2018 RLT #30: Rich Toward God

‘Someone in the crowd said to (Jesus), “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

‘Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

‘And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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 my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”’ (Luke 12:13-21 NIV2011)

Jesus sandwiches this parable between two powerful and categorical statements. The first is a warning to be on our guard against all kinds of greed, because ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’. Today, of course, there is a powerful advertising industry dedicated to convincing me that that’s exactly what life consists of (not to mention politicians who tell is it’s our patriotic duty to consume more and more in the service of the false god of The Economy). This all ties in to the idolatry of my greed; the delusional state in which I think, “I’ll be happy if I can just have…” (insert your own preferred next purchase here). This is delusional, because none of the stuff we’ve bought so far has made us happy; it’s just made us more fixated on burglar alarms.

Jesus addresses this issue by setting it in the context of eternity. When we meet our Maker face to face, the size of the bank account our relatives are fighting over won’t make a blind bit of difference. But there are things we can focus on, right now, that will make a huge difference on that day: loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. This is true wealth, Jesus says; this is what he means at the end by ‘being rich toward God’.

So Jesus ends with the second categorical statement: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” God, please help me not just to think about this, but to practice it: not to accumulate more and more stuff, but to focus on the things that truly matter in the light of eternity. Amen.

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2018 Random Lent Thought #14: A Bit More About Simplicity

This morning in my One-Year Bible readings I came to this well-known story:

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.”

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, ‘Who then can be saved?’

Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.’ (Mark 10:17-27 NIV).

Here’s my prayer response.

Lord Jesus, one verse in this reading really jumps out at me: ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’ (v.21). This is the context for everything else. Your love for this man made you tell him the truth. If you had loved him less, you could have come up with some compromise plan, but you knew a compromise wouldn’t really cut it. Because you loved him so much, you had to be straight with him.

What is the truth? The deepest truth is that we are all called to follow you, and we all have things that hinder us from following that call. And one of the most potent is our wealth.

You aren’t moralizing, Lord Jesus; you are speaking plain fact. A person who has spent their life relying on money as the answer for everything will find it hard to trust in God. Their trust muscles haven’t had much exercise. I know this to be true in my own life. I live quite comfortably. I never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from. When something goes wrong, I can usually afford to buy my way out of it. I use money to buy enjoyment (music, books, food, experiences). I rarely have to be ‘beholden’ to others. And because I’m not forced to exercise desperate faith on a regular basis, it’s hard for me to live as a Kingdom person.

Also, money and possessions have wrapped a chain around my heart. I have, but I still want more (even though I have not found ultimate happiness in the stuff I already have). Enough is never enough. Acquisition is addictive. Giving becomes harder, because I still want more stuff. ‘Stuff’ is one of my favourite idols.

So, Lord Jesus, you speak a word of living truth to this man. You challenge him to dethrone the false god and follow you. Only when he has dethroned the false god will he be free to follow you. He can’t settle for less. The challenge is hard for him to face, but it’s the only way. He’s like an alcoholic who can’t just drink moderately; he has to be teetotal, or he’ll die of his addiction.

Dare I ask if this is me? I don’t dare. But I must ask myself: am i an addict, Lord Jesus?

Of course, I have obligations – family, friends, job – that require me to possess a certain amount of ‘stuff’. But do I keep on and on acquiring, above and beyond what I need? Undoubtedly I do.

Lord Jesus, help me to learn to find joy and freedom in living as simply as I can, so that nothing gets in the way of following you. You have said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31 NIV). So help me today to walk in the true freedom of simplicity and faith. Amen.

 

2018 Random Lent Thought #13: Simplicity

Here’s one of my favourite sayings: ‘Junk will always expand to fill available space’.

And here’s one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus: ‘‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.‘ (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV).

You and I have been formed by a culture in which our right to store up for ourselves treasures on earth is considered sacrosanct. A huge advertising industry is dedicated to making us discontented with what we have, and success is most often defined in terms of increasing wealth. But here Jesus stands against this and unmasks it for what it is: idolatry: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

Back in the 1970s there was a saying: ‘Live simply, that others might simply live’. I’m fortunate (although it doesn’t always feel that way!) to be married to a woman who cares deeply about the simple life and who regularly goes through the house, identifies things we don’t use and don’t need, and finds a charity to give them away to. We’re also fortunate in that we live in a small house, so there isn’t much space to accumulate junk anyway, because (as I said above) junk will always expand to fill available space.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. How am I putting this teaching of Jesus into practice in my life? How about you?

Random Lent Thought for Sunday March 26th: Inflated Speech

Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:36, NIV 2011).

A few years ago a machine left a message on my answering service. The machine said, ‘Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman would like to personally invite you to…’ At that point I stopped listening, because I realized that if Raj Sherman and I can’t even agree on what constitutes a personal invitation, I probably don’t want to attend whatever it is he’s inviting me to. A personal invitation is an invitation delivered by one person to another person. A machine programmed to make robocalls cannot deliver a personal invitation.

This is an example of how inflated speech has crept into our vocabulary. Another example, one that has become to common that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so meaningless, is for people to describe themselves as ‘passionate’ about something. “I’m passionate about reconciliation’, or ‘mission’, or ‘building community’. Personally, I’ve always thought it was better to let other people describe me as passionate (or not), rather than making that claim for myself. But nowadays you can’t just be ‘interested’ in something, or even ‘quite good at it’ – you have to be ‘passionate’ about it!

Another example is in the baptismal liturgy in the (Canadian Anglican) Book of Alternative Services (that we took over lock, stock, and barrel from the American 1979 Prayer Book), in which we are asked ‘Do you promise to obey (Jesus) as your Lord?’ I am absolutely certain that no one who has made that promise has ever kept it; the absolute best that I, infected as I am by original sin, can promise is to TRY to obey Jesus as my Lord. Once again, inflated speech.

From Anabaptist and Quaker friends I’ve learned about the deep desire for truthfulness, for simple speech, that makes us reluctant to speak more than we can deliver. An oath is dangerous because it gives us the illusion that we’re in control of the future, when we’re not even completely in control of our portion of the future (all sorts of calamities beyond my control can effect my ability to deliver on the oath). To simply say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, or ‘I’ll do my best’, is to acknowledge our human finiteness and the fact that we’re not ultimately in control. To say “I’m actually quite interested in church growth and I’ve done a lot of reading and learning about it” (if it’s true) is probably (for 90% of the people who say it) more modest and honest and accurate than to say “I’m passionate about church growth”.

It concerns me that our politicians have been using inflated speech for so long that they don’t realize that they’re making the language meaningless (and you all know who I’m thinking about right now, although he’s only the latest manifestation of this). But that isn’t what should concern me the most. What should concern me the most is the number of times I myself treat language like this. God is not impressed with my outrageous exaggerations. God, the psalmist tells us, ‘desires truth in the inward parts’ (Psalm 51:6, KJV). May the Lord deliver us from inflated speech, and may he teach us the virtue of truthfulness and modesty.

Random Lent thought for Wednesday March 15th: ‘Junk Will Always Expend to Fill Available Space’

Here’s another one of my favourite sayings: ‘Junk will always expand to fill available space’.

And here’s one of the most challenging sayings of Jesus: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:10-21).

You and I have been formed by a culture in which our right to store up for ourselves treasures on earth is considered sacrosanct. A huge advertising industry is dedicated to making us discontented with what we have, and success is most often defined in terms of increasing wealth. But here Jesus stands against this and unmasks it for what it is: idolatry: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’.

Back in the 1970s there was a saying: ‘Live simply, that others might simply live’. I’m fortunate (although it doesn’t always feel that way!) to be married to a woman who cares deeply about the simple life and who regularly goes through the house, identifies things we don’t use and don’t need, and finds a charity to give them away to. We’re also fortunate in that we live in a small house, so there isn’t much space to accumulate junk anyway, because (as I said above) junk will always expand to fill available space.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’. How am I putting this teaching of Jesus into practice in my life? How about you?

‘Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community’, by Leah Kostamo

planted-by-leah-kostamoThis book is both the story of A Rocha Canada and also a good primer on a Christian approach to creation care. Early in the book the author names four theological principles on which the work of A Rocha is based: (1) The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1), (2) Creation is good (Genesis 1:31), (3) Everything is connected (Hosea 4:1-3), and (4) We are to have hope (despite the fact that ‘knowing what conservationists know, it’s only logical that they would be tempted to despair).

The data about the deterioration of our natural environment seems overwhelming at times, but nevertheless I came away from this book with a sense of hope and a feeling that there are things – maybe even just little things – that everyone can do. But I particularly resonated with Leah Kostamo’s three recommended attitudes: (1) Practice Gratitude, (2) Practice Generosity, and (3) Practice Keeping the Sabbath.

Like many people, I’m in favour of creation care in theory but often take the easy way out. This book gave me both a sense of hope and also a few things to be working on.

Leah Kostamo’s website is here.

Planted can be purchased from Amazon.ca here.

Words from Wendell Berry

Wendell-BerryI would like to say that Wendell Berry is one of my great heroes. However, if I were to say that, people could legitimately turn to me and ask, “Then how come you’re not living a more environmentally sustainable life?” And I don’t have a particularly convincing answer to that question – an answer, that is, that doesn’t come down in the long run to my own laziness, apathy, and hypocrisy.

Wendell Berry recently gave a TV interview to Bill Moyers; you can watch it here. Here are some of the good quotes:

BILL MOYERS: You wrote quite recently that the two great aims of industrialization, replacement of people by technology and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small plutocracy seem, in your words, close to fulfillment. What do you think from your life’s experience might stall the momentum and perhaps even reverse it?

WENDELL BERRY: I don’t know. There are two or three things that we haven’t been able to confront or even acknowledge politically. One is that the aim of the Industrial Revolution from year one has been to replace people with technology. So it’s a little contemptible to hear these people express in surprise at this late date that we have an unemployment problem. I don’t know that there’s any politician of visibility who could say that. So that’s, it’s important for people like me to say it, who have no power.

The other thing that we’re having trouble confronting and both sides are having trouble to confront it publicly and speak of it, is the disaster of being governed by the corporations. Those fictitious persons. And uh, you know you’re waiting for the day when some politician of stature and visibility will finally say, we can’t have this any longer, we’re here in Washington or Frankfort to represent the people, not to be employed or bought by the corporations and to serve them.

***

BILL MOYERS: Faith. You still consider yourself a Christian.

WENDELL BERRY: I still consider myself a person who takes the gospels very seriously. And I read in them and am sometimes shamed by them and sometimes utterly baffled by them. But there is a good bit of the gospel that I do get, I think. I believe I understand it accurately. And I’m sticking to that. And I’m hanging on for the parts that I don’t understand. And, you know willing to endure the shame of falling short as a price of admission. All that places a very heavy and exacting obligation on me as a writer. A lot of my writing I think has been, when it hasn’t been in defense of precious things, has been a giving of thanks for precious things. So that enforces the art.

***

BILL MOYERS: The grace of the world, take that a little further for me.

WENDELL BERRY: I meant it in the religious sense. The people of, people of religious faith know that the world is, is maintained every day by the same force that created it. It’s an article of my faith and belief, that all creatures live by breathing God’s breath and participating in his spirit. And this means that the whole thing is holy. The whole shooting match. There are no sacred and unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places. So finally I see those gouges in the surface mine country as desecrations, not just as land abuse. Not just as…as human oppression. But as desecration. As blasphemy.

***

You can read the full transcript just below the video on the Bill Moyers website. Do.