Archive | March 2013

Stop The World, I Want To Get Off

Calvin’s boss caught him sitting at his desk gazing out the window. ‘Why Aren’t you working, Calvin?’ Without much thought Calvin confessed to his boss, ‘Because I didn’t see you coming.’ (The Saturday Evening Post, Jan/Feb 1994, p.32)

In James 5, the writer reminds us that even though we don’t see Jesus now, the resurrected Lord is coming!

In my last blog, we saw how the earlier verses of James chapter 5 were an indictment of those who were misusing their poverty or their wealth—as a pretext for sin.

Now, he speaks to the abused in the last part of chapter 5. Read where he cuts to the chase for Christians who struggle in their growth, whether they’re the abuser or the abused.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:7a, 10-11 NIV

There will be moments when we ache for Jesus to return and give us the new world the way it was designed to be. Imagine a world where there is no need for guns or weapons of mass destruction; where there is no need for pharmaceuticals because there are no diseases to cure. Often times we can get impatient for ourselves—as our bodies breakdown, as disease takes over, as we watch loved ones suffer for any reason.

The idea of having a new body right now, which doesn’t break down and functions perfectly—forever—sounds awfully good to me.

Yet, on this side of heaven, we struggle with our sin, our inability to get over past hurts and our inability to show the grace of God. We can get impatient by wanting Jesus to return, right now, to transform us into the people that we should be! It may not be peace in the Middle East we are so concerned about, as much as peace in our home or in the work place, and even in our own minds.

Frankly, to have a desire for the immediate return of Christ can often be the Christian equivalent of “stop the world, I want to get off!”

If you’ve ever been abused as a Christian, whether by other believers or unbelievers, it’s tough to get beyond the abuse. There’s a whole grieving process that has to deal with what happened, how it happened, and what to do after it happened.

Many of these believers, in James’ day, were desperate for rescue from their situation by the return of Christ. Don’t hear me blaming them. I understand. But, James calls upon his readers to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord.

What tests your patience? 1) Bible teachers who talk too long 2) Long lines at Costco. 3) Working with computers. 4) Telemarketers at 5:00 P.M. 5) Injustice on any level?

Even though James writes to many abused believers, there was something they could be in control of. They could be in control of not quitting under the pressure, or of holding grudges, or grumbling when they face an injustice.

He’s saying you’re not alone. And remember, the Lord is at the Door.  He’s coming back.

Rusted Wealth

A friend sent me a news article today. It was about the government of Cyprus taking 6% to 10% of the people’s money out of their banks to pay for the country’s debt retirement.

Another article on Yahoo’s financial news stated: With hundreds of demonstrators outside the parliament chanting “They’re drinking our blood“, the ruling party abstained and 36 other lawmakers voted unanimously to reject the bill, bringing the Mediterranean island, one of the smallest European states, to the brink of financial meltdown.

Folks, the world is shaking and the wealth is rusting away! Oh, I know there are pockets of wealth out there but something fundamentally has happened to this world we live in. We live under a cloud but somehow we feel better watching American Idol and voting for the next new singer to go platinum. Don’t hear me begrudging anyone who wants to make a million or watch American Idol. I do too. So what’s my concern?

James speaks about it, when he tells the new Jewish believers in his day this:

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. [2] Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. [3] Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. [4] Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. [5] You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. [6] You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” James 5:1-6

These are some very disturbing and condemning words! And whether they are heard by people who are secure in their wealth or by those, who only wish they were wealthy, the result is the same. James is shocking the reader into recognizing that the most important thing in life is not how much money we have.

When we read about the encounter Jesus had with a young man in Mark chapter ten—also mentioned in two other gospels—there are a variety of adjectives used to describe the guy Jesus met. Matthew tells us he’s young. Luke describes him as a ruler. All 3 highlight his wealth.

Today we most often combine their descriptions and label him the “Rich Young Ruler.” (Money, youth and power) That’s a pretty powerful combination for any one person to possess.

Surprisingly, the young man was satisfied with his own ability to keep his nose out of trouble, and he responded confidently that in his 30 or so years, he had been a good rich young man.

“One thing you lack.” Jesus said, “Go. Sell your Jaguar and your mansion with the pool. Clean the Armani’s out of your closet; give the proceeds to the poor and invest yourself in heavenly treasure. Then you won’t have any reason to stay around here so you can come and follow me.”  (My rendition) It was a bold choice that Jesus offered the man.

The Bible doesn’t say how long that rich young man pondered the choice. Maybe he wondered for a moment about waking up and not having to check the overseas market, first thing. For a split second it must have sounded appealing to not have to worry about wintering the yacht and making the payroll. We don’t know how long he took to ponder what Jesus was saying, but Mark records, “the man’s face fell.”

“He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” I wonder if that was the first time his great wealth had made him sad?

Right before our eyes, in today’s world, wealth makes people sad as they depend on it and then watch it rust away. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with wealth per se. The problem is when our attitude or modus operandi allows money to define who we are and what we do.

Let me say, when it comes down to loving our wives, children or caring about people—valuing relationship above all else—wealth will pale in the light of that. That’s what Jesus is about. He values you and me. His Cross proved it.

Cash, Comfort or Christ!

One day, while waiting in line at the Sturgeon Bay WI Post Office, I looked at man in front of me and saw something amazing. It’s something you don’t get to see everyday—at least not me. This man not only had golden ear rings (beautiful) but he had a mouth full of gold teeth. They were bright, shiny and bold. When he smiled, I couldn’t take my eyes off his teeth. I couldn’t take my eyes off them even though I tried to look at the teeth, incognito!  Do you have any idea how much those gold teeth would cost?  BIG Bucks! (No pun intended)

Just two weeks before this, I saw someone walking by the windows of my church office. It was a fellow looking for directions to a job sight. I had never seen the man, or anywhere else for that matter. As I met him at the information booth, it seemed clear to me that he was sincere about finding directions, but then something happened that pushed my mental alert button. The man stood there looking into the glass trophy case at a bust of the head of Jesus made out of cedar wood. I mean he stared at the thing for about a minute. Then he said, “Do you have any idea how much that is worth? That’s beautiful! It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.” Now, mind you, this fellow had gold rings on every finger but no gold teeth.

The man kept staring at the artwork. Then, he reached beneath his shirt and pulled out a huge gold medallion of the head of Jesus and said, “I carry him wherever I go. He’s the man!” Again, he stepped back to take another look at the artwork in the trophy case; thanked me for the directions and left in a broken down looking car. I’m thinking: “If I wasn’t here this guy would be casing the joint.” So, for the next few days, I kept my eye on that wooden bust of Jesus. It seemed clear to me that the guy was into wealth or at least showing he had some wealth.

There isn’t a subject on the planet that will get people more worked up than talking about wealth. People are very passionate about their material possessions, and when you start to get close to someone’s wallet, we are getting very close to their heart. But, in the fifth chapter of James’ letter, there is no hint of timidity as he challenges his listeners to think very seriously about who or what they worship as god.

We need to realize that up to this point in his letter, James has been speaking to the Christians. From reading the letter it seems that most of them were poor. But when he comes to the verses in chapter 5, it’s almost like he walks over and raises the windows on the church building. Then, he speaks a little louder so that the rich people down the road who aren’t in worship can hear him. He wants them to be aware of the future, because a view of the future has so much to do with how we live in the present.

What do we really worship and how can we stay away from twisting this into being just about money? Welcome to Minding the Gap with our money in the next few blogs!

Boasting and Bragging

Today, we see this headline in the news: Lion Attack Kills Intern, 24, at California Sanctuary

There is so much pain in the world surrounding the loss of young people or young adults who’ve left us prematurely. We’ve heard the saying, “No parent wants their child to die before we do.” But I remember thinking when my dad died at age 59, how young he was and how it feels a bit weird that I’m 66 and have outlived him on planet earth. To me, either way we look at this, life is short—especially in view of eternity.

Ken Ruettgers, former Green Bay Packer, is the leading authority on the phenomenon of how professional athletes transition out of their game. He likens the average pro career of 5 years to 5 feet on an 80 foot rope. What a picture to show how short a pro career is!

And that’s my point about life. I’ve read that the current life expectancy for the world is about 67.2 years. The current average life expectancy for just the US is 78.3 years.

Life expectancy was an issue in the book of James, not necessarily how long they thought it was, although he said something about that too, but what some believers attitudes were like toward life and God. Here’s what James said:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. James 4:13-17 NIV (emphasis mine)

Someone said the Seven Stages of Man are spills, drills, thrills, bills, ills, pills, wills. But James is saying man is not as much in control of the course of his existence as we think we are. And we would be better to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that.” I believe he’s talking more about attitude than turning that statement into a ritualistic practice.

Some believers in James’ day were boasting and bragging about living life without concern for God or others. They were acting like their pro careers included all of an 80 foot rope instead of only 5 feet–as if they were going to get on a plane and fly to this city or another city and live large. Napoleon Bonaparte lived like that when he was about to invade Russia.

Someone trying to persuade him from this act said, “Man proposes but God disposes.” Napoleon replied, “I dispose as well as propose.” Not long after that he found himself exiled a failure.

I’m wondering what relationships would be like if our modus operandi was to approach life without boasting and bragging—as if we’re invincible. Realizing life is short and that God is in control, minds this gap when we believe He matters and knowing its hazardous not to. Why? Because this life is only 5 feet on an eternal rope.

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.”

%d bloggers like this: