Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 7 February 2019

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV).

Contrast this with the admonition Paul shared in the previous 5 verses, especially verse 5.  In those verses, Paul advises Timothy that we can be slaves to many things, but that we should respect our ‘masters’ while shying away from anything that causes controversy and strife.   Including love of money.

We aren’t going to obsess about the so called nobility of poverty.   If you’ve ever been financially poor, it doesn’t feel very noble.   Yet there is a quality about not having something, about being in want, that is clarifying, constructive, even godly.   You know it:  contentment.

I’m going out on a limb and saying that we of the 21st century, and not just Americans, have a hard time with contentment.   Go into any American town and you’ll find people who, when they get satisfied, quickly then get un-satisfied.  Yet that’s the case in most other countries as well.   We aren’t content with what we have.   We want more, and ‘more’ can have many meanings.   Money, possessions, status, jobs, relationships; you get the picture.  It’s no stretch to say that we as the human race spend much of our lives discontented.  We’re dissatisfied because we want more; sometimes we’re even in want, poor.

Paul tells us to hold the mirror in front of us and fix our eyes on Jesus.   He has put His soul inside us to live through us and act through us whether we’re poor or rich, satisfied or dissatisfied, content or not.  He asks us to be content with who we are, where we are, what we are given (and what we achieve) because He then wants us to live godly lives in service to Him.   He asks us to use our talents for His work and let Him take care of the rest.   Part of “the rest” includes how we feel about it.  If we let Him take control, it doesn’t take long before we discover we’re content.   And that’s when He really gets down to business.   His work can take off when we realize we can be content with Him at all times because He’ll never leave or forsake us (see Hebrews 13).

Are you content?   Do you feel unsatisfied with where you are or what you have or even who you are?   Have you taken your thoughts and feelings about this to God?   Rich or poor, achiever or still a work in progress, there is great value in being content with whoever you are and wherever God has you.   You’re there for a reason:   HIS reason.   And that’s always something with which to be content and satisfied.

For further reading:   Philippians 4:11, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:7.

Wonderful Lord, I confess I’m not always content.   I lose my focus and take it off you.  Thank You for a new day to re-focus on you, to realize contentment because of You, and I ask You to help me help others with the same.  

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 7 November 2017

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13, verse 5.

Love your neighbors.   Be hospitable.  Visit those in prison.   Stay faithful in your marriage.  Next on the list of exhortation is to keep our lives free from envy.   Yes, it says “love of money” and don’t downplay that.   But then it says “be content with what you have.”   THAT is the key.   It’s a heart-thing again; in the Bible, would it ever really be anything else?

One of my favorite day dreams is of winning the lottery.   When things have been tight – and that has been so much of my life – I dream of not having to worry about money.   I dream about owning a big house, maybe another one in the country, and building a bar there where my family and friends can come to let down their hair.   I dream of building another cross by the pond, like we did at the farm we’re now leaving, and of having a place for my grandchildren to come and have fun.

The thing is, I’ve never really had to worry about money.   My wife is a great accountant and she has always done a great job of making our dollars go farther than I ever thought they would.   Even when we weren’t really making much money, she always did things to make sure we enjoyed life.  For awhile, I thought she worshipped money, but over time I came to see that she simply enjoyed accounting and liked knowing where our dollars went.  Through lean times and plentiful ones, we’ve always done alright.

Even that truth still misses the big picture.

The big picture is that love of worldly wealth, whether it’s money or possessions or the status they bring, displaces our love for God.   God gives us all things in both paucity and plenty.  He provides for both atheists and believers, for every living thing that has breath.  If you have food, air, water, shelter, and anything at all, you have it because God gave it.  The key to happiness here on the Third Rock is to be thankful for it, whatever “it” is.   Waking up in the morning:   thank God.   Good workout at the gym:   thank God.   Date night with your honey:   thank God.  Rough day at work:  thank God.   Lose your job:   thank God.   Fall asleep in the evening:   thank God.  Drawing your last breath:   thank God.  In all this thankfulness, be content.   Being honestly contented with being thankful is knowing the heart of Jesus, who has promised to always be with us.

And when we forget to do that, then we open ourselves to loving anything but Him.   Put simply, that’s idolatry, and when you boil it down, the writer of Hebrews is exhorting us to reject idolatry.   In his day and ours, one of the easiest idols to worship is wealth.  Then as now, the founder of a wealthy feast is the founder of all feasts:   God Almighty.   And only Him.   The writer exhorts us to not only reject this idolatry but, in doing so, to pivot to the better way that is embracing God.   God is already embracing us, abiding with us, providing for us, not forsaking us even when we have forsook Him.

My wife tells the story of how, when she and her sister were children, they would play “rich days and poor days.”   Her sister jokes that they always played poor days so they would be ready for adulthood.   “Couldn’t we have played rich days more?” they joke, and it’s only half joking.  We’ve known tough times and easy ones, and right now things are hard.   Yet I know, I fundamentally believe, that God is still with me.   That He’s still providing what we need, and that even when things are tough they will turn out ok in the end.   God promises us Himself, meaning that we are already wealthy beyond anything the wealthiest person could imagine.  Everything we get along the way is extra, it’s biscuits & gravy.  Sure, I still have my lottery dreams; who wouldn’t dream of living in a beautiful home with everything you’ve ever wanted?   The better truth is that, when my days are over, I’ll be going to wealth far better than some nice pile of sticks and bricks.

For further reading:  1 Timothy 3:3, Philippians 4:11,Deuteronomy 31:6-8, Joshua 1:5.

My Lord, thank You for always providing what You know I need.   Thank You for always being with me, for never letting go of me.

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Daily Proverbial, from James, 30 December 2013

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  James 5, verse 1.

That’ll teach them!  Those darn rich people deserve every bit of misery they get because most of them don’t work the way REAL people do.   They’re just a bunch of greedy bloodsuckers who deserve to get punished for the way they keep the man down!

Please, not today; let’s spare each other the class warfare.   Besides, maybe that isn’t all James is talking about.  Maybe he is warning all of us to not think we’re too big for our britches.  It’s a spirit thing.  True:   he’s warning wealthy people to not think affluence is some kind of shock absorber from sin or calamity.   Case in point:  if you put all your money on Twitter stock last Thursday, by Friday you had lost 14% of your money (betting on a company than makes and produces nothing).  Wealth can evaporate like water, which is one of the reasons God implores us not to cling to it.  In fact, James spends the next six verses talking about how we misuse wealth against each other. 

Yet I think there’s another point crying out instead, especially since James had just spent the verses immediately prior to us imploring us to be humble.  Perhaps it’s better to read it as Jesus’ warning to all of us to not cling to anything of this world.   He is warning us to not oppress each other…period.   Especially as regards our wealth, but we shouldn’t try to keep each other down no matter what.  Do you have a lean bank account but are rich in knowledge and don’t share that knowledge?   Oppressor.   Do you have many possessions to share but don’t?   Oppressor.   Do you have the ability to do something but instead elect to always stay safe and sound in your living room?   Oppressor.

See what I mean?

Fact is, especially where there is affluence, we could each be considered rich in many ways.   It isn’t my place or yours to judge how someone is using their gifts:   it’s our place to judge how we are using the gifts God gave to us.   And if we find we have had the “mine, mine, mine” attitude that you might find in a two-year-old or a stereotypical millionaire, then we need a gut check.  Bully for those who are doing well these days; I wish them well, and I hope they aren’t juggling bills like the rest of us.  I hope they don’t look down on me for it because I don’t look down on them for doing whatever they do.   My prayer is that God isn’t ashamed of either of us.

Generous Lord, bless those who have that they may share with those who have not, and help me to see how very richly you’ve blessed me so I can do the same.

 

Are you rich or poor in spirit?

How are you using the gifts the Lord gave to you?

Do you need a gut check?

 

Daily Proverbial, from James, 7 September 2013

But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?  James 2, verses 6-7.

Hello, friends.   I’ve been away for awhile.   Last time we chatted was the week before a book signing in southern Indiana.   My family and I took a whirlwind trip, met hundreds of wonderful people, sold a few books, and, hopefully, got to share Jesus with a few folks we hadn’t known before.   Our writing business is brand new for my wife and I; this is our first book.  Like any business, we hope to make a lot of money and do some extraordinary things.   Here at the start, though, it’s good to ask a gut-check question:

Are we dishonoring the poor?  Are we exploiting anyone?

You see, you could interpret this verse in the obvious monetary way.   We could go all class-conscious and, if we’re careful to avoid class-envy, surmise that James is saying rich people oppress poor people.  That those who do such things are blaspheming the name of the Jesus who died to save them.   There’s truth in this.

I think we could also talk about those who are cannier than the rest of us.   For a long time, I was one of those snarky know-it-all’s who seemed to lord things over other people.   It’s an ugly trait, and I’m guilty of having lived it.   The verse could have been talking about me when it implied that I dishonored Jesus by snarking over those who I didn’t think were very bright, or very good.  When you boil it down, it’s really a kind of bullying. 

There could be truth in that too.

It could be talking about the politicians, elitists, dilettantes, intellectuals, or celebrities who seem to exude superiority over those of us who, it would seem (to them), don’t quite measure up.   There’s truth in this as well.

James could be talking about the folks in church, good Christians all of us, who seem to play “I’ve Got a Secret” with the Gospel that was never meant to be hidden behind false fronts or opaque traditions.  No wonder so many people feel uncomfortable with practicing faith when we, who are entrusted with growing it, fail to be Jesus to them.

Yet, perhaps, James is talking about all these things.   It’s why I go back to my original question.   With all those new people I met last week, was I Jesus’ ambassador or was I the rich person oppressing the poor man, or the snarky know it all, or the elitist, or the hypocrite in a choir robe?  James’ verses hold up a mirror.  Who do you see in it?

Lord, help me to always represent you with faith and trust, not agendas, secrets, or sarcasm.   Forgive me when I fail; strengthen me to do Your will.

 

Who are you to people:  a person of faith or just some person?

Have you ever oppressed someone?   If so, what did you do to change?

What’s your story of how Jesus pulled you out of that?