Week 27 (July)
In the late 1870s Methodist pastor Phineas F. Bresee got involved in a gold mining venture in Mexico. He even took a smaller church so he would have time to devote to the promising venture. It looked as if he was going to get rich. Then disaster struck the mine, and Bresee was left penniless.
In the embarrassing wake of that financial ruin, this Methodist preacher left the Middle West to go follow Jesus instructions to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Most Nazarenes are familiar with how God, at this point, began to bless and multiply the ministry of a man who now had a single-minded concern for the kingdom.
Unfortunately, not every preacher has been able to extricate himself so cleanly from this pitfall. Riches can easily become a rival to God, and many ministerial careers have disappeared in a swirl of dollars.
On the other hand, Jesus' words in Matthew 6 (part of the Sermon on the Mount) weren't meant only for full-time Christian workers. While almost everyone in the world seems to be frantically grasping for "these things" Jesus said that none of His children should do so. The Master knew that a person's values and his character are wrapped up together. So when He warned that the heart must not be anxious about the things of this world, he was speaking to every Christian, not just to full-time Christian workers.
To be sure, in saying, "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth," Jesus wasn't trying to crush out all desire for personal ownership. Nor was He preaching self-denial as a means of salvation. But our Lord did know that an anxiety about possessions would distract us from having a single-minded concern for the Kingdom and its righteousness.
While on home assignment ( also called furlough) I was often saddened to see the control of mammon1 in the lives of many American believers -- believers who have been blessed with so much materially.
The dominant concern of many a conversation seemed to be "I just can't make it on what I'm earning." I often discovered that what people were really saying was, "My standard of living isn't rising nearly as fast as I'd like it to."
Once in a while I find myself wondering, What if every believer was as concerned about improving himself spiritually as he seems to be about improving his bank balance?
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling us to a single-minded concern for His kingdom. He is calling us to make spiritual gain the real treasure of our heart. He is calling us to a complete consecration. He is calling us to commit ourselves totally to His ways, to His plans and purposes, to accept His will as our own.
Why do so many Christians fall short in their commitment to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect? In Matthew 6, Jesus indicates that one of the main obstacles to that "perfection" is the continuing influence of mammon.
Maybe we've never found ourselves at the point of financial ruin like Phineas F. Bresee. Still, our Lord calls us to make the same choice Bresee made. Remember, the price of adventure and fulfillment in Christian living is the price of adventure and fulfillment anywhere else: single- mindedness. [ more on P.F. Bresee ]
1Mammon: a Syrian term for money or riches; hence materialism and wealth (Luke 16:9, 11). In Paradise Lost, John Milton depicts Mammon as a spirit who looks forever downward at Heaven's golden pavement, rather than up at God.
I wrote these devotional thoughts while a missionary in Italy, They were originally published in the July 6, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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