Other "Thinking Drafts" and writing by Keith Drury --http://www.indwes.edu/tuesday .
From: Money Sex and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press
At coffee break one morning, I heard about a prayer meeting where the people were asked to quote their favorite verse. One fellow in that prayer meeting piped up with, "I don't remember where it's found, but I like the one that goes, 'Treat yourself to the best.'"
He failed to quote the rest of the verse..."Treat yourself to the best...chew Mail Pouch Tobacco." He'd read it one the side of a barn, not in the Book of Books. Too many Christians are getting their theology off the side of the barn instead of from God's Book. The Book says, "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me." The barn says, "I take care of myself," "I'm worth it," "I can afford it," or "I deserve it." The barn produces books like, How to Get What You Want, Winning Through Intimidation, Looking Out For Number One, Pulling All the Strings. But the Book stands firm...and says, "If any man would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
We live in a culture which tells us it is okay to crave more...this is the American way. The dominant value of our culture is, "What will I get out of it?" We are being told that true meaning in life will come through the acquisition of more things. Our income must rise each year. Our net worth should go up. Television delivers a nightly diet of hard-core materialistic pornography...blatantly promoting lust for possessions.
It is a lie. The Book describes the true believer as one who is able to swim upstream against his culture... especially in this matter of money and possessions.
In the book Disciple, Juan Carlos Ortiz says we have invented the fifth gospel We know of the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But we've invented a fifth gospel...the "Gospel according to St. Evangelical." "We take all the verses we like -- all those offering something, promising a benefit, focusing on what we get -- and we make a systematic theology of these verses." We wind up with the theology of the money changers. The gospel of the big offer. The gospel of the hot sale. We like this gospel of Aladdin's Lamp... we think we can rub the Lord with little bit of prayer and get anything we want.
Sure we should be concerned about secular humanism in our schools. But we should be more concerned about secular materialism in the Church. Whole movements are springing up based on this fifth gospel. We are being taught that if our faith is strong enough, we can have anything we want from God. They teach us that as children of the King of Kings, we should expect to be prosperous. And some of the evangelical movement has adopted this theology, or at least part of it. It sounds good to us. It soothes our consciences. It's clever to make God the great errand boy in the sky. Like the medieval people who thought the earth was the center of the universe, we have come to act as if man is the center of the universe, and God and Jesus Christ and all the angels revolve around us just waiting to relieve our latest headache, get us a lucrative job, or find us a convenient parking space.
We are wrong. God is at the center of all. And He has more important things to do that make your life more convenient. He says, "If any man would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
Naturally, this prosperity gospel appeals to many. People like to be told "God want you to prosper." It is a special problem in North America where we sanctify anything that works. This teaching seems to bring many into the kingdom of God... or at least into the organized church.
One does not need to travel far to see that we are pretty impressed with the fifth gospel. Evangelicals have become a church of the middle class, maybe even upper middle class in some places. Our church buildings are not longer located across the railroad tracks. Our members dress well and live in tidy, suburban homes. They drive carefully-maintained recent model cars... maybe even two or three cars. We can look at ourselves and congratulate us on our remarkable upward mobility - "we've come a long way, Baby."
But are we in danger of becoming just another middle class group which sanctifies the cultural values and waters down Christ's call to radical discipleship? Have we become too impressed with wealth and power? Have we adopted the culture's dominant value of "What will I get out of it?"
And let's quit kidding ourselves...we even tithe to ourselves. We plead for people to give offerings to God, then we spend it so that we may have softer pews, nicer carpeting, excellent handball courts, and better air conditioning.1 Does God need these things? I know of one church where they passed a rule and hung up a sign stating "no outsiders may use this church gym." No wonder there is a movement to tax churches -- many of us have become little more than ingrown social clubs organized for our own benefit. Some churches have even figured out how to make missions offerings benefit themselves. They simply dip into the missions offerings for their own expenses for "local missions" including bus ministries or VBS or even to finance the pastor and board's missionary tour expenses. It is not uncommon for a local church's "missions budget" to have as much as 25% of the money actually never leave the local church.2
Is it any wonder the world doesn't take us seriously? We are caught up in the same rat race as they are. We desperately grasp to better ourselves materially, while at the same time we mouth spiritual platitudes like "Only what's done for Christ will last." This is secular materialism at its worst. It doesn't matter what we say. Materialism is living as if the material matters most.
Into the midst of our secular materialism marches the timeless Christ with His command, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." We have accepted the concepts, "Take care of yourself," "Love yourself," "Be yourself," and "Find yourself." Jesus says, "Deny yourself."
There is precious little self-denial among us today. I dislike self-denial. Do you? Take fasting, for instance.
We call it "fasting" when we go without a meal. We can't bring ourselves to deny our physical longings for food for even a few days or a week for the sake of our spiritual welfare or for lost souls.
But the denial Jesus calls for is deeper than going without one meal a week or giving up ice cream for Lent. In fact, it is more than self-denial. It is denial of self. Christ is saying, "if you want to follow me, you'll have to make a deliberate choice to put God first, others second, and you must get at the end of the line."
We don't like being at the end of the line. The world says put yourself first, others second, and if you have a little room at the end, make a nice, little place for Jesus. God says the opposite.
Is it any wonder that most churches have not experienced a spiritual revival? It is Jesus who said, "If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?" (Luke 16:11) Can't we recognize the fact that if we are not faithful in handling our money and possessions, God will not grant us true riches -- spiritual riches? The use of our money is the best single indicator of our level of commitment. And for most of us, that means we fail miserable...for we spend most of our money on ourselves, and at best give God a 10% cut.
Jesus calls us to a different and radical life-style. Jesus has called us to abandon the world's materialistic life-style -- an endless quest for more. He calls us to adopt a new approach to living -- denial of self for the sake of the unfinished task of declaring the gospel worldwide, and caring for those who are needy.
But why? Why should you live on less that you earn? Why should you forgo that second car for the sake of a missionary's salary? Why7 should you get rid of that comfortable stack of possessions for the sake of extending the kingdom of Christ? There are at least four reasons:
1. God commands it.
God said, "Do not steal," and "Do not commit adultery." But it was the same God who said, "Do not pile up treasures on earth." Who gave us the right to decide which of Gods' commandments are compulsory and which are optional? "Pile up" simply means just that -- to constantly add more to what we already have. How many of us are guilty of a life-style of addling more possessions to what we've already got?
I am. I remember that tiny trailer we used for our first move. Every thing we owned fit neatly in a 4X6 foot space. Look at us now! The last time we moved we had a whole moving van load. Little by little my family has "piled up" things we needed or thought we did. Sure, I can look around and compare my possessions with some others and figure I'm no worse than the next guy. But that does not change the fact that I've piled up a bunch possessions over the first 25 years of marriage. Piling up treasures on earth is wrong because Jesus said don't do it. Purposefully piling up more stuff is willful disobedience to God's commandment. (Matthew 6:19,20) This is one reason why we Christians need to swim upstream in our materialistic culture.
2. Materialism is a serious sin.
Greed -- living a life largely dedicated to accumulation -- is repeatedly listed with all kinds of "serious" sins in the scripture. Greed keeps company with immorality, impurity, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, and the like (Ephesians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Colossians 3:5,6). We even remove people from church membership for adultery, homosexual practices, or stealing. When was the last time you heard of anyone being kicked out of the church for being greedy? We accept greed and one of the "better" sins... even respectable. So we sanctify greed. Until we come to accept the sin of greed as just as serious as adultery we'll never overcome this one.
3. Materialism is a mirage.
Everything I've piled up will all melt anyway. Why is it so hard to realize that "The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire"? That shiny new car, newly-painted house, brand new dishwasher, powerful motorcycle, attractive summer cottage, efficient riding lawn mower, stamp collection, even that electric garage door opener -- IT ALL WILL MELT! And since everything is going to be destroyed, how then ought we to live? (2 Peter 3:10,11)
Following a certain rich man's death a mosey guest asked the dead man's friend, "How much would you say he left behind?" The friend answered, "Everything." How true. If the Lord comes it all melts, and if you die first it "All goes back into the box" like the end of a Monopoly game. You can't take it with you.
The quest for material possession is an empty well. It is a drink that never satisfies. If you ask the man earning $25,000 a year how much it would take to satisfy, he will say $30,000. The man earning $50,000 will say $100,000. The man earning $100,000 will say $250,000 On and on the quest goes. For a life built on the acquisition of material wealth is never satisfied. It is like drinking salt water. The more you drink the more thirsty you get. Materialism is a mirage -- it promises satisfaction it doesn't deliver.
4. So that I may give.
But the highest motivation for adopting a life-style of self-denial is for the sake of giving. What an exciting motivation for going back to work this Monday! "Doing something useful...[so] that [we'll] have something to share with those in need." (Ephesians 4:28) This is "giving living." Earning money so that I have something to share with people in need, and to extend the gospel. This is the greatest reason for a simpler life-style.
John Wesley had a simple three-point sermon on this subject of money. His first point: Earn all you can. This is an argument for being industrious. Christians should be hard-working people and not lazy. The second point: Save all you can. This is an argument for frugality, not piling up a huge savings accounts. He was saying as you buy groceries, housing, clothing, and other necessities, "save all you can." Be careful, be frugal, in your spending. His third point was to reason for doing the first two: Give all you can. This is the foundation of a Christian approach to money -- developing a life-style of "giving living." Earning as much as I can, watching my expenses in order to save all I can, so that I will be able to give all I can. Giving is the antidote to materialism's poison.
So what can I do? Is it good enough for me just to feel a little twinge of guilt while I continue the acquisition of more possessions? Should I simply be just a bit more embarrassed about that new car, new took kit, or new summer cottage? No, guilt will not suffice. God wants obedience in this matte, not just confession. So, what can we do? Are there practical steps you could actually take?
Yes, consider these steps you could take in order to bring your life into line with God's commandment on materialism:
1. Begin unpiling.
At least you could do this much to obey Christ's teachings. Simply get rid of some of the stuff you've been piling up. How did you get it all? You simply added a little bit at a time. You now have more than you ever dreamed of. At least you can turn that process around and begin unpiling. Even a little bit at a time.
How? Simply reverse the piling up process. When someone comes to your house and admires a lamp -- give it to them!
If you've got two sets of wrenches find some young man who has none and give him a set. If you haven't been playing that piano in the front room, find someone who needs it and give it to them. This is the simplest level of response to God's truth. Just reverse your life-style of accumulation by unloading the stuff you've piled up.
In our early thirties my family started having regular garage sales. We would tramp through the house and examine every possession we owned -- every shirt, every suit, every piece of furniture, every toy, even every tool -- and decide if we really need to keep it another year. It is amazing the pile of possessions we would collect for our sale. Why not hold a garage sale and dedicate the total proceeds to some worthy project? It's a start. There is not a person reading this chapter who could not at least adopt this policy of initial obedience to Christ's command against piling up treasure on earth.
2. Sell something big and give away the proceeds.
Could it be that one of the reasons the New Testament Church was so dynamic is, from time to time people sold a piece of property or other possession and gave the total proceeds to the church for the distribution to the needy?
This wasn't communism -- it was commitment. There was such a spirit of sharing that nobody even considered anything they owned as their own -- "sure, you can borrow anything of mine you want." And it didn't happen constantly -- just "from time to time." Maybe that's what you need to do with that summer cottage? How about that boat you never use? Or that power saw you haven't used for years? Are you storing furniture for some unknown reason? Maybe you could sell it and dedicate the total amount to the Lord.
Just think of the joy you'd get out of giving stuff like this away. Do you have any "big ticket" item you could sell or give to the Lord? Sort of like a "sacrifice" to Him? Is this something you could do? Would it please God?
3. Freeze your keeping.
This step is more radical. Could you live on the same amount you earned this year? How about giving yourself a wage freeze? How about making this covenant with the Lord: "Everything above what I earned this year I will pass straight through to You." I call this "Faith-promise living." If you make this commitment to the Lord, watch out! When He knows His work gets 100% of the blessings He rains down on you He often opens the windows of heaven and showers it down! After all, based on the old tithing concept, for God's concerns to get $100, He had to bless you with $1000. Under the "faith promise living" concept, if God blesses you with an extra $100, His work gets it all!
My family tried this one year and we were shocked to discover the same amount went much further, plus God seemed to pass through far more to give to others. We were encouraged enough that we were then able to take a further step -- reducing our keeping.
3. Reduce your keeping.
We get this giving thing all mixed up. We talk about giving -- God judges us on our keeping. The question is not "what do you give?" True stewardship says all money which passes through my hand is God's, therefore, I will keep as little as possible -- just what I need. When we praise a rich person's large gift we assume that God is impressed by the largeness of the gift. But God compares what he gave with what he kept. This is the message of Jesus' teaching in response to the "widow's mite" incident. So the question is: "Could you live on less next year than you lived on this year?" What if your salary was cut by $500 next year? $1,000? Could you still make it?
Why not cut it yourself? How about committing yourself to living on less next year than this year -- giving all the excess to God's work and needy people? Could you try this? Maybe even for one year? My family practiced keeping less each year for five years in a row and we were absolutely amazed at how less income would stretch more each year. We knew we couldn't do this forever. But we tried it a year at a time. At least it was something to do which represented swimming upstream against our materialistic culture. Sure, eventually our tots became teens and we had to give ourselves some raises. But those first five years taught us the joy of living on less. They became a benchmark of anti-materialistic living to which we both intend to return.
I'm not talking about an exercise in self-flagellation as if there is something holy about "doing without." The purpose of living on less is not denial alone -- it is giving in order to carry out God's work of extending the gospel and to care for the needy.
5. Sell all, give it away, and follow Jesus somewhere else.
We have dodged Christ's command to the rich young ruler in Luke 18 by saying it was instructions to one man in one situation at one time. But what will we do with the identical command given in Chapter 12 to the entire flock of Christ's followers? Isn't it possible, just maybe, that God is calling some Christians somewhere today to completely divest themselves of everything in order to follow Him into His work? I admit that this is not Christ's call to everyone, but shouldn't we see this happen once in awhile? When was the last time you heard of someone "selling out" everything and giving all the proceeds away before they went to the mission field or entered the Lord's work? Maybe selling all and putting it the bank for retirement, but squandering it on the poor? Not likely! I know a few stories and they are inspiring. But if Christ actually is calling one of us to do this, most of us are joining the ruler in walking away sorrowfully. It's just seems like too much to ask. Is it?
Now, what about you?
Is creeping materialism getting a grip on you? Are you being helplessly towed downstream in our materialistic culture? But is the command of Jesus clear to you? Then, what single step could you take to begin swimming against the current of our culture? Is there at least a tiny beginning step you could take? Why not start today? Now?
What could you do to begin?
1. Does God need these things? Obviously not. However they can be used for God's work. The point here is not that these things are wrong, but that they can be selfish.
It is to remind us that even our giving can be beneficial to ourselves. Little giving is of the "beyond-ourselves-nothing-in-return" type.
2. Selfish missions giving. While the practice of diverting missions money into locally beneficial needs is increasingly common and accepted , it is sometimes dishonest and perhaps even illegal unless each individual giver knows exactly where it's going. A "World outreach offering" raised right after hearing a passionate appeal from a foray missionary may suggest to the giver that the money is going to foreign missions. Unless the giver has been given clear information about where the money is going, such offerings are at least dishonest, and at worst illegal. If a giver knows part of the money is going to buy a photocopy machine for the church office "to copy missionary letters" at least it is honest.
This is not to say that foreign missions is itself not selfish at times. True, some missions organizations use the money they receive primarily for their own staff's benefit and little soul-saving results. But this is no excuse for a local church to use the romance of "world evangelism" to raise more money for their own needs. This approach will simply teach people to figure out ways to "tithe to themselves" personally like the one ministerial student I heard of who tithed to a fellow ministerial student -- using his Tithe to "support someone preparing for the ministry." The other student reciprocated and "tithed" his income back to the first student -- what a handy way to tithe to yourself! Churches should be above these kinds of shenanigans. (So should ministerial students!)
From: Money, Sex, and Spiritual Power by Keith Drury
(c) 1992 Wesley Press
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