned that afternoon that it only takes a certain amount of knowledge to take things apart. But putting them back together, fixing them when they’re broken, building them up from nothing? That requires skill, it requires discipline, and it requires wisdom.

The Letter of James says that our wisdom, like our faith, will be put to the test (James 3:13-18). James tests our wisdom with a question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Raise your hand, James says, if you believe you are wise and understanding. If you truly are, you know we’re going to put that claim to the test. And if you’re not? The test will definitely show it.

If we’re truly honest with ourselves, though, none of us are as wise as we would like to be. We can all grow in wisdom and understanding, even the 75 percent of us who would rank ourselves as “above average.” Many in the church are above average when it comes to biblical knowledge. Some Christians can quote Scripture extensively, and that’s good and important. But many who have a great deal of biblical knowledge are lacking in God’s wisdom. In other words, we know how to take things apart but are unable to put them back together, to fix them when they’re broken, to build them up. Knowledge of scripture can take apart someone’s argument, but the wisdom of God knows when it’s kinder to understand where they’re coming from when you disagree.

James says that when we mistake the wisdom of the world, the flesh and the devil for God’s wisdom, the result is “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” So as we examine our words and actions, we have to consider whether they reveal or conceal the love of God. The problem with the world’s wisdom is that we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re limited, but we don’t know our limits. Biblical wisdom takes into account its own ignorance. Biblical wisdom is not so concerned with memorizing scripture as it is speaking a loving word from God in every situation. 

Below are 4 truths for discerning God’s wisdom:

  1.  God’s wisdom is never the source or the cause of confusion, of wrong living, of trouble or of chaos. Remember that God spoke into chaos and brought forth light and life. God spoke a word into darkness and created the heavens and the earth. God is still speaking into the darkness and the chaos of our lives and remaking us into something beautiful.
  2. God’s wisdom is available through prayer. James says, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” We need to ask for God’s wisdom, because we can’t reason our way to God. Wisdom for the Christian is like water for the plant. We can’t produce it for ourselves, but we need it in order to thrive and grow.
  3. God’s wisdom is fruitful. Here is the ultimate difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit has seeds that produce more fruit. The life that we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others. So the work that you do as a student of God’s wisdom doesn’t just improve your life but the lives of others. Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a world full of people who need God’s wisdom like they need air in their lungs. And many of them don’t even know they need it! Our task is to speak and act wisely and well, so that all would know our Savior in our lives. When our words and actions reflect God’s wisdom and understanding, they’re as welcome as a breath of fresh air on a stifling summer day.
  4. Finally, God’s wisdom is centered on knowing Christ. Receiving Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the key to unlocking biblical wisdom. Because our knowledge of scripture cannot produce fruit if we are not firmly rooted in God’s love. Knowing Christ doesn’t require the right words, just the prayer of a willing spirit.

Perhaps you feel like you’ve got all the answers. Perhaps you’ve been searching for a teacher and find yourself curious. Perhaps you feel lost and confused, barely treading water. Wherever you find yourself at this moment, Jesus will meet you there, and he is the very wisdom of God. Falling apart? Jesus can put you back together. Feeling broken? Jesus can heal you. Lost? Jesus can find you, build you up from nothing and fill you with a wisdom and faith that can pass any test.

Pastor Matt Potter

Why Did God Not Answer My Prayer?

A couple of years ago I came across a televised “healing crusade” featuring a man who claimed to have the power of faith healing.  After preaching to a packed stadium full of people, he began to call out certain illnesses and ailments, declaring that people in attendance were being healed of these various health issues.  Then he invited those who had been healed to come forward.  Large numbers of people began streaming to the front of the platform, declaring that they had been healed through the ministry of this faith healer.

I will admit I was skeptical.  But I want to believe that God can and does perform miracles and sometimes even heal people through prayers prayed in faith.  This is what James tells us (James 5:13-16).  I have heard stories of miraculous healings that have taken place through prayers of faith and I believe that God answers prayers for healing.  But I have also experienced other occasions where, in spite of faithful prayers, an individual did not experience a miracle.  People die every day of various diseases and ailments. Many of them prayed for healing and believed that God could and would heal them. 

Here are 3 ways to reconcile the frequent promises of the Bible that God answers prayers for healing, with our recollection of times when healing did not seem to occur:

  1. We must accept the fact that not every prayer for healing is answered the way we would like.  This was true of ancient saints like the Apostle Paul, it is also true of modern saints as well.  For reasons we cannot understand in this life, God doesn’t always choose to grant every prayer for healing.
  2. We can come to appreciate the fact that physical death is a form of healing.  For the Christian, death is the ultimate healing.  When someone who has been very sick and is suffering from terminal illness is released from their body of sickness, this is an eternal form of healing.  We should not pursue suicide, we should not engage in euthanasia, but we can appreciate that when God receives someone into eternal glory, it is a form of healing and prayers for healing were actually answered.
  3. We should appreciate how God works through modern medicine to help heal people.  It is not a sign that we lack faith when we seek medical care for our illnesses, it is a way of trusting that God works in and through medical care to bring about healing.  Some would try to claim that if we really have faith, we won’t seek medical care, we should just pray and have faith that God will heal.  Let the “Great Physician” be your only physician.  But that is a false dichotomy. It should not be God versus modern medicine.  It should be “God working through modern medicine.” 

I must confess that the entire subject of healing prayer is a bit of a mystery for me.  But I pray for people to be healed, I have faith in a God who still does miracles, and I encourage people to seek medical care when they are struggling with illness.  And I trust that through it all, God is at work and I leave the outcome to His wisdom and goodness.   That probably won’t pack a stadium with people, but it helps me trust where I don’t fully understand.

Pastor Mark Miller

Avoid Slacktivism

Avoid Slacktivism HOPE Missions Ethiopia water filters avoid slacktivism

“Slacktivism” is a slang word created by combining two other words, “slacker” and “activism.”   It is a word used to describe the growing trend of using social media to declare an opinion about a political issue or a social justice cause without really doing much to advance that issue or cause.  By “tweeting” my opinion or “liking” someone else’s opinion on Facebook, we can create a sense of satisfaction that we have done something significant to support a cause, when in reality we haven’t done very much at all.  Listen to the June 10 sermon, “The Action Test.”

There is nothing wrong with using social media to raise awareness about issues that matter to us, but we must not stop there.  There is a difference between tweeting an opinion and investing your life.  In the Epistle of James, we are told that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  The idea James is communicating is that to say we “believe” in Jesus or to say we have “faith” in God means very little if we do not back it up with action.

There is a difference between having an opinion and being captivated by a conviction.  An opinion is something you hold, but a conviction is something that holds you.  A conviction leads to action.  How are you doing in living out your convictions these days?  Do your deeds match your creeds?  Put your beliefs into action, and you’ll experience the true power of faith.

Pastor Mark Miller

2 Keys to Defeating Temptation

Everyone has experienced temptation.  Living as imperfect people with high standards, we sometimes find ourselves tempted to make choices and decisions that might satisfy a desire in the moment but would not be wise or good in the long term.  The epistle of James reminds us that temptations will come our way in life.  As James puts it, we are “dragged away and enticed” until we finally give in to temptation.  Nobody wakes up one morning and says, “I think I’ll ruin my life today.  I think I’ll do something that destroys my reputation, brings pain to the people I love and fills me with shame and regret.” Nobody does that, but plenty of people wake up one morning in that exact situation.  How did they end up there?  One small, gradual step at a time.  Listen to the June 3 sermon, “The Temptation Test.”

Tim Norris lives in a house that backs up to the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club in Sussex England.  Tim Norris also has a Labrador retriever named Wilson.  One morning Wilson managed to get free from the backyard.  When Tim found him, Wilson was chomping down on a golf ball.  He swallowed it whole.  Fearing that the ball would cause a bowel obstruction, Veterinarian Karen Belcher took X-rays.  And what she found was quite a surprise.  It turns out that Wilson had not swallowed one golf ball, he had swallowed seven golf balls.   Surgery was performed, the golf balls were removed, and apparently Wilson is slowly recovering.  I hear he’s still feeling a little under par(hahaha), but otherwise he is going to be okay.

Tim has made the decision to move to a different house, further away from the golf course.  Apparently, Wilson’s appetite for golf balls is too strong and there’s just too much temptation with the golf course being right next door.  Moving away seems like the best option.

We can chuckle a little bit at Wilson and his weakness for golf balls, but I wonder, what is your weakness?  Is there an area in your life, an appetite, a desire, a bad habit, that tempts you into trouble?  If so, you’re not alone. 

As we consider temptation, there are two truths to acknowledge and two tips to embrace. 

Two truths we need to acknowledge:

  1. Temptation is natural and normal.
  2. Temptation is often subtle and gradual.

Two truths we need to embrace:

  1.  Be aware of those areas in our lives where we are vulnerable and avoid temptation in those areas.  This is why I do not bring any Grandma Utz Handcooked Potato Chips into my house.  I’m weak and vulnerable there.  I’ll eat the whole darn bag in one sitting.  We all have areas where our ability to control ourselves is weak.  Like Superman, we all have our “kryptonite.”   Know what those areas might be and avoid them.
  2. Keep our focus on what is good and noble and pure.  What we focus on grows stronger.  Pursuing a life that is healthy, holy and honoring to God allows us to put our focus on the things that lead us away from temptation and toward that which is good.

Still we all stumble sometimes.  We all fall short of the goal.  The message of the Bible is not “you’re a terrible person, straighten up.”  The message of the Bible is, “we are all sinners who need a savior, and God has sent us a savior.”  Jesus offers us forgiveness through his death, and new life through his resurrection, and new power through the Holy Spirit.  We may not defeat temptation every time, but we can defeat temptation most of the time.  Stay focused on the goodness and love of God, and let the Lord lead you down the right paths.

Pastor Mark Miller