Monday, January 23, 2012

Spiritual Stabilizers in a Stormy World

Our contemporary society is characterized by the awful reality that there is a growing economic gap; the rich are getting much richer, and the poor are getting much poorer.  The so-called middle class is disappearing altogether!  There is an even more disturbing phenomenon – the mentality that…JUMPING THE GAP (from poor to prosperity should be done at ANY cost!  While the Bible never condemns wealth or being prosperous, it does condemn the heart that’s preoccupied with wealth:
For the love of money is the root of all evil;  1 Ti 6.10a  (KJV)
Wealth is much more a test of faith, than a proof of faith.[1]  In James chapter 5, the apostle refers to rich men.  He is identifying those whose hearts stop and start with the rise and fall of the stock market…those among us who are preoccupied with wealth.
Incidentally – you can fall into that category regardless of the size of your portfolio.  James warns the self-serving rich, the envious poor – and everyone in-between.  We can all have dollar-signs blinding our Christian walk.  We need to see clearly what materialism brings; let’s look at:

The Results of Materialism in a Believer’s Life


Materialism is the desire to get things – material, position, power, recognition.  It is the desire to gain, no matter what you have to do to accomplish your goals.  However else you care to characterize greed, it is just that.  James compares the prosperity of having things to the life span of wildflowers; they are beautiful, but their life is short.
Michael Donahue is founder of an Internet business.  He saw his stake rise to $448 million …in August 1999.  He then did what many red-blooded Americans would have done; he splurged, big time.
Mr. Donahue bought a $9.6 million second home in Palm Beach, Florida.  He spent $100,000 to help sponsor his polo team.  He spent a bundle more sharing the rental of a Hawker Sidley private jet, it was a lifestyle thing, he explains.
Today, Mr. Donahue is a member of another club:  the 90 percent club of executives whose companies' stock price has fallen from the clouds to the basement.  Donahue’s stock plunged …to $2.94 from a peak of $93.50 on December 31.   He lost $436 million and had to repay part of a $14 million loan he took out with his stock as collateral.  And what became of the Palm Beach house?  To help satisfy his lenders, he put it on the market for $13 million.  He said, Going up was easy; but when it starts going down, no one wants to talk to you.
Donahue has plenty of fellow sufferers. … eToys Inc., Webvan Group, Priceline, Enron, Solyndra and so many others – like so many Humpty Dumptys, executives of those companies have had a truly great fall, with the combined losses of the largest shareholder at each company adding up to about $14 billion.[2]  There is always a crash when it comes to materialism. 
We used to have a dachshund – a hot dog dog!  Geri was nicknamed Piranha.  One day when our daughter Carrie was very small, Piranha lived up to her name.  Carrie left her sandwich within dachshund range and the dog made off with it. The crash came when Geri discovered it was a peanut butter & jelly sandwich (emphasis on the peanut butter).  The dog tried for twenty minutes to get her mouth unstuck!  You can go for the brass ring, reach for your piece of the treasure…but you can be certain what you grab for will stick to you!
God has told us in many ways that meaning in life will be found in fellowship – relationship with Him, and other people, not in things.  When things, or power or experiences become your focus, you lose meaning.  It’s a crash.  There is another crash, which is the result of materialism in a believer’s life…


This is related to depending on things to make life meaningful.  It is when we begin to get things at any cost – even using people to get things.  James says that will eat us from within. 
And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament.  You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink.  Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within.  You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.  All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment.  The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger.  You’ve looted the earth and lived it up.  But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse.  In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it.                James 5.1-6  The Message: New Testament
The concept of people defrauding each other isn’t new.  Jesus told about a guy who owed a ton of money.  He was going to prison because he couldn’t pay back the debt.  He pleaded with his creditor, and was forgiven all.  But, then he went out and found the guy who owed him just a few measly bucks.  He was in the process of choking it out of him when the one who forgave him a fortune found out.  The guy’s fate became worse than before.  When riches replace our respect for people relationships, there is a crash on the horizon.
Relationships crash in the wake of greed…
There is little doubt that focusing on materialism takes your focus off God, and that for which He has created you.  How then do we combat that in our lives?  What do you do to guard against becoming a materialist – a person who gives into the love of money?  How can we accomplish destroying greed in our souls?  How can we become Christian survivors against the winds of materialism? 

How Christian Survivors Combat Materialism

Let’s take a lesson from the principles of aerodynamics, how a plane steers through the winds above.  That vertical “wing” on the back of an airplane is a “stabilizer”.  It keeps the aircraft going in the direction the pilot wants to steer.  Without a stabilizer a plane might fly, but it will go wherever the wind pushes it.  The Apostle James gives us some principles for God’s people that act as spiritual stabilizers against the winds of economic tides.  These stabilizers help us navigate false materialism winds of greed and materialism.


The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; The world and they that dwell therein.                                                                             Psalms 24.1  (KJV)
It is true that God has given us the entire world to enjoy and have a wonderful life.  We just need to view that in its proper context.  He is the owner…we are stewards, caretakers.  When you consider even your life, remember Who owns what!  He has prior claim on everything you see.


Paul taught the early church about coming to worship with wrong motives or unconfessed sin…
But let a man examine himself…  1 Corinthians 11.28a  (KJV)
This is good advice for believers.  We should review every line in the checkbook. 
How did I get what I’ve got…?
How am I using what I have…?
What is my attitude about things…?
If you’re going to combat materialism in your life, you have to understand your own motives and the way you see material things.  Materialism begins in the heart.  The devil is a master at manipulating even the smartest, most disciplined person who refuses to honestly examine his life and confess his sin of materialism quickly.
A group of natives in Africa found a very clever way to catch monkeys alive.  They made a hole in a hollow log just big enough for the monkey to squeeze his hand inside.  With very desirable bait inside any passing monkey could reach in and grab the bait.  The problem (for the monkey) is that when his hand closed on the bait, it became bigger than the hole.  If he refused to let go – which is what stupid monkeys do – he would be trapped by his own greed.  A question we must ask in review is, Am I any smarter than a stupid monkey?
For a Christian, answering this question is to ask a similar question – How do I feel about tithing my income?  Many people object by pointing out how much they need to live on.  It’s funny, isn’t it, how people who claim to be Christians, trust God with their eternity, but can’t muster enough faith to trust him for next month’s power bill? 


Jim Elliott was a missionary who went to minister to the Auca Indians.  He was brutally martyred by the very people to whom he went to share the Good News.  His famous statement, taken from his diary was:
A man is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep To gain that which he cannot lose.
Jim Elliott was committed to Christ, no matter what the cost.  That is what puts materialism out of business – recommit to God’s way, whatever the material, emotional, physical or worldly cost.  See how blessed is that life!
And so we end where we began.  James says (1.9) that the humble should rejoice.  Rejoice in your high position in Christ.  Being poor or rich by the world’s standards is just measuring by the wrong bank account. 
A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, And loving favor rather than silver and gold.  Proverbs 22.1
A reality check for the Christian includes
·        Remembering His prior claim…
·        Reviewing how I think about and use material things…
·        And recommitting to God’s way…
Living God’s way is all about plugging into the joy of Jesus’ life…
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.  John 15.11 (KJV)

[1] Paige Patterson in The Holman Bible Dictionary.
[2] Susan Pulliam and Scott Thurm, “Echelon of ex-centimillionairessees stakes plunge as net craze fades," The Wall Street Journal; submitted by Aaron Goerner, New Hartford, New York

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