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Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

poor with usSo the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders.He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” [Deuteronomy 26:8-10a]

I am no different from my kids when it comes to appreciating what God has done for me.

It makes me so furious when I feel I have given and given and given so much to my children and they barely seem to appreciate it. Instead, they seem to have developed an attitude of expectation as though they deserve more and more. I’ve created a monster that rears its ugly head almost daily asking, “What have you done for me lately?” (like in the last hour).

But am I any different? Just like the Israelites really, who were miraculously whooshed out of Egypt after a series of plagues and deaths that bypassed them and only affected the Egyptians; after escaping through the parting waters of the Red Sea; after manna from heaven and water from a dead rock . . . still it was not enough to sustain their belief. They could not even wait for Moses to come down from the mountain before they created their own golden God who would give them license to do whatever they wanted to do.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. [Deuteronomy 8:10-14]

I have become equally complacent with the blessings of God. I have lost sight that I live in a land where anything is possible, where water comes out of faucets (both hot and cold), where food is purchased with the swipe of a plastic card, where heat comes out of slats in the floor, where travel is in a car, where clothing is bought and given away in the same year, where illness is an inconvenience and going to work every day is often tedious and renders a justified “mental health day.”

Spoiled believer. I am. Spoiled by the blessings. Giving thanks at a meal is a ritual with little authentic appreciation of the cost to others.

Forgive me Father for my callous and blind day to day living without earnest thanksgiving. All you ask is that I give back some of it for the sake of others, an offering of “first fruits” from the harvest, a tithe from my income, an acknowledgment of your provision. I give but I am cavalier. I donate but not the best part.

Forgive me Father. Keep me mindful this day. And the next day. And the next. Order my day, show me the way.

 

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Photo by Bertrand Celce

Most historians are pretty sure that the great trees of Hebron were terebinths or oak trees. Those are no more. And yet, the area still sports many ancient olive trees. It is a place of growth and growing things. It is a place of life in the face of adversarial conditions.

Genesis 13:18
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

Mamre, before Abram’s arrival, was a place of Canaanite worship. It was a central location and many caravans and travelers moved through the area. There were regular fairs and markets for trade. And apparently, there was ample water from a five meter wide well, later called Abraham’s well. This is the place where Abram built an altar, in the very midst of a pagan stronghold.

At this point in the story, there is no indication that Abram was anything but a man of peace. He did not fight or destroy anything there upon his arrival. He did not try to conquer the peoples or tear down their altars. He merely arrived and planted his household there.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes to transform a place. Just be there.

I remember a young couple who decided they wanted to serve in the poorest areas of Boston. And although it was dangerous to do so, they decided they would commit to this venture by living in the neighborhood itself. Many people cautioned them against it because of the dangerous elements to the street, drug traffic, poverty, and violence. And yet, they felt compelled to take a stand there. And although there were trials and losses, there was respect and acceptance. For the ten years that they lived there, many lives were changed.

In my mind, this is the most authentic way to serve the poor. What is it to serve the poor and then return to one’s middle class home? Now, this is not to say that I have done this. I’m a wimp. I fear poverty, having grown up in it. And yet, I sense a pulling, a drawing toward something radical.

Of course, not every challenge means impoverished circumstances. There are needs in paradise too, people who have lost sight of the things of God, enveloped by the lush trees of comfort. How do we impact this world? It’s very hard for we are much more easily entranced by the life of leisure than a life of poverty. How do we plant ourselves in the world without becoming part of the world? So far, few have succeeded.

For me, Jesus is the prime example of being in the world and yet not of it. He traveled freely between the poor and the wealthy. He ate with sinners and saints. He could do these things because he was totally centered in the truth of Himself and God. He was his own Light. He was not dependent on the reflection of others. He did not waiver. He was able to love and listen and yet, speak and teach without judgment.

Today, it is our cities that are the great trees of Mamre.

 

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It’s not always what we think it is: true life. Understanding is particularly difficult for the wealthy and, even though I hate to say it, I am among these. Most Americans are. We have abundance and we have fooled ourselves into believing it’s the life, that American dream.

I Timothy 6:19
In this way they [the wealthy] 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.

Oh, compared to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, I’m not rich. But, compared to the millions of people who live on a dollar a day or who are deeply dependent on welfare and social security subsidies, I am flush. And yet, Paul admonishes his mentee, Timothy, to pay particular attention to the wealthy, who must be reminded often that it is not their goods, but their good works that have value over time. It is their liberal generosity willingness to share with others. . . . not just share money, but time.

The rich become complacent and arrogant more easily.

I can certainly attest to the complacency. If it were not so, I would be manifesting greater service to those in need. It’s not that I don’t care, I just can’t seem to “fit it all in.” How lame.

As a supervisor, I have asked employees who struggle with “best use of their time” to log their days for a couple of weeks and analyze how their time is really spent. Clearly, I need to to do the same thing.

What did I do yesterday that was investment in “true life?” What will I do today?

Sometimes and maybe even more than sometimes, generosity is not about money, but about generosity of the heart. If we give out of true self, like time and authentic connections, that has value too. Can I give bountifully of myself today? Can I stay mindful enough of the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, that I can be open to feel, to hear, to see, to sense, the pain of another, the loss, the hollow places that need an outpouring of love? Can I? Will I?

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Paul is a little testy with the Corinthians in Chapter 4. He compares his lifestyle with theirs. It would be like comparing Mother Teresa’s lifestyle with mine. Indeed, what is wrong with this picture?

I Corinthians 4:8a, 9a
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! . . . For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.

I was uncomfortable reading Paul today. After all, he’s writing to me just as much as he’s writing to the Corinthians. Compared to the poor of the world, I am living a king’s life. Compared to the relative wealth in any third world country, I am still living like royalty. In Africa, the villager measures wealth by land and cattle and food to eat. In America, we measure wealth by extraneous “toys” like electronics, paper money, investments, cars, and multiple bathrooms in a house.

This is still my stumbling block. It always has been and until my life changes, it will continue to be a plank in my eye [Luke 6:42].

I am afraid to be poor again.

How many times have a I sat in a Bible study or small group and talked about our wealth? We nod our heads and agree it’s problematic, but then we all return to our three and four bedroom houses with two and a half baths and two cars sitting in the driveway. Minimum.

Or, to make ourselves feel better, we drag out the Biblical examples of the wealthy who were close to Jesus: Joseph of Arimathea (who gave up his tomb for Jesus) or Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who climbed a tree to see Jesus and entertained him that night (oh, wait, he gave a way huge portions of his accumulated wealth that day).

Honestly, there’s no getting around it. Our wealth is a type of sin. We can tithe 10%, 15%, or even 20% and still we are carefully holding and caring and multiplying the remainder.

Oh, we say it’s only the “love of money” that is sin [I Timothy 6:10]. So, I don’t “love” money? I just love what money can buy. I love it’s power so much I spend more than I earn and put myself in debt.

Paul says to imitate him. I can’t do it. There’s a reality check. No. I have to find my own balance between culture, commitment, and Christ. This is not the first century.

I have no real solution. But I do know that it’s here where the voice of God must enter my soul and bring revelation. It is here where grace must make her appearance. It is here where mercy must do battle with condemnation. It is here where potential change must be embraced within the loving arms of a Redeemer.

Just as Jesus accepted the prostitutes and beggars, he accepts me. And just as he transformed them, he can transform me. I don’t know what that will look like. I cannot know the true outcome of this picture. I can only trust the Artist.

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I’m still holding on to my cargo, I know it: the stuff… all the stuff that keeps dragging me backward. Some of it is beloved, but how does that compare with the more important things in life?

Acts 27:18
We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.

I am embarrassed to say how much stuff I really have. I go through periods of organization and as a result, I’ve gotten pretty good at hiding it (neatly labeled and tucked away). But there are boxes and boxes of books in my basement (above and beyond the bookshelves that are maxed out as well) and boxes of memorabilia and boxes of costumes. Some boxes are filled with my mother’s books; I keep them from a type of sentimentality. And yet, most of them aren’t even in English for heaven’s sake.

God is patient though. I know this for a fact. God will wait and nudge and teach and guide, hoping I will choose, on my own, to start dumping my cargo. I don’t believe God wants me to go through a brutal storm where personal safety trumps the stuff. But, if I persist in holding too tightly to these things, that could happen next.

The nudges I have been getting are about living more simply. We are living in terrible economic times. Our family is not so different from others, credit cards loaded with debt and we’re trudging along from one paycheck to the next. We are fortunate that we still have jobs, but there are no longer guarantees. A great storm could hit any day.

This month I have decided to start shedding pounds… I think that’s just one place for the dieting must begin. It’s time to let go of the “things” … the unused knick-knacks, the “collection” of salt and pepper shakers, the boxes of coffee cups, the books that don’t fit on my shelves (I have 15-20 shelf units), the boxes of old papers (yes, I still have my graduate school papers), the old suitcases, the unstarted crafts, the bowls I never use, the cookbooks I never open, the sheets that don’t fit any of our beds… the list goes on.

And these “things” are symbolic of the spiritual baggage I’ve been carrying around as well: the unforgiven actions of others, the disappointments, the condemnation, the discontent, just to name a few.

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John 19:38-39
And after this, Joseph of Arimathea–a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews–asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate granted him permission. So he came and took away His body. And Nicodemus also, who first had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, [weighing] about a hundred pounds.

In the end, it was the rich guys with the connections who removed Jesus from the cross, wrapped him in burial cloth, and laid him in a new tomb. This could not have been done by the poor disciples who followed Jesus daily. You see, there were disciples among the rich… they just didn’t quite “get” what they should do or how to follow.

I know the feeling of helplessness when colleagues or friends become seriously ill (or even their family members). I want to “do” something, but I’m never quite sure what I should or can do that will make a difference. So often, just being there is enough for the ill or grieving. But surely, there is something else? Some years ago a friend of ours died after a short but horrific battle with lung cancer. All of the typical things were done for the family like food and visitation and sympathy. But another friend was amazing. She offered to come in once a week to organize all of the medical bills. What a precious gift of time and knowledge.

This is what Joseph and Nicodemus did. They had failed Jesus in so many ways, but when something concrete and quite within their realm of expense and ability, they acted. And what they did made a huge difference.

Compared to the rest of the world, Americans are predominately Josephs and Nicodemus’s. We are straining to go through the “eye of the needle.” [Matthew 19:24] But there are times when we can take what we have and what we know and move the kingdom closer. Giving of our bounty, sharing our knowledge, and donating our time does have value. And until we have the courage to shed our accouterments to serve and live among the poor, we have other tasks laid before us.

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Matthew 19:24
“Again I tell you, 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.”

That’s us, the rich man. I don’t think we want to hear that, but it’s true. I’m reading Rob Bell’s “Jesus Wants to Save Christians,” and found a list of disturbing facts. Here are just a few:

  • The U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil a day. (Next in line is China, 5.6 million barrels a day.)
  • America controls 20% of the world’s wealth with only about 5% of the world’s population.
  • Every 7 seconds, somewhere in the world a child under age 5 dies of hunger while Americans throw away 14% of the food we purchase.
  • Nearly 1 billion people in the world live on less than one American dollar a day.
  • More than half of the world lives on less than $2 a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 a week.
  • 40% of people in the world lack basic sanitation while 49 million diapers are used and thrown away in America every day.
  • 1.6 billion people in the world have no electricity.
  • Most people in the world do not own a car; one-third of American families own 3 cars.
  • One in seven children worldwide has to go to work every day just to survive.
  • Americans spend more annually on trash bags than nearly half of the world does on all goods

I’m only saying: we’re the rich man. All of us. So, how will you get through the eye of the needle to enter the Kingdom of God?

I am counting on the mercy and grace of Christ. That’s it. There is no other way.

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