Daniel and Amanda’s Weblog

April 20, 2008

Dalai Lama and Creation Care

Filed under: christianity,creation care,Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 8:36 pm

It’s interesting that I came across this article on the Dalai Lama’s speech…just this morning at church we visited the verse in John where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Judi (our pastor) discussed today how that, too often, we might rather say “actually, no one comes to the Father except through our approval…” (speaking as a person, or even a church) I don’t want to be the one who decides who comes to the Father, think I’ll let Jesus keep that job.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I believe that Jesus Christ is who he said he was, and can boldly proclaim that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” as we do every Sunday. I believe it to be true, just as Jesus said that he himself was “truth.” And I believe that Jesus is the way. Following Jesus as Lord will not guarantee position, friends, riches, comfort, luxury, popularity, fame, or a long life…in fact, many times it has been and will be just the opposite. However, Jesus the son of God, and also the way of life we learn from his life and teachings, is the Way for which I’m willing to lay everything else aside. Through that, I believe, we will truly have life abundantly. Judi did point out that she wasn’t saying that all religions are the same, you just pick and choose whatever feels right to you and all is good.

Simultaneously, I wonder how often God uses folks following a different “way” to carry out his plan. If he can use an ass to talk to Balaam, why can’t he speak through people who don’t believe in his Son? Is it true that acts of selfless love or compassionate serving are from God whether the doer believes in him or not? (as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, if I remember correctly) And is it just coincidence that non Christians sometimes say things which sound very…well, Christian? I’m no theologian (I love this phrase, it always feels like it excuses any stupidity which might have just slipped from my mouth or fingers), so I’ll not answer and instead just give you this article to mill over. Let me know your thoughts.

Dalai Lama calls for greater focus on inner contentment and passion

The United States and other wealthy countries need to downscale their lifestyles and try to focus more on inner contentment, the Dalai Lama said today.

There simply aren’t enough natural resources on the planet to support all 6 billion people on Earth imitating Western lifestyles, which consume large amounts of water and electricity. Because there are limitations on external material resources, but not on internal ones, it’s better to seek contentment and peace rather than material things, he said.

The Dalai Lama, the head of the Buddhist church, gave two lectures today at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, one on Buddhist texts and, in the afternoon, a lecture on the environment sponsored by the University of Michigan. Both were attended by more than 7,000 people.

Outside, about 600 to 700 people protested, university officials said, most supporting the Chinese government and the Olympics.

The scene inside Crisler Arena was slightly surreal, as video of one of the world’s religious leaders with his hands folded was projected on an overhead scoreboard, surrounded by ads for Mountain Dew, AT&T and Meijer.

All people need to take responsibility for the environment in their daily lives, doing what small things they can to make a difference, the Dalai Lama said. He said he showers instead of taking baths, which conserves water, and turns out the lights when he leaves a room. “It’s a really serious matter,” he said.

April 14, 2008

And so shall we…

Filed under: christianity,creation care,Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 11:25 am

As most of you know, Daniel and I have been attending a United Methodist church since before Christmas. We don’t know much about the U.M. denomination, since Daniel grew up in the Church of Christ and I in the Assembly of God / Southern Baptist / Non-denominational. :) We’re beginning to learn more and more about the church, and are finding many things that we like. We especially love the church (Edgehill) that we are attending. They have played such a huge part in different movements in Nashville, and are still extremely active in the community. More than any other church I’ve attended, they do what Jesus said to do. They care for the sick, the poor, and the homeless. They fight for the elderly on fixed incomes that can’t afford the increasing property taxes because their lower-income neighborhood is being gentrified and becoming “trendy.” They give out food to the projects across the street. The list goes on and on.

So anyways, the purpose of the blog is that I want to share a Social Creed that we’ve been reciting in church lately. It’s being voted on to become the new social creed of the United Methodist Church as a whole (I think that’s right.) We just think it’s amazing that a church has these thoughts. And so shall we.

Response (it is sung):

And so shall we, and so shall we. Today is the day God celebrates when justice and compassion prevail like everflowing streams and so shall we, and so shall we.

(This part is said by the leader, the congregation speaks the bold passages)

God in the Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ calls us by grace

to be renewed in the image of our Creator, that we may be one in divine love for the world.

Today is the day God cares for the integrity of creation, wills the healing and wholeness of all life, weeps at the plunder of earth’s goodness.

And so shall we.

Today is the day God embraces all hues of humanity, delights in diversity and difference, favors solidarity transforming strangers into friends.

And so shall we.

Today is the day God cries with the masses of starving people, Despises growing disparity between rich and poor, Demands justice for workers in the marketplace.

(Response)

Today is the day God deplores the violence in our homes and streets, rebukes the world’s warring madness, humbles the powerful and lifts up the lowly.

And so shall we.

Today is the day God calls for nations and peoples to live in peace, celebrates where justice and mercy embrace, exults when the wolf grazes with the lamb.

(Response)

Today is the day God brings good news to the poor, proclaims release to the captives, gives sight to the blind, and sets the oppressed free.

And so shall we.

(Words and music by Carol Simpson, 2007.)

March 11, 2008

Just like us

Filed under: Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 4:44 pm
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Haiti is a beautiful land with beautiful people. We caught glimpses of both as we traveled and worked last week. It’s also a place of extreme poverty, where living conditions are so horrible that thousands die from lacking food, clean water, medical attention, shelter, protection from crime, and other needs. These photos, to me, are depictions of how desperate the people are for anything people of privilege might give them, whatever that might be.

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We saw over 600 people in the eye clinic alone, and ran out of all our meds and sunglasses. But that’s a small gift when you consider the huge need. On a medical mission trip like this, we can do so very little. It reminds us every time we go to Haiti that we live in complete luxury here in Tennessee, USA. And it reminds us that every unnecessary luxury we can joyfully live without is medical care or food or a well for those who desperately need. Imagining the possibilities if thousands of us Christians awoke and walked away from extravagant living doesn’t do much good…it’s just a “what if” scenario, a pretty daydream. What actually matters is when one person or family at a time decides to live faithfully and embrace the teachings of Jesus, loving and caring for their local and global neighbors. It’s an impossible mission to fix the world. But if each of us could learn to be so intent on loving the person we’re serving, one at a time, local or global, we wouldn’t have the time or energy to despair about the massive poverty that plagues our world.

The other lens through which we see Haiti every year is that the people are just like us. One of our team voiced the same thing one night, that when he looked at people in Haiti he saw people just like him. The way they joke and laugh, take advantage of free offers, go out for fun at night, try their best to succeed, and experience heart ache and joy and sorrow and pleasure just like we do. They don’t think of themselves as third world or poor, it’s just the way they live. Our kids play computer games while theirs stand on the side of the road close to a streetlight so they can read a book. We may have been born into privilege and they into poverty, but we’re all the same in everything except how our privilege allows us to live day by day. Here are some photos of what I’m talking about…

Children in Haiti enjoy sports at recess (and they’re quite competitive!)…
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Babies in Haiti laugh when tickled (by my wife)…

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Kids in Haiti can be shy…

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People in Haiti are curious…

lookingin.jpg

They have and enjoy beautiful sunsets and flowers…

sunset.jpg

flower.jpg

I think we need to look at our neighbors in Haiti and see ourselves. I do think we need to show compassion and love in using our resources to help when possible, but I also think we need to be careful about judging them as only a poverty stricken people that need assistance. They often lead full happy lives, have much to teach us about true happiness, hard work and contentment, and in so many ways are just like us…minus the gross overindulgence and luxury that makes America rich and proud. Let’s learn a lesson in humility before we feel an arrogant pity on these beautiful people, and let’s all be intentional about how we use our privilege to help them. (That’s more directed to self than anyone else)

I’m excited to learn more about medical missions (and I want to learn French/Creole!). Thanks to everyone who gave of their time, and especially gave of their hearts, to spend time in Haiti last week. We enjoyed  being with you immensely.

February 2, 2008

Why we try to live simply, Part 3

Filed under: christianity,Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 9:04 pm
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Obsession with possessions…another hurdle to clear before being free from materialism and consumerism.

It’s a phrase from that book I’m still reading (I’m a slow reader, I apologize). We see ownership as power and full enjoyment. Think of the countless number of people who go further into debt to buy things that they could just borrow. The obvious examples are the snowboards used once every 3 years, the Sea-doo stored in a garage for 11 months out of the year, or the beach house they visit to wipe off the dust every couple of years. Foster said “let’s learn to enjoy the beauty of the beach without the compulsion to buy a piece of it.”

Please also remember the other principles I’ve given throughout this series. Just because one isn’t going into debt to purchase these “toys,” just because we can afford them, doesn’t mean this principle doesn’t apply. Simplicity goes beyond freedom from debt, although adapting a simpler lifestyle would certainly alleviate debt for thousands. The Christian call is to think of others, and we simply must consider the poor when we’re considering that new toy. Will owning it really make us happier than borrowing a similar used one for the weekend and using that money for good? I think, if we actually prayed about these things, most purchases would seem silly or ridiculous. But, dear God, our fun would be ruined if we brought you into our joyful and impulsive expenditures!

Along those lines, and still on the topic of simplicity, why not ask God to provide us with the things that we need? Foster suggests a week of thought and prayer before determining that we need an item, and during that week waiting to see if he’ll provide it for us. Though I’ve been able to avoid many big ticket items, I could definitely use some work on this one. The pair of work gloves, the Skil saw, the new equipment for camping, or even optometry equipment for medical missions…what if I waited a week or two and prayed to God about those things that I determined were a true need? I might contact a friend who has what I need, and can avoid buying a new one for a one use project. He suggests it’s exciting to see how God provides (ask Amy Pratt, it happened to her this week). I almost bought an expensive autorefractor for my Haiti trips once a year, but a quick phone call secured a borrowed one. Of course there are some needs that go beyond a short project, and for those, borrowing might not be the best option. But buy used if you can, let your neighbor borrow your gorgeous lawn mower, avoid malls with your life, and for the love of God, STOP SHOPPING. (heheh, sorry, pulled a little Reverend Billy there)

What a wonderful thing to rely on God, and your community, for things that you need. I remember, when we lived in community in north Nashville, how awesome it was how different people contributed in different ways. Not just with items they owned, but with talents they had. I affixed a rod in Mindy and Ariah’s closet to hang clothes, Bryan cooked, Avery and Roman entertained, Ariah put together the composter, Dawn and Mindy let me borrow jewelry with which to propose to Amanda (well, not the actual ring…long story), Josh fixed the internet, Chris would babysit, and on and on.

Ah, to be able to step out of the world of ownership and isolation and enjoy the freedom of simplicity.

January 29, 2008

Why we try to live simply, Part 2

Filed under: christianity,Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 10:46 pm
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This series, evidently, could also accurately be called “Why living simply is not simple.”

It’s proving to be a much more difficult topic than I expected, mainly due to reading Foster’s book, who also speaks of the “complexity of simplicity.” I’ve had to take a bit of a hiatus to get through a section of that book before I started writing these posts again. And remember, if you really want to know about living simply, or more specifically how to become a person of simplicity, check out some expert writers or journals of Christians who lived full lives of simplicity. I’m not your expert or best example in the matter.

It’s been difficult mostly because I wasn’t patient. I found that Foster’s words spoke directly to me…”By now you may be wondering, ‘Why all this talk about…spiritual preparation? Can’t we just get on with the business of simplifying our lifestyles without all the God talk?’ I answer that you are welcome to try, and God help you – because you will sorely need it. Although I deeply empathize with this ‘holy impatience’ to get on with the task, the clear witness of Scripture is that something beyond good intentions and will-power is needed to transform our egocentric, greed-captivated personalities into an all-inclusive community of loving, sharing persons.”

And it’s true. Being more practical than theological in nature, I tend to jump on things and want to know exactly what to do to arrive at a place. I read and know that simplicity is a good thing, so tell me what I need, what I need to give up, and…well, it’s just not that simple.

Foster uses the verse, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” We can’t be double minded and live simply. We must more and more seek God and His Kingdom, we must pray increasingly, be in more constant awareness or consciousness of God, we must desire Christ more than anything else. Making definable steps to reduce consumerism, materialism, and greed may certainly be helpful. Refuse to buy things you don’t need that put you further into debt, work less and spend more time with the family, don’t be afraid to step away from the rat race and miss a chance to get ahead, etc. Do that. But if we pursue simplicity only outwardly, we will be like a rock climber who sets out to climb Everest without gear.

Earlier this week, my wife and I were asked by some media if we thought we could be happier if we pursued a more typical “American” lifestyle (bigger home, nicer clothes, and acquiring better things). Absolutely not, and we were clear about that. In fact, we believe just the opposite. The more stuff we get, the more we live in luxury, the more dependent we become on that stuff, and the less focused on God, the sustainer of our lives, we are. Working harder and longer to obtain nicer things and more modern technologies will not give us the joy that we can have in following Christ.

That’s what we believe. It’s not how we always act, nor is it what our minds always tell us. There’s so much out there, from advertisements and marketing to desires born in us over many years, to fit in. So much that says we’d be happier with more. It’s a constant struggle of keeping our gaze on Christ and seeking always to let Him direct our every decision.

January 22, 2008

Why we try to live simply, Part 1

Filed under: creation care,Religion and Philosophy — theburts @ 10:14 pm
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“Simplicity is the most outward of all the Disciplines, and hence the most susceptible to corruption. How could I be specific without being rigid? How could I call people from greed without introducing a new pharisaism?” – Richard Foster, in the preface to Freedom of Simplicity, on why it was a difficult decision for him to write an entire book on such a “complex” topic.

I, too, hesitated to write anything on the subjects of riches, possessions, and simplicity. Like Foster, I don’t feel qualified. Sort of like I don’t feel qualified to be speaking to the world on ways to counteract America’s overconsumption and waste. :) But, as I’ve state before, it’s good for me to write about things because it forces me to read and study and think about the issue at hand, and hopefully come to better understanding of whatever my role is in that issue.

So here we are. But, if you really want to learn about simplicity, this isn’t the best place…I can guarantee that. Go read Freedom of Simplicity, which is good so far (though I’m only on the second chapter!). Or read about the lives of the early saints (or current ones) who really lived their lives simply. This, however, is written by someone who found himself at one point of his life too attached to stuff, and who now desires by gradual change to experience that “freedom of simplicity.”

Also, though I’m not sure yet, I think it might be quite similar to the last series on “why we share our wealth.” Because living simply implies, I think, a certain contentment with what we need as well as a desire to share God’s blessings with others. I cannot live simply and continue to spend my money on whatever it is that I want for me. I cannot live simply and continue to fill my life with things that promise to be “all you need to be happy.” If I choose to be content, and to trust in God, I will become more and more a person of simplicity.

I guess that was just an intro. Come back for more later….back to work for now.

January 20, 2008

Why we share our wealth, Part 4

This is the last of the “Why we share our wealth” part of the series, I promise. A few days ago, Amanda and I sat down and wrote down all the Bible verses we could think of that had to do with money and riches. We wrote them on some of the 2,000 different colored envelopes we found in the trash, and planned on posting them around various places in our house to remind us of why we shouldn’t move to a mansion in Belle Meade (a very Mindy Fine thing to do…not moving to Belle Meade, but the scripture cards, haha). I actually just referred to those cards when writing all these blogs…and because of that, I failed to include a very important passage that’s already ON our wall. It’s an example of giving everything until everyone has their needs met, and it was being lived out in a very real way…so much so that there were no needy persons among them. A lot has changed since then, for we now have the opportunity to help those beyond our cities with just the click of a button. But even if we just all started with our own cities and pleaded with other rich brothers and sisters to do the same, we could recreate this scenario:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2) “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4)
No one claimed that any possession was his or her own. These radical disciples actually shared everything until there was no one lacking. This is what we truly want to see happening in the world, or at least among people of faith. And, as Gandhi reminds us, we must start with ourselves…”Be the change you want to see in the world.” So that, my friends, is why we share our wealth. May God continually give us the faith, hope and love to do so.

Now for the fine print:
1) Most of what has been discussed and suggested so far has dealt exclusively with sharing money, or giving away possessions with value attached to them. Let it be known that I don’t think that’s enough. After Jesus told the rich ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor, he also said “follow me.” And I think, if we truly follow Jesus, we will be among the poor and oppressed. He wants more than our cash, to quote Derek Webb, he also wants our time and our voice. Charities are great, but they also keep us at a very safe distance from the ones receiving the charity (Shane Claiborne wrote a good bit about this in Irresistible Revolution). Mother Teresa, too, said, “Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them.” We could give away all our excess for an entire lifetime, but never really spend time with the poor, and I believe Christ calls us to do better.
2) When we mention that we share our wealth, we don’t want anyone to believe that we are “saints” in this area. If you didn’t notice in the last post, I suggested that we must give away everything except that which we need to live…until all the poor are cared for. How far should we take that? I’ll let everyone figure that out for themselves. :) For us, we choose to have enough that we can still carry on our professional careers successfully, for one thing. If I lived in a tent with one change of clothes, I could survive….but it would not be healthy for me and Amanda at this point, and I would likely lose my job. So we do have an apartment and more than one pair of shoes. Yes, we do live simply and with less stuff, but we also have a long way to go. That realization doesn’t bog us down with guilt, but encourages us to set goals to work towards. Change is hard and not overnight for everyone. Rewards are not always immediate, either, but we all need to be constantly looking for ways to be more Christ-like in this area.

January 18, 2008

Why we share our wealth, Part 3

Paul, there are a few people in the assembly here who dress really well, ride nice camels, and their homes have rooms and beds they don’t even use. They’re super nice and well versed in scriptural knowledge, but I wonder if they’ve read Christ’s teachings regarding riches. You see, there are hundreds in this city who are without shelter and food, and it seems like they, being rich, could share a lot more than their regular tithe. But I’m afraid, Paul. I don’t want to say anything, because I think they would be offended. And I am on salary here. What should I do?
-the epistle of Timothy

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
-the epistle of Paul to Timothy

Ok, so the first one was made up. But you see my point, I hope…a reminder that rich people existed in the first century as well. And they were exhorted to give and share generously to take hold of the “life that is truly life.”

Here, in one paragraph, is my understanding of how much the gospel of Christ calls Amanda and me to give…then I will post a few verses to support it. It’s not a number, by the way, or a percentage of income. Neither of those work out so well when you have such a huge gap between the poorest of the poor and, well, us. So here it is. Ready? Until all the poor of the world are fed, clothed, sheltered and tended to, Christ calls us to give everything away except that which we need to live. And face it, we don’t really need most of the things we have to live. Again, we aren’t anywhere close to perfecting this one, but that’s what we see in the gospel and where we want to head. Now, will that time come in our lifetime? Or ever? Well, probably not. But God doesn’t call us to be successful…he calls us to be faithful (Mother Teresa).

Remember the gap I talked about between the poor and the rich? Jesus told a story about a poor widow who put in two copper coins, where the rich were throwing in large amounts. Jesus said she’d given more than all the others. “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” So it’s not the amount. If I’m able, by being a doctor, to give large amounts, that doesn’t make me any more generous or righteous than the person who can only manage a hundred dollars here and there. I think it was Dorothy Day who said “It’s not how much you give, but how much you have left, that matters.” What if all Christians followed that rule? We need more people to give until it hurts, until they can’t give anymore.

When John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord, the people asked him what they should do. Among other things, he offered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” With many other words, Luke writes, he preached the Good News to them. Could that be the first practical lesson on the Gospel?

Jesus echoed it in the sermon on the mount, after telling us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Also, as recorded by John, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (I John 3)

Amanda and I are trying to take scripture for what it says and not excuse ourselves for any reason. How can we justify having two winter coats and knowing there are freezing women and men under the bridges? Fashion isn’t a good enough excuse. Not wanting our friends to see us wear the same coat all the time isn’t either.

One more scripture, and it’s been probably the most influential one for us. But you have to go look this one up…it’s too long to post. Matthew 25: 31-46.

Mother Teresa hit the nail on the head about this passage; “Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.” If we treat everyone in the entire world with the love we’d treat Jesus, or with the love that we’d treat our own brother or sister, son or daughter, we find ourselves giving till it hurts. We find ourselves unable to justify many expenses, living simply so that others may simply live (a motto of ours, but we don’t remember where we got it, sorry).

And again, without love, giving means nothing. It’s not about money or fund raising programs, it’s about loving God and loving our neighbor. If we give hundreds of thousands every year and live without one single luxury, but don’t have love, we gain nothing. Amanda and I want to constantly focus on this, striving to give purely out of love rather than legalistic requirements. We know we need to love more, and we desire to grow in that love every day. OK, I lied, one more verse.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (I John 4) Which reminds me of my all time favorite play ever, Les Miserables. Victor Hugo wrote something similarly profound in it, sung by Jean Val-Jean in his dying breath. “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Lord, be merciful to us when we fail to love you in the least of these, and let us look at every opportunity to share and give as a chance to see the face of God.

January 16, 2008

Why we share our wealth, Part 2

Ok, so we’re rich. Now what? Let’s take a peek at some of what Jesus says to (or about) the rich.

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19, Mark 10, Luke 18…just after he told a rich ruler to sell his possessions and give everything to the poor, and to follow Jesus.)

I think that’s enough to widen our eyes and put a fire under us. Jesus lets us know that it’s very difficult for us to enter the Kingdom of God. Why? I’ll get to that. First, let’s visit some of Christ’s teachings as recorded by Dr. Luke.

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life doesn’t consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12)

Jesus continued, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, 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, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Alright, I’ve heard this passage a hundred times growing up. It ends with this climax, “Seek his Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you (NKJ).” It’s a great verse. It speaks of how the Kingdom of God is so much more than possessions, or wealth. We shouldn’t be spending our time going after the things the pagan world goes after. We shouldn’t worry, we shouldn’t fear. God will provide.

I never really remember reading the next part (I’m sure I just skipped it because it only applied to the people who were too attached to their possessions, not me). “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Earlier, I asked “Why is it so hard for us rich folk to enter the Kingdom?” It’s because we will trust in our possessions, in our riches. We no longer need to depend or rely on God, because we can provide everything we can imagine for ourselves. All we have to do to build a bigger barn is withdraw some of our stash, and all we have to do to feed ourselves is to haul our SUV to our barn (or Outback). This is why this upside down Kingdom was so popular among the poor of Jesus’ society. They saw a dream in Jesus’ words of a system overturned; where the humble were lifted up, the mourners laughed, and the poor became rich.

The rich, however, were so caught up with their temporary “fulfillment” that they couldn’t see the need for this kind of a Kingdom. And so are we, often. Sure, all Christians claim dependence on God and interest in the Kingdom. I do. But I guarantee that you could name something I wouldn’t want to sell so I could give the money to the poor. We have to start being less attached to our possessions. Of course, it’s one thing to say we’re not attached, and another entirely to act on it. Jesus calls us to act on it. Not just the rich ruler, mind you, he asks everyone to sell possessions and give to the poor. And he says that where our treasure is, there he’ll find our heart. (When you find time, I suggest you go meditate on this scripture.)

At this point, it would be easy to stop. We’ve established:

  • Be on guard against greed
  • Don’t store up for ourselves but be rich toward God
  • Don’t be too attached to our possessions
  • Don’t worry about our lives, our food and clothing, like the pagans do
  • Sell possessions and give to the poor

Ok, fine. I can give to the poor, claim every single one of these other things and still live a luxurious life, right? Millions claim it. But what we claim about whether or not we’re attached to our possessions, about where our treasure is, and about whether or not we worry about stuff, doesn’t amount to much more than a stinky pile of crap. What matters is how we live. And that’s where we’re heading in the next post. How does all this change how we live?

Amanda and I, among many others, desire to look different than the pagans. We feel that following Jesus Christ completely will lead someone to look strange. If we buy, invest, recreate, work, give and worry exactly the same as the pagan world, how can we claim to not run after the things the pagan world does? If I my life looks identical to that of the pagan optometrist with the same salary down the block, I’ve got a problem. Jesus’ followers in the early church history were recognizable. Are we?

(Please be advised that if you answer only “we’re forgiven” to the question of how we’re different than the pagans, I will get upset. If you read a Bible that says the only area where Christians should differ from pagans is in our forgiveness, we read a different Bible. God isn’t looking for people who will simply make a statement for forgiveness and heaven-readiness…he’s looking for courageous men and women through whom He will bring heaven to earth.)

January 15, 2008

Why we share our wealth, Part 1

I’ll start this series with a simple confession. Amanda and I are rich. That’s not to brag, and it really doesn’t have much to do with our income. It has to do with the fact that we are among the top few percent of the richest people in the world. Probably most of my readers, you included, are also rich by that reasoning…check out the statistics if you’re not sure.

We have enough money to rent a small apartment, we own a car, we never have to worry about going hungry, we have several changes of clothes and shoes, we own a computer and enough furniture for our apartment, we have recreational equipment like camping gear, snorkels, and bikes…I could go on and on. The reason I think this distinction is important is that it helps us relate to certain teachings of Christ. When Jesus addresses the rich, he addresses us. It’s easy to act like we’re “middle class” and ignore those passages, as if they simply don’t apply to us. But for Amanda and me, we need to look up and tune in.

You have to decide for yourself whether or not you are rich and wealthy. Don’t compare yourself to just those around you, either. Christianity wasn’t began in the United States, and we need to have a broad world view when we consider anything related to it. We’ll give everyone a day to figure out if you are rich or not, then we’ll be back tomorrow to talk about what that means. There will be lots of scripture, so bring your Bibles. :)

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