Quarterly Vexed but No Longer Stressed

Some 35+ years ago, our family home was robbed. A thief (or thieves) broke in a back door and took an assortment of things. I can’t remember any of them EXCEPT my collection of 1976 quarters. Depending on your age and life circumstances, you may or may not immediately grasp why that mattered.

The quarter coin had the same design for thirty-three years (1965-1998). George Washington’s portrait was on the front and an eagle was on the back. However, for one year, 1976, that changed. In recognition of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of our nation, the back of the coin featured a colonial drummer, thirteen stars, a flame, and the words “e pluribus unum” (out of many, one).

I thought they were very cool and started collecting each one I found. While I didn’t have a lot, it was a thrill to find another and add it to the collection.

And then they were gone.

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Just like that, my quarters were taken by a thief in the night. While other things mattered to the rest of the family, I was shocked that my quarters were gone. Someone took my stuff.

The Bible clearly states that stealing is wrong. Our culture affirms this as one of those universal truths. Professors force students to wrestle with the ethical quandaries of this through exercises like “Is it ok to steal food if your family is starving?” Bottom-line: Stealing is wrong.

So, if I want stuff and I don’t have stuff, what am I supposed to do? The simple answer is work hard and earn it, but let’s go beyond that for a moment. What exactly is “stuff” that we want and what exactly is “stuff” that we need?

To know what really matters, we need to turn to God’s Word. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in words that flowed like streams of living water:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6: 19-21

Jesus knew that people then, just as people still do today, like their stuff.

He went to illustrate this in a simple, clear, and easily understood way.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad (unhealthy), your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6: 22-23

This is one of those figurative passages that is clearly meant to be understood in the context of which it is given. Through the eye, we see “stuff”. That “stuff” flows into us and impacts everything about us. For example, if nothing but violence and dark images flows into my life through television, games, and activities, my body will be “filled” with that darkness. However, if I devote my time to studying the Word and praising God, my body will be full of light.

Jesus then says very clearly:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6: 24

The treasures (or masters) that should guide our steps are those things that bring glory to God. Micah 6:8 states it this way:

He has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with the Lord your God. Micah 6:8

Money is not bad. The love of money is a sin. The love of money to get more stuff is sin. If you try to serve God and money, you will be disappointed. You can’t be driven to pile up stuff and also serve God.

When Dennis Rodman played in the NBA, he had a salary of $27 million PLUS endorsements. After he left the NBA, he couldn’t pay his bills and sustain the lifestyle pattern that he had created for himself. No more stuff.

Willie Nelson had a tax shelter that was illegal. As a result, he owed the IRS $16.7 million. His lawyer was able to get it down to $6 million, but he still couldn’t pay it. The IRS raided his home and took all of his stuff.

Major League baseball pitcher, Curt Schilling, earned over $114 million during his career. He went bankrupt when a video game company he helped start folded. He had to sell all of his stuff, including a very famous bloody sock.

Movie director Francis Ford Coppola filed for bankruptcy protection for the SECOND time when he had $52 million in the bank. Why? He owed $98 million. So much stuff lost to even more stuff.

You cannot serve both God and money. PICK YOUR TREASURE.

To help make that decision even easier, Jesus gives us a reason.  Immediately after one of those glorious “therefore” attention grabbers, we read:

Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus isn’t saying we should be starving or allow others to starve. He is telling us so clearly that life is more than satisfying our stomachs. Focus on God.

And then I love the follow-up imagery of those who stress over clothing:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? Matthew 6: 28-30

For the third time in less than 100 words, Jesus says Do not worry. He reminds us of the flowers of the field. They don’t do anything – and yet they are beautiful. They are arrayed in different colors with all sorts of shapes and sizes. And yet, when it was time to light the fire, you wouldn’t think twice about using what you once admired to take care of a need.

Once again, Jesus says ‘don’t worry’:

So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6: 31-33

Our primary focus should be on one thing – God. We should pursue Him, seek Him, want more and more of Him each and every day.

The Sermon on the Mount keeps circling back to Law versus grace. Do you want to try to live perfectly or do you want to try to live in freedom? Do you want to live stressed and depressed or do you want to live in freedom and love?

There is a word I enjoy. It’s an old word that isn’t used much anymore – “VEX”. The dictionary defines it as to “cause distress or anger or frustration”. Does thinking about tomorrow ‘vex’ you?

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6: 34

This is the verse that loops us back to everything else. Focus on God. Don’t let tomorrow vex you. Don’t let it worry you. Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Although I feel like I’m stating the obvious, let’s be clear. This does NOT mean we shouldn’t plan. God’s Word is clear on that fact. BUT – God is in control. God is sovereign. God will take care of today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. And you know what else? He’ll even take care of the one after that one too. God was, is, and will always be sovereign.

None of the above means that there aren’t times when I fail. I worry. I make sure my doors are locked. But as I seek to take each step forward, it’s not so complicated to trust and remember that God has this. And that. And the other thing too.

Is anything vexing you right now? Is it money? Is it work? Is it the future? Kids? Family? Parents? Your car? Your house?

WHY is it vexing you?

If it is a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty, then let me encourage you to work on that more and more. Seek to truly, deeply, and passionately trust God. If I – or you – choose to give ourselves over to worry, then we are ignoring the love, and grace, and mercy that Jesus is offering. We are missing the blessing of the promise of His protection and security and peace.

The next time you are tempted to worry, I want to encourage you to do something. Stop and imagine Jesus sitting on the top of the mountain. Imagine Him smiling down at you. Imagine Him saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

And then, take a step forward in faith. Knowing that He is faithful. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to guide your steps.