Overzealous Faith?


smokestack-1402448-mA number of years ago I read a book that had me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30; the all caps indicate a quotation from the Old Testament). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture, that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that goes beyond those requirements.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

Thankfully there is a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I got from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their “overzealous faith” has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others has already succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in “overzealous faith.”

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitute for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in September, 2014.

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So What’s Next?


Our consumer culture tells us to keep moving forward, keep looking for what’s around the bend. But maybe that’s human nature.

I remember when I was a kid, I could hardly wait to read like my big brother and sister could. Then I could hardly wait to go to all day school and be in the school programs like they were. Some years later I could hardly wait to have homework like they did. Then I could hardly wait to become a teenager. When I finally reached that oh-so-important landmark, I could hardly wait to get my driver’s license, to go to college, to get my own car, to vote.

In other words, there always seemed to be something up ahead, something to anticipate. I don’t think I’m alone, though the particulars may vary. Certainly the consumer culture has capitalized on this tendency.

Just this Christmas, my nephew reported that the day before, a certain store had already put out their Valentines Day gift “suggestions.” OK, we’re pretty used to Christmas going up before Halloween and certainly before Thanksgiving, but Valentines before Christmas?

But that’s the nature of the financial beast we live with. Its appetite is voracious.

Which only makes our natural tendencies toward a lack of contentment grow worse. We would have been satisfied with our old phone if the new one hadn’t come out. We were perfectly happy with the car we were driving until we saw the bells and whistles installed in the new model.

And suddenly, the Christmas that we had longed for, looked forward to, worked hard to prepare for, suddenly seems a little tattered, worn around the edges. Valentines Day is coming, though. That will be something cool and special and exciting to look anticipate.

The sports world embraces the same mentality. Prior to the Super Bowl, all the promotion is geared toward the Big Game. Nothing is more of an event in the US. But before the game is over, whatever network is airing it, will be running commercials for the next big sporting event they are covering—the college basketball tournament or some golf extravaganza or the next NASCAR event or something.

I’ve decided this looking forward isn’t really a bad thing. After all, we should want to grow up.

We probably all have heard of or know some immature mama’s boy who’s been spoiled and simply stopped growing up. He might be in his late twenties, early thirties and still he has no desire to find a career, commit to a marriage relationship, take on the responsibility of providing and caring for his own family. No, it’s comfortable and easy to simply stay at home and have the doting parent come through with nurture and support.

Generally we think of such an arrangement as unhealthy. Why? Because an adult is supposed to grow up and take an adult role. If a teenager still crawls instead of walking and will only accept a baby bottle, not solid food, we’d all see the immaturity right away. We’d want to see that child grow and mature, not stagnate in a babyish state.

So desiring the next step of growth is actually a good thing, a God-given, innate drive that is healthy.

But like other drives, this one can go too far and become ruinous pretty quickly.

The drive to get a job becomes the drive to move up the corporate ladder, no matter what the cost. The drive to provide for your family becomes the drive to acquire more and more wealth, no matter whose needs you ignore. The drive for a fit body becomes anorexia. And so on.

The bottom line is, we need balance. God put us on a path he described as narrow. There’s not a lot of drifting left and right when you walk a narrow path.

So too with contentment and growth. We should desire change. As Christians the change we should most desire is to be made in the likeness of Christ. So we ought not stand pat or play with the hand we’ve been dealt.

Up to a point.

We should want our life and not someone else’s. We should be content to be a mechanic or nurse or lawyer. Not everyone is going to own a car dealership. If everyone became a doctor, who would do the nursing? Not all lawyers should become judges. But there’s nothing to keep us from becoming the best at what we do.

In reality, the heart of the matter is the heart. We can approach whatever circumstance we’re in, even being the patient, not the caregiver, with a heart attitude to serve like Christ would. That should be our “next,” far beyond the next special day or the next special event or the next special achievement. After all, none of those things are eternal. The “next” that we want should be the thing that lasts.

Published in: on December 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm  Comments Off on So What’s Next?  
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Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise


This post originally appeared here in July 2012,

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on November 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm  Comments Off on Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise  
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Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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You’re Not A Doberman


Dauchshaund on stiltsI laugh every time I see this photo from Codeblack Comedy shared on Facebook. But there’s an important point that shouldn’t be lost in the humor: the little dachshund is still just a dachshund. He can pretend to be a doberman all he wants, but he’s a dachshund. On stilts. And likely no longer able to walk, at least until his owner sets him free from that gismo he’s attached to.

I think this picture speaks volumes to our discontented society with so many people trying to be who they are not. Pretend all you want, but cross dressing doesn’t turn a man into a woman. A boy who says he feels like inside he’s a girl is still a boy.

And even with surgery and drugs, there remain things that are physically true about those born with a Y-chromosome that are just being discovered. Like certain drugs used for heart disease that work only for men and not women. Will those drugs recognize the inner woman in those dachshunds on stilts?

Or how about the discoveries at the genetic level? Just last year, Nature published the findings of a study of the genes on the Y-chromosome. Here’s part of the New York Times article covering the study:

“Throughout human bodies, the cells of males and females are biochemically different,” Dr. Page said. The genome may be controlled slightly differently because of this variation in the 12 regulatory genes, which he thinks could contribute to the differing incidence of many diseases in men and women.

Differences between male and female tissues are often attributed to the powerful influence of sex hormones. But now that the 12 regulatory genes are known to be active throughout the body, there is clearly an intrinsic difference in male and female cells even before the sex hormones are brought into play.

“We are only beginning to understand the full extent of the differences in molecular biology of males and females,” Andrew Clark, a geneticist at Cornell University, wrote in a commentary in Nature on the two reports.

But this “you can be whatever you want” claim is much more far reaching than gender identity. Little boys and girls are told they can be the next great___; fill in the blank.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching beyond our circumstances to make more of our lives, but there is something wrong with reaching beyond our personhood, with the talents and abilities and skills with which we’ve been born.

I’ve used myself as an example before: when I was in college, I discovered volleyball. I also discovered that I wasn’t too bad at the game, and I started dreaming of playing in the Olympics. A teammate of mine had the same dream and in fact transferred to a university where she might have a better opportunity. The problem was, neither of us was taller than five feet six inches. Neither of us had a forty-inch vertical leap. Our chances of making the Olympics were slim and none.

I don’t know what happened to my former teammate. She didn’t have a scholarship to play volleyball. Did she walk on at the university where she transferred? Was her bold move positive for her despite the fact that it didn’t lead to a spot on the Olympic team? I have no way of knowing. I can say, changing schools would have a radical effect on her life. And at some point she had to learn the truth: despite strapping on stilts, she wasn’t a doberman.

Of late there have been a rash of “stars” who are famous for being famous. They have no special talent. They aren’t particularly rich, haven’t achieved anything meaningful—other than getting themselves known by millions of people who find their lives an entertaining soap opera. Some might argue that they have in fact become what they dreamed of becoming simply by putting their minds to it. Well, maybe.

I suppose if you set your sights low enough (“I want to be famous, at least for fifteen minutes”) anyone can achieve their goal.

I remember when we used to get tested in PE for a variety of skills. We even did a high jump. To begin with, the bar was set so low that we all were able to clear it (hardly needing to employ the jumping part of the skill). So yes, there are some things anyone can achieve if they put their mind to it.

The sad thing is, though, that a number of young people have resorted to things like cheating in order to achieve their dreams. Others notoriously con, manipulate, pay for, and trade sex for what they want. All in the name of becoming the doberman they’ve always dreamed of becoming.

Where in this mix does contentment lie?

When is it time to cease striving and know that God is God (Psalm 56:12)?

I suspect the answer is simple: we will stop trying to pretend we are dobermans when we realize dachshunds are made precisely the way God wanted them made, and there’s nothing wrong with short legs and a weenie-dog body. They won’t do what dobermans do, but dobermans can’t make people laugh the way dachshunds can either.

As soon as we embrace who God made us to be, we’ll turn all our striving, not into trying to be something else, but into being the best us we can be. That’s not anything like, Be whatever you want to be. That’s, Be who God intended you to be.

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 5:59 pm  Comments (5)  
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Contentment Vs. Contentment With The Status Quo


smokestack-1402448-mI recently read a book that has me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that outshines what’s expected.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

There has finally begun to be a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I get from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their overzealous faith has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others already has succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in overzealous faith.

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitution for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

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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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.

We Want More, We Want More


More Not LessI suspect that most humans would say they desire to be content, but I also suspect we’d say there are comparatively few moments when we actually are content. Facebook updates and Tweets show us this.

How many complaints, bad news, and frustration do we read in undates? Quite a few. A second kind announces things to support, buy, attend, endorse, promote. Those messages say either help me, or your life is incomplete unless you __. Put in terms of contentment, some are saying, I’m not content because I don’t have X, and the others are saying, you ought to be discontent because you don’t have Y.

Understand, I’m not discounting the proper place for people to ask for help or to announce offers such as discount prices on particular products. After all, I pass along book bargains whenever I feel I can enthusiastically encourage others to buy because of a great price or a great story or both.

Rather, what I’m noticing is a cumulative effect of wanting. We want the snow to go away or we want the rain to come. We want the wind to stop and we want the air to be clear. We want flowers but we don’t want weeds, and we especially don’t want to be the one to pull them.

We want convenient travel, but we don’t want traffic jams. We want affordable public transportation, but we don’t want dirty trains or unkempt stations.

Our culture is programing us to believe that sitting and thinking is boring, that doing one thing at a time rather than multitasking makes us lazy or slow. So in the words of the child in the AT&T commercial, “We want more, we want more.” Hearing a child try to explain why we think more is better, is funny, but it also makes me aware that we think the reason is self evident. It’s really what the little girl ended up saying: more is better because we want more.

And we always will.

We want what we don’t have, and when we have what we want, we want more of it. Until we have too much, then we want something different.

Wanting, needing striving–all those are central to the human condition, and as it happens, central to a good story. But here’s the thing. When none of the stuff we want, no matter how much of that something we gain, brings contentment, perhaps C. S. Lewis was right when he said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We aren’t content here the way things are now because we weren’t made for this here and now. We were made for some place else. Some thing more–further in and higher up.

Published in: on April 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Seasons Of Contentment


In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on July 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (8)  
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