29 October 2014

Jesus Warns Against Confusing Material Wealth for Spiritual Blessing

Luke 16:19-31

There's a reason why the prosperity doctrine (If you are faithful to Christ, then you will be materially blessed) is so appealing. We all want to get rich and be successful. And so, while so many of us are looking for the formula to material wealth, the prosperity doctrine places Christianity alongside all the other popular self-help books.

It's understandable. We read about historical figures like Solomon who, because he sought wisdom first, was blessed with great wealth. And, we think and many teach, "Okay, this is the model." The problem is while we like to think about the Abrahams, Josephs, Davids and Solomons, we tend not to think about the economic conditions of the Elijahs, Jeremiahs and Isaiahs. 

(We also tend to leave out the portion of Solomon's story that not only did he not finish well personally, he did not finish well politically. His wealth was apparently built, as most rich politicians are, off of the wealth of his people. We know this because when his son, Rehoboam, went against wise counsel of alleviating the people's tax burden, the kingdom of Israel split in two.)

The big problem with the prosperity doctrine is THE big problem with most false doctrines trying to take hold within Christianity: Jesus teaches against the doctrine. The two major lessons from this teaching from Jesus is don't confuse material wealth for spiritual blessing and God has already told his people what they need to know.

Part of the Law and the Prophets says, "HE HAS SHOWN YOU, O Mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

The Law was clear to anyone who would examine it. The experts in the Law answered Jesus correctly when asked what the greatest commandment was, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." and "Love your neighbour as yourself."

One of my favourite all-time movies is "Kenny" which is a brilliant movie about an everyday guy who has a necessary yet socially unappealing job. There's a scene of him and his pre-teen son chatting during a drive. The son suddenly asks Kenny if he is going to hell. Kenny is shocked by the question but rolls his eyes when he finds out his ex-wife planted the idea in his son's head. The son then asks, "Do you believe in God?" Kenny responds, "I'll tell ya what, mate, when God comes down and introduces himself, he'll have my undivided attention."

Here's the thing. He has. He did incredible stuff with Israel and how long did that last? Not even a generation. He would rescue his people time and time and time again. Why would he have to rescue them time and time and time again? Because they didn't listen to him time and time and time again.

And then, His Word was poured into a man. He loved. He taught. He ate. He lived the perfect life. He was patient. He healed. And then, He was killed. It hasn't mattered whether He was with us in the garden or whether He spoke from the mountain or whether He took on flesh and lived among us, there will always be many among us who at the end of the day, look upon the Living God and say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Here's the other profound lesson of Jesus: One of the best things about these commands is that anyone can do them. We don't have to be rich to act justly. We don't have to have stuff to love mercy. We don't have to be beautiful to walk humbly with God. We don't have to be famous to love.  Anyone can seek justice. Anyone can be kind. Anyone can walk humbly with God. Anyone can love.

So, if nothing we possess can keep us from love, why don't each of us love the way we should, the way we are commanded to?  Because love, by its very definition, requires a denial of self. It requires sacrifice. It requires sincere effort. And, it seems, for so, so many of us, these are what we are unwilling to risk. We are unwilling to risk a losing of self.

What is disturbingly clear in this teaching from the Lord, is that ignoring those in need (See Also The Good Samaritan) while shutting ourselves in gated communities while justifying why we can't help rotting communities is not what our Father in Heaven would have us to do. 

And when we stop following the God in whose image we are made, we seek a god made in our image. Thus, we become easily convinced that the reason people have is because God loves them more than the people who don't have. Besides, it makes it much easier to justify our own apathy if we see the poor as those that God hasn't favoured.

What's sad is, it doesn't take very much. We can all do the little things. And if enough of us do the little things, then it adds up to one huge thing for so, so many people. I am the bookkeeper for Pregnancy Problem House. PPH provides free, caring and confidential services to women and families in crisis pregnancies. But, those services aren't really free. They are paid for by other people.  Because the need is so great, right now, we are looking for people who are willing to give as little as a dollar a day. A dollar a day is nothing. It's not even half a cup of coffee. In our consumer culture, a dollar is spent so easily.

And working for other non-for-profits, I can tell you how there are so many, many local charities that do so much with so little. Would it be easier if they had more? Absolutely! But, these loving people are thankful for what generosity there is, roll up there sleeves, get waist deep in the muck and go to work.

Thank you Father, for telling us what you require of us. Thank you for loving the orphan and the widow, the forgotten and the used up.  Help us to see people the way you see people. Help us to heed your call and pay attention to your warning. Thank you for the example of your Son Jesus, the richest man who ever lived.

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