Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flee from riches?

Photo by xJasonRogersx via Flickr

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. ~ 1 Timothy 6:7-11 (NAS)
As I was reading through the above passage this morning, I was caught a bit off guard by Paul’s tone in discussing the desire for earthly riches.

I have grown up hearing the paraphrase: the love of money is the root of all evil. This proverb is tossed here and there around the church. Everyone is warned; don’t love your money.

I was struck this morning, though, by the cautionary tone Paul takes in not only forbidding the desire for wealth but also instructing Timothy to actually “flee” from such a desire.

Flee from even the desire for wealth?

I look around me at my often prosperity driven Church culture, and I have to wonder.

Far from a “fleeing” attitude, many churches promise earthly riches as a part of God’s blessing to a believer. Other churches seem to condone the pursuit of wealth, providing that people don’t love their money once they get it.

Christian entertainment often highlights families living in material prosperity. Last year’s big hit “Fireproof” showed how the pursuit of wealth added stress to the couple’s marriage, but there was no mention made of how such a worldly attitude ought to be repented of.

I can hear the questions. “How can it be wrong to want to live in comfort? Doesn’t God want me to be happy? Look at Jabez, God blessed him didn’t He? The Bible says I will be repaid for my generosity, doesn’t it?”

It seems that we are missing the point entirely. Paul and Timothy seemed to grasp an idea that we in the modern Church have quite forgotten. That truth is this: we belong to a different kingdom. We aren’t of this world, and we ought to remember that. Our eyes shouldn’t be on things below, but on things above. Later on in chapter 6 of 1 Timothy, Paul reminds people who are rich in this life to keep their hopes fixed on God and to store up treasure in heaven. And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that we should buy as if we did not possess, not making full use of this world.

Indeed, Christ Himself repeatedly told people to give up all worldly possessions to follow Him.

We have come a long way from Paul’s admonition that we should be content with food and covering. Today, “successful” Christian leaders live in million dollar homes, drive luxury vehicles, and wear designer clothing.

But at what cost have we tossed aside Paul’s warning?

Most obviously, the answer is time. The time that we should spend on our families, churches, and ministries is spent working long hours. And that’s saying nothing of the Spiritual wasting that results when we give our attention to anything other than our Lord and Savior.

It’s not that we shouldn’t strive for financial security. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they were to work with their hands so that they would behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

The point is that we shouldn’t desire earthly wealth. Instead, our desires have to be centered on our true kingdom – we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Only then will we live lives truly rich in Christ.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ruined: Church vs. Culture

"Well," [said Cathleen,] "this Mr. Butler took a Charleston girl out buggy riding. I never did know who she was, but I've got my suspicions. She couldn't have been very nice or she wouldn't have gone out with him in the late afternoon without a chaperon. And, my dear, they stayed out nearly all night and walked home finally, saying the horse had run away and smashed the buggy and they had gotten lost in the woods. And guess what--"

"I can't guess. Tell me," said Scarlett enthusiastically, hoping for the worst.

"He refused to marry her the next day!"

"Oh," said Scarlett, her hopes dashed.

"He said he hadn't--er--done anything to her and he didn't see why he should marry her. […]”

"Did she have a baby?" whispered Scarlett in Cathleen's ear.

Cathleen shook her head violently. "But she was ruined just the same," she hissed back. ~ Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Times have changed since a single girl was “ruined” for being out late with a man.

In fact, times have changes since a single girl was “ruined” for living with a man. Today, the single girl can live with as many men as she wants before she settles down with one. And, if she decides she doesn’t like the one she’s settled down with, she can get rid of him and try another.

Today’s girl is never “ruined.”

The U.S. culture has long been influenced by Christianity. Today, all that is changing.

A hundred years ago, the U.S. society upheld virtues like sexual purity. Divorce was a family disgrace, and if someone “gave his word,” that really meant something. It wasn’t unusual to seal a deal with the shake of a hand. Today, you’re stupid if you don’t have a signed contract. If you can get it notarized, that’s even better.

Christianity’s influence on the culture has waned to say the least. On the other hand, the culture’s influence on Christianity is going strong. And for the most part, it doesn’t seem like the church even notices.

The U.S. church has been spoiled. Since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we’ve had religious freedom with the added bonus of living in a society that upheld our morals.

Our fathers came from countries where they had to be countercultural. Today, we hardly understand that concept.
Like the girl from Mitchell’s story, the church is being led out into the night. If she is not careful, her Bridegroom will return to find her “ruined.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spiders in the Night: The Secrets that Haunt Us

Photo by Ellyjonez via Flickr

I saw a spider last night.

It was after midnight. The house was dark, except for the corner of light that fell from the bathroom into the hallway where my mom and I stood talking.

It was a dark shadow, hardly visible, that scurried into my brother’s room. “Mom, there’s a spider. Quick, get me some tissue!”

I watched it until she returned. “Oh, I think it’s a recluse.” My mom turned on the light. “Oh, oh, oh, I can’t do it. It is a recluse. I need to kill it. Oh, oh!”

Luckily for me, my dad heard us and came to the rescue. He killed the spider. Then he looked it over and discovered it was, indeed, a Brown Recluse.

We had been concerned about the existence of the poisonous arachnid in our home. Several weeks ago, a bite had appeared on my ankle, looking suspiciously (according to my LPN father) like a recluse bite. I had tried not to think about it, though I had watched the bite with some concern.

I hate spiders. One of my most recurrent nightmares surrounds being attacked by spiders, being covered in them, finding them in my pajamas, etc. And, of all the eight-legged monsters, I have feared most the Black Widow, who’s bite can kill you, and the Brown Recluse, who’s bite can rot holes into your flesh.

I had tried to convince myself that the bite was not from a recluse. Now, it seemed clear it was. My dad, knelt to look at my ankle once again, and told me I was lucky. So far, there is no hole, just a dry patch of skin.

Then I went to bed. Or, I should say, I tried to go to bed.

First I pulled down all the bedding. Nope, no spiders there.

Then I reached my hands around the foot of the mattress, where I couldn’t see. No spiders.

I climbed in bed, then pulled all the bedding up onto the bed. I didn’t want the spiders to have an easy climb to me.

I laid my head on my pillows. My pillows! Could there be spiders in there?

I lay there in my bed, afraid. A grown woman, scared to death of spiders.

Spiders – tiny little creatures who hate me as much as I hate them.

Spiders – creatures that were in my home all along. I knew they might be there. I just hoped they weren’t.

Spiders – one of which my dad had killed. There were less spiders in my house last night than the night before.

Spiders – I had been bitten by one and lived to tell the tale.

People – what funny creatures we are.

It occurred to me, as I lay there thinking, that spiders are a lot like secret sins. They haunt the dark corners of our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. We know they might be there. We figure, they probably are. No one is perfect after all; we all have our own skeletons (or spiders) in our closets. But, we like to think they are only the harmless type – little ugly bugs we’d rather weren’t there, but aren’t going to do any harm staying where they are.

But sometimes, light falls on a dark place, and we see a spider.

Sometimes it is poisonous. And then, we can become afraid.

“Why God? Why have you let this spider in?”

Often we sink into our fear. We check our beds, climb under our sheets, pull the covers over our heads and hope to God the spider goes away, knowing all along it won’t.

Other times, we call our Father. And He comes in, and kills the spider.

But, instead of rejoicing in the victory, we can become timid. If there is one spider, there might be more. Who knows where one might be hiding? No place is safe – not even my own bed.

Oh, we of little faith. The spider was there all along. Now our Father has killed it. Why be afraid? We are safer now than before. Now is the time to rejoice!

And all along, we have the scars on our bodies of the spiders we have survived. Why, when God has protected and strengthened us for so long, are we now afraid? Again, I say – oh we of little faith.

There is darkness in the world. We are living in the night. And in the night, there are spiders. But thanks be to God that our lives are filled with light that reveals the spiders. Thanks be to God that we have a Father that never sleeps, but waits for us to call on Him to kill our spiders. And thanks be to God that He heals our bites and makes us whole again.

We have nothing to fear from spiders in the night.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Standing in the Hallway

Photo by Randy Son of Robert via Flickr

…the anxiety that shadowed too many of my days was that I should miss the path of righteousness. Better that anxiety, perhaps, than a cavalier carelessness, but the years since have proved to me over and over again that the heart set to do the Father’s will need never fear defeat. His promises of guidance may be fully counted upon. Does it make sense to believe that the Shepherd would care less about getting His sheep where He wants them to go than they care about getting there? ~ Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity
I remember my mother tucking me into bed when I was little, assuring me that airplanes really don’t fall onto houses very often, and that the trains I heard in the distance were much to far away to run into the house.

As I grew up, I learned Christ’s teaching on worry. We can’t make ourselves grow more with worry or make ourselves live any longer. Besides, perfect love casts out fear.

When I became a woman, I put away childish things. I think little of airplanes that pass by over head, and I find the sound of train whistles very soothing.

But though my childish fears were uprooted and thrown away, I have found that the fertile soil of my mind has sprouted new life.

While my earlier worries were obvious weeds in my spiritual garden, these new ones look suspiciously like the cultivated plants. After all, is not the desire for God’s will quite holy?

Yet, as I have examined this plant, I have found that its roots go down to a different system than those of the other garden vines. This weed is noxious, chocking out the nourishment from the other plants.

Its fruit looks like a desire for God’s will. But as soon as she who hungers for righteousness takes a bite of it, she finds her mouth full of bitter fear.

How do I know God’s will? What if I do the wrong thing? What if I fail?

I have found that life is a labyrinth of hallways lined with doors, with each door leading to yet another door-lined hallway. There have been times in my life when I have ran up and down a hallway, trying each door only to find it locked, beating upon the doors, crying out for God to let me out. But as terrifying as this scenario might seem, there is another situation that is far worse.

God always opens a door, and in the moment I am overwhelmed with joy and peace. I am out of the hallway, and I know beyond any doubt that I have done God’s will. After all, He only opened one door.

The waking nightmare that haunts my sleepless eyes these days is not the hallway with no way out. Rather, it is the hallway with more than one open door.

I stand there, heart racing, knees trembling, shivering with fear. Which door do I go through? Surely God has one that He has ordained. But which one? I cry out to God, but I hear no answer. I am paralyzed.

I was curled up in bed, reading Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity, a book I’ve long considered a favorite. I had thought about reading it again because it deals with the idea of making choices. And as a 24-year-old college senior, I find my life almost overflowing with choices right now. Then, when three people in three separate situations recommended I read the book in the course of a week, I thought perhaps God was trying to get my attention.

And, as I read the words of the above passage, I understood why.

I realized that God is with me in the hallway.

The hallway isn’t scary. It isn’t dark or dank. It’s lit brightly with the light of Christ.

Sometimes the hallway is right where God wants us. Sometimes we have to wait there for Him to open a door. Sometimes, we have to wait on Him to show us which door to walk through. Sometimes we have to take a step of faith and trust that God will intervene if we are making the wrong choice. But in each situation, we have nothing to fear. Our Father loves us. And, like any good Father, in His time, He will take our hand and guide us through the right door.

But until then, it’s okay to stand in the hallway.