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Second Mile Logo without nameIt’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Epitetus

 

There is a wonderful scene in the hit 1991 movie City Slickers. The three friends who always went on vacation together were on a cattle drive. They decided to share their best and worst days ever. Ed, who definitely had problems with relationships, told about his best day. He was 15 years old when his mother caught his father cheating on her again. It was at that point Ed realized his father had really been cheating on the whole family. Confronting his father, Ed said, “You’re not good to us.” The man cocked his arm, preparing to hit Ed, but then hesitated; he then backed away and left, never to return. Ed went on to explain, “But from that day forward, I took care of my mother and my sister. That was my best Day.” When his friends asked him about his worst day, he thought for a moment then answered, “Same day.” 

This scene is a great reminder that it’s often the problems we face in life that make us stronger. Moreover, Epitetus was right. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Knowing this doesn’t always make it any easier to deal with difficulties at the moment we are facing them. But it does help us answer one of the most frequently asked theological questions, “Why do bad things happen to good people.” This awareness can also help us accept our struggles without becoming bitter, angry, or resentful.  

How we react to problems can make us or break us. It can make us better or it can make us bitter. How we deal with difficulties in life is a prime indicator of our Christian maturity.  

I love the story of Paul and Silas at Philippi as recorded in the 16th chapter of Acts. They were arrested for having cast a demon out of a slave girl; in other words, for doing something good for another person. The evangelists were stripped of their clothes and severely beaten with a rod. They were then thrown into the innermost cell of a prison and placed in stocks.  

I don’t know how you would have responded to this injustice, but I probably would not have handled the situation well. I likely would have sat there in fear, feeling sorry for myself. But what did Paul and Silas do? They were praying and singing, no doubt praising God! And what happened? “All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.” 

The jailer awoke, and seeing the doors opened he was about to kill himself. (Under Roman Law the jailer would have been charged with any crime committed by a prisoner he allowed to escape.) The evangelists cried out, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here.” At this the jailer was so amazed he brought them out of their cell, fell at their feet, and cried, “Noble lords, what must I do to be rescued (saved)?”

This jailer had observed how Paul and Silas had dealt with injustice from the very beginning. He didn’t understand what empowered them to respond in such a remarkable way, but he wanted what they had. “It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to what happens.”

QUESTION: Are you growing in Christian maturity? How well do you handle adversity? What are some lessons about adversity you could share with the rest of us? Please respond in the Comments section below.

QUESTION:

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Second Mile Logo without nameListening to our partisan politicians in Washington reminds me of the old County Line Union Church back home, where the Baptists and the Methodists shared the same building. The Baptist preacher preached on the first and third Sundays and the Methodist preacher preached on the second and fourth. 

All the folks got along together most of the time. They were neighbors-friends. And besides, it was only religion, nothing to get excited about. The Baptists didn’t really mind listening to the Methodist preacher, and the Methodists didn’t mind the Baptist preacher as long as he was careful not to get too loud. There aren’t many shouting Methodists any more. 

Everything went just fine until the day the church caught fire. Now, I don’t mean spiritually.  

They were having their annual joint August Revival. The thinking was the hot Summer heat in the unairconditioned building was always a bit suggestive of Hell and just might prompt sinners to make a decision for Christ. The visiting evangelist was in the middle of his fire and brimstone sermon when everyone seemed to be hotter and hotter. Folks had never heard such a sermon before that could make it all seem so real. 

It was some of the young boys on the back row that first noticed the smoke seeping through the cracks in the ceiling. “Fire!” they yelled, as they pointed up. 

The evangelist was caught completely off guard. He just stood speechless. It was Brother Barnes, the Chairman of the Baptist deacons, that first spoke up. “Preacher,” he spoke in his most authoritative voice, “I move that we call the fire department and get this here fire put out before our church burns down.” 

Brother Leon, the Methodist Lay Leader, then quickly pulled himself up on his cane. “Now Brother Barnes, you know I live in Leake County, and you live in Neshoba County. And the church is here on the County line. Which fire department do you reckon on calling?” 

As everyone filed out of the building, the debate raged on. The fire department was never called, and the church building was totally destroyed.  

The story reminds me of politicians in Washington. But come to think of it, maybe it should remind me that Old County Line Union Church is not the only church that has made this kind of mistake. It’s easy for any organization to be too busy debating issues, taking sides, fiddling while Rome burns.  

Let’s not lose focus of what’s important. Let’s keep our minds and hearts on Jesus and our eyes on our mission. For the church that’s making disciples. 

QUESTION: Do you know what your personal life mission is? Are you staying focused on your God-given mission? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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My wife and I have a standing date on Friday nights. We usually go out to a restaurant and enjoy a relaxed meal while spending time together, catching up on things we haven’t had a chance to talk about throughout our busy week. I tend to get in a rut and go to the same places to eat, ordering the same meal. However, from time to time a friend or family member will recommend a new restaurant for us to try. That’s what restaurants count on to build business–satisfied customers telling their friends.  

When we discover a new product that works well, we share that information with others. When we get a promotion or have something else good happen in our lives, we want to share it with our friends and family. Our youngest daughter recently found out she is pregnant. She and her husband could hardly wait to tell us and you can bet I’ve been spreading the exciting news. 

Jesus told a parable about a shepherd who lost a sheep. “Suppose someone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep’” (Luke 15:4-6 CEB). 

Then Jesus explained the point of his parable. “In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.” 

Over the years I served as a pastor I was criticized many times by church members for caring more about the unchurched than I cared for church members. Of course, this wasn’t true, but I did understand why it sometimes felt that way to them. My behavior was based on this parable about the lost sheep and other similar teachings in scripture. I never cared more about the lost, but I did spend more time and effort trying to minister to them than many pastors do. I do this because they need what I have to offer and that’s what God has called me to do.  

Jesus didn’t say God loves the lost person more than He loves active church members. However, He was suggesting God rejoices more when a heart is transformed. God is more excited when a broken life is mended. There’s more joy in heaven when hurts are healed and demons are cast out.   

There is a great deal of discussion today about the decline in our churches.  Every week I receive information about some conference I should attend that will teach me how to grow my church, fill my pews. I have suggestions as well; I write here on my blog about how to make disciples that will build the church.  

However, I think the greatest issue is a matter of the heart. I’m afraid the church has a heart problem. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Bob Hope. “If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble.”  

Maybe we have “hardening of our spiritual arteries.” Jesus once met a man at the synagogue who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched to see if Jesus would heal this man on the sabbath. Jesus looked with anger at these deeply religious men who put traditions before the needs of people and “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5 NRSV). 

The Christian church will start reaching a lot more people when we members start getting as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are about the new restaurant in town. The church will grow when we get more interested in serving the least and the last in our community than in increasing our own comfort. The church will grow when we let God do a heart transplant on us so that we love the lost sheep–just like the shepherd in Jesus’ parable.  

QUESTION: Are you ready for God’s heart transplant? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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Second Mile Logo without nameTwo young brothers were being registered for Sunday School  by the superintendent. Upon asking for their birthdays one of the boys responded, “We’re both seven. My birthday is April 8, 1976, and my brother’s is April 20, 1976.” 

But that’s not possible!” said the superintendent. “Yes it is,” answered the other little boy. “One of us is adopted.”

“Which one?” the superintendent blurted out before thinking. 

The two boys looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Finally, one of them answered, “We asked mom and dad a long time ago, but they said they loved us both so much they couldn’t remember any more which was adopted.” 

The Apostle Paul wrote in Roman 8:12-18 about our adoption by God: 

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if you put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (CEB). 

It’s wonderful to think about what it means to be an adopted child of God. We are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” We inherit the kingdom of God! PTL. But wait. Paul went on to explain this is true “if we really suffer with him.”  

I hear preachers on television often expounding on the benefits of being a child of God. I seldom (read: pretty much never) hear them mention the cost of discipleship. Paul never hid the cost. Neither did Jesus. He repeatedly made it clear his followers would pay a price for their loyalty to Him. 

Jesus said, “Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This is a theme he repeated many times. He went on to say, “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. . .  Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him?. . .In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple” (Luke 14:27-33 CEB). Jesus warned would-be followers to count the cost because Christian discipleship can indeed be costly.  

The good news is that the rewards of discipleship is worth the investment. Not only is “the present suffering nothing compared to the coming glory” as Paul states in Romans 8:18, but our lives are richer and more fulfilled while we await the coming glory.  

There is an old story about Alexander the Great that serves to illustrate our role as Christians. After each battle Alexander would hold a tribunal and reward or punish those who had performed well or poorly in battle. One day a young man was brought before him who was charge with cowardice.  At first Alexander seemed to show some compassion for the very young soldier. The great king asked the frightened man’s name.   

“Alexander,” he replied.     “What did you say?    

“My name is Alexander.” 

At this Alexander the Great sprang from his seat, grabbed the young man and threw him to the floor. He shouted, “Either change your actions or change your name!”  Many call themselves Christians. However, the scripture is clear that we should only take that name if we are serious about following Jesus in obedient discipleship. 

QUESTION: Have you counted the cost of discipleship? Are you following Christ and discoving

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 We are called every day to bring new life into the world by serving others. Life with meaning and purpose and joy and peace.

It seems like another life–so many years ago when I attended that little rural elementary school. There was a boy in our class who had an embarrassing physical problem. Billy could not control his bladder and so every day would wet his pants. It was obviously a difficult situation. I was reminded of Billy recently when I read an email that has been making the rounds:

“Come with me to a third grade classroom. . . There is a nine-year-old kid sitting at his desk and all of a sudden there is a puddle between his feet and his pants are wet in front. He thinks his heart is going to stop because he cannot possibly imagine how this has happened. It’s never happened before, and he knows that when the boys find out he will never hear the end of it. When the girls find out, they’ll never speak to him again as long as he lives.

The boy believes his heart is going to stop; he puts his head down and prays this prayer, “Dear God, this is an emergency! I need help now! Five minutes from now I’m dead meat.”

He looks up from his prayer and here comes the teacher with a look in her eyes that says he has been discovered. As the teacher is walking toward him, a classmate named Susie is carrying a goldfish bowl that is filled with water. Susie trips in front of the teacher and inexplicably dumps the bowl of water in the boy’s lap.

The boy pretends to be angry, but all the while is saying to himself, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!”

Now all of a sudden, instead of being the object of ridicule, the boy is the object of sympathy. The teacher rushes him downstairs and gives him gym shorts to put on while his pants dry out. All the other children are on their hands and knees cleaning up around his desk. The sympathy is wonderful. But as life would have it, the ridicule that could have been his has been transferred to someone else—Susie. She tries to help clean up, but they tell her to get out of the way. “You’ve done enough, you klutz!”

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, the boy walks over to Susie and whispers, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Susie whispers back, “I wet my pants once too.”

Sometimes I think we have difficulty connecting Biblical concepts with our daily lives. As I write this it is the last Sunday of Easter on the church calendar. Next Sunday is Pentecost. I’ve been thinking about Easter and the resurrection of Christ and the story of Pentecost.What has all of this to do with me ? Of course, it is a profound reminder that this life as we know it is not the end. But it is also a poignant exemplar of a God-given paradigm: new life follows self-sacrifice. We are called every day to bring new life into the world by serving others. Life with meaning and purpose and joy and peace. Susie was willing to take ridicule in order to save a friend from ridicule. The best way to celebrate Easter and to understand the miracle of Pentecost is to renew our commitment to Christ and follow his example of self-sacrifice.

QUESTION: In what way is God calling you to bring new life into the lives of others around you? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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How To Change America

May 10, 2013 — 2 Comments
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Second Mile Logo without nameA woman bought a piece of needlework at a craft fair. The piece read, “Prayer Changes Things.” Proud of the handiwork she hung it above the fireplace in their living room. A few days later she discovered the prized piece missing. When questioned, her husband admitted taking the needlework down. “Don’t you believe in prayer? she inquired. “Yes, I do,” the husband responded. “I believe in prayer. I believe it changes things. But I don’t like change so I took it down.” 

A lot of people don’t like change. I suppose it really is human nature to be uncomfortable with change, especially when it is not in our control. People don’t like change and the change to which we tend to be most resistant is change in us. As a pastor and observer of people I’ve seen people choose to lose their job, destroy their marriage, or go to jail rather than change themselves.  

Change is often extremely difficult. Some people are more resistant to change than others. I’ve even known people who would rather die than change. You probably know someone who has been told by their doctor they need to change their diet are they will die prematurely, and yet they fail to change. Change is difficult but there is good news. 

Change is possible. Do you recall the story of the Apostle Paul? He had been a ferocious persecutor of the early church. However, after his encounter with the risen Christ he became the greatest human influence on Christianity. Most of us have known someone who has experienced radical change in their life. What happens to bring about  truly transformational change in our lives. 

You have to want to change. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous insists that people don’t change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. The first of the twelve steps is “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable.” 

We can change if we have a vision of something better. There is a wonderful scene in the Karate Kid movie where Daniel is visiting Mr. Miyagi who is trimming a bonsai tree. Miyagi encourages Daniel to work on the delicate little tree. Daniel, however, is reluctant. He doesn’t have a clue about how to even start trimming the tree. Mr. Miyagi encourages Daniel to close his eyes and envision what he wants the tree to look like. After Daniel has a picture of the trimmed tree in his mind, Mr. Miyagi instructs him to open his eyes and go to work. But then, Daniel asked, “How do I know my vision is correct?” Mr. Miyagi replies, “If the picture comes from your heart, then it must be right. Just trust your picture.” 

If we need to make some changes in our lives we should start with a clear vision of those needed changes. But how do we know the vision is right? How about this? Picture in your mind what Jesus looks like. Of course, I don’t mean his physical appearance. I’m talking about his compassion, his patience, his humility, his gentleness, his empathy and understanding. I’m talking about his willingness to serve and even to die for others. We can change if we really want to, if we have a clear vision of who we want to become. But one more thing. 

God can change us if we are willing to surrender our will to God. The Apostle Paul had a life-changing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. From that day on Jesus was the Lord and Master of Paul’s life. He went where Jesus called him to go and did whatever he was called to do, often at great personal sacrifice.  

I read once that when Earl Weaver was manager of the Baltimore Orioles he would charge at umpires shouting, “Are you gonna get any better, or is this it?” Perhaps God is asking you the same question. Are you gonna allow God to transform your life, or is this it? You can change if you really want to. If you are willing to focus your vision on Jesus. If you are willing to allow Him to become the Lord and Master of  your life. 

So, what’s all of this got to do with changing America. I suppose you are probably on to me by now. It’s really quite simple. America won’t be changed by electing a different president or members of Congress or having newly appointed judges on the Supreme Court. America will be changed when you and I change. It will be changed, not when political parties change, but when hearts are transformed and men and women across this great land put on the mind of Christ, learning to love our neighbor, like the example set by the man from Galilee.  

QUESTION: What changes do you need to make in your life? Are you willing to trust God enough to surrender your will to His in order to be transformed?   

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We hear a lot today about our loving God. However, I sometimes wonder what happened to our Holy God who calls us to a life of holiness.  

 

 In Ephesians 4:30a we read “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”. The Greek word here is lypeō, which means to be grieved, afflicted with sorrow; to offend, insult; to distress, inflict emotional pain. The CEB translates this verse “Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy.” 

The passage in Ephesians goes on to explain, “Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. Therefore imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy–which happens when things become gods–those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God.”  

“Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth” (Ephesians 4:31-5:9 CEB). 

Wow! This is strong stuff. We hear a lot today about our loving God. However, I sometimes wonder what happened to our Holy God who calls us to a life of holiness.  

Do you sometimes lose your temper? Get angry? Do you have trouble loving some of your neighbors, perhaps the ones with the dogs that bark all night. Do you have trouble forgiving someone? Are you engaging in some form of sexual immorality? Obscene language? Do you like to tell dirty jokes? Is money more important to you than it should be? Do you let your job come between you and your family? You and God? (For a whole set of questions to help you evaluate your spiritual condition, check out my Spiritual Life Assessment.)

Paul Harvey once told about a medical student who was working at a rotation in toxicology at a poison control center. A woman called in and explained that her daughter had eaten some ants. The medical student assured the woman the child would be fine; the ants would do her no harm. 

Having been told her daughter would be all right, the mother was about to hang up when she happened to mention she had given the child some ant poison to kill the ants. Of course, the student then explained she needed to get her daughter to the emergency room as quickly as possible.  

Sin in our lives is like ant poison. It needs to be dealt with as soon as possible or it can kill us spiritually.  When the Apostle Paul wrote letters of instruction, he typically began with some theological material, but eventually moved to practical instruction in holy living. For example, in his first book to the Thessalonians he began the fourth chapter, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God. . . It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (NIV).  The definition of sanctified is “To set apart for sacred use; consecrate. To make holy; purify. 

This blog is all about our helping each other to become the saints (obedient disciples) God created us to be. Paul believed in the grace of God and the transforming power of His love. But he also encouraged believers to grow spiritually, not grieving the Holy Spirit, but pleasing God more each day. 

QUESTION: Are you working to become sanctified, “to live in order to please God?” What are you finding helpful on your spiritual journey? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsMost Christians would agree that faith is an essential aspect of Christianity. But what do we mean when we use this word?

I certainly do not always agree with Marcus Borg. However, in his book The Heart of Christianity he offers some real insight into the way Christians have understood faith. Borg begins by suggesting the word has four historical meanings. One these is a “matter of the head” while the other three are more “matters of the heart.”  

Faith as Assensus (Assent/Belief)                                                                                                     The closest English word to the Latin assensus is “assent.” Faith is assensus when we give our assent to a proposition. This suggests faith as belief, that is believing certain religious propositions or doctrines to be true. After all, when the Philippian  jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved/rescued?” Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

I would argue, however, that even this word “believe” (Greek pisteuō) means a lot more than mental assent. The word was used by the Greeks to mean “to believe in something” not just to believe facts about something. It meant to trust in; to have confidence in.

Faith as Fiducia (Trust)                                                                                                                  The Latin word fiducia is usually translated faith, trust, or confidence. Borg uses an example to illustrate faith as trust. He reminds us that teaching a small child to swim requires getting the child to relax so they he or she will learn that their natural buoyancy will keep them afloat. He then concludes, “Faith as trust is trusting in the buoyancy of God.” I like the fact that he insists “the opposite of trust is not doubt or disbelief, but mistrust. He goes on to press his point, explaining that the opposite of trust is anxiety and worry.    

Faith as Fidelitas (Loyalty/Commitment)                                                                                         The English word is “fidelity.” Faith as fidelitas means faith as “faithfulness” to God. Borg states, “Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the “heart.” He goes on to explain, “Faith as fidelitas does not mean faithfulness to statements about God, whether biblical, credal, or doctrinal. Rather, it means faithfulness to the God to whom the bible and creeds and doctrines point.” 

The opposite of faith as faithfulness is not doubt or disbelief, but rather infidelity or unfaithfulness. We use this language when a man has been “unfaithful” to his wife or a woman has engaged in infidelity. They have broken their covenant relationship and been disloyal to one another.  

Faith as Visio (Vision)                                                                                                                    Here Borg introduces me to a new way of expressing the idea of faith. He indicates that he got the idea from the mid-twentieth-century theologian Richard Niebuhr. The English word is, of course, “vision” which suggests faith as “a way of seeing.” 

To have faith in God as visio means we share God’s worldview. I suspect many readers would differ with Borg’s ideas about specific content of God’s worldview.  But surely, most of us will agree that it is important for us to share God’s view of reality. We should at least agree that when Jesus looked out over the world set before him, he felt compassion for a broken world. He saw with the eyes of agape love. 

Borg concludes by explaining that originally the word believing (pisteuō) covered all four of the meanings of faith. “But in the modern period, we have suffered an extraordinary reduction in the meaning of “believing.” We have reduced it and turned it into “propositional believing”–believing a particular set of statements or claims to be true.”  Finally, he states. “The premodern meanings of “faith generate a relational understanding of the Christian life.” 

If Borg is right, and I have no doubt he is, we can conclude that disciples are made by developing relationships, not by simply convincing others that our Christian doctrines are true. The same way Jesus did it.  

QUESTION: How would define faith? Does your faith in Christ include each of the four meanings as describes by Marcus Borg? Please respond in the Comments section below.

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Mother’s Day reminds me of the story about a little boy who was talking to the girl next door. “I wonder what my mother would like for Mother’s Day.”

The little girl answered, “Well, you could promise to keep your room clean and orderly–you could go to bed as soon as she tells you–you could go to her as soon as she calls you–you could brush your teeth after eating–you could quit fighting with your brothers and sisters, especially at the dinner table.” 

The boy looked at her and said, “No, I mean something practical.” 

One day a crowd of people came to hear Jesus teach. “Jesus,” they said, “give us some advice on how to live that we might please God.” So, he did. 

“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”   

“No,” they responded, “give us something practical.” 

“If anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” 

“No,” they answered, “something practical.” 

“Give to him that begs from you. Love your enemies. Forgive people their trespasses.” 

“No,” they continued, “something practical.” 

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neighbor moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” 

And the people said. . .

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“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”

David Brooks is a columnist for The New York Times. Sometime back he wrote an article he entitled “Paying the Consequences of the Great Seduction.” He began the article:

The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.”

Brooks went on to suggest that while the United States has always had many affluent people, we were not corrupted by our wealth. For most of our history our people continued to be “industrious, ambitious and frugal.” However, Brooks believes this has changed over the past 30 years. Again he writes:

“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.”

I couldn’t agree more. And the amazing thing is that it is all there in the Bible. We’ve been warned since the days of Genesis. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality but he talked constantly about how we use our money.

Brooks points out that “The loosening of financial inhibition has meant more options for the well-educated but more temptation and chaos for the most vulnerable.” He also reminds us that the sociology of our culture has changed. Research I did for my doctoral dissertation helped me realize we simply do not have the kind of social connections people had in the past that acted as controls on our economic passions. Brooks insists, “Social norms, the invisible threads that guide behavior, have deteriorated.”

Brooks identifies gambling as an example, especially the lottery. He reports that twenty percent of Americans regularly play the lottery. Called by some “a tax on stupidity,” some studies have suggested as much as ten percent of the income in relatively low income households is spent on the lottery. Government sponsored gambling is teaching people the way to get ahead is to win the lottery rather than hard, honest work.

For Jesus, few decisions in life are more important than how we use the resources given to us by God. Our attitudes toward the material things of this world are destroying us.

We will all one day stand before God and be accountable for what we did with what He gave us! Brooks concludes his article suggesting some ways we might deal with the increasing debt problem in America. He suggests the most important is to shift values. I agree. But not just about debt. We, especially Christians, need to seriously examine our values in every area of our lives.

QUESTION: What is most important in your life? The things of God’s Kingdom or the things of this material world?

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