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False Assumptions

When Christmas Break comes up in three weeks (O Happy Day!), it will officially mark the mid-way point of my 9th year involved in public education.  However, though I’m only 29!, I’ve actually been involved in teaching on some level for 25 years.  I remember my first position instructing middle and high school students in a parochial school.  The first few days (or was that hours, or maybe minutes, okay seconds!) of class came off without a hitch.  This was the honeymoon period.  Everything went so well I wondered, “what’s so hard about this?”  But by the time the third day (or was that third hour?!) came about, I discovered that Little Johnny (not the real name so as to protect the not-so-innocent) was constantly trying to shoot a spitball at Little Susie every time my back was turned.  I assumed that Little Johnny wasn’t acting better because he didn’t know better.  That assumption led me to believe that my job was to inform him of the inappropriateness of his behavior.  As soon as he was educated to this truth, then no doubt his actions would change accordingly.  I called Little Johnny to the side, had a private conversation telling him in no uncertain terms that shooting spitballs at Little Susie was wrong, rude, and displeasing to God.  He nodded at all the right times, said “yes sir” in all the right intonations, and when asked if he understood assured me he fully did and promised to never misbehave in such a manner again.  I sent Little Johnny back to his seat and was thankful to have attended to that problem so efficiently.  I know you’re probably surprised beyond belief to learn that Little Johnny’s reformation was short-lived.  If memory serves, the spitball brigade under Johnny’s command took a leave until lunch, but after being refueled then resumed a steady stream leaving me disillusioned, wondering what went wrong and what to do next.  My assumption that Little Johnny only needed more information for his reformation was indeed a terrible miscalculation.  Indeed, false assumptions lead to false beliefs, bad plans, and undesirable results.  In this month’s newsletter, we will look at four false assumptions from the second half of Matthew 19 that Jesus corrected with the truth of the Word of God.

FALSE ASSUMPTION 1—Children Are A Bother (Matt. 19:13-15)…Charles Adams, grandson of our second President, was passionate about success.  One of the disciplines of effective people in which he himself engaged and encouraged others to perform as well, was that of journaling.  His son Henry, the fourth of seven children, adored his father and took up the practice at a young age.  One day when Henry was eight, he and his dad went fishing.  It was such a wonderful experience that the young boy penned the following words in his journal, “went fishing with my father today, the most glorious day of my life.”  Thirty years later the now middle- aged man got ahold of his father’s journal and decided to see if his dad had recorded any entries on that specific day that still brought his heart such joy these three decades later.  Sure enough, there was a notable entry on the said day from his dad, unfortunately it read, “went fishing with my son, day wasted.”

Now I don’t know that Charles Adams was a bad dad, and I don’t want to be guilty of judging his life by seven ill-chosen words.  That being said, those seven words do express a sentiment that is on the rise in the world today, the thought that children aren’t worth the bother.  We have had approximately 60 million children aborted in the United States alone since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973.  A fair portion of these babies were disposed of (which is actually what happens to their little bodies) because they were thought to be too much of a burden on the lives of the potential parents involved.  (If you’re reading this and have had an abortion or know of someone who has, know that there is forgiveness in Christ for those who repent and turn to Him).  Thankfully, abortion rates have fallen in America in recent years.  While I’d like to say that it’s because so many people’s hearts and minds have been changed (and praise God this is the case for some), it’s also due to the fact that many people of child bearing age not only don’t get married, but don’t even have physical intimacy as much as unbelievers used to anymore because pornography, social media, and electronics in general have thwarted maturity at large and, specifically in view here, the desire to have children.  Kids, in the minds of many, aren’t worth the bother…

Matthew 19:13-15 tells of children (the Greek word here implies infants and toddlers) being brought to Jesus.  The disciples, well-meaning no doubt, at least in their own minds, rebuked the parents and children and would have sent them away.  Surely Jesus, the mighty miracle worker, the promising preacher, the powerful prophet, had more important tasks to attend to and more important people to see.  They falsely assumed that Jesus can’t be bothered with children.  Jesus corrects the false assumption of His disciples with the rebuke to “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  The Lord then laid His hands on the precious little ones and blessed them.  Truly, as the old song says, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world!”  Children ARE NOT a burden!

FALSE ASSUMPTION 2—“Good” Works Get Us Into Heaven (Matt. 19:16-22)…We just went through Black Friday, the official beginning of the Holiday Shopping Season.  (Of course, now I think Black Friday starts on a Wednesday…IN OCTOBER!)  The day after Thanksgiving at the Strunk household usually consists of getting a slow start, sleeping off the turkey until about 9 am or so (9 am is so much better than my normal 5:50 am!).  We then eat cookies for breakfast that my mom and Benji baked the day before (Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip anyone?).  Eventually we will mosey out and about to look at the offerings of a few stores and to have lunch at some restaurant.  About 5 pm we circle the wagons and come back home before it gets dark and we all turn into pumpkins!  We’ll close the day by watching a few holiday programs on the tv together and then we settle in for “a long winter’s nap” (or at least a good night’s sleep!).  However, this past Black Friday Benji wanted to do something different.  He asked about going to Busch Gardens Theme Park.  We had the time, we had our annual passes, our sweet boy wanted to go, so we went.  There was quite a crowd there that day but the attractions we chose ran fairly timely and were easily accessible, except for one.  We waited for over an hour to get a photo op with the characters from Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.  It might surprise you, but at the end of the attraction, they had a gift shop!  Our boy wanted a certain item there, a Bumble suit, the only thing he asked for all day.  We decided to get it for him.  My wonderful wife had to go back to the front of the building and I waited in line to purchase the suit.  When it came time to pay, the cashier asked me if we had a Gold Pass.  Just so happens we do. We only get one, and it’s in My Love’s name.  That one pass saves us parking every time we go and  discounts any items we buy in the park by 10%.  (Frugality is a Christian Virtue!).  I told her we had the pass.  Truth was, my wife had the pass, and at this moment she was in another area of the building.  The cashier wouldn’t take my word for it, she wouldn’t accept my ticket, it had to be the one with my wife’s name on it to get the discount.  The line was held up, the people behind me weren’t happy, but only one ticket would work for the discount…

Matthew 19:16-22 tells us of the encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler.  This young man was someone you would love to have as a neighbor.  No loud parties and a well-manicured lawn.  In fact, he’d be willing to mow your grass, empty your trash, and check your mail when you were on vacation.  And you could trust him!  He’d always have that cup of milk or sugar you needed to borrow to finish that recipe with.  He’d probably even be there with an interest free loan if you found yourself in a bind.  Looking for someone to court your daughter?  You’d be more than happy to see him come knocking on the door.  He’s got good morals and he’s got good money.  The Rich Young Ruler comes to Jesus and asks, “what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”  Depending upon which commentator you read, some think he sensed something lacking in his spiritual life and was genuinely questioning the Lord to instruct him.  Others believe that the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus more for validation than for information.  That is, he knew he was good enough and simply wanted to hear it from the lips of the One many thought was the Messiah.  I am more persuaded by the latter view than the former.  Still, whatever motivation brought the young man to Jesus, it becomes clear through their conversation that the religious leader was quite self-righteous.  Christ responds to his query by telling him that he must keep the commandments such as not committing murder or adultery, honoring father and mother, and loving your neighbor as yourself.  The Rich Young Ruler confidently asserts in reply that he has kept these since his youth up.  Truth is, that man, like every man, in and of himself, had not kept any of those commandments in word, thought, heart, and deed since sun up on any given day!  However, rather than point that out, Jesus tells the man the one thing he lacks is that he must sell all he has, give that sum to the poor, and then come follow Him.  This the Rich Young Ruler was unwilling to do, for he owned much property.  He turned from Jesus instead of towards Him, showing that he was guilty of breaking the first and foremost commandment, that of idolatry!  The man had “good” works (by man’s standards), he was in the upper percentile of human morality and money, and yet all of this could not get him into Heaven.  Only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone can that portal be opened.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father EXCEPT through Him (John 14:6).  “Good” works DON’T get us into Heaven!

FALSE ASSUMPTION 3—God Likes The Rich More Than The Poor (Matt. 19:23-26)…Many years ago I heard a “sermon” (if you could call it that) from a minister (or mercenary)  that nearly “drove” me crazy.  The traveling revivalist found it important to take time in his message to declare that ministers should have the best and newest and shiniest (etc.) vehicles in the parking lot of the church.  Why?  Because that would show “the people” (yes, those lowly people in the pews from his perspective) what the favor of God looks like and cause them to want to be like the minister.  What verse did he pull that from?  Oh, who needs one of those!  It’s kind of a long story, but Pastor Shon and I ended up having lunch with this “minister.”  During the course of our meal next to nothing scriptural or spiritual came up, but financial things, such as his enjoyment of flying on private planes and his next planned vehicle purchase sure did.  You see, he liked to talk about money.  Why?  I think because people generally like to talk about their god!  Nowhere in Scripture does it say that God likes the rich more than the poor and that whoever has much of this world’s goods is automatically walking in Divine favor.  Nowhere does it say that a person driving a Cadillac is to be listened to about spiritual things more than a person driving a Pinto (to those under 30, a Pinto used to be more than a bean!, at least a little more!).

Now, don’t get me wrong, can a person have lots of this world’s possessions and still follow Christ?  Absolutely!  If a genuine believer has worked hard, come by their riches honestly, manages them with a concern for the Kingdom of God, and compares them as nothing next to the riches that have come to them through Christ; let them drive what they want, live where they want, wear what they want (as long as it’s modest in nature), purchase what they want, and give thanks to God for your faithful brother or sister in Christ.  Can a person have next to nothing of this world’s goods and still follow Christ?  Absolutely!  If a genuine believer works to the best of their ability, comes by their resources honestly, manages them with a concern for the Kingdom of God, and compares them as nothing next to the riches that have come to them through Christ; let them drive what they can, live where they can, wear what they can (as long as it’s modest in nature), purchase what they can, and give thanks to God for your faithful brother or sister in Christ.  (*However, if you’re a self-proclaimed minister who flies to the next meeting on your private plane paid for by encouraging folks on Social Security to send in their “seed” or if you’re a self-proclaimed prophet (or was that “profit”) who tells people that because you have the best vehicle on the church parking lot that you’re the most spiritual person in the church building, then REPENT IMMEDIATELY!*)…

Matthew 19:22 records that the Rich Young Ruler walked away from Christ, unwilling to follow His commands.  In response the Lord declared that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The disciples were astonished and asked Jesus, “then who can be saved?”  The assumption of the people back then, as it is often proclaimed today in the sanctuaries of many churches and especially across much of the airwaves of “Christian” television and radio was that God likes the rich more than the poor.  They thought that a person’s possessions in this natural world was a sure sign of their position in the spiritual realm.  They drew a direct connection between the balance in one’s bank account with their reserve levels of righteousness.  Jesus was teaching them something quite to the contrary.  Scripture is plain that God is no respecter of persons.  That doesn’t mean that the Lord will give you a Mercedes just because He’s given (or at least allowed) someone else to own one.  What it does mean is that ALL (whether rich or poor, Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free) who genuinely repent of sin and put trust in Christ as Savior will be forgiven, set free, redeemed, restored, and granted eternal life!  God DOES NOT like the rich more than the poor!

FALSE ASSUMPTION 4—Living For God Isn’t Worth It (Matt. 19:27-30)…Brother Joe is a connoisseur of good music.  How do I know?  Because when we have occasion to ride to Naples together to pick up the breads and desserts for the Saturday Outreaches he pulls up a playlist of Southern Gospel Music as recorded on various Gaither Videos over the course of the past two plus decades.  (*I once told a co-worker at the Christian bookstore that Southern Gospel Music would be the music of Heaven.  She replied, “well what if I don’t like Southern Gospel Music?”  I told her that there was another eternal destination possible if she chose!…I hope she knew I was kidding—at least mostly kidding!*)  A few weeks back a song by a family group called The Isaacs came on entitled “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ But Good!”  The lyric, penned by Dottie Rambo, might not be a good source for teaching grammar, but it does teach some pretty good theology.  The first verse talks about Polycarp, a disciple descending from the Apostle John himself.  It goes like this, “history tells about a prophet, they martyred for the gospel sake, they built a fire all around his feet, they tied him up to a stake, but the fire would not consume him, so they pierced him with a sword, as blood ran down from out of his mouth, still he praised the Lord, he said “all these years I’ve served Him, He’s always done me good, I won’t repent, and I won’t recant, tell me why I should!”, He ain’t never done me nothin’, done me nothin’ but good!”  The second verse in similar fashion tells the story of Job.  “Job was a righteous man the devil couldn’t doubt it, he surely loved his Savior, there was not one doubt about it, Satan cursed his body from his feet to his head, and told Job his children and his cattle were dead, Job’s wife said “why don’t you just curse your God and die?”, Job said “woman, you speak like a foolish child”, ‘cause He ain’t never done me nothin’, done me nothin’ but good!”  This world will tell you that living for God isn’t worth it.  It’s too hard.  What good is going to church, reading your Bible, giving money in the offering, praying to the Lord going to have for you?  “You can spend your time, talents, and treasures other places and be happier; better live for the now cause that’s where it’s at”, says the siren song of this world.  However, I assure you that no one who stands in Heaven will think they’ve gotten a bad deal.  No one redeemed by the Lord will pine for more time to relish in sin.  No one praising Jesus will wish that more people would have proclaimed their fame in this life.  No one walking Heaven’s avenues will for even a millisecond regret any time spent in the house of the Lord, any money given towards His work, or any breath expended in prayer or praise to the One by whose blood we are saved.  In the words of the third verse of Dottie Rambo’s song, “I gave my heart to Jesus and I took Him as my Savior, I cast my lot with the chosen few and I started out towards Heaven, soon I was forsaken, my friends they left me one by one, but the good Lord stayed right along beside me, He never left me alone, He’s fed me when I’ve been hungry, He’s cheered me when I’ve been sad, He has been the dearest this child has ever had, He ain’t never done me nothin’, done me nothin’ but good!”  And the power of this truth will be heightened to the utmost degree when we behold forever that place that our Lord has gone to prepare!…

Matthew 19:27 finds Peter questioning what all of us, if we’re honest, have pondered at some point, “is living for God worth it?”  The Rich Young Ruler had decided not to sell all that he had and follow Christ, but the 12 disciples sure seemed to.  Peter was the only one to verbalize what the others were doubtless thinking, “what’s in it for me?”  While we don’t necessarily focus on rewards in the Christian life (and certainly we don’t focus on rewards for rewards’ sake), Hebrews 11:6 does teach us that, “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  Jesus doesn’t rebuke Peter for asking about rewards but responds by telling the fisherman that, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.”  Truly, anything given up here in this life for Christ will be given back infinite fold and to infinite quality.  Rest assured, God will be debtor to no man.  The rewards may not be what this world values, but they will be what Heaven values; they may not be seen in this temporal realm, but they will be those lasting through eternity!  Indeed, living for God IS worth it!