against greed

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

Luke 12:15

Jesus’s words here are followed by what is called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” But it’s assumed in our society that a lot of money is good, so that for many people careers are successful more or less depending on how much money is made.

Jesus warns against that. We have to consider all of Scripture as well. Wisdom books tells us it’s good to avoid debt, to not try to hit the jackpot but save little by little, to work hard. And we’re told that money itself is not the sin, but the love of money. That those who are rich should be generous with their wealth. And that helping the poor is a priority to God.

It seems like just to make a living one gets sucked into a vortex predicated on profit. Wall Street lives on that, it’s all about profit. God’s provision for many of us will involve being a participant in that. It’s the way of the world, but we live in the world, and there’s surely no escape for most of us. That means minimum wage jobs for too many, or wages not much better, sometimes for long work hours, and with next to no benefits, dependent on whatever government might provide, or government and volunteer services.

What Jews lived in during Jesus’s day was probably not much better. Roman taxation, not to mention occupation, along with the greed that all too characterized religious leaders made life hard for many. So it’s not like we can expect to find something better in what Scripture calls “the world” as in the world’s system. It seems like it will always be a struggle. In the society in which I live, the rich seem to be getting richer, arguably and I think often plausibly at the expense of the poor. Supposedly the rich will take care of the poor through jobs made and fair wages. Yet the gap between the rich and the poor increases.

What does this have to do with Scripture, or the passage above? We need to understand the times in which we live, so that in light of what God tells us, we will know what to do. That’s an ongoing project, needing all who are interested. As for me, I’m more dependent myself on those who would want to work through that. But I think it’s plain enough for us to see through what many see as the dream to aspire to, looking up to those who seem to be doing well in living it.

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:13-21

 

 

rejecting lies

Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
he cannot save himself, or say,
“Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

Isaiah 44:20

If there’s one thing that’s harder to get rid of than anything else, maybe it’s any lie that’s accepted for whatever reason. Often we know better, that what we’re accepting is at least questionable, or if you would analyze it, not bringing out all the best in us. And as one would well expect, lies are often subtle. They come with truth, sometimes half truths, or with good along with the fatal flaw.

In Scripture as in the passage above, idolatry is tied to the lie, anything that takes the place of God in our lives. The appeal is to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, as old as the first sin in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).We are caught up and carried away by something that we as Christians ought to have no part in. Again, on the face of it, it may seem innocent, or at least have justification. The result of idolatry is exactly what is stated above: feeding on what is not good with a deluded heart.

Left to ourselves we’re helpless. We need God’s grace in Christ, otherwise we’re likely to replace one lie with another. Instead we need to repent, when we’re willing and ready to be humbled, rather than remain in our own pride. In and through Jesus.

 

cleansing from idols

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

We read as the first of the Ten Words, which we call the Ten Commandments:

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Exodus 20:3-6

Idolatry is endemic to humanity. Simply put, it’s putting anything above God. We were created to be in relationship with God and with each other. And God is not only alone deserving of our entire devotion, but we find our true value and the value of everyone and everything in light of the revelation of God. And when we give God our complete love in response to God’s love, we actually find that our love for others is more pure and indeed sacrificial.

“Love” in the world is often more about what I want than what I can give. It often is essentially self-centered. Not to say that there aren’t people who love others self-sacrificially apart from worshiping, indeed even knowing God. That is part of the image of God in humanity. But sin has come into the picture, so that human beings are inherently self-seeking, turned in on themselves, their own interests, and not God’s interests. And ironically to put oneself first ends up resulting in loss, including the loss of one’s very self, according to Jesus. But acknowledging God as the one who is worthy of full devotion is to find one’s own self, and the true value of others, seeing the blessing of others through who they are, and not by what we can get out of them for ourselves.

But what we need is nothing less than a cleansing of the impurity of our hearts from idolatry. Only God can do that, and it occurs in what in theology is called “regeneration.” In the context quoted above in Ezekiel, it is a promise for Israel and involves the promised land as well. In Christ it’s fulfilled within the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of all nations, and thus inherit the world. So what is needed is nothing less than a change of heart. And ultimately, as the passage indicates, and as we read elsewhere in Scripture, only God can do that.

That is our need. It’s not easy, because ironically when we’re tuned into God and God’s love, we’ll love others all the more. It will be a love, not about us, or our wants and needs, but for the good of others, to serve them in God’s love. We genuinely love and care about others in God’s love. And we experience God’s love for us and others. It’s important to remember that we’re included, loved by God, who loves in a way that’s beyond our wildest imagination, with no end. But we know and experience that love only through the cleansing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Something we should ask for and value, basic to our lives. In and through Jesus.

 

 

we become like who or what we focus on, what we love and hate

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
They have hands, but cannot feel,
feet, but cannot walk,
nor can they utter a sound with their throats.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:2-8

A frightening thought today: but I think it’s psychologically, and far more importantly for me, biblically and theologically sound: We become like who or what we either love or hate.

First the easier, or more obvious: We become like what we love. I think of a man and woman who have been happily married at least a good share of their marriage for decades. They know each other practically better than they know themselves, and feel completely at home only in the presence of the other. They may have completely different personalities, but they believe they are one flesh in the holy state of matrimony. That may seem like a far fetched example, but there is a sense of awe and reverence for the other which ought to carry over into all of life. Akin to “the fear of the LORD being the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs).

We become like the one we admire. And who should we admire and esteem the most? Of course if there’s a god, than that god, at least you would think. We Christians reverence God and accept the love of that Triune God in and through Christ by the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that we as God’s children through faith in Christ are being made more and more like Christ. We somehow through God’s work are becoming more and more the people we were created to be, no less than brothers and sisters in the very family of God.

But what if we don’t love God? What if it’s a love focused on ourselves, or someone else? Then either we, or whoever, or even whatever becomes the measure of everything. And the problem with that is that we’re all sinners. We are a mix of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, but somehow never measuring up to whatever good aspirations we might have. And often pursuing what is really not good at all, or is at least a waste. It ends up being the blind leading the blind, like sheep going astray, heading toward a dead end, or even for a cliff. Not good to say the least. We need God’s grace and salvation found in Jesus.

What about what we hate? We must beware here. Indeed we should hate all that’s evil, while we love all that’s good. But we must be careful lest in that hatred we become like the very thing we hate. In the passage above, people of olden times didn’t necessarily love their gods. In fact they often feared them in more like utter fright, believing them to be vindictive if they failed to meet their demands. And while we may not have those kinds of gods today, we do have figurative gods in their place that are every bit as real. The idol of ambition to make it to the top and maybe be well known. The idol of pleasing someone who or something that demands a loyalty that is both crushing and demeaning. Causing us to act in certain ways we never would otherwise. Whatever it might be, anything less than the God revealed in Christ and found in Scripture does not deserve any such place in our hearts and lives.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

William Cowper

Only God’s grace meaning God’s undeserved, unearned favor in the gift of Christ can make the needed difference in our lives. But even after receiving that grace, we must beware lest we drift back into our old ways. We must hold onto God’s grace in Jesus through faith. We must turn away from other things and keep our focus on Christ. In so doing we will be looking into the face of God. And will change from glory to glory into that resemblance beginning in this life, to be perfected when we see Jesus.

 

beyond make shift ethics

For the director of music. Of David.

In the Lord I take refuge.
How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.
The Lord examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain
fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.

Psalm 11

There’s an interesting article on Jesus Creed on how morality is losing its grounding, particularly from religion. There certainly is a crisis in authority today, no doubt. Everything more or less seems up in the air, up for grabs.

I think Psalm 11 is at least encouraging when considering this. And I think it’s suggestive in terms of the spiritual battle we face as Christians (Ephesians 6:10-20).

God is on his throne, God is at work in the world, and his judgments continue. Humankind has routinely erected its idols. All that is in the place of God is idolatry, pure and simple. And such idolatry has tragic consequences. And the religious, including Christians are not excluded. Idolatry is just as alive and well in places where God is supposed to be worshiped as in places where God is not. And in saying that, I’m not at all suggesting that all churches partake in idolatry, just that there’s that possibility, and it clearly does happen. Like when a human leader is exalted and it’s all about going to hear them speak. That is at least on the edge if not over the edge into idolatry.

And note that the idols more often than not either are, or represent something good. Science within its discipline I take as good. All created things, and our capacity to enjoy them are fine in themselves. But when they’re not received and appreciated as gifts from the Creator, and good in their place, but become ends in themselves, then we move into the realm of idolatry.

Such a realm makes the accumulation of wealth for example an end all, so that often in that quest others are trampled on, not the least of which is the poor. And God will not look past any of that. Or if there is no God it doesn’t matter, we can do as we please, as long as it in accord with the idol in place. Greed by the way is called idolatry in Scripture (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5).

Morality is grounded in humanity because humankind is made in God’s image. Right and wrong matter precisely for that reason. And everyone is held accountable. It matters not what we humans construct in place of that, not at all. God will have his say in the end. In the good judgment and salvation to come in and through Jesus.

not trusting in God, a form of idolatry

“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,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] 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.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

Recently I was noticing what could be a tie between Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount about not being able to be devoted to both God and money, and the need therefore, we might say, to trust God for our material needs. What we’re to be preoccupied with is devotion to God, seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first.

I can’t help but think of Ahaz, who seems pious in his claim of not wanting to put the Lord to the test, but in reality suffered from his deficiency in trusting God, so that God was perhaps trying to help him trust God by encouraging him to ask for a sign as to whether or not God’s word at that time would come true or not (Isaiah 7).

The 2011 NIV’s rendering of Proverbs 3:5-6 is interesting and suggestive in understanding the tie to unbelief and idolatry:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Proverbs 3:5-6

The idea of submitting to God is the result of acknowledging him in all our ways. To acknowledge him involves seeking his will and doing it.

Back to Jesus’s words. They are words of exhortation and encouragement, to trust the Father for his provision. And they do seem tied to what preceded, to not be taken up with money, since one cannot be devoted to money and God. It is either one or the other.

So one form of idolatry, or danger falling into it is simply to fail to trust God, to have faith in him. We then put our faith elsewhere, maybe in a mix of things. Idolatry. But God wants to help us learn to trust in him, an essential part of devotion to him, in and through Jesus.

idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.