Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The eye of the needle

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:23-24

According to figures for 2009, the average American household income is $46,326.00 per year. I don't know if that seems like a lot or a little to you. (Just for clarity, the poverty line is currently set at $22,000 per year). If you make $100,000 a year, your family is in the top 15% of the nation. If you make $200,000 a year, you are in the top 3%. Now, I know those numbers seem really high - that is a lot of money, but compared to other countries, around the world, even those families firmly in the middle at just over $46,000 a year are sitting pretty.

According to the World Bank, in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, over 70% of the population lives on $2 or less per day. The vast majority of families in the world earn less than $10,000 a year.

The richest 25% of the world receives 75% of its goods and services. As you might expect the, the poorest 75% of the world receives the remaining %25 percent of goods and services. (http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/income.php)

In addition to these saddening statistics, a recent study has clearly shown that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be generous (proportionately speaking) with your income. In other words, even though the amount the 'rich person' is giving away might be technically more than the actual amount the 'poor person' is giving, people with less money tend to give a higher percentage of their income away to help others.

Now that you have read through all the statistical soup I have thrown at you, I want to remind us that Jesus constantly tells us how wealth is an obstacle not only to our relationship with God, but to our task to bring God's Kingdom to fruition here on earth: The more we have, the more we want.

Taking that first step to rid ourselves of the shackles that tie us to our material goods is very difficult - we want the best for our children and we want to be 'normal' - even if that means we spend more than we should to make ourselves blend in with the rest of our neighbors.

Freeing ourselves from an attachment to materialism doesn't just happen - you have to plan it and stick with it even when gets painful. And it will get painful. If you are struggling with these issues here are some suggestions:
1) take the amount you have prayerfully decided to give to the church out of your budge at the 1st of the month and turn it in. That way you can't spend it - it's already gone.
2) walk around the store a few extra times just thinking about whether or not you really need that extra stuff - if not, put it back.
3) put some padding in your shopping budget - just $10 or $15 will make you feel like you can splurge every once in a while
4)ask God everyday what He wants you to do with HIS money.

We might not see it in our everyday life but we live in a hurting world. God is calling each of us to do something about it - and action is never cheap in time or money.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Do you want what you have or do you have what you want?

I recently read a line in a fictional book that stated, "It is better to want what you have than to have what you want."

Hmmmmm.... It is sort of a wierd statement but it makes a lot of sense. I was explaining this morning why Rome invaded Egypt to my 5 year old son (who is VERY into the Eyptian Playmobil playset right now and wanted to know why on the advertisment it had Roman centurions marching towards the pyramids). He didn't quite get it when I gave him the historical answer so we had the following conversation:
I asked him, "Do you pretty much always want new toys?" He said "yes." I then responded, "And do you want to give up your old toys in order to get the new ones?" "No." "And when you get the new ones do you stop wanting other new ones?" "No." (Ahhh...isn't it nice when your child plays right into your hands!)

I then went on to explain that all of us always want more than what we have because we are all sinful. We crave what we see if we do not have it. As you get older the toys just change and become bigger or emphemeral substances like power, acclaim, or beauty. There is a reason why the sin of coveting is included in the Ten Commandments!

How many of us constantly want something other than what we have but when we get it, we are not satisfied the way we thought we would be? I would be pretty surprised if someone can tell me they are 100% content in their life.

While this tendency to see the grass in someone else's yard as greener can lead us away from God, it can also lead us to Him. We are all longing for the empty space within us to be filled. We look to relationships, money, power, youth, beauty and all the other wonderful things that God created for us to fill that hole...but they don't. God created those things for us to delight in, but not to fill us. God is the only one who can fill those empty spaces and places within us AND He longs to do just that. God longs for us to call upon Him for peace and contentment rather than to look for it in His creation.

Before you log off today, scroll down and read Psalm 23. The next time you begin to want something that you don't have, look at what you do have and ask God to help you be satisfied.


Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD


Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Light in the darkness

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

In the days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we are called to think about Jesus' sacrifical death on the cross. It is a strange liturgical place to be - we mourn the death of Jesus and yet at the same time we also know that soon we will be celebrating his resurrection.

In the darkness of the night before Easter as I write this, I remember the first time I really experienced Lent the way I wish I always could. When I was in seminary I would visit a Greek Orthodox church for vespers on a regular basis. It was nice to just be someone in the worship service instead of the person leading (or learning to lead) the worship service. One year, along with some friends, I took part in most of the Holy week services.

I remember standing for hours during the very long Holy week services. I remember the heart wrenching sadness I felt on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday when Jesus was betrayed, beaten, humiliated, and then crucified - a terrible, tortuously long death by suffocation. I remember the priest draping all the icons and the altar in black cloth and the lights going out. On Holy Saturday, we stood vigil - waiting for midnight to come so that we could celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. It was a full sensory experience of Lent - the dark chapel, the procession led by the priest and altar boys with the congregation following the Holy Cross (or the Tree of Life as the Orthodox call it). We processed around the chapel three times just before midnight. As the clock struck twelve, the priest led us back to the front door and knocked upon it. When the door opened, the lights came on and all the black draping had been taken down. The joy that I felt at that moment was physical. Jesus was alive again! He had died for me and yet somehow, he had come back to life and would never leave me alone again.

Tonight, most churches are dark because we want to remember the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Tomorrow, however, the lights come on, the black comes down and the lilies of Easter will be seen and smelled everywhere.

I know (and Jesus knows) that Easter Sunday is not going to necessarily fix whatever is wrong in your life right now. Your loved ones might be ill and dying. Your marriage might be in a horribly difficult place. You might feel like a complete failure. But hang in there. Because "It's Friday but Sunday is coming" is not just for Easter. It is for the entirety of the Christian journey.

We live much of our lives in the shadow between dark and light, but we know that we will end our journey in the light. I know that God has given each of us hope to hold onto until we get there. Whether it is the joyful moment when the lights come back on in the church at midnight on Easter Sunday, a kind word of a friend or even a stranger, or the song that comes on the radio at just the right moment to give you a second wind - I know that God's light is trying to find a way to shine in your life.

In the happiness of Easter Sunday when we all get dressed up and have egg hunts and have the best meal since Christmas, I hope that we can also remember the joy of God's light that shines in whatever darkness this world might give us.