God Is Greater


Mountain_Stream_Sun_ValleyRecently I’ve been made aware of corruption in any number of societal institutions here in the US.

When I was in high school and college, I learned about Big Business and its evils which required new laws to curb monopolies and to protect labor movements. Except, the results contributed to Big Government and Big Labor.

Now we also have Big Entertainment and Big Banking and Big Media and Big Education.

Honestly, it’s easy to feel squeezed, to feel defeated. Who can fight city hall? Or cable TV? Or union dues? Or bank foreclosures? Or the department of education?

Worse still is that the operating principle in each of these Big Systems is primarily greed—get mine and make it as big as possible. The idea of cooperation, the idea of working for the greater good—those are archaic notions, nostalgically remembered but no longer practiced apart from a few mom and pop stores and a smattering of charities.

Even medicine is trending toward Big and Profitable. The prescription drug industry is right there as well.

How odd that in a country build on rights and freedoms, there seems to be less and less within the individual’s control.

In many respects, our institutions operate much like mountain runoff. It starts as a pleasant and pure stream high above timberline where it waters meadows and wildflowers, but ends up funneled into a muddy and polluted river.

Rivers can be incredibly powerful. They can overflow their banks, sweep through an area, and wipe out homes and fields. They can carve canyons from stone and generate enough force to run electric plants.

But greater than any river is God who made them all.

Too often when we see news about shootings and clashes with the police and racial tension and young girls kidnapped and thousands of people trapped on top of a mountain and public beheadings, it’s easy to forget how great God is.

Things feel out of control.

Evil seems to be winning.

It’s easy to forget that God is greater. The truth is, He rules the universe, so it’s not much of a leap to realize He’s also in control of all our societal machinations. Psalm 37 says

Do not fret because of evil doers;
Be not envious toward wrong doers
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb. (vv 1-2)

If we think of God as higher and over all the multiverse—and we should, because Isaiah 40 says He knows the stars by name, that because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing—then surely God is over the climate change on earth and the clash between nations and terrorist plots and political intrigue and all the other problems we so often focus on or hide from.

God is in control.

Psalm 37 again.

The wicked plots against the righteous
And gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him,
For He sees his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn the sword and bent their bow
To cast down the afflicted and the needy,
To slay those who are upright in conduct.
Their sword will enter their own heart
And their bows will be broken. (vv 12-15)

On the other hand, if we think of God as Ruler of the heart yielded to Him, what can’t He overcome? Greed? Not a problem. Pride? He abases the proud look and humbles man’s loftiness.

A few song lyrics are floating through my head as I think about God’s power over our sin. One is “Marvelous Grace Of Our Loving Lord,” which has this chorus:

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.

The other is “The Wonderful Grace Of Jesus” with this first verse:

Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin;
How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?
Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free,
For the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me!

Yes, God is greater than any of the big institutions that crowd in on top of us and threaten to distract us from what has eternal significance. And God’s grace is greater than any of the sin that weighs us down and holds us captive.

God provides hope and help—release from sin; advocacy in our need. Once more from Psalm 37

For the Lord loves justice
And does not forsake His godly ones. (v. 28a)

Great is His faithfulness. Greater is He than . . . well, anything.

Published in: on August 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm  Comments Off on God Is Greater  
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What God Says About Wealth


Worship the dollarFriday, because of a verse in Scripture I’d been thinking about, I wrote my post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about greed. Then Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preaching from Luke 6 talked about what Jesus meant when He said those who are poor are blessed. Today I reviewed a portion of 1 Timothy which contains some pointed words about wealth.

I tend to think, when God brings the same topic to me from various sources, He’s trying to get my attention. Often I can figure out why, but not this time. So in all honesty, I’m writing this post (as I do a number of others—I just don’t usually announce it) to explore the things I’m learning about wealth. I have no end game in mind, so this article could come to an abrupt end at any moment. 😉

As I look over 1 Timothy 6 again, I’m reminded that the passage about wealth is part of a warning against false teaching, something Paul brought up in both his letters to “his son,” the young pastor he was instructing. People who advocate for a different gospel, one not in agreement with the words of Christ, are conceited, Paul says, but are raising up controversies and stirring up strife for one main reason: they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5b). The implication seems to be, financial gain, as if these false teachers could preaching godliness as a means to get rich. That idea is born out by what comes next:

But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God (6:6-11a)

Contentment, Paul says essentially, should replace the desire to get rich. If we have food, if we have “cover”—clothes and shelter—then what’s to keep us from being content? After all, we came into the world with nothing, and we’ll leave the same way. So if our needs are met right now, why do we work so hard to get rich?

Here’s where my pastor’s sermon kicks in. I can’t trace the path through Scripture he took us, but the conclusion he brought us to is this: Poor and poor in spirit are not the same thing. Those poor in spirit are the contrite, the humble.

Zaccheus, a chief tax collector, was undoubtedly rich, but when he encountered Jesus, he humbled himself and repented. The rich young ruler, on the other hand, went away in sorrow.

Both men were rich, both sought Jesus out. One was changed, the other unchanged. The issue was not their money. It was their heart. One released his riches, the other hung onto them for dear life.

Pastor Mike’s point is that wealth can become the thing some people look to as that which makes life work. Instead of God.

Paul picked up the thread about wealth again in his letter to Timothy:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Clearly Paul is implying the rich can become conceited and can fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches rather than on God who gives us what we have for our enjoyment.

But they don’t have to.

Being rich doesn’t equate with ungodliness, and poverty isn’t the answer to an inappropriate dependence on wealth. News flash: poor people can be greedy too.

I saw a short clip on a TV show, something about What Would You Do or something like that. They had an actor go to a place where pizza was served and move from table to table, asking if he could have a slice of pizza. Not a person gave him a slice. Then he went to a homeless person who had a pizza (I wonder how that man got a whole pizza!) and the actor asked him if he could have a slice, and the homeless man gave it to him at once.

The conclusion the show wanted us to draw was that people with little are more generous than people with much.

Except, that isn’t necessarily true.

Poor people can be generous, surely (see the widow who put her last coin into the temple offering), but so can rich people. Poor people can be greedy (see Elisah’s servant who lied to get money from Naaman the Syrian Elijah healed of leprosy), and so can rich people.

Money, riches, wealth, then, is not the problem. Rather, it’s our attachment to it.

I wonder if any of us can know what riches would do for us. Or to us. We can think, Money won’t change me, but is that true? How can we know? How do we know how strong our love for God is, how deep our trust, how great our commitment, how total our dependence?

Have we ever stripped down to the bare essentials and walked forward in obedience to God, saying as Queen Esther did, If I die, I die. Or do we have to hedge our bets, have a fall-back position, craft a Plan B?

Paul had two options: to live is Christ and to die is gain. His attachment in both was to God, not to “fleshly lusts that wage war against the soul.”

That last is from Peter in his first letter. Interesting that his focus was also on the heart attitude—the fleshly lusts.

But back to the pizza story. If I’m right, the TV producers gave the homeless man a pizza. He was willing to share what he’d been given because all of it was an unexpected, happy provision he didn’t deserve. So of course he was willing to share what he didn’t actually perceive to be his.

That, I think, might be the place God wants His children to come to in regard to wealth. Whatever we have isn’t ours. It’s a gift from our good God, so of course we should freely share what we’ve been freely given.

Published in: on July 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Idolatry Masquerading As Greed


Durga_idol_2009“Consider your earthly members as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” So said Paul in Colossians 3:5. But as I read that verse this week, I saw a little footnote next to “amounts to” I’d ignored in the past—a simple, terse statement, actually: “Lit., is.” The literal translation of the Greek which appears in the NASB as “amounts to” is, “is.”

The verse, then, would read “. . . greed which is idolatry.”

So I started thinking, in what way is greed, idolatry?

Well, that didn’t take long. Idolatry is putting something or someone in the place God alone holds. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt worshiped God, but they also held onto the gods they’d been bowing to for the last several hundred years. Even after they got the Ten Commandments that said, No other gods, no idols, they did not put away those false gods.

They worshiped God, no mistake. But they did not hold to Him exclusively as the One True God.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus told the crowd of people listening to Him, You can’t serve both God and wealth (Matt. 6:14). His statement was a reminder of the requirement of exclusivity God demands, but it also revealed the nature of idolatry. Serving wealth puts it in the place of God in the exact same way the Egyptian gods had taken God’s place earlier.

For some reason, western Christians don’t seem too concerned about greed and its true identity: idolatry. Just this summer I read an article in my alumni quarterly magazine in which the author referred to himself growing up as a greedy little kid. Granted, he called himself greedy in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, and the point of the article was how to teach kids NOT to be greedy.

But I can’t help but think, we would not be so cavalier about other sins: I was a snarky little racist growing up or I was a spoiled little baby killer at age five. Such admissions of sin would not be great opening lines for a cute little childhood anecdote.

But greed is?

It ought not be. Not if we truly understood it to be idolatry.

Honestly, it’s pretty much the perfect idol for a capitalist society.

We Christians have Biblical admonitions about being good stewards and working with our hands that fit nicely with the concept of earning more to make more to earn more. Consequently we can be greedy and believe we are doing what we ought to be doing—investing wisely and saving for our children’s education, for the down payment on a bigger home, for a second honeymoon, for retirement.

All the while, we’ve also accumulated a second car, two or three TVs, a laptop computer and a tablet and an iPhone, closets filled with clothes, rows and rows of shoes, a collection of DVDs, books, games, and music. In fact, most of us have so much stuff, we have to store some of it in a garage or shed or basement or storage facility.

And yet we want more.

When the next cool techno gadget comes out, we want to be in line. When the newest style replaces what’s in vogue today, we’ll shop til we drop. When the upgrade becomes available, we have to have it.

In fact, our entire economy is built upon “consumer confidence”—the idea that people feel secure enough to keep spending money on stuff they may not need.

In what way, then, are Christians choosing to serve God and not serve wealth?

Don’t get me wrong. God has placed us in the culture we’re in, at the time when greed is rampant. I don’t think the solution is for Christians to sell all and move to the desert. Not unless God calls someone to make such an extreme move. I don’t think He’s done that in His word, surely.

I do think we need to see greed for what it is: idolatry. We need to unmask it, shine the light of truth on it, see it as the tool of the enemy intended to unseat God from the throne of our hearts. We need to hate it—as much as we do racism, murder, child abuse.

We need a little holy jealousy on God’s behalf—we should be angry that loving stuff has wormed its way into our lives so that our first love, our love for God, isn’t as strong as it once was.

Most of all, we should repent.

Then we should lay our wealth before God. We should give it all to Him. All of it. Every dime. Then we can ask Him what He wants us to do with His stuff.

Published in: on July 11, 2014 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Idolatry Masquerading As Greed  
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Gun Control


AutomagVI grew up in a home that didn’t have any guns. My parents were pacifists. But that didn’t stop us kids from playing as if we had guns. Broken casters made perfect revolvers for little hands. I loved playing over at my cousin’s house where I could put on a gun belt and learn to quick draw a revolver.

We spent a lot of time in the mountains at our cabin site, and my dad even went so far as to carve wooden rifles for us—much to my mom’s disgust, I might add.

Some of my favorite memories are water fights and rubber band fights and pine cone fights and Christmas wrapping cardboard tube fights, usually with my brother, but sometimes with my sister and me ganging up on him.

During one of our play gun battles, I remember my brother telling me I was shot, and dead, and had to stay down. I couldn’t get back up and keep playing. I thought about that for a while, decided it was no fun to play dead, and I’d find some other game. But what he said sank in—in real life, when someone got shot, they stayed dead. It made a huge impression on me.

All this to give you a bit of my personal background which forms my attitude toward guns. Honestly, I hate them. My nephew is part of a law enforcement unit, and I remember the first time he took out his gun to put it away. I’d never been that near a gun before, and frankly, it made me nervous.

But here in the US the second amendment to the Constitution ensures the right of the people to bear arms:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Couldn’t be much clearer. And until that amendment is changed, the citizens of the US will continue to own guns—all kinds of guns.

March_on_Washington_for_Gun_Control_051But with each new crime involving guns, there’s a louder cry for more gun control, as if the proliferation of guns is the problem.

If that were the case, then the failed car jacking that happened the other night here in SoCal, in which a 17-year-0ld stabbed his victim three times, should not have happened. After all, no gun was in play.

Come to think of it, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 shouldn’t have happened either because that mass murder didn’t involve a gun either.

If guns were the problem, then we could eliminate violence against one another simply by taking all the guns off the streets. But the reality is, people with hatred in their hearts who want to do bodily harm to others are not reliant upon guns.

I hate guns. But I hate more the empty diatribe against guns after a shooting, as if removing guns will magically fix the animosity inside each of us.

Nobody seems to ask why twenty people can be the brunt of bullying and never retaliate by shooting at someone or why hundreds can lose their job and not return to gun down their co-workers. The fact is, each of those people had access to guns in the same way that those who turned into killers did.

My point is, we have a far bigger problem than the presence of guns. We have a culture that no longer values forgiveness. Revenge is the response we approve. If in doubt, play back the news coverage of Osama bin Laden’s death. People cheered. Some danced in the streets and celebrated, the way people in Muslim countries did after 9/11.

We are more an eye-of-an-eye nation than we are a turn-the-other-cheek people. Plus we tell kids they DESERVE . . . pretty much whatever they want. So when they don’t get it, they respond just like Scripture tells us in the book of James: “You lust and do not have so you commit murder” (4:2). Sometimes that “murder” is the hatred in our hearts and sometimes it’s the actual physical act of murder.

But who is addressing that issue after the latest shootings? I don’t hear anyone saying, we’ve become a nation of greedy, selfish aggressors bent on making people do what we want them to do. Or that we’ve become hyper-sensitive to offense or short on love toward our neighbor or too insulated from each other or too demanding.

At the same time, we’re doing a poor job dealing with mental illness. We don’t know what else to do but medicate and hope the ill person keeps filling prescriptions.

How easy it is to shout for gun control when horrific mass violence takes place, but that’s the problem. We’re looking for easy fixes which means we are OVERlooking the real need—we’ve lost our moral compass and do not treat others the way we would want them to treat us.

Until we realize the enormity of our problem, no change in our gun laws will make a speck of difference in the inhuman treatment of one person against others.

Published in: on June 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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Cultivating Thankfulness In A Disaffected Society


The_First_Thanksgiving_Jean_Louis_Gerome_FerrisIt’s hard to be thankful when more seems to be going wrong than right. It’s freezing outside and you catch a cold, but can’t skip work because you have no more sick leave. Besides, there’s this important thing due, and you CAN’T be late. Or unprepared. Because rumor has it, your job is on the line.

Then there’s the latest news story that says something in our water is probably killing us, if the terrorists don’t figure out a way to do it first. The economy is a mess no matter what the stock market is doing, and every day one government official after another is being exposed as a jerk, a lawbreaker, or a corrupt politician.

Then there’s the disappointing mess that the new health care law has become. How many of your friends are like you and are about to lose their present policy?

Are we thankful yet?

The specifics for each of us may be different, but it seems a lot of people would identify with the sentiment that there’s more going wrong than right.

Add to all the pressure and bad news, the constant message from our computer screens and TVs that we deserve better than what we’ve got. We deserve better treatment, a better gadget, a better policy. Advertisements bombard us with the idea that we can, and should, do better, if only we’d get with the program and buy their stuff.

So, how are we doing with thankfulness?

Oddly enough, the people that originated a celebratory feast as part of a day of thanks, had a whole lot more problems than we have. According to the Scholastic article “The First Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims arrived in the New World during the winter. Their perilous two-month voyage across the stormy Atlantic had lasted far longer than expected, and had already taken a toll. Their supplies were nearly depleted, and they became ill because of the conditions on board ship.

As it was, because of exposure, malnutrition, and disease, nearly half the original 102 settlers died before the coming of spring. At the lowest point, only seven people were healthy enough to take care of the sick.

Without the help of the Native Americans living in the region near the place where they settled, it’s likely they would not have survived another winter. Other colonies had failed, and future colonies would be wiped out by attacks from a different group of Native Americans.

The survivors, of course, were committed to this dangerous adventure, and needed to figure out how to provide properly for themselves in order to avoid another disastrous winter. The Indians gave them invaluable help.

In April, the Mayflower headed back to England and the small band of settlers were on their own.

Well, not quite. God was watching over them. By His providential care, they made friends with the Monhegan Tribe, and became acquainted with Squanto who knew English and translated so that the Indians could teach them when to plant corn, how to catch fish, how to use the carcass as fertilizer, and who knows what else.

So it was, they dug in, built homes, and cultivated the soil.

The Pilgrims’ entire male working force consisted of twenty-one men and six of the older, stronger boys. With this small force, they tilled and planted with heavy hoes, (having no horses nor domestic animals), twenty acres of Indian corn, six acres of wheat, rye and barley, as well as small gardens near the homes consisting of peas and other small vegetables. (“The Pilgrims Story and the First Thanksgiving”)

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAt the end of the summer, they reaped a bountiful harvest. And from a deep sense of gratitude, they held a feast of thanksgiving. Ninety Indians came and celebrated with the fifty-eight Pilgrims for three days.

Why? They had all lost loved ones, were in a strange land with no way of returning, and winter was coming.

They didn’t have health care. Or grocery stores. Or cars and freeways, let alone the Internet and Skype. They were cut off and alone. But they celebrated thanksgiving.

They were grateful that God had provided what they needed for that next season. And they trusted that He would do it again and again.

Perhaps our disaffected society isn’t particularly thankful (and I’m talking year round, not whether or not we remember to say thank you to God or to our family on Thanksgiving Day) because we don’t remember what it feels like to be without.

Maybe we need to take a short term mission trip to an underdeveloped nation or volunteer at a homeless shelter or walk the streets of a big city urban center to see what “being without” looks like.

Maybe we should pray that God would open our eyes to the countless blessings we enjoy–and keep our eyes open so that we live in joyful contentment rather than in disaffected greed or coveteousness.

The Greed Of Capitalism


One of the early Twentieth Century "muckraker" novels


This topic is too easy — except people have forgotten what the basic assumption of capitalism was. (What are they teaching in schools these days? 😉 )

Once upon a time, capitalism was believed to be all about how to give the best products for the lowest prices. Logically, if a consumer has two products to choose from, one well made but expensive and the other constructed with inferior material in a hasty manner, but inexpensive, the buyer would make a personal choice based on need and resources. But what if a third product came out that was both well made and inexpensive? Would there be any question which item consumers of all stripes would buy? That was capitalism.

Except certain greedy entrepreneurs figured out that they could buy up or force out the competition, then set the price and standard of the goods at whatever level they wanted. Thus, monopolies were born.

Enter government regulation. Citizens put into a situation in which they needed goods or services, such as oil or rail travel, were helpless against a well-funded corporation unless government kept businesses from taking advantage. The Sherman Anti-trust Act were passed to keep in check the greed of the unscrupulous.

And yet, here we are again.

Not so long ago “Ma Bell,” which seemed to handle phone service quite well, without exorbitant rates or poor service, was “broken up” because government declared it to be a monopoly. But I think a good many people would argue that we haven’t changed all that much. Phone service is back in the hands of a few (as opposed to one), so it can be argued that there is competition, but complaints abound regarding quality. And price? Hard to compare to know if prices would have become what they are now since the technology has changed so much. Perhaps those changes would never have occurred. Or perhaps new businesses with the new technology would have naturally become the competition Ma Bell had lacked.

Those who decry government regulation criticize such measures as the Sherman Anti-trust Act.

Alan Greenspan, in his essay entitled Antitrust condemns the Sherman Act as stifling innovation and harming society. “No one will ever know what new products, processes, machines, and cost-saving mergers failed to come into existence, killed by the Sherman Act before they were born. No one can ever compute the price that all of us have paid for that Act which, by inducing less effective use of capital, has kept our standard of living lower than would otherwise have been possible.” (“Sherman Antitrust Act“)

So where is greed in all this? I suggest that Mr. Greenspan’s position ignores one important Biblical truth, in the same way that socialism ignores one important Biblical command: Man is sinful. Left to our own devices, we will act selfishly, we will take advantage of others, we will grab what we can at the expense of others.

If anyone is in doubt this is true, he need only to think about some of the common tag lines that have run through our culture: “It’s not personal; it’s just business” or “Just win, baby,” or “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Man is sinful. Why then are we surprised when sinful man acts sinfully? We shouldn’t be surprised; we should expect it.

As I understand what the Bible says about the function of government, it has the job of punishing wrong doers. I conclude, therefore, that all regulation isn’t bad. Unlike Mr. Greenspan, I tend to think monopolies would resist change — sort of like oil companies resisting alternative energy sources, sort of like Ma Bell might have resisted cell phone companies. Why would a monopoly welcome competition? These companies, remember, are run by sinners. They are not generally looking to see ways that they can cut the costs for consumers.

What’s the point of all this? Primarily, I think Christians need to beware falling in love with a human system — economic or political. God did not mandate democracy or capitalism. He did give us principles to follow such as working for our daily food and paying a laborer his due. Jesus told a parable that seems to encourage investment (though his purpose was clearly spiritual). The Mosaic laws, on the other hand, forbade usury, even as they provided for the poor by allowing them to go into fields and “glean” after the workers had harvested a crop — sort of a work for welfare system. There were other provisions in place to insure that poverty would not be a problem, yet when Jesus was teaching, He said, You will have the poor with you always.

Can we fix government, or greedy corporations? Sure. One heart at a time. Are we Christians praying for our President (not against him)? Are we praying for our Senators and our Congressmen? How about the corporations we think are so greedy — has anyone thought to look up the name of the CEO and start praying for him to meet the Savior? That’s what all sinners need. All of us.

Published in: on January 12, 2012 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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