Thursday, July 26, 2012

Parents, Teach Your Children to Hate Stuff

I think my generation may end up being known as the Wal-Mart generation. There are a lot of things that define us, but at the end of the day, the growth of Wal-Mart might end up being the one thing. Now, this will not be a rant against Wal-Mart. I shop there, often. I did last night actually. But I think the explosion of Wal-Mart over the last 20 years says something about our society, and particularly our generation, that is frankly, quite disturbing.

We have become the most consumerist society in history. Getting stuff has become, for many people, the most important thing in the world. And none of us are immune to it. We in America have more money, more things and more time to do what we want with them that any place in the world, or any time in history of the world. Most of us have more stuff in our closet collecting dust than the average person in the world actually has. The desire for more and bigger and better stuff has captured almost everyone in our society. Our commercials tempt us with stuff. Our friends praise us for our stuff. Society honors those who have the most stuff. But it never satisfies. It never gives us what we want. Still, all too often, we Christians have both literally and figuratively bought society’s lie; hook, line and sinker.

I’m not sure how this ever happened. The Bible is full of warnings about the deadly dangers of stuff. Jesus told us we could not serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24) Paul was even more explicit in his instructions to Timothy. Read what he says here, and tell me this does not describe our society today:

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1st Timothy 6:9-10)

In verse 8, the verse directly preceding this passage, Paul says that if we have food and clothing, we should be content. So that’s the baseline. Then he goes into the dangers of wanting for more and more and more. Notice what he says. Those who desire to be rich fall into a temptation, a snare. He doesn’t say some of the people who want to be rich fall into this temptation. He says those, all of those, who desire to be rich, fall into this temptation and snare. What kind of temptation, what kind of snare is this? It’s the trap of “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” These are strong words. They are meant to convey strong meaning. So if we had no more than that, we would understand that desiring to be rich is a dangerous desire, a desire that is not worth the trouble. But Paul goes on further. It is this desire to have more and more and more that has led many people to wander away from the faith.

So what is Paul getting at here? I think it’s simple. The desire to be rich is the first step in a journey away from Jesus; a journey that, if not checked, will eventually lead to destruction and death and eternal punishment. This is the fear we should have of the desire for riches, the desire for more and more stuff; that they would turn us away from Jesus. Now notice, everyone who wants to be rich falls into a snare. Some of those who want to be rich walk away from the faith. So the desire to be rich doesn’t automatically lead to a rejection of the faith, but it could very well lead to such a thing.

Now, let me step back for a moment before I go on. The Bible does not condemn being rich. But it speaks over and over again about the danger of the love of money, the danger of wanting more and more. In other words, money is not inherently evil, but it inherently dangerous. It’s like fire. Used correctly, it can do great good. But if it gets out of control, it will destroy. And frankly, that’s where too many of us, including myself sometimes, find ourselves. We are eaten up with the desire for more and more money, and more and more of the stuff that money can buy. And these things will never ultimately satisfy us. Money makes a terrible God.

So what’s the solution? Is it too late for our generation? I think the answer to that is yes and no. It’s never too late for us to repent of our materialism and greed and Mammon-worship. But I fear that, because of the society we live in, and because of the depth of the trap that we have fallen into, for most of us, this temptation to have more stuff is one that will stay with us for all our lives. We may make progress toward defeating it, but the temptation will never go away. At best, we’ll be like the alcoholic who gives up drinking, but never goes a day without wanting a can or a bottle or a glass in his hand.

But here is what we can do. We can teach our children differently. We must begin now letting our children see the dangers of money and stuff, and showing them how to properly use it, and how to avoid using it. We can let them see us fighting against materialism every single day, battling the temptation of stuff-collection, however imperfectly. And we can not give in to their every demand, not think that they must have everything that we did not have, not believe that to love our kids, we must give them more stuff. More importantly, we can show them a better way. We can show them and teach them that life with Jesus, the Jesus who died on the Cross for their sins so that they could have relationship with him, is infinitely better than anything money can buy, and is worth giving up everything we have to possess. It is the treasure in the field that the man sold all his possessions for. It is the pearl of great worth for which the jeweler pawned off all his worldly goods to get.

The question is this: do we really believe this? Are we really willing to do this? Or do we want to raise another generation that just falls deeper into Mammon’s pit? Do we really want to see our children gain the whole world, and lose their souls? If you don’t answer that question now, your children will likely answer it later.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Karma vs. Gospel

“It’s not fair!” If you have a child over the age of about 5, then you have probably heard this more times than you care to think about. My 6, soon to be, 7-year old says it about three times a day. Kids have an inherent sense that things should go their way, and when they don’t, it makes them upset. Come to think of it, kids aren’t the only ones who think that way, are they? We all pretty much want things to go our way, and it’s very easy to hold ourselves a pity party when we don’t, isn’t it?

Now, there is something that is very good and right about this. We should desire right to overcome wrong. We have ingrained in us a sense of justice, that there are some things in the world that are not as they should be, and those things should be fixed. We should work for justice in our homes and in our workplaces and in our world. This is a good and important goal.

There is only one problem with this. We do not live in a just world. This world is not “fair.” Things don’t always go as we would hope. Our lives get messed up, dinged up, banged up and torn up. And when this happens, it is very easy for us to look up to God, and scream, “It’s not fair!” How many times have you had something go wrong and thought, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” It’s the same question the 6-year old is asking, in a different form.

The problem with this question is that it is based on a wrong premise. We assume that the world is basically okay, and that things basically work out for people if they just act right and live right. Good behavior is rewarded. Bad behavior is punished. What comes around goes around. You get what you deserve. The problem with this line of thinking, especially for those who claim to be Christians, is that it is antithetical to the Gospel. It’s not just that this is not a Christian way of thinking. It is that it is opposed to the right Christian way of thinking.

Let me show you what I mean. The idea that what comes around goes around, and that people get what they deserve, is basically a Hindu or Buddhist idea. It’s called Karma. And I’ve heard many, many professing Christians talk about Karma coming back to bite someone. It drives me crazy; makes me want to hurl myself out of a window somewhere. You see, Karma is the opposite of the Gospel. Karma says you get what you deserve. The Gospel says if you got what you deserved, then you would be dead and in Hell at this very moment. Instead, the Gospel says that Jesus got what you deserved. You deserved death. You deserved punishment. Because you aren’t as good as you think you are. As a matter of fact, you’re pretty messed up. So Jesus came and he took that punishment you deserved upon himself.

And because this is true, it totally flips the questions when it comes to our suffering and difficulties. Because at the root of the “What did I do to deserve this,” question lies a bigger question. “If God is a God of love, then how could this happen to me?” And Jesus answered that question at the Cross. Jesus did everything he needed to do to show you how much he loved you, by dying in your place on the Cross. That’s the answer to the question, “Does God love me?” Of course he does; he died for you. That act of supreme and most valuable love is all the evidence you need of his love. Now, that act comes with a promise that all wrongs will be righted eventually. Don’t doubt; every wrong will be righted. Justice will eventually be done. There is not a single sin that will go unpunished. Every sin will get it’s just desserts, either through eternal punishment in Hell, or through the punishment Jesus took on the Cross. And righteous living will be rewarded. We will have an eternity of no troubles, ever again.

So this changes the equation immensely. For those of us who have accepted this love, and who have turned to the Jesus who died for us, we don’t have to ask these questions when difficulties come. We know God loves us. We are certain that he is for us. And since we are certain of this, when trouble comes, we begin to ask different questions, like “What is the purpose of this difficulty? What is God trying to show me through this? How can I glorify the God who saved me through this?” We can do this because we are secure in God’s love, certain that justice will eventually be done, and understanding that God is working a much bigger plan through everything that happens in our lives, a plan that involves him glorifying himself, and a plan that we will see in the long run, is for our good.

So reject Karma. Embrace the Gospel. Understand life is not fair, at least not yet. And hold onto the fact that God has demonstrated his love for us in this, “that when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”