Coming clean about greed

“But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities” (Acts 16:19).  I find it easy to criticize the owners money- driven desire to seize Paul and Silas. It’s easy to label them as greedy. I find it far more difficult to take a look at my own heart and my own actions when it comes to the Good News of Jesus challenging the economic system in which I have lived comfortably all of my life. Lord, help me look into my heart and recognize, own, and repent of  any greed I find.

Swallowing Money

I recently read the following in Preaching Today:

In the January 12 Turning Point Daily Devotional, David Jeremiah writes, “CNN recently carried a story of a sixty-two-year-old man who was rushed to Cholet General Hospital in France, suffering stomach pain. His family told doctors the man had a history of mental illness and a penchant for swallowing coins, but nothing could have prepared the doctors for X-rays of the man’s stomach. It was filled with 350 coins he had swallowed. The doctors performed surgery to remove the mass, but the man died of complications twelve days later.

“Few men swallow coins, but millions of people are gorging themselves sick with money and materialism. The Bible warns that the love of money is a primary root of all evil, causing people to stray from the faith in their greed and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.

“Take inventory of your life. Are you sacrificing much time away from your family and church because of money? Are you losing needed rest for the sake of a job? Are you working too hard for material gain?

“God wants us to be faithful to our work, and He gives us the power to gain wealth. But He doesn’t want you to wear yourself out to get rich. Have the wisdom to show restraint.”

The Price

So I’m just laying there on the couch, sick with the flu. When I wake up I realize the television is on but I’m not really watching it — it is just there in the room, kind of like the paint and the wallpaper. I’m in a daze, a fever induced trance.

Glancing over at the table I see the book I want to be reading, but I don’t have the energy to pick it up and read. Besides, if I did try to read the pages would probably be spinning before my eyes.

A new television show comes on and I realize it must be the top of the hour.

After about fifteen minutes I realize I am now watching television and become aware of what I am witnessing. Maybe the Tylenol kicked in and my fever dropped. For whatever reason my eyes were actually focused on the screen.

Contestants come on down. Contrived games are played. A big wheel is spun. Prices are guessed. Sweeping gestures are made by models. Contestants win and lose.

They cry.

They jump up and down.

They scream.

They are overcome with emotion at jackpots and showcases.

And I wonder why I have never heard the morality watchdogs express warnings about this show. After all, they get all worked up about most any presentation of sexuality, why not at this? But its not just the watchdogs — its me. Have I become so acculturated that I no longer recognize greed? Have I become so comfortable in the dominant culture that I no longer live according to an alternative spiritual culture?

I mute the television. Words from God begin swirling around in my head.

“But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 NLT).

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts” (1 John 5:21 NLT).

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NLT).

And I drifted back to sleep.

God, my Father, I need to wake up.

Lottery Fever

An acquaintance looked at me with disbelief when I told him recently I was one of the biggest winners ever in the Tennessee Lottery. He had this “I-can’t-wait-to-tell-this-to-somebody” look on his face. I quickly explained to him I had never bought a Tennessee Lottery ticket so I was, in effect, one of the biggest winners.

My good friend has had a very different experience with the lottery. (S)he has scratched hundreds and hundreds of tickets looking for a winner. In fact, his car is covered with scratch dust from lottery tickets. He has played every combination of numbers imaginable looking for a big payday.

Sometimes when he is driving down the road he will look at the license plate on the car in front of him and the numbers will leap off the plate and into his mind. “7-9-1, 7-9-1, I have to play 7-9-1!” Sometimes hearing a telephone number triggers a run to the store. Other times he hears the scores reported Sports Center and has to jump in the car and run to buy tickets based on number from the Steelers versus Chiefs game.

Perhaps most disturbing is what happens when scripture is read at church. Can you guess what happens when my friend hears someone say, “Today I will be reading from Colossians 1:28.”? He has been known to leave church, right in the middle of “worship” and go to a store to buy lottery tickets.

The more I think about it, the more I really do feel like one of the biggest winners ever in the Tennessee Lottery. I don’t mean to have a holier-than-thou attitude. God knows in my heart I am fighting the works of the flesh just like everybody else. But I am really glad that I do not struggle with the compulsion of my friend. And I really hope that one day, he will overcome.

Christmas and Contentment

Last week I read the following information about possessions and contentment.

“On a scale of 1 – 7, with 1 being miserable and 7 highly contented, America’s 400 richest individuals rated 5.8 – and so did Kenya’s cattle raising Masai tribespeople and Greenland’s arctic dwelling Inuit population (formerly known as Eskimos). ‘Proving what?’ asks The Wall Street Journal. Simply this, that while some money relieves the burdens of dire poverty, beyond that it is less important in generating happiness than such factors as ‘social relationships, enjoyable work, fulfillment and a sense that life has meaning.'”(I’m sorry I cannot remember the original source).

These are good thoughts to keep in mind as we are bombarded with images and suggestions that we need more and more during the holiday season in order to find true happiness.

As we shop, we need to keep in mind God’s warnings about greed and His promises about contentment.

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NLT).

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV).

Simply put, greed is idolatry. Our contentment is not grounded in possessions, but in the presence of God in our lives.

Jesus. God has come in the flesh.

Merry Christmas!