Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When the People of God Fall in Love With Their Stuff

No country in the history of the world has been wealthier in absolute terms than the United States. Although there have been nations with more far flung empires (Great Britain, Rome, Spain), none of them even approached the level of opulence that this country has reached. By way of example, consider the gross national product (GDP). At present (September of 2015), the nation’s GDP is over $17 trillion. That’s a figure that the human mind simply cannot comprehend. If you were to visually represent that figure, it would be like stacking $1,000 dollar bills to an altitude of 1,139 miles! That is much more than enough to reach well into outer space.  If that doesn’t impress you, take that number in $1 bills and that string, placed end to end, will be enough to get you to Saturn and back, a trip of nearly 1.6 billion miles!!!

Well, what’s the issue with having so much money? After all, money is, shall I say it, a necessary evil in order to, not only conduct trade and move commodities, but even as simple and basic a function as procuring sustenance and shelter. But it was not for nothing that the writer of Scripture spoke of money being “the source of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) The more money you have the greater the temptation to misuse it or to become prey to its allurements. Again the writer of sacred Script continuing the quotation above “many, pursuing it, have made shipwreck of their faith.” The danger is all too real to us in this wealthy nation. All day long we are bombarded with ads and propaganda that seek to separate us from our money. But not only that, we are also bombarded by countless companies and businesses with messages about how to make more money so that those same companies can separate us from it!

As you can imagine, the church is not immune to these influences. Although our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and we are not of this world, we still have to live in it. And because we live in it, we are subjected to the same pressures that the rest of the world is subjected to. The difference, however, is in how we are to react to those pressures. The fact that makes Christians different--or should make us different anyhow--is how we view the world in contrast with how the rest of humanity views that same world. Whereas the unbeliever may entangled himself with all those issues and allow them to become the objective of their lives (more money, more stuff, more, more, more), the church is to ensure that it keeps all those issues in their proper place.

Not much that is controversial about any of that, I suspect. Where we run into trouble, though, is when we look at the reality that exists today. The church is immersed in the culture. How many churches today are “adapting” their worship, their message, everything to the culture in a mad rush to appeal to that culture? And not only that, but we have become enslaved to our possessions and our “stuff.” We have bought into the message that having stuff equates to being spiritually blessed. Compare that message to the one delivered by Paul in Ephesians 4 where he tells us that "those who used to steal must now work so they can have to help those in need." (Ephesians 4:28) Not so they can have more money in the bank or have more and bigger cars and houses, but to give to those in need; sad to say, that’s probably very low in the hierarchy of priorities for many of us. Instead, you’ll hear Christians unabashedly say things such as “my ambition in life is to have a large home and a luxury car.” I have the feeling that the apostle Paul didn’t quite have that in mind when he said “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

“But,” you can hear someone say, “if we have more money and more stuff we’ll be able to reach more people with the gospel.” That sounds really good, doesn’t it? But it completely misses the point. We act as though God needs our help to accomplish anything. Folks, it may come as news to some of you, but God does what he wants; in heaven and on the earth! (Psalms 115:3) He simply has chosen to use us the way He sees fit. It could just as well have been a turtle, or a rock for that matter (remember when Jesus said the rocks would cry out if necessary?). Thus, we miss the proverbial forest for the trees when our efforts are so focused and directed at getting more stuff and more money. If it is indeed nearly impossible for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18:25), then why in the world would we be so obsessed with the accumulation of wealth? Is heaven important to us or isn’t it?

“Okay, but I could definitely glorify God better if I don’t have to worry about the essentials of life.” A completely fallacious argument, once again. Have we not learned the lessons of Matthew 6? We love to recite the Sermon on the Mount and all its high sounding pronouncements, but when it comes to actually living it, we become incredibly dense. When did the church become the strongest? When it had to face down persecution. Was it not the apostle Paul who spoke about being full and being in want and being satisfied in either state? (Philippians 4:10-13) So should we. Christianity is not an addendum to our lives: it IS our life. If we don’t look at it that way, then we’re in constant peril of, in the words of the Hebrew writer, “drifting away.” (Hebrews 2:1-4)

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