Some Words I Just Can’t Get Past

I read something the other day in my Bible, and I just can’t get past it. I’m probably going to upset the apple cart with this, but I’d rather put it out there for discussion (civil discussion, mind you) than keep it to myself and let it fester.

From the Apostle John:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away, along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

David Platt covers this so well in his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, but in reading this passage of Scripture over and over again as I study 1 John, I keep coming back to the phrase “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.”

In other places, that last phrase is translated “pride in your lifestyle” or “pride in your possessions and resources.”

That’s a good many of us Christians. It may manifest itself in a number of ways, but there are an awful lot of us that are really proud of our possessions and lifestyle. Whether we’re bragging about our new car or quietly fuming over the fact that we “pay for welfare Cadillacs”, or even if we’re decrying someone else’s excess of wealth while secretly wishing for more ourselves, there is a lot of concern about money–who has it and how it’s spent.

Just Google “Buffet Rule” or “Class Warfare” to see what I’m talking about.

I’m not against money. I’m not against anyone having money. And honestly, I would love to have more of it myself. So this isn’t screed against the wealthy, or a diatribe against the 2%. It’s not even about the desire that so often compels us as human beings to want more than we need, give less than we should, and feel a sense of self-satisfaction in what we have earned by our hard work.

I’m against the pride that makes us say, “What’s mine is mine, and nobody gets any unless I say so.”

It’s not about taxes, because I’m not too fond of them myself. It’s not about how much a person does or doesn’t give to the charity/charities of one’s own choosing. It’s not about me telling you what to do with your money.

If we’re Christians, then we know from reading Scripture that everything we have comes from God. Every good and perfect gift. Every dollar in our paycheck. Every piece of fried chicken in the bucket. We may have gone out and labored for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it comes from God. And as such, God gets to say what we do with it.

Only we often choose to ignore Him. We talk about what we’ve earned. We talk about what’s ours. We talk about the things we’ve built or the chances we’ve taken or the skill that we’ve employed to build up what we do have. And it’s not just the super-rich; it seems to be more pervasive amongst those of us who don’t really have that much to begin with. Scarcity breeds ferocity, it seems. I know in my house, the decision over whether or not to give to a charity or mission cause can often be the subject of much debate–with me being the one opposing “frivolous” gifts.

But I have no bones about going to get a pizza if I don’t feel like cooking.

Did you know there are over 300 verses in the Bible that have to do with the poor, orphans, widows, or other forms of social justice? That there are at least 100 verses about just the poor?

Did you pay attention when Jesus, for his first official message as a rabbi, quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 as the central truth about His ministry?

Did you get as uncomfortable as I did when Jesus said, “Whatever you didn’t do for the least of these, you didn’t do for me”?

I say all this because it keeps popping up in my reading, this condemnation of unhealthy attitudes towards possessions. When I think that my material possessions are mine to do with as I please–not the church, not the government, not the pushy TV charities, but ME–I’ve fallen into exactly what John was writing against.

Namely, pride.

We may dislike the way the government doles out money to those seen as disadvantaged, but if we were handing out ourselves they wouldn’t have to, would they? We may rail against the bailout of big businesses on the basis of anti-sentiment towards fat cats whose ethics drove those businesses to the brink, but what about the fact that those same bailouts helped keep several thousand middle-lower income folks employed? We may sneer at the illegal immigrant getting a free education via our public school system, but what are we doing to otherwise help them improve themselves and become productive citizens?

What are we doing to help those that God commands us to help?

You can write me off as a hippie, a liberal, a socialist or whatever else you want, but the fact of the matter is the majority attitude of many American Christians with regard to money and possessions and what to do with them is out of line with God. And it’s led to a compassion deficit in so many other places, a deficit far greater than the financial one we face as a nation.

Because it’s the dearth of compassion that fuels our desires for more; it’s the lack of love that makes us greedy to get what we can when we can and to hold on to no matter the cost to our neighbor. You want to see what almost killed the free market system in America, look no further than Christians who were willing to violate the commands of God in order to line their own pockets.

And now that I’m thinking about it, that compassion deficit reveals an even greater deficit–in our faith in God.

Either God is who He says He is and I believe it, or I am the final authority for my life. Kanye and Jay-Z may watch the throne, but for many of us Christians, there’s no question who’s seated there.

We are.

But only in our illusions. In reality the Scripture says that God, the Holy, Almighty, Sovereign God sits on the throne, and that His Son is seated at His right hand, interceding on our behalf. God rules. God reigns.

Would that we would listen.

The Most Excellent Way

No, the title isn’t in reference to Bill and Ted, or their Excellent Adventure. It’s from a very famous writing. But more on that in a moment.

It’s Valentine’s Day. Somewhere between the cheesy pick-up lines (“Is there a ninja in your pants? ‘Cuz your booty’s kickin’!”) and the warmed-over schmaltz (“No, I love you more!”) there’s actually an upside to singling out a day that recognizes Love in all its splendor: if you really love somone, you get to spend the day meditating on that.

You get to think about how it feels for tiny little fingers to wrap around yours out of simple curiosity.

You get to think about how it feels to pull the covers up to your chin, turn to your best friend in the whole world, and say, “I love you, you know that?”

You get to think about the hugs that will come your way when you walk through the door and announce, “I’m home!”

You get to think about the endless kisses, laughs, stories and memories you make on a daily basis.

As a minister, I’ve done numerous weddings, and without question the most popular passage of Scripture for reading is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. In case you’ve not heard that passage, here it is from the NIV:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

Think about those words for a moment, even if you’re not particularly predisposed to like much of anything the Bible has to say. Take away the Christian context and you’re still left with a powerful description of love; a description that so enthralls that religious and non-religious alike have it read aloud on the day their love is joined in marriage.

Patient. Kind. Not envious. Not boastful. Not prideful. Not rude. Not selfish. Not hot-headed. Not vindictive.

Can you say those things about the way you love your spouse? Your kids? Your significant other?

Today is the day to think about these things; to revel in them if they are present in our lives and loves, or to make changes to bring them about if they’re not. Don’t let the candy/flower/massage oil people steal the focus away from what matters.

Celebrate what the writer of 1 Corinthians called, “the most excellent way.”

Love. Love deeply.

And share it with those whom you love most.