Posts Tagged With: wealth

1 Timothy 6: Wanting to Be Rich

Living in the materialistic world we live in, this HAS to be today’s passage.  The more calloused and familiar to passages like these that we get, the more we need to hear them, and new wording only helps.

We brought nothing into the world, after all, and we certainly can’t take anything out.  If we have food and clothing, we should be satisfied with it.  People who want to be rich, by contrast, fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and dangerous lusts which drown people in devastation and destruction.  The love of money, you see, is the root of all evil.  Some people have been so eager to get rich that they have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves painfully in several ways. . . . What about people who are rich in this present world?  Tell them not to think of themselves too highly, and to set their hopes, not on something so uncertain as riches, but on the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and eager to share.  That way, they will treasure up for themselves a good foundation for the future, and thereby come to possess the life which really is life. (6:7-10, 17-19)

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

BONUS: An Introduction to the Corinthian Letters

I imagine the church at Corinth was not an easy church to lead.  Yet, the Apostle Paul went far and beyond to help them become what God would have them be as a church.  We likely only have two of the four letters we can tell Paul wrote this church (maybe three if our Second Corinthians is actually two letters combined).  We can tell from the way Paul starts many of the sections in First Corinthians that this letter is actually a response to some sort of correspondence from the Corinthian Christians.  Next maybe only to Ephesus, Paul spent more time in Corinth during his missionary journeys than anywhere else.  As challenging as the Corinthians were to Paul, he dearly loved them and that comes out in these letters.

Paul seems to be combating several issues in these two letters, each letter quite different from the other.

Holy living in an unholy culture:  Corinth was home to many temples, not all of which were likely in use at the time of Paul.  The most famous of these was the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, in which 1000 temple prostitutes once had served.  On the north side of the city was a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing.  This background of idolatry and sexuality will appear several times in the two letters.  This may be Corinth’s most recognized vice.  There is a now-archaic English verb, “to corinthianize,” which means to engage in lewd and indecent acts of debauchery, especially unbridled and indecent sexuality.  Paul’s instructions will be unequivocal: navigate through a sinful society with purity, abstinence, and consideration for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  This point is also what makes many people say 1 Corinthians is especially relevant for today’s world.

Airs of superiority amongst the members and the division that naturally would bring:  Wisdom was key to the Greek culture.  At least in some people’s minds, one’s value was attached in part to their intellectual development.  Education, philosophy and conventional thinking would have been held in high esteem.  As we will see early in 1 Corinthians, this attitude was clearly present in the Corinthian church as well.  This thinking also seems to have shaped how they thought about the spiritual gifts they had been given by the Spirit.  A pecking order of giftedness seems to have been causing a problem, as was their penchant to group off according to which religious teacher they preferred.  Unity will be the most recurring point in these letters.

Misunderstandings about the resurrection of the dead:  There can be no misunderstandings about this all-important idea fundamental to Christianity, yet it seems the Corinthians had many.  Paul will speak to the who, when, how, and what of the resurrection from the dead.

Encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give generously to famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem:  Situated at a main commercial nexus point between the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, there would have been a good bit of wealth in the city.  Paul will encourage his Greek brothers and sisters to use that wealth to show tangible love for the Jewish brothers and sisters who started this movement they are now a part of.

Having to defend this apostolic authority:  Paul’s response to this issue composes most of Second Corinthians.  This was an especially big deal as questions of authority would have undermined everything Paul had been working for in Corinth.  The emphasis on wisdom in Corinthian culture would have contributed to this as Paul was foreign, educated in non-Greek religion and philosophy, and he did not emphasize the charisma commonplace in Greek cultural leaders.  More troubling for Paul were false teachers posing as apostles who had come to Corinth since his departure who were turning the church against him.  They painted Paul as opportunistic, greedy for their money, unreliable, and unskilled.  Paul responds will great passion and fire.  For what it’s worth, Paul’s explanation of why he is competent to be a “minister of reconciliation” has been one of my favor sections of Scripture since first training for the ministry in undergrad.

So much of the Corinthian letters has to do with church life.  This may be where we see Paul’s pastoral heart best of all.

Categories: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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 8: How Is Your Heart-Soil?

Earlier this week I was looking back through an old journal of mine (before I was willing to share my writing with others) from 2006.  Interestingly, I found that on this very date six years ago I was meditating on the Parable of the Sower from today’s passage.  I share here now what I wrote six years ago.

How did these soils get this way?  The simple answer is that each soil had an owner that created its condition, and in this parable the owner clearly is not God.

The “pathway” heart-soil has become hardened by the actions and choices of the owner and others.  Pathways are picked by an owner as soil that will purposely be trampled upon and rendered incapable of sustaining a crop.  Then these paths are worn through repeated use.  The owner directs others to use that same pathway, and trespassers will even use a path if available.  Habitual sin, misuse of our bodies and souls with others, and even unwanted abuse harden our hearts so that we will not listen to God’s word of truth.  We chose to use what was created to be pure and fruitful in degrading and harmful ways or — in one of those hard to rectify speeches of the Lord — others are allowed to snatch away from us, through abuse, the hope and love and truth we so desperately need.

The “rocky” heart-soil has not been prepared for the long growing season.  Whether from laziness or a desire to see an immediate result from his plantings, the farmer has failed to dig out the rocks that will stunt the growth of his immature plants, causing them to wither in the hot, dry summer months.  These plants are simply unable to reach the deep reservoirs of water below the rocks.  When we move too quickly from one spiritual high to another, trading an emotional high for the disciplines and experiences that really mature faith in the dry heat of suffering and divine silence, we produce heart-soil in which the fledgling sprouts of faith will also quickly wither.  In today’s world, our greatest obstacle to the deep reservoir of Spirit-water is our hunger for immediate gratification.  We are content to soak up the jolt of a worship experience but refuse to learn to control one’s anger.

The owner of the “thorny” heart-soil has also failed to prepare his land for successful growth.  The owner did not pull up the faster-growing, hardier thorns, allowing them to compete with the more tender grain shoots; this owner has simply tried to sow a new crop amongst existing plants.  Given that the thorns are identified as “worries” but also “riches and pleasures” it would seem that some of these thorns have intentionally been left to live alongside the grain shoots.  Both grain and thorns receive rain, nutrients, and sunlight, allowing competition to arise, but the thorns thrive.  When we fail to uproot the attitudes, desires, and behaviors contrary to the Way of Christ attempting only to add Christ to an already hardy life of worry, excess, and selfishness, our immature faith will flounder under the competition.  The Spirit will not live in a divided heart.

The owner of the “good, pure” heart-soil has prepared his plot with wisdom, effort, and patience.  He has removed the rocks and thorns, and loosened any packed soil before planting.  He tucked the seed into the soil away from the birds.  His plants will find moisture and room to grow deep.  His plants will remain free from competition.  We enrich our heart-soil for bountiful growth when we break the bonds of habitual sin; when we use our bodies and souls as they were intended; when we avoid abuse (to the degree we can); when we realize crop preparation is a time-intensive, long-term endeavor; when we patiently foster disciplines that feed our faith and cherish faith-stretching experiences; when we replace worry with trust; and when we uproot a life of selfish ambition and carnal gratification.

Which heart-soil is yours?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Matthew 6: Kingdom Priorities

If the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto about this new kingdom he is bringing, what is truly important in this new way of seeing life?  Jesus answers that question with as many explanations of what is not important as he does the affirmative.

The praise of your fellow man is not top priority.  Do your religious acts like tithing, prayer and fasting but if you are doing those to get praise from your neighbors and friends you have missed the point.  That momentary praise is all you will get.  Kingdom-people seek the praise of the Father who sees what is done without fan-fare or the spotlight (6:1-18).

The treasures of this earth are not top priority.  Nice clothes get moth-eaten.  Piles of coins get rusty.  Houses fall apart.  Cars get dented.  Jewelry gets stolen.  Investment portfolios crash.  Educational degrees become out-of-date.  Power and status are lost.  Beauty fades.  All these treasures broadcast to the world what is truly valuable to us, and this may not be complimentary.  Kingdom-people store up treasures in heaven.  These will never fade away, lose value or be lost.  And don’t tell yourself you can actually have them both; you can’t (6:19-24).

The needs of this world are not top priority either.  Food, drink and clothing might be at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” and we do need these, but we don’t get them by seeking after them.  God knows what we need and he will provide.  The worry that comes from a preoccupation with these physical needs will only detract from our occupation of advancing the Kingdom.  Kingdom people focus with faith on the needs of the world to come (6:25-34).

So don’t worry away with your “What’ll we eat?” and “What’ll we drink?” and “What’ll we wear?”  Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all.  Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. (6:31-33)

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mark 10: The Upside Down Kingdom

How difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! . . . It’s very hard to enter the kingdom of God!  It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom. (10:23-25)

Read on.  This is no diatribe against money.

What if we have turned the phrase “enter the kingdom of God” into something other than what Jesus meant?

What if it doesn’t mean “go to heaven” like some people make it seem?  What if this idea that there is some entrance test to heaven and people who love money can’t pass the test isn’t really what this means?  What if the kingdom that one would want to enter isn’t “out there” or “up there?”  What if it isn’t a “when you die” thing?

What if this kingdom is a “right here, right now” thing, as we saw in Mark 1 and a few other places so far?  What if the kingdom is a new “age” (10:17) or era or system or way of seeing reality that can come on a Tuesday afternoon in the line at the grocery store when we really begin to see, accept and act on things like Jesus wanted us to?  What if God is wanting to create that new kingdom with and through us, right here and now, as we start living the way of Jesus in the everyday of life?

  • What if we enter the kingdom when we stop acting like adults and start acting more like children (10:14-15)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think heavenly treasure is more valuable than earthly wealth (10:21)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think the impossible is possible (10:27)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we leave behind what we have held dear before, only to receive the same back again and with greater abundance (10:29-30)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom from the back of the line, not the front (10:31)?
  • What if we enter the kingdom when we think the greatest among us are the servants, slaves, and saviors (10:43-45)?

Or at least, what if we begin to enter the kingdom when all of this becomes true in us?

That’s what I am thinking about today as I read this chapter.

How about you?

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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