Posts Tagged With: selfishness

Revelation 18: A Self-Centered Lament

"The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18," by Patty Albred (2000)

“The Fall of Babylon, Revelation 18,” by Patty Albred (2000)

Fair weather friends.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  It turns out that’s all Rome’s friends were to her.

A mighty angel comes on to the scene and shouts a death notice for Rome:

Babylon the Great has fallen!  She has fallen! (18:2)

He also makes one last call to God’s people to be a separate people until the end.  We are reminded that holiness is one of the main themes of Revelation:

Come out of here, my people, so that you don’t become embroiled in her sins, and so that you don’t receive any of her plagues. (18:4)

Judgment has come to this wicked woman who thought no harm would come to her, that no one would hold her accountable for her behavior, even the buying and selling of humans (18:13).  But she will be paid back double (18:6).

To be sure, Rome’s fall is lamented.  But not for the reasons we might expect.

The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, because nobody will buy their cargo anymore. (18:11)

“Alas, alas,” they said, “the great city!  Everyone who had ships on the sea could get rich from her wealth, but in a single hour she has become a desert.” (18:19).

The merchants and mariners who cry over Rome’s demise are really crying for themselves.  They care about photo 1only to the degree it affects them.  They are broken up over their loss of business.  Not exactly compassion now, is it?

Power intimidates.  Power can produce great respect.  Power might even engender admiration.  But power is not the recipe for loyalty, sacrificial kinship, or even love.  When power wanes, so too do the alliances that power brought.  Rome only knew how to operate by power.  The kingdom of the Lamb is the dominion of love.

Tonight is Christmas Eve.  My family has made a bunch to trips to Target and Sam’s Club and the grocery store the past few days.  I am thankful those businesses exist.  As much driving as many of us do around the holidays, I am glad the big oil companies exist.  I look forward to sitting down tonight in peace and order and even a reasonable level of affluence, and I know that I have the sacrifices of soldiers and the tireless hours of civil servants to thank.  But when I sit down tonight it will be with my family whom I love.  Maybe my family of faith too at a nearby Christmas Eve service.  Tomorrow my family will enjoy each other’s presence and we will make time to celebrate the birth of the Lamb.  Love breeds love, not power.

What struck you today?

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2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

Categories: 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Luke 22: I Would Never Do That!

Luke is now dealing with the end of Jesus’ life as thoroughly as he did Jesus’ birth.  This long chapter takes us to death’s doorstep.  I was struck by many things — how afraid of the crowd the Pharisees were but by the end of the chapter they are somehow able to turn them against Jesus, how much Jesus wanted to be with and supported by his disciples at this point, how confusing his instructions are in this chapter — but it was the strange juxtaposition of two verses that come side by side that really caught my attention today:

They began to ask each other which of them was going to do this [betray Jesus]. (22:23)

Followed immediately by:

A quarrel began among them: which of them was to be seen as the most important? (22:24)

As he sits at the Last Supper with his beloved group, Jesus announces that one of them is going to betray him.  In Luke’s account he does nothing to hint toward Judas.  The disciples are indignant: “Surely not me!  I would never do a thing like that!  I will be loyal to the end!”

Then . . . one verse later . . . those very same disciples begin to argue over who is the most important disciples amongst the group.  Peter asserts it must be him because he walked on the water to meet Jesus and Jesus did say the keys of the kingdom would be given to him.  Andrew reminds Peter that he wouldn’t have even been there if he hadn’t introduced Peter to Jesus.  James argues it would have to be him because he was always there in the inner group of three to see special things like the Transfiguration, and he didn’t have the tendency to make the same stupid gaffes Peter often did.  John reminds the group he is the “disciple whom Jesus loves.”  Philip makes his claim: wasn’t he the one who boldly declared he would gladly go with Jesus and die?  Bartholomew is sure it will be him because he is so humble he is never even mentioned in the Gospels!

They are shocked that Jesus would think any of them would betray him.  That any of them would work against the very things Jesus came to do.  That they would disappoint their rabbi.  Then moments later they are asserting their own power, reputations, and egos.  They have quickly turned to the trespass that may be most contrary to the way of Christ: self-assertion.

Man, I am so glad we don’t ever do things like that.

What stood out to you today? 

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Philippians 2: Look Out for Others, Not Yourself

All day long we are feed the message that if we want to be happy and content we will have to have what we want.  In marketing it is called the “you sale.”  Buy this product and you will be happy.  Wear this product and you will be more attractive and self-assured.  Go into debt to get a bigger or better one of these and you will find peace.  You want it.  Or maybe you even deserve it.  You’ll be happy when you get it your way.

Be sure to read the fine print! WOW!

Then Paul comes along, claiming as he has that he had discover how to be content, and he says this:

Bring your thinking into line with one another.  Here’s how to do it.  Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object.  Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior.  Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. (2:2b-4)

Secret to Contentment #2:  Stop trying to find contentment in self-fulfillment.  You will be happiest when you serve others and pursue their best interests.

What did you see in this chapter about contentment?

Categories: Philippians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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