"I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay (laurel) tree." Psalm 37:35
Does anybody every wonder why the term "nice guys finish last" seems like the one cliche that you can always count on to be true? No matter how well I run my business, no matter how often I do the right thing as a man of integrity, it just seems like I can't compete with the person who is willing to kill their pet hamster in order to make fifteen bucks. The state of the economy in the United States, especially the Real Estate market is one in which I just can't figure out. From "The Fed" (which is a private owned institution that somehow controls all of the money and interest rates for the United States), to the Mortgage Brokers who put borrowers in different loans than they claimed over the phone (thanks to some fancy language), to the Politicians who seem to make all the rules, it always seems like the guys who are screwing the "Average Joe", are the ones getting ahead. One of the worst things I've ever seen are these "Stimulus Bills" promoted by the U.S Government as the answer to all of the financial woes. How is it ever a good idea to tax the citizen in order to pay off the money that the Government itself is using to keep alive the very companies that put that same citizen in the financial mess they're currently in? I don't know about you, but I get tired of watching companies that should be out of business and all of their key players in jail (like Enron) appear to flourish on their Balance Sheets, increasing their worth on the stock market and increasing their power over the people who do
I don't want to go any further on the financial issues in our Country, though I'm grateful for them as we have the opportunity to see where our security lies; but I want us to consider how the present day person (or institution) in power, who is not being led by Jesus Christ (considered by God to then be "evil" or "wicked" in Scripture), fits the mold of the "wicked" in today's passage. It seems like once you are in power, it is tough to come down from that platform, especially when you've convinced people they're worthless without you. Like the "Bay tree" which stays green even in the winter (though the roots are shallow), the wicked of today and in David's time always had the appearance of being able to flourish by Earthly standards in any situation even though they are only an axe away from being chopped back down to the ground.
Today's message is a short one. The surface life of the person you are dealing with, working for, being led by, or who you may call a friend is totally irrelevant on the grand scale. God, and his people should be much more concerned with the Spirit and Soul of a person than the outward appearance of success and personal accolades. Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to hang out with one of my favorite people, a guy named Tyler (who humbles me by being five times more intelligent) that is headed to France as a Missionary. In our discussion, we were talking about who we really are; in essence, our essence. He made a great point about how our bodies, though being very real, and very much a part of who we are while on Earth, have no effect on who we are in light of eternity. His example to me was that even if he lost his arm, he'd still be Tyler and would be able to grow in character, in Faith, and in the ability to lose himself so that He may find God. He went on to explain how life has more to do with the growth of our Spirit, one that will truly flourish as we accept the Spirit of God to take over our lives when we accept Jesus Christ.
As I studied this piece of Scripture this morning the idea of the "bay tree", which like the wicked appears to flourish in any season immediately brought to mind a story about Jesus talking to the religious people in Matthew 23. The chapter starts off by pointing out that the "religious folks" (Pharisees) who appeared to have it all together on the surface, were truly wicked as according to Jesus they would, "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." (Matt. 23:4). He then states that "Everything they do is done for men to see" (23:5). Proving more that the person leading, even the most religious person on the surface, may truly be "wicked" in that they are more concerned with increasing their own position of power than with helping others see the truth of eternity. Next, Jesus made the point that these Pharisees were never willing to serve (as a true follower of Christ would be) and then he states "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (23:11-12). Towards the end of the chapter (v. 27-28) is where it gets really good when Jesus makes the statement that reminded me of the "bay tree", "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
For anyone reading this today who is a follower of Christ, this story is really meant to put all of us "religious people" in check as we get high on what we look like to others. Maybe we have taken advantage of being a person of faith, and spread ourselves out taking advantage of our influence, even though it has become more about us than Christ. Or maybe you, like me have aimed to be as what a good friend calls, "the best of the worst", lacking humility as we try to come off humble. Even we "religious ones" don't recognize that by trying to appear fine on the surface it can come at the expense of sacrificing the transparency and authenticity of who we are in Christ, making us no different than who God considers evil. This does not mean that we can't still be joyful when we are sad, but it does suggest that instead of always making sure we look like a Christian on the outside, it's the work done in our hearts that makes us walk in the ways of Jesus.
Today don't get so caught up with playing the part of "faithful" follower, or pastor, or small group leader on the outside in order to stay at the top of your own sphere of influence, that you resemble the whitewashed tombs or the bay tree, more than you resemble Jesus. Regardless of what is going on around you, no matter who is getting ahead, I urge you keep your eyes on the prize that is our Savior, understanding that at some point the wicked perish, the trees die and all that is left is who you really are; a Spirit (that Paul says will have a heavenly body) who will last for eternity.