Money


Not too long ago I was driving home from work and all of a sudden my car was swallowed up by the shadow of a mammoth SUV/pick-up truck.  This thing was a gas guzzlin’ monster-beast of a truck.  We came to a red light where the beast-truck was in the right lane and I in the left.  As we sat at the light and I was diagonally behind him, I could hear him revin his engine…VROOM…VROOM!!! Then my eye caught a white bumper sticker on his truck that read in red and blue patriotic letters…”I can drive this truck because we can’t all be on welfare!!!” 

Suddenly the light turned green and rubber tires pealed-out leaving smoke everywhere.  As I coughed on this manly man’s dust I couldn’t help but think about Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and feel the heart of God aching.

 

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’

With this passage in mind I don’t understand the attitudes and prejudices that people who can obviously drive gas guzzlin’ trucks have.  Now one might say, “Well, you don’t know if he was a Christian or not so how can you hold him to that standard?”

Well first…I don’t know if he was a Christian but I have met MANY Christians with that same exact disgust for those in need or on welfare. These are Christians who have gotten caught up in the American dream and love affair with capitalism more than the economy of God and the ethics of the kingdom. 

Secondly, God does hold the unbeliever to ethical standards.  Unbelievers are not given a get out of jail free card and dismissed from a standard because they don’t believe in it.  There are several places in the Bible where unbelievers are held accountable to ethical standards of God.

But for the sake of this post, let’s explore our own feelings about those in our society who are in need.  How about the elderly, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the family stuck in the ghetto, the disabled, etc the list is unending?  It is so sad the bitter and horrible things I hear said about these people…from CHRISTIANS!!!  We can tolerate the widow and orphan as long as the orphan grows up and “get’s a damn job.”  We have little use for immigrants, especially “illegals” (as we title them) regardless of the circumstances they may be trying to escape. If they are “legal” we say “they can stay as long as they learn to speak our own damn language!”  And “there are NO families STUCK in the ghetto, this is capitalism they need to go to college and go out and get a job!”

WHAT CARELESS IGNORANCE!!!

I have heard all of these things, even from elderly church-going grandmas.  HOLY COW!!! What terrific attitudes we have toward the needy.  The Old Testament get’s a bad rap on a lot of things, but especially on this issue…it does not have the often affluent evangelical capitalistic American attitude toward these people.  On the contrary, the Old Testament goes to GREAT lengths to help and provide for these folks. 

Now do I think there are some people leaching off the system and taking advantage of it?  Absolutely.  But we are not called to be their judge of intentions on those issues.  We will be held accountable for what we do when we are met with those needs.  They will be accountable for their own intentions…but even God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  He provides for all…and a so are we called to do so. 

We all have certain types of people in our hearts that we have been conditioned to despise.  Who are they in your heart?  Are they black?  Are they white or asian?  Are they Muslim?  Are they drunk, poor, homeless, elderly, ghetto, white-trash, rich, catholic etc?  When those feelings and thoughts arise we need to repent of them and reject them.  We need to love those people and “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”  God loves them and so should we.  We are called to love our neighbor…they are our neighbor!

We are not to be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted.”  We are not to “entertain a mean thought” against them.  But we are to “give liberally and be ungrudging.”  We are not supposed to drive around with stupid bumper stickers on our vehicles and join the culture in abhorring these people and treating them as lazy, invisible, and pests to society. 

I pray for you and for me that we can overcome this bitterness we have for different groups of individuals and see them not as  the world sees them but as Christ sees them in Matthew 25.  Jesus identified with the needy and said when we minister to them…we minister to him.  When we feed the hungry, we feed him.  When we clothe the naked, we clothe him.  When we allow the customer to shop freely without spying on their every  move because they might be stealing, we allow Christ to shop freely.  You get the point. 

May we see every human being as created in the image of God.  May we see them as Christ sees them.  May we see them as Christ.

For the past ten years of my life my ideologies and worldview have gone through quite the paradigm shift.  I feel like a different man in so many ways.  There are a number of events in my life that contributed to those shifts—some I am proud of, others…not so much.  Yet the ones I am not proud of were also very constructive (or de-constructive) in the process of making me the man I am now.  The events I am most proud of are my marriage and the birth of my daughter and son.   By NO means do I think I have it all together nor have I arrived; as many of my posts and self-critiques show.  However, I feel and sense God’s hand in my life fashioning me like the clay in the potter’s hands (Jeremiah 18).  I am less selfish and more interested and concerned with others and their welfare (Phil. 2).  Each day I feel I am taking on more of Christ.  And I like that because I love who he is and what he is about.

One of those paradigm shifts has actually been in politics.  I will not get into it too much right now but will share a few details.  I was raised conservative by two loving parents who meant well and had good intentions.  I listened to Rush Limbaugh often and later picked up Glenn Beck and even Michael Savage.  I would listen to these men religiously.  When I watched the news, it had to be FOXNEWS.  I think you know where I am going.  I agreed with the constant drum beat and mantra of capitalism, trust the free market, big business, wealthy entrepaneurs, twinkle down economics, tax cuts for the rich, poor people in the ghetto are just lazy unproductive plebes and if they really wanted to be free from poverty they should just get out and get a job etc.

Now I know I am going to tick off some people reading this but come on…something is off here when you put it in juxtaposition with scripture.  When you compare that mindset with the OT prophets the messages don’t mesh.  When you listen to the words of Jesus and see him in action…it doesn’t jive.  Why?  Because Jesus believed in a “Kingdom Economy” where the poor were taken care of and helped.  What about the poor?  Much of the Church has forgotten these invisible people and has adopted the nonsense that the Right has been trying to sell us. 

At the same time the Left are no angels either.  They want to help the poor (maybe) but they would just rather keep God out of the picture.  Where the Right likes to use God as though he is a Right-wing, capitalistic, 21st Century, Mid-Western American with a pin on his  right lapel of an elephant that says, “Vote for Freedom”; the left is embarrassed by God and might offend their lobbyist who think that the idea of gods are out-dated and naïve.  You know the attitude—“only uneducated yuppies from the back woods of Arkansas believe in that Jesus Christ guy.” Let’s not forget to mention how they demonize each other.

For the Right it’s trusting the Market; for the Left its trusting bigger government.  HELLO!  Do you trust either?  I don’t think so.  Trusting the Market brought us the Great Depression and this wonderful recession that we are still in no matter how much D.C. tries to convince us it’s going away.  Remember all of those headlines in the newspapers some months ago?  When we trust the Market we are robbed by the greedy tycoons who set the system up for YOU to fail.  Ever notice when you get in debt it takes a miracle to escape.  Why?  I don’t know…fees and extra charges maybe. 

“Bigger Government anybody?”

 “Oh yes please!”

“Uh no thanks actually, I am stuffed on big government.”

So what is the answer? 

MR. GOD CAN YOU PLEASE COME TO WASHINGTON!?!

Let’s stop there for now because I am tired of complaining about this…for now.  Thoughts thus far?  Where are you with politics in America?  Any Paradigm shifts in your life?  What’s the solution?

We are all familiar with the story in the gospels of the “Rich Young Ruler” who comes to Jesus and asks him what he must do to “inherit eternal life.”  I suspect most Christians could summarize the entire story found in Matthew 19:16-30 and Mark 10:17-31.  However once the young ruler walks away disappointed and sad at Jesus telling him to sell all of his stuff and give it to the poor, we tend to forget what comes after.  With a few more exchange of words we heard Jesus conclude by saying, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  (Mark 10:29-31; NIV; italics mine for emphasis). 

One will note at first that Mark and Matthew differ in their time fulfillment emphasis of when this 100X reimbursement will take place.  Matthew leaves it open-ended and does not quite mention when he thinks it will be fulfilled.  His addition of the words “and eternal life” almost seem to place it in the future when the Lord returns and the consummation of all things has occurred.  Yet he could very well see it the way Mark sees it, that the fulfillment or at least the beginning of it is received “in this present age.”  If so what does this mean for the follower of Christ NOW?  Some have interpreted this as a hundred fold return in a Prosperity Gospel manner of understanding things.  I have heard several Prosperity Gospel sermons about this passage supporting the belief that God wants us to have many homes and properties–NOW!  Yet this seems a bit too shallow of an interpretation for me.

A couple of thoughts come to my mind at this point.  First, I consider Mark’s audience.  They are part of the early church.  They are a mostly a gentile congregation in Asia-minor.  There is no doubt that they are under persecution from the circumcised Jews as well as pockets of the Roman Empire, as evidence in Jesus’ parenthetical addition to his list of 100-fold returns, “and persecutions”.  Many of them have lost everything for the gospel and choosing to follow Christ.  Many have lost their jobs for not being willing to join or remain in working guilds that require one to bow to Caesar to be part of the guild.  Others have been rejected by family members for joining this new sect of Judaism or leaving their true Jewish tradition as circumcised Jews believed

Secondly, the flavor of this passage does not seem to me to taste what the Prosperity Gospel interpreters taste here.  I think Jesus’ message of a sort of reimbursement is deeper and flows more with the overall message of the New Testament.  I think what Jesus envisions here is what Paul speaks of in Ephesians.  In 1:5 he speaks of us being adopted as God’s children, therefore having a new family.  In 3:15 he speaks of our “whole family in heaven.”  This is what Jesus means by a 100-fold return of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers etc.  As mentioned in a previous article, we are leaving one family for another.  Does this mean we do away with the biological family? By no means, it means we are adopted into a new one with the hope of bringing the biological ones along.  But if the biological family rejects Christ, they are not to come between you and the Lord.  You see this of Jesus’ life as well in Mark 6:1-6 and 3:31-35.

Yet there is a third reason that jumps out at me like a hungry hyena.  In Acts 2:42-47 we find the very beginnings of the fulfillment of what Jesus was speaking of in the gospels above.  We see the new family of believers doing exactly that, living this new Christian life as a community of believers.  Luke reveals to us that these early Christians:

 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This, I believe, is what Jesus was talking about—a community.  He was speaking of the Church community and this is what the gospels were emphasizing.  But Mark wanted to make sure that unlike Matthew, we were told that it is for “this present age.”  What you see in Acts is that these believers were not a self serving people and they were definitely not storing up treasures on earth.  They were selling their possessions and goods so that they could help and provide for ANYONE in need.  Do you see this in the Church today?  Is this what the guys on TV are preaching?  I think not. 

Jesus foresaw, if you will, a community of believers who left their homes, fields and families only to inherit a new community of homes, fields and families.  It may be illustrated in this way.  Imagine a man who left all those things behind to follow Christ.  As he wanders through the street a Christian land owner sees that this fellow looks a bit glum and anxious.  As he asks this wanderer who he is and what he’s doing, the wanderer tells this Christian that he is a fellow believer who has just left so much behind including his home.  The Christian tells his brother-wanderer, “Do not fear, mi casa sui casa.  What is mine is yours. “ 

This is how the new community was meant to live.  We are to have all things in common so that everything I have is not mine but the community of believers’.  We are to lend but never have to borrow.  Why?  Because if I see all these things as ours, I am not really borrowing am I?  We are sharing.  If the Church was living in such a manner, what difference do you think it would make?  I think we would be a lot better off and fewer Christians would be struggling in as many areas as they are.

  Why are so many Christians lonely?  They should have 100-fold of a family.

Why are so many Christians financially struggling?  They should be helped by their new family 100-fold.

Why are many Christians homeless in so many ways?  They should have 100-fold homes. 

I am not talking about get rich quick schemes or people working the system.  I am talking about a selfless community where we all work for the common good of the Church and each other.  What does it look like when we don’t live out the vision of Christ?  It looks like a minister living in a $3 million dollar home driving a Rolls Royce while his brother-wanderer lives in a shack, barely a meal a day, walking to his three minimum wage jobs, while trying to feed his family.  It looks like a local church taking up constant offerings to build a new $12 million church instead of taking up offerings so that the money can be distributed in such a way to help those in need. 

Most recently my wife and I have been thinking very seriously about the so called, “Prosperity Gospel.”  I don’t know exactly who coined this phrase or named the movement.  What I do know is that it has permeated some of the evangelical church and has several ministers who promote the belief.  Men and women such as Ken and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Bill Winston, Jesse Duplantis and the list goes on.  My goal is to give this belief a honest, thoughtful, prayerful consideration before I commit my life and family to it. 

I do believe that God wants to bless us and meet our needs, scripture is clear on this.  However, I do have difficulty seeing exactly where the excess of material gain is promoted.  It is notable that many men of God were men of significant substance in the Old Testament.  To name a few we find Abraham and his sons, Joseph, David, Solomon and Job.  Yet one must also note that these men were also leaders of sizable groups and the wealth was shared as a community.  In addition, there is scripture that is hesitant if not unpleased with great wealth and accumulation thereof.  Deuteronomy 17:14-20 warns against the kings of Israel accumulating too much wealth and specifically says, don’t do it.  Deut. 31:14-29 also predicts the departure of the Hebrew people from Yahweh as they enter the promise land and get fat on prosperity.  In the words of Walter Brueggemann, “Affluence can tend to produce amnesia.”  That is to say, wealth can cause us to forget our identity and our God. 

Yet especially when we transition to the New Testament I am not sure I see the Prosperity Gospel as being as bold and as observable a message as some would paint.  I wonder if in many cases it is forced into the text, that a presupposition colors the truer interpretation of the message.  Often times, PGP’s (Prosperity Gospel Preachers) point to a passage like Matthew 25:14-30 as support for their view.  This passage is often referred to as, The Parable of the Talents.  If you are unfamiliar with this passage, it is the one where a master goes away leaving three servants with different quantities of talents.  The first servant is left with five, the second is left with two, and the third is left with one talent.  The first servant doubles his talents with action, the second doubles his, and the third buries his out of fear of his master.  The first two are approved by their master while the last one is scorned for his laziness and unproductiveness.  Because this parable uses the imagery of money PGP’s make this parable a money issue.  It’s used as prooftext for why we need to multiply our monies.  I believe this sort of interpretation trivializes the richness and depth of this parable.  I think the imagery of monies is no more literal than the imagery of people being sheeps and goats. 

Another challenge I have is how much this endeavour actually looks like 21st century, western-capitalism.  It is a drive for materialism.  Often PGP’s begin sermons with a disclaimer saying, “this is not materialism, but…”  Yet the content does not sound far off.  One baptist preacher in Atlanta says, “If you can’t tell the difference between a rapper and a Prosperity Gospel Minister, there’s a problem.” Now this may be a bit exaggerated but there may be a valid point here.  Rappers rap about money, how they get it and are going to get more and preachers preach it.  Is this what the gospel intended?

I am also struggling with putting Jesus in the shoes of some of these PGP’s.  For instance, I can’t see Jesus cruising around in a Rolls Royce, wearing Italian made designer suits, shuffling through money on a platform at church with his feet, or selling his books and cd’s at prices comparable to Best Buy or Walmart.  For him the gospel was FREE!

Also, what about humility and coming to Christ as little children?  Do little children care about enormous amounts of wealth?  When you bring up humility PGP’s say you are asking about a false humility, but I beg to differ.  What I am talking about is Jesus telling his disciples in Matthew 23:11 that the greatest among them would be their servant.  These men don’t seem to be ‘servants’ but often times ‘the served.’

In summary what I am finding difficulty with is:

1) I am not sure it lines up with scripture

2) It looks too much like our secular culture

3) Not sure I can see or hear Jesus preaching and acting like a PGP.

4) Doesn’t look like humble servitude.

     These observations are by no means exhaustive but introductory.  I would like to know what your thoughts are and how you might point me in the right direction if you find my perspective wanting.  Thank You!