Posts Tagged With: affluence

1 Corinthians 4: Success Defined

Our American society defines a successful leader a certain way.  He is charismatic and charming.  She is an engaging speaker.  He has a strong backbone and can’t be railroaded by the people he leads.  She has a visionary spirit.  He projects genuineness and is authentically caring towards his people.  She empowers her reports and does not micro-manage.  In a post-Enron world, he must be virtuous and free from scandal.  She is available and open to input so as to elicit loyalty, but at the same time she is confident enough to make hard decisions.  He is a self-made man.  More often than not, successful leaders in our culture also have an attractive physical presence and have a lifestyle of affluence.  Bottom-line, a successful leader has power as our society defines power — the power of personality, persuasion, money, intellect, and respect or even fear if necessary.  (When you look at the complete list one almost has to be superhuman to be that leader.)

Is a successful leader the top dog . . . ?

The problem comes when we take this same paradigm and bring it into the church.  In this model, our preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers would be expected to be like the description above.  Consciously or not, we would then judge our leaders by this standard.  We should complain that this preacher is not dynamic or funny or a good enough storyteller.  That elder has not excelled in his own business career so surely he can’t help shepherd a church.  We certainly cannot abide a weak leader.  Nobody walks on a true leader and they have plenty of people to do the grunt work so they don’t need to get down in the trenches.  Successful church leaders get things done and win people over to their way of thinking and make it obvious that their ministry is achieving.  Church leaders need to make it known what they have done for the kingdom, so people will be impressed with them and slap their backs in approval and congratulations.  Successful leaders make sure churches have all they need, and their churches are not in want.  Ask yourself if any of this resonates with churches you know.  Do members you know have these expectations?

This seems to be something like the problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians.  It seems the Greek culture of Corinth had similar views.  Power is good, and weakness is bad.  Strong leaders are articulate and persuasive.  They get things done.  They evoke esteem and admiration.  They achieve and do not want.  They are celebrated and served by others.  We can tell from today’s chapter that this thinning was also in the Corinthian church:

Some people are getting puffed up. (4:18a; c.f., 4:7-8)

Paul makes it clear that this is not the right way to define success.  Churches need to guard against exporting this sort of thinking into their community.  It is counterproductive to judge leaders by this definition of success.  Actually, a church should be concerned if its leaders have this sort of thinking, as a new group of self-imposed leaders in the Corinthian church seem to have  (we will hear more about this group later).

This is how we [apostles] should be thought of: as servants of the Messiah, and household managers for God’s mysteries.  And this is what follows: the main requirement for a manager is to be trustworthy. . . . This is how I look at it, you see: God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession [a parade of prisoners of war, likely destined to fight to the death in the Colosseum], like people sentenced to death.  We have become a public show for the world. . . . We are fools because of the Messiah. . . . We are weak. . . . You are celebrated; we are nobodies!  Yes, right up to the present moment we go hungry and thirsty; we are badly clothed, roughly treated, with no home to call our own.  What’s more, we work hard, doing manual labor.  When we are insulted . . . persecuted . . . slandered. . . . To this day we have become like the rubbish of the world, fit only to be scraped off the plate and thrown away with everything else. (4:1-2, 9-13)

. . . or a servant-leader?

According to Paul, a successful, godly leader is first and foremost a servant and manager of God’s church, not their own.  They know there is no self-made minister and certainly no self-made church.  They may be very capable because of the gifting given them by God, but their greatest trait is that they are trustworthy of the great privilege they have been given to lead God’s people.  Their life is anything but comfortable, glamorous and affluent.  They roll up their sleeves and they do whatever it takes — nothing is below them — to advance the kingdom.  Their life is marked by sacrifice and they empty themselves of self, even to the point of putting to death their egos.  However, they are powerful, but in a whole new way.  It is the power of love, sacrifice, and the Spirit.

Now, that is a different way of view success.

What stood out to you?

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Categories: 1 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Luke 18: Stuck in the Eye of the Needle

As we read through Luke, we keep coming back to money.  That is no surprise, knowing Luke is the “social justice gospel.”  Luke’s Jesus talks about money almost as much as Matthew’s Jesus attacked the Jewish religious leaders.

Is it wrong to be rich?  That’s a loaded question.  It is also an impossible question because “rich” is entirely relative.  Are you rich if you make more than $50K in America as that is roughly the median household income?  Are you rich if you have three cars?  Are you rich if you have one car and don’t have to ride the bus?  If you are a welfare mother in Memphis with four kids to feed, you are poor, right?  But isn’t she rich compared to a many people in Africa or a leper in the slums of Calcutta?  And does how you use your money make you more or less rich?  And what do you have to do to not be rich?  How much do you have to give away?  Do you have to stop clothing your kids at Aeropostale and shop at Wal-Mart instead?  But aren’t you still spending more than at Goodwill?  You can always give up more, so trying to draw a line between poor and rich seems a bit arbitrary, slippery, and maybe even self-serving.

Here is a better question: Does wealth make following Jesus harder?  I feel much more comfortable answering that one, and “rich” can remain as relative as it clearly is.  It seems Luke’s answer is a resounding “yes.”

Jesus saw that he [the rich young ruler] had become sad, and said, “How hard it is for those with possessions to enter God’s kingdom!  Yes: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.” (18:24-25)

First let’s deal with Jesus’ wording and one misconception: I like the way N. T. Wright phrases the first part of Jesus’ response, “those with possessions.”  This is a reminder that the real issue in possessing something with clenched fists as if it is our own and with an unwillingness to let it go.  Rich people can do this.  But poor people can too.  Trying to serve our selfish desires while also serving God, that is when the problems come.  Next, there once was a belief that there was a now-lost gate in ancient Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was very short, so short that camels had to get down on their knees to crawl through, and that this is what Jesus was referring to here.  Hence, it is not impossible for a camel to go through the “eye of the needle,” and it is not impossible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom.  However, F. F. Bruce and others have made it clear that there is absolutely no archaeological evidence for such a gate, and the next two verses make it clear that Jesus is talking about an impossible feat.

Does having money make some things in life easier?  Certainly.  That is why most parents get a bit nervous when our kids say they want to grow up to be artists and musicians, not dentists and pharmaceutical salespeople.  That is often why we encourage people to stay in school (there are better reasons, but let’s be real about a lot of people’s motivations).  That is why we encourage our kids to work hard, to seek promotions, to save, to eliminate debt, to invest and squirrel away for retirement.  The American Dream — I daresay, all of capitalism — is based on the belief that money makes life better or easier and we wouldn’t be going on three hundred years of American capitalism if it were not at least partially true.

But in a culture like America (and Canada and Europe and free Asia and so much of this “flat earth,” as Thomas Friedman called it) where the philosophy of materialism (all that exists is that which is tangible and material) and the practice of affluence (let’s have as much of that material as possible, because it will make me happy and solve my problems) are part of the dominant worldview that is in opposition to that described in the Bible, it is absolutely imperative that we hear Jesus clearly here and decide whether we really believe what he is saying.  This is a proverbial “line in the sand.”  Attachment to material possessions makes following Jesus harder.  It becomes easier to become attached to material possessions the more we become able to attain possessions (i.e., when we are rich, whatever that means in a given context).  The more we have, the more we feed the desire to have.  The more we try to satiate our needs with stuff, the more we teach ourselves that stuff makes us happy, thus do what it takes to be able to procure stuff.  These are not comfortable words to write.  They are very indicting.  They confront the very culture most, if not all of us, are living in.  But they seem to be what Jesus is saying.

Let me end with a concrete example of what I am talking about here.  Each summer and often once or twice during the school year, a group of my students and adult friends travel to an orphanage in Ghana, West Africa that we help support at our school.  These kids come from nothing and, though their quality of life at the orphanage is actually pretty good by African standards, they still lack much of what we would call essential.  Nonetheless, the most common statement I hear from students who return from Ghana is this: “I wish I were there.  I can’t wait to go back.  Life is so much simpler there.  Those kids know what really matters.  They teach me that so much of what I have is unnecessary.  I think they are actually happier than I am.”

Could it be that our affluence is, in fact, making life with God harder?

What do you think?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Luke 12: Beware of All Greed!

I think there maybe no more timely verses for this world than these from today’s reading:

Watch out and beware of all greed!  Your life doesn’t consist of the sum total of your possessions. . . . So don’t go hunting about for what to eat or what to drink, and don’t be anxious.  The nations of the world go searching for all that stuff, and your father knows you need it.  This is what you should search for: God’s kingdom!  Then all the rest will be given you as well. (12:15, 29-32)

I don’t know a modern American Christian for whom greed and anxiety over money is not a temptation at least potentially.  That is what comes when you live in a culture focused on money and materialism.

I don’t think there are any great secrets to conquering greed, at least not in our context (maybe you know one?).  I only conclude that with prayer and accountability we have to raise this struggle to the conscious level and fight it aggressively.  Maybe we ask ourselves why we are purchasing what we do.  Maybe we regularly deny ourselves certain intended purchases and extravagances.  I know spending time in environments far less affluent helps considerably.  So too does the practice of sacrificial giving to others.  Another big help is what Jesus says here.  Get busy trying to advance God’s kingdom and little by little, over a lifetime maybe, the trinkets of this world become less attractive.  At least that is what I am telling myself.

How do you fight greed, anxiety about money, and the temptation to be materialistic?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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