the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part one of two)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

When I look back on my life, one of the things I wish I could change is how I handled money. This post requires two parts, but in this part, I will focus on the love of money. Note that it’s not money itself, but the love of money that is called a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Handling money well as in not going into debt unncessarily and foolishly, and saving for retirement, as well as for helping children through college, this is all well and good, to be commended. Of course not everyone can afford much more than the basic necessities of life, which for most Americans includes things which seem marginally necessary like the Internet, and some things not necessary at all.

We too often live by default. I wanted early on to live not caring about money at all. I did want to invest some for the future, but we didn’t have 401-K in those days or any plan as simple and straightforward, or as good as that (short of Social Security itself). I was in rebellion against the idol of money. Jesus’ words quoted above refers to money as a master, and church fathers personified it. Paul said that greed amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And yet to some extent I’m afraid I succumbed to that idol by not thinking beyond the parameters set within the American system. This is tricky, because it’s not like we either can or should remove ourselves from the world. Some people of faith disagree with that and do at least largely live removed from the rest of society, such as the Amish. But the way of Jesus seems to be to live as a witness within society, certainly in a distinct and what will amount to a peculiar way in contrast to the world’s way around us.

And yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of living according to the world’s norms and therefore falling into the world’s trap, instead of really living by Jesus’ kingdom standard, catching that dream and by faith committing oneself and remaining true to that. Even if we do that, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t seek to build up credit and do all the same basic things others would do. It does mean that we will think, pray and live according to Jesus’ teaching no less, which includes generous giving of our wealth, particularly to those in need, and a refusal to live well beyond what we really need, not to mention well beyond our means. According to the NIV footnotes from the above passage “healthy” in the passage implies generosity, while “unhealthy” implies stinginess, both referring to one’s handling of money.

What is needed is to catch the vision Jesus casts of God’s kingdom come in him, and what that means for us who live in it. Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t live in the world, but we certainly do so as those not of the world. Our faith and witness is unavoidably and inevitably linked to our use of money. What is of fundamental importance in this post is that money would not become our master, but only God. Jesus said there’s nothing in between, it’s either one or the other for us. Even though I saw God as my one and only Master, I’m afraid that in practical terms I failed to see and catch Jesus’s kingdom vision, as well as the teaching of scripture on this. I did not care at all about getting rich, or so I think anyhow, but I did live not entirely, but largely according to the standards and limitations within the American system. Which made it hard to do what we have done over the years in deference to God’s kingdom in Jesus. But more on that in the last post of this two part series.

 

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