What Do You Treasure?

Matthew 6:2: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

If I were to ask people on the street what they treasure most, I would receive many different answers. Some would think of their house or car. Others would perhaps name people: a wife or husband, family, friends. Still others might say that health or freedom is most valuable. Only a few would think of air, water or light, yet without these we could not live. When I ask the question in a church, people typically give a pious answer: "The Lord," "my church," "the Bible."

A pastor came to visit a young mother who was sick in bed. The pastor wanted to read a few verses of scripture but had forgotten his Bible, so he asked if he could borrow one. Wanting to impress the pastor, the mother called her daughter and said, “Honey, please go fetch that book your mommy loves to read.” The little girl brought her the huge J.C. Penny Catalog. Of course that is an old story, because J.C. Penny no longer prints those big catalogs.

MANY TREASURE MONEY

Most people treasure money because they think they can buy whatever they want with it. The value of a scrap of paper called "money" may be worth no more than the paper it's printed on. We visited Turkey in 2002 and kept enough million Lire bills to make all our grandchildren millionaires. A million Turkish Lire was worth about one Dollar. Some postage stamps are worth their weight in gold to collectors.

We speak of "buying power" or "supply and demand" when measuring the value of money. To a shipwrecked person on a desert island, a slice of bread would be of more value than a ton of gold. Jesus asked in Matthew 8:36, "What profit is there in gaining the whole world if it costs you your life?" Sam Walton was worth 18 billion Dollars in May of 2005, but a month later he was killed when his Ultra-Lite aircraft crashed.

OTHERS TREASURE GREATNESS

Some people are considered great because of their accomplishments. Lance Armstrong was a great cyclist who won the Tour de' France seven times as a cancer survivor.

Some become famous because of a single heroic act. They were at the right place at the right time and did the right thing.

A Southern New Jersey native and personal friend of mine, Marvin Creamer, was the only person in world history to sail around the globe without any navigational instruments. He departed from Cape May, New Jersey in December of 1982, returning to a hero's welcome in May, 1984. But his singular feat was all but forgotten twenty years later. I created a website about his accomplishment in 2004 and his historical circumnavigation is gradually becoming better known. In 2011, Europe's largest sailing magazine did a story on his feat. A well-known German sailor was embarrassed. He had claimed to be the first person to cross an ocean without instruments in 1992, and even wrote a book about it! By that date, Creamer had completed three Atlantic crossings and circumnavigated the globe without instruments.

The Bible has much to say about greatness. In the beginning, God created the lesser and greater lights, great fish and animals. God created Adam and Eve in his own image! And he told them "GO MULTIPLY!" (Genesis 1:28). He wanted man to be great on earth.

Unfortunately, man sinned against God and the first mention of man's greatness, is in relation to his wickedness! God looked down on his creation and saw that "the wickedness of man was great on earth.” (Genesis 6:5) God sent a great flood to destroy everyone except Noah and his family. After Noah left the ark, God blessed him and told him, "GO MULTIPLY!" (Genesis 9:1).

Man again returned to his wickedness. He commenced building a great city, with a great tower in order to make a great name for himself.

The first positive reference to man's greatness is found in Genesis 12:1-3: "Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." GO MULTIPLY!"

The first mention of man’s greatness in the NT is also in the negative! Luke 9:46-48 says, Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest Jesus took a child and said, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.

Who is the greatest? The least! God must be pleased to see his created beings developing and using the gifts that he endowed them with, but he is more impressed with humility than with man’s accomplishments.

The quest for greatness includes lust for power, recognition and wealth. We may treasure a long and healthy life, or a happy family, but we have a tendency to overlook our most valuable asset.

Influence

Aside from salvation, influence is our greatest asset.

If I were to ask you how much value you place on your influence in the world, I'm certain that the answers would be full of humility. "Who me? Influence? Are you kidding? I can't even convince my kids to brush their teeth or do their homework!"

In Austria, we often heard people say, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." In other words, effort and knowledge are not as important as having influence with someone higher up. I would agree, but only if it is someone higher than man, God! God's influence in and through me is my most valuable asset.

Peter called his body a tabernacle -- a temporary dwelling or tent (II Peter 1:13-14). He believed that his presence on earth had one main purpose: to influence others to follow Christ. "Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me."

John wrote in I John 2:17, "And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."

Paul wrote in Romans 14:7: "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." Every one of us has influence. The question is, what kind?

In I Timothy 4:8 we read, "For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." The word “little” speaks of a short duration of time. The meaning is thus: “Exercising the body brings short-term benefit, but exercising your faith has unlimited and eternal reward.”

There is an interesting verse in Hebrews 11:4, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh." Genesis 4 says little about Abel and more about his brother Cain, yet Abel’s influence was still effective thousands of years after Cain murdered him.

Paul's most treasured gift, next to God's grace, was his influence upon others. He hoped, prayed and worked to the end that all men would become like himself! He called upon others to follow his example (I Cor. 4:16; 7:7; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; I Thess. 1:6-7; II Thess. 3:9; Titus 2:7-8; II Tim. 2:2). A classic example of this can be found in Acts 26:29. Paul told King Agrippa, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds."

ALL OF US ARE INFLUENCED

Romans 14:7 says, "For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself."

Our lives are influenced by forces that are beyond our control. Every person has basic needs such as food, drink, clothing and sleep. We are subject to sickness, aging, accidents and death. Inherited traits, race, nationality and natural gifts also influence us.

We are also influenced by forces which we can control, at least to some extent. Most of us underestimate the influence that the media has in our lives. What we read, hear and see has a great impact on what we think, how we react and understand. Education is another strong influence. The average child is exposed to his teachers much longer than parents and church. The company we keep is another factor which we can and should control.

ALL OF US HAVE INFLUENCE

Environmentalists constantly bombard us with information about the negative impact we have on our surroundings. They never seem to find anything positive to say about fellow human beings. That should motivate them to preach the gospel of repentance and salvation, but few environmentalists believe in God. So instead of seeking the salvation of sinful people, they seek to save the sacred planet. People are apparently the only mistake of evolution!

Even as some influences on us can't be controlled, some of the influence we have on our surroundings is also beyond our control. There is little I can do about my appearance! Every breath I take influences nature by producing carbon dioxide. The average person produces heat equivalent to a 75 watt light bulb and we all take up space.

Environmentalists are right about our capability to limit the negative impact we have on our environment. As a rule, Christians are more sensitive to this than atheists and skeptics. My wife and I take daily walks with our dog on the beach of a nearby lake. People often leave trash behind. It is unlikely that Christians are the guilty parties, because few Christians that I know smoke, drink and dispose of condoms and drug paraphernalia on beaches at night. In fact, true Christians are less likely to waste the earth's natural resources because they feel responsible to their creator. Christian missionaries have established medical clinics and helped impoverished people drill wells and improve agricultural production.

None of us can claim to have no or little influence. Although people like Lenin, Hitler, Ghandi, Martin Luther and Hudson Taylor may have had greater influence than others, they were also influenced by someone. We never know how God may use us.

Many youth crossed our path during our ministry in Austria and we have lost track of most. Peter and Andreas are a couple of exceptions. Peter played lead guitar in a rock band and rode a wild-looking "easy-rider." His conversion was dramatic and complete. He smashed dozens of LPs because he read in the Bible that idols were to be destroyed. He graduated from Bible college and served as pastor in several Austrian churches. For a number of years Peter was Chairman of the Board of the Bible Institute we founded. His outreach to university students resulted in many conversions. Peter once invited me to conduct a series of seminars on the New Testament church and 15 of the participants had doctorates; others were working on them! One of the participants later became Europe's foremost pediatrician and Director of the well-known Salzburg Children’s Clinic. He also served on the Board of our Bible Institute.

Another youth named Andreas also heard the gospel but he rejected it. He got a job flipping hamburgers in the first McDonalds in Vienna and worked his way up to Manager. As McDonalds expanded, Andreas kept moving up the ladder. He eventually was named International Vice President of McDonalds for Europe and Central Asia. A business periodical recognized him as one of the ten top managers in Europe.

I claim no credit for the "success" of Andreas, but am thankful for any influence I may have had in Peter's life.

GODLY INFLUENCE

By way of introduction to this section, I will share a piece of American history.

A wealthy Cleveland, Ohio citizen named Brikell once gave his son William the following advice: "Get land, my boy, get land! This world will have more and more people, but there is only so much land; so invest in land!" The young Brikell took his father's advice to heart and bought up gigantic tracts of land in Florida. After draining the land, he developed and sold it for a huge profit. Today we call the land he purchased Miami Beach!

In contrast, consider God's plan for the world and his commission to Christians. God sent his Son Jesus to earth to redeem men and women who deserved to die. That redemption cost him suffering and his very life, yet Hebrews 12 says that he went to the cross gladly - "for the joy that was set before him."

Jesus called twelve disciples or apprentices. Most of them were fishermen. Their greatest aspiration in life was probably making the catch of a lifetime. They perhaps dreamed of someday catching so many fish that the ship would start to sink, or that they would have to call other ships to help haul in the nets. But Jesus told them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!"

He didn't say, “Fish will multiply but there is only so much water. Invest in water!” Water is extremely valuable. Scientists believe that the next world war may be fought over water. We need water for agriculture, for industry and for many other uses. We can only live a few days without water, but he did NOT tell the disciples to invest in water.

We can only live a few minutes without air, but he didn’t tell us to invest in air. Nor did he tell us to invest in fish or real estate.

It is an election year as I write and we get many letters and telephone calls from Christian and political organizations whose stated purpose is "saving America." Without exception, they all ask for money. The following Bible stories about two women show how Jesus viewed money.

Matthew 26:6-13 "Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her."

Luke 21:1-4 "And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had."

One woman gave much and the other gave little in men's eyes, but the amount was not important. It was the heart which Jesus saw. The widow’s mite became her might! Mary’s shame became her fame! In these examples, each woman was great in God’s eyes for what she did in faith. And their influence lives on two millenniums after their departure from this world.

Hebrews 11:4 speaks of Abel’s amazing influence! Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices, yet only one was pleasing to God. Cain tried to appease God; Abel pleased God. Cain attempted to influence God (with works), but Abel allowed God to influence him (“by faith”). This verse tells us that Abel's testimony is still influencing people thousands of years after his death!

Obedience to God has a longer-lasting influence than disobedience. When the ten commandments were given in Deuteronomy 5:10, God said that disobedience brings judgment upon children until the 3rd and 4th generations, but the blessings of obedience are felt in the thousandth generation!

On the other hand, Romans 14:23 says that everything which is NOT done in faith, is sin! There are two kinds of sin: what we do (Matt. 25:31-46) and what we neglect (Matt. 25:41-45). And everything you do or don't do; say or don't say, has an influence on others. It may lead to blessings or to punishment.

PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT

For Jesus, missions is the highest priority. And every person who is brought to Christ should also be winning souls. Our Lord's parting command to his disciples was "GO MULTIPLY!" (Make disciples= apprentices).

The Austrian Bible Institute was in its second year and those attending the annual Board Meeting were dealing with several difficult problems. One Board member lamented, "For a handful of students, we seem to have a lot of problems!" I interjected, “We should expect the devil to attack us. Do you realize that in God’s eyes, this campus is the most important place in all Austria?” The reaction was unexpected. One asked if I was off my rocker and another laughed and said, “Typical Ralph! Whatever he does is the most important thing in all the world!” I argued that they were only looking at the school from a human standpoint. Ours was the only Bible School in Austria and it was more important than the Vienna Parliament!

Looking back, that “handful of students” has wielded much influence for the Lord. One graduate is Director of a Swiss mission with 58 missionaries. A second graduate started a church in Kukes, Albania. We helped to build a church there in 2000. A third is serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ethiopia. He and his wife have already translated the Bible into one tribal language. A fourth went as a missionary to Morocco and a fifth is serving in the Ukraine. A sixth went on to earn his doctorate and started a Christian publishing house in Germany. A seventh started a youth organization with 60 clubs in Austria. JUROPA is now reaching thousands of kids in 17 European nations.

Others have started churches, are serving as pastors and as missionaries. Most of the graduates are serving the Lord somewhere, somehow decades later.

TREASURE HUNTING THE BIBLICAL WAY

Matthew 6:2: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

God tells us, "GO MULTIPLY!" (Mark 16:15). Who says you can’t take it with you? If you are fishing for men - gathering souls for the kingdom and making disciples, the fruit of your labor will be with you for eternity!

The evangelist D. L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can accomplish through someone who is totally dedicated to serving him.” That statement is still true today.

Ralph V. Harvey