Simple, Not Easy

My vows to thee I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to thee. — Psalm 56:12, RSV

One of the themes I’ve been touching (harping?) on frequently in recent posts, such as the one on Islam, is the idea that we are only responsible for our decisions to love God and our neighbor (or not). This life is short and full of opportunities in which we might witness to the love of God with our lives, but we often make that process more complicated than it needs to be.

Take the conversation about homeless persons, for example. Many of us don’t give money to panhandlers because “they might go buy drugs or booze with it.” I definitely appreciate this concern, as fueling someone’s self-destructive habits is certainly not something I want to be guilty of.

It is, however, important that we ask ourselves a question in this scenario. If, at the judgment, God asks us how we responded to someone’s apparent need, what will we be able to say? Sure, that person may choose to waste our kindness, but that is something for which they will have to answer. For me, the only choice I face is whether or not I meet a perceived need when I am able to do so.

This consideration is true for virtually any risky situation in which we are challenged to give of ourselves, especially when we may not be assured of any discernible positive effects. In Psalm 56, quoted at the beginning of this post, the speaker is being pursued by those “who seek to injure my cause,” and those “whose thoughts are against me for evil” (56:5). These people “band themselves together, they lurk,they watch my steps,” and yet the Psalmist’s decision is not to turn tail and flee (56:6). Instead, the speaker insists, “My vows to thee I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to thee” (56:12).

The proper response to any situation, even one in which we may be taken advantage of or “pursued without cause,” is faithfulness. Being faithful to God is found in following His commandments (1 John 3:22), and all commandments and prophets may be hung on the Christian calling to love God with all we have, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). It’s certainly not easy, but it is rather simple.

This is a world in which we want assurance and security regarding the people and place in which we invest our kindness. Some of this comes from a good place, other times it’s mere selfishness. Therefore, it is my prayer that you will join me in practicing the Great Commandment. Jesus leaves us His example, healing and bringing the Good News to all, even those who would eventually crucify Him, and the invitation to follow is extended to us. Just remember, regardless of the uncertainty of the world, God’s faithfulness is something we can certainly depend on.

Peace be with you!

 

 

Finding Joy In Poverty

Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it. — Psalm 49:7, NRSV

There is a song quote that always sticks in my ears whenever I hear it. Granted, the radio has done a great job of playing “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles to death, but every single time it comes on, I listen for the line that reminds me, “You can’t bribe the door on your way to the sky.” This insight lined up perfectly with the base text for today’s post, so I just had to make something theological of it.

Psalm 49 discusses the foolishness of believing one’s wealth can essentially cheat death. Those who accumulate and hoard riches, however, meet the same end as everyone else, and “they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them” (49:17). They cannot bribe God for more time, and they will “leave their wealth to others” (49:10). It’s not that resources or having resources are bad things, but we are not intended to simply “have” things.

When God calls Abram (soon to be called “Abraham”) out from his homeland and from his kindred, the promised blessing also comes with a requirement, an intention with which God is choosing Abram. Genesis 12:2 indicates that God will bless Abram so that he would “be a blessing.” God says, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). God’s callings and blessings come with responsibilities, namely that we respond to God’s grace by sharing the blessings we receive, because none of it truly belongs to us.

Not.

One.

Thing.

This is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. God emphasizes to the people of Israel that they are being given “a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13). Jesus addresses the impermanence of riches when He exhorts His followers to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). Just as we are not permanent, neither are the riches we temporarily possess. All of this is on loan.

The reason this is an important message for today is because it appears we have forgotten that we truly are poor. We possess nothing, as it is all a gift that will be returned when we move on to the hereafter. Further, what we are given is intended to be shared in order that others may share in our abundant life. We are blessed in order that we may bless others. This goes not only for the grace, forgiveness, and love we have received from God, but also for the material gifts we have accumulated.

Now, I know. This sounds like “socialist” or “communist propaganda.” I shouldn’t have gone to college because now I am an indoctrinated “libtard.” Well no. This is a Scriptural and traditional Christian teaching that we have lost or ignored consistently throughout history. In fact, the resistance that we see to certain means of sharing for the common good are great indicators that we have come to believe that what we have is ours and ours alone to keep, to hoard, and to protect, which is completely counter to the teachings of the faith.

Advocating for a brand of socialism or some other governmental/economic system  is far from my intent with this post. Rather, I am concerned with each individual person and our attachments to all that we possess. Why don’t we give or want to give? Why do feel resentful toward projects or movements that ask us to give of what we have that others may share in the abundance of this land? It’s because we believe that what we have is a result of what we have done. It’s ours.

This is a bubble that needs bursting.

I run my own business, but if I did not have people willing to invest in me that I might render them my services, I would not have much of a business. I am, therefore, indebted to them. If my parents had not raised me with discipline and wisdom, I would have neither of those things. If my wife were not forgiving, but also with high standards, I would probably not be married anymore, nor would I be the better man I am today. If I did not have a God that consistently makes me aware of His love and mercy day by day, I would be lost in misery and cynicism, not to mention that it is God who has made all of the things by which I benefit.

These exact same truths pertain to you. You owe someone something for what you have.  “The Big Someone” aside, there are people without whom you would not have what you have. Dependence is a fact of life. As such, nothing that you or I possess is truly ours. Rather, all that we have accumulated is a gift that we are meant to share in order that others don’t go without as we prosper.

If we close our fists to our neighbor, we not only disobey the intent of God (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), but we also fulfill the awful prophecy of James. “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (5:5). There is no issue with accepting the blessings that come our way, but if we do so without a generous heart and life, we fail to fulfill God’s intent for our lives.

Obviously, we cannot compensate for a world full of injustices with our limited resources, and that’s not what I am suggesting. Rather, we should adjust our thinking with regard to giving of ourselves. Instead of judging those in need, why not judge ourselves and ask what we would like someone else to do if we were in that situation? Instead of turning inward and hoarding all we manage to gain, why not look for a way to “pay forward” the blessing which God has brought to us? If we can all change our thinking and renew our minds so that panicky, tight-fisted living gives way to urgent, practical generosity, I believe we can expect more and more manifestations of God’s grace in our lives and in the lives of our fellow humans.

I encourage you to join me in praying for our increasingly self-centered society and world. This includes you and I, because I can certainly admit that it is too easy for me to close my hand when others are in a time of need, fearing that my own limited resources may give out. However, if we remember that we are blessed so that God may bless others through us, and if we remember that we are not called to fear but confidence in the One who generously gives, I believe we can look forward to a truly abundant future. This is not an easy task, but it is made less difficult when we remember that we are all ultimately poor, possessing nothing, but offered everything by the One who loved us first.

Peace be with you!