Tag Archives: Generosity

A Hobby Kind of Thing

A Hobby Kind of Thing (CaD Matt 10) Wayfarer

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

I was in the local pub last week. I had to wait on some paperwork and figured I’d whet my whistle and work on responding to some emails while I waited. The pub tender told me that he’d been told I was a blogger. I explained that I’d been blogging for many years and had started podcasting in the past two years. I then got to explain my chapter-a-day model. I wasn’t sure, but I sensed that he might have had the impression that it has something to do with my career. I explained that it wasn’t a commercial thing and that I didn’t make money doing it.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Another patron required the pub tender’s attention, and he slipped away. The question, however, continued to resonate within me. As with so many things of the Spirit, the pub tender’s question was loaded. The answer is layered. It is at once simple and mysteriously complex.

“Why do you do it?”

Matthew structured his biography of Jesus around five major discourses, or teachings, of Jesus. The first was the message on the hill in chapters 5-7. Today’s chapter is the second major discourse, in which Jesus’ calling of His twelve disciples and His instructions to them as He send them out to proclaim Jesus’ message.

As I read through the instructions, I was struck, once again, by the humility and austerity that He expected of them…

He told them not to pack any extras. Just the clothes on their back.
He told them not to take any money, but to trust God’s provision and the generosity of others.
He told them to give away Jesus’ teaching since it had been freely given to them.

Jesus then goes on to prophetically tell The Twelve not to expect the job to be easy.

They’ll be rejected and unwelcomed.
They’ll be arrested and taken into custody.
They’ll be flogged by God’s own people.
They’ll be put on trial by civic authorities.
They’ll be betrayed, perhaps by their own family members.
Their lives will be threatened.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but contrast this with all the televangelists and their personal kingdoms I’ve observed along my life journey. I contrasted it with all of the pastors, authors, teachers, and speakers I know and have met who make a living doing Jesus’ continued work on this earth. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect that Jesus’ literal and specific instructions to The Twelve should be projected onto every single follower that came after. At the same time, there’s an underlying attitude that I think is always applicable. Things of the Spirit are layered with meaning.

I’m not responsible for others. I am responsible for myself. So, I find myself questioning my own attitude and motivations as the pub tender’s casual question continues to resonate in my soul.

“So, it’s just a hobby kind of thing?” he asked.

Yes, and…there’s so much more to it than that. As Jesus instructed The Twelve in today’s chapter: “You received the Message for free. Give it away for free.”

And so, one weekday and one chapter at a time, I freely scatter seeds of thought and Spirit to the four winds of the worldwide interweb. Perhaps, someday, I’ll find out how some of those seeds germinated, took root, flowered, and bore fruit. In the meantime, I keep doing what I’ve been called and compelled to do.

Here you go, wind…

[cue: clicks “Publish” button]

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Value Judgment

Value Judgment (CaD Gen 25) Wayfarer

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)

Back in the day, the age of thirteen meant you could bus tables in the restaurant industry. My buddy Doug talked me into applying to be a busboy at Campiano’s Italian Restaurant in Des Moines. I learned a ton of great life lessons doing that job.

It happened to be payday one evening as Doug and I worked together. I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but we were suddenly floating the idea of having dinner together after our shift. There was something in this idea that felt revolutionary; The invisible bus boys at the bottom of the employee food chain would be the honored customers. One of the waitresses, (I still remember her name was Karen) heard us talking about it and offered to serve us and take really good care of us. So, we did it. We spent our entire two-week paycheck on one meal.

On the surface, the decision seems kind of foolish. If one is merely talking about fiscal responsibility then I agree that it was a foolish choice. Looking back, however, I have never, ever forgotten that meal on that night. That meal was an investment in intangibles that I now look back on with honor.

That meal, and Karen’s humble generosity, taught me that I was just as valuable as any of the rich customers I cleaned up after each night. The true difference, that I so often felt, was not about age or economic status, but in attitude and perception. That meal taught me that sometimes an experience has a value that can’t be calculated by the prices on the menu. It was formative in teaching me the joy of being with good people around a table where good food and drink are gratefully savored as well as the company and the conversation. Things I highly value today.

Today’s chapter begins and ends with contrasting stories. As part of the cultural solidifying of Isaac assuming the position as Abraham’s sole heir, Abraham sends away potential rivals, including children that he’d fathered with concubines. Culturally, Abraham had no responsibility to these sons. They were merely servants in the social pecking order. Abraham, however, gives them gifts as he sends them on their way. In the culture of that day, this was an act of extraordinary and unexpected generosity. It spoke to me of Abraham’s heart and the things he valued.

By the end of the chapter, we’ve quickly been introduced to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, and so he is the heir apparent to succeed his father as sole heir and the paterfamilias. Esau arrives at camp after a long hunt and he’s really hungry. He’s so hungry he makes an exaggerated statement about starving to death. His younger twin brother, Jacob, offers to serve his twin brother some food in exchange for Esau’s birthright as the firstborn. It strikes me as Shakespearean, selling your birthright for a bowl of soup. It says something about what Esau valued, and didn’t value.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my choice to spend an entire two-week paycheck on that steak dinner. In the grand scheme of things, it was of little financial consequence in comparison to the value I found in the experience and the character lessons it afforded me. Esau’s decision, on the other hand, was of great consequence. A life-changing (history-changing) decision was made in a momentary desire to appease a daily appetite.

I make value judgments every day. What do my decisions and choices reveal about what I value, and what I don’t?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Give and Live

Give and Live (CaD James 5) Wayfarer

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
James 5:1 (NIV)

The times in which James wrote his letter to scattered believers was tumultuous. Jesus railed against the aristocrat Pharisees and religious leaders who lived in luxury while they exploited the poor. He cleared out the temple moneychangers who were getting themselves and the priests rich by charging poor pilgrims exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus’ criticism and the favor it gained him among the poor and marginalized was what got him crucified. Jesus wasn’t crucified for religious reasons. He was crucified because He threatened the religious racket’s cash cow, and stirred up resentment that already ran deep.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed. It’s only gotten worse. James was the leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. He was well respected as he tried to manage the political powder keg between the Jewish religious leaders, local ruler Herod Agrippa II, and Rome. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow further and further apart. The aristocratic priests lived in spacious homes in the city’s upper city while the poor lived downwind of the local sewers. Exorbitant taxes pushed poor farmers out of business and wealthy landowners took over everything. The rich sided with the Romans in an effort to keep stability. This gave the poor more reason to hate them. Tensions were high, and about to spill over.

Reading today’s chapter with this context, it’s easy for me to feel James’ situation. The Jesus Movement exploded in part because it addressed the disparity of members. The wealthy generously gave. The poor and marginalized were welcome at the table with the rich and noble. James calls out the wealthy who are exploiting the poor. He calls on poor believers to persevere in chaotic, desperate circumstances. His instructions are about maintaining simple, daily ritual: Keep praying, keep praising, keep healthy, and stay in community with other believers. Pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the current chaotic times are a cakewalk compared to what it would have been like to be a poor day laborer in Jerusalem back in James’ day. History is always good for providing me with much needed context. At the same time, the same general principles and forces are at work today as they were then. Generosity, equality, deference and humility are still the tangible ways that the love of Christ is to flow through me to others. As a follower of Jesus, I’m to live out my faith daily in simple rituals that channel those same values. I’m called to view my current earthly circumstances in the eternal perspective of the Great Story.

James’ warnings in today’s chapter were incredibly prescient. The rich in Jerusalem continued to hoard more and more wealth. The rich priests withheld tithes from poor priests, forcing them into day labor. There were 18,000 day laborers who worked to finish construction work on the temple who didn’t get paid. James was condemned by the religious leaders and stoned to death. In 66 AD a revolt broke out. Priests and the Roman Garrison on the Temple mount were massacred. The four-year revolt against Rome would end in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it along with the temple.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Brewing Interpretation

Brewing Interpretation (CaD Ecc 11) Wayfarer

Ship your grain across the sea;
    after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
    you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (NIV)

A couple of chapters ago, I discussed the challenges and mysteries that accompany the translation of ancient Hebrew text into modern English. As I spent some time in today’s chapter, I encountered another mysterious challenge that has spawned a very interesting interpretation.

The translators of the NIV have given the interpretation of the first two verses of today’s chapter a decidedly commerce-driven slant. The Hebrew does not so much allude to shipping grain across the sea, but more simply says to throw/cast ones bread/grain on water. The interpretation of invest is also a choice for a Hebrew word that is more simply translated as give. Here are a couple of other ways other translations or paraphrases say these same verses:

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
(KJV)

Don’t be afraid to release your bread upon the waters,
        for in due time you will find it.
    Divide your portion—put seven here, maybe eight there—
        for you can never be sure when or where disaster will strike.
(Voice)

Cast your bread upon the waters,
    for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even eight,
    for you do not know what calamity may happen on the earth.
(CEV)

Over the past couple of decades, the craft of brewing beer has exploded into a 22 billion dollar industry with about 9,000 different breweries. I know several individuals who enjoy making their own home brews to share, and I always enjoy sampling when I’m invited to do so. Along with this heightened interest, some craft brewers have delved into investigating the ancient brewing practices of different cultures. For example, there’s an ancient Akkadian text that describes the process of brewing beer in which dates and bread are “thrown into water” as part of the mix of ingredients.

This has led a few scholars (whom I suspect might be craft beer lovers themselves) to consider that the interpretation of these verses of Ecclesiastes may mean that when you throw your bread into the water and it comes back to you in a barrel of beer, be sure to share it with seven or eight others, so that when tough times come they will share their beer with you.

As I consider these translations and interpretations in the quiet this morning, I humbly conclude that I can’t be certain either way. Both the NIV’s decidedly pointed interpretation in favor of commerce and the beer-lovers decidedly pointed interpretation in favor of sharing your beer could be what the Sage of Ecclesiastes intended.

What is clear to me is the general spiritual principle the Sage was getting at, to which all the various translations and paraphrases point: invest, produce, and generously share the profitable returns with many. In doing so, I’m insuring myself for lean times which may certainly come.

I never know where this chapter-a-day journey is going to lead me each morning, and sometimes I’m genuinely surprised at where I end up. Today, I not only have a good spiritual principle on which to meditate and apply to my life, but I also have a pleasant bit of trivia about Akkadian brewing and Hebrew wisdom to share with some unsuspecting new friend over a pint. Cheers!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Value of “Another”

The Value of "Another" (CaD Ecc 4) Wayfarer

There was a man all alone;
    he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
    a miserable business!

Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago I happened upon a post on LinkedIn. It was one of those heart-warming stories that almost sounds too good to be true. It made me curious. I dug into the story. I’d like to share with you what I learned.

Dale Schroeder was an Iowan from my hometown of Des Moines. He grew up poor, and couldn’t afford college. After high school he got a job as a carpenter and showed up at work every day for the same company for 67 years. It appears that retirement wasn’t something he considered worthwhile. Dale lived simply. He owned two pair of jeans. He had one pair of jeans for work and one pair of jeans for church.

One day, Dale showed up at the office of his friend and attorney. He told his friend he’d been thinking. He didn’t have the money to go to college and he’d like to give kids who couldn’t afford it the opportunity he never had. He wanted to set up a fund and invest all his savings for the project.

“How much are we talking, Dale?” his attorney asked.

“Oh, just shy of three million,” Dale answered.

Dale’s fund paid for the college education of 33 young people before the funds ran out. Calling themselves “Dale’s Kids” the strangers, who are now doctors, therapists, and teachers because of Dale’s gift, meet periodically to honor his legacy.

A simple man, Dale asked only one thing in return for his generosity. He asked that they pay-it-forward. “You can’t pay it back,” his attorney would explain, “because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him.”

If I pull back and look at today’s chapter from a distance, I find that the Sage has divided his wisdom into two parts. In verses 1-6, the Teacher describes the cold futility of self-centric lives and the tragic fruit of living lives of envy, greed, and hatred. In verses 7-16 the focus shifts. Verse 8 describes Dale sitting on his three million in the bank, asking himself “What am I going to do with all this money I’ve stored up my entire life?”

Verses 9-12 describes the value of living, not for self, but for another.

“Do something for someone else,” the Sage proposes as he whispers to me in my soul. “Invest the fruit of your labor into someone else’s need. Step out of the chill of self-centered isolation and warm another person with your kindness, then feel the warmth of their gratitude take the chill out of your own soul. Tom, if you look below in order to reach down and lift another person up your gaze won’t be fixated enviously on the height of other people’s stacks of stuff.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering Dale Schroeder showing up to work every day in his work jeans for 67 years in order to invest everything into the lives of 33 strangers. It’s an act of extravagant generosity that has not only changed the lives of those 33, but also their families, patients, students, and descendants. Who knows how it will be gratefully paid forward to affect the lives of countless others that you and I will never know about.

The Sage has me silently asking myself this morning:

“What is truly valuable in this life?”

“What does my life reveal about what I truly value?”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Person I Want to Be

The Person I Want to Be (CaD Ps 112) Wayfarer

Praise the LORD!
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.
Psalm 112:1 (NIV)

I happen to be in the middle of a rather large project for a client. Our company has been helping them design, develop, launch, and implement a Quality Assessment (QA) program for their company. You know, the ol’ “Your call may be monitored for training and coaching purposes“? That’s a big chunk of what I do.

So it was this weekend that I’ve been deep in the weeds producing some training to introduce the program to my client’s front-line team members. One of the things I stated in the training is that you always want to build a QA program with the goal in mind, and in this case, the goal is to actually achieve the client’s corporate Mission and Vision statement.

Many years ago, as my life was emerging from the ash heap I had made of it, I happened upon today’s chapter, Psalm 112. I remember reading the lyrics to this ancient Hebrew song and realizing that it described the person I want to become and to be on this earthly journey. I remember thinking that day, “When this journey’s over and my number is up, I would hope that when friends and loved ones gather to celebrate my homecoming they could read Psalm 112 and say, ‘THAT was Tom.'”

“Blessed…” (vs. 1)
I have been blessed in so many ways, and never want to lose sight of that or fail to acknowledge it and be grateful for the grace given to me that my life doesn’t merit.

Children mighty in the land…” (vs. 2)
I want to leave a legacy, not of earthly accomplishments, wealth, and fame, but children, grandchildren, and descendants whose life journeys walk the path of Psalm 112, as well.

Wealth and riches are in their houses…” (vs. 3)
I never thought of this as a monetary blessing, but a spiritual one. Jesus said, “Don’t seek treasure on earth where it can be stolen, decay, and where you will leave it behind for all eternity. Seek eternal spiritual treasure that can’t be stolen. It doesn’t rot, and it will profit you through all eternity.” As a follower of Jesus, that’s the goal. That said, It also reminds me that if I manage my blessings and resources with the wisdom and the principles found in the Great Story, I will likely be just fine from a financial perspective. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

Even in darkness light dawns…” (vs. 4)
They have no fear of bad news. Their hearts are secure, trusting in the Lord…” (vs. 7)
Their hearts are secure. They will have no fear…” (vs. 8)
As an Enneagram Type Four, my core temperament always fights pessimism. Ironic, then, that God led me into a career in which my monthly and annual income is an ever-changing sum and has never been a sure-thing that secured by a corporation, a government, or a union (even though even that sense of security is ultimately an illusion). Recently I told our daughter that I perpetually assume that I’m one day away from living in a van down by the river. These words from Psalm 112 have become a spiritual bulwark against my pessimistic personality. It gives me an anchor in life’s “Chain Reaction of Praise” moments. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…for those who are gracious, compassionate, righteous.” (vs. 4)
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice
…” (vs. 5)
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor…” (vs. 9)
Much of my life journey has been marked by a scarcity mentality. Along the way, I have come to realize that this has come from the perfect storm of my Type 4 personality, the realities of growing up as the youngest sibling, and growing up in a home in which my needs were always met, but there was never had a lot of financial margin. Psalm 112 and it’s repeated call to grace, compassion, generosity, and justice has been instrumental in helping me grow out of my scarcity thought-patterns and into the loving generosity that Jesus asks of me. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still in process.

“…their righteousness endures forever.” (vs. 3)
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
..” (vs. 6)
“…their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.
” (vs. 9)
As I grew up, there was a period of time in which the women from my mother’s family would gather together. They would feast, laugh, share memories, and honor my great-grandmother, Grandma Daisy. Grandma Daisy Day made an impression on me as a kid. It revealed to me the legacy and impression that my maternal clan’s matriarch made on her descendants through her faith, love, grace, and generosity. She died pretty much penniless after a life dotted with tragedy and struggle. Her eternal bank account was full, and the legacy she left on her descendants was priceless. That’s the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, as well.

In the quiet this morning, I am celebrating the impression Psalm 112 has had on my life journey. It’s memorized, and etched in my soul. I have the song title inked on my right bicep, where it reminds me that my strength lies in becoming the person Psalm 112 describes.

It’s good reminder on this “reset” day that Monday is on a weekly basis and I’m heading back into life’s fray.

Have a great week, my friend!

More Than Enough

More Than Enough (CaD Ex 36) Wayfarer

[The artisans making the Tabernacle] said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.”
Exodus 36:5 (NRSVCE)

When I was fifteen I went to a weekend long conference just south of the Chicago area. I’d never been to Chicago, so I and my two friends drove into the city and spent the afternoon sightseeing. When we got back to the car, we discovered that my duffel bag had been stolen out of the car. It had everything I brought with me including my money for the conference. I was left, literally, with nothing but the clothes on my back for the weekend.

Upon arrival at the conference we explained my situation to the people at the registration table. They assured me that it was not a big deal, and they’d make arrangements to have my parents send a check for my registration. At the beginning of the first session that evening I was asked to stand and the host explained to everyone at the conference what had happened.

I was unprepared for the outpouring of generosity I was about to experience. All weekend long people were handing me cash. People who lived nearby went home and brought back boxes full of clothes for me. No matter how much I implored people that I had more than enough to get me through the next two days of the weekend conference, it just kept coming. I went home with far more than I had stolen, including a really good spiritual lesson.

That was my first experience in life with having something stolen from me, and I’d never been in a position where I was on my own and in need. I can remember being kind of freaked out by the experience and how I was going to manage, but I quickly learned that God provides through the generosity of others. I’ve endeavored for just about forty-years to pay it forward whenever the opportunity arises. That’s how Kingdom economics works.

In yesterday’s chapter, Moses asked the Hebrew people to bring an offering of materials for constructing this temple tent God told them to build. In today’s chapter, the outpouring of generosity is overwhelming and Moses tells everyone to stop bringing more materials for the work.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus words this morning as I pondered the Hebrews generosity, and the generosity I experienced at the very beginning of my spiritual journey:

What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Matthew 6:31-34 (MSG)

I also thought of the early followers of Jesus generously bringing everything they had to life’s potluck and making sure that everyone had enough.

In this time of COVID craziness with many people out of work, in the wake of small family businesses burned to the ground by riots, there are a lot of people worried “about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” I confess that I’m feeling the anxiety, at times. Today’s chapter is a good reminder of God’s provision. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, there is always more than enough. My priority is to be generous in meeting the needs of others and then trust God’s generosity in meeting mine.

Have a great weekend, my friend!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“LandBNB.ORG”

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
3 John 5-6

A few months ago our friend asked to use our house to throw a semi-surprise party for his wife. It was a blast. This past Saturday, Wendy and I were blessed to host members of her family from out of town for lunch. Tonight we have friends staying with us for the night in our home. This Friday evening a small group of Wendy’s oldest and dearest friends are having a girls’ night at our house. Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, this weekend would have been our little town’s annual Tulip Time festival. Our house would typically have been filled with family for the weekend.

Hospitality is something that Wendy does extremely well, and something that we enjoy doing together. One of the motivating factors for building our house was the simple ability to provide hospitality for others. Relatives, friends, children, friends of children, and even friends of friends have stayed with us. The blessing is ours.

The realities of the Jesus movement in its first 300 years are typically lost on modern readers. The tens of thousands of Jesus’ followers met regularly in people’s homes scattered across the Roman Empire. Communication was poor making organization and oversight difficult, and sometimes impossible. That’s why much of what we refer to as the “Books” of the New Testament are actually letters that were written to be delivered, read, and sometimes copied and broadcast to all the other house churches of all the other believers. The letters would have to be carried, and the deliverer(s) (for safety is was common to send two) would need lodging and food. Inns were not great places in those days and typically doubled as brothels. It was imperative that the network of house churches double as the “LandBnB.org” of that day, offering safe lodging and hospitality for fellow believers.

Today’s chapter is another short letter that tradition ascribes to John. It is essentially a letter of recommendation for Demetrius to a house church leader named Gaius. The letter commends Gaius for his reputation as a Five-Star hospitality provider (compared to the One-Star rating John gave to another house church leader named Diotrephes). His letter provided Gaius with John’s Five-Star rating of Demetrius as a guest.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the gift and art of hospitality. Sure, AirBnB and others have turned many private residences into pseudo-inns for profit. That’s cool, but that’s not the kind of hospitality out of generosity that John was calling upon from Gaius. The “LandBnB.org” that John and early believers depended upon was a non-profit enterprise founded on generosity. Providing a warm and comfortable place that’s generously given with hospitable blessing truly is, I believe, a spiritual gift. And, as Wendy and I have discovered, the profit is joy.

An Uncomfortable Realization

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:17-18 (NIV)

Very early in my spiritual journey, I was given the task by my mentor of choosing a couple of verses that would be my “Life Verse.” In other words, they were verses from God’s Message that I wanted to shape and inform the rest of my life. I was a young teenager at the time.

One of the verses I chose in that exercise still hangs on the wall in my office, written in calligraphy by one my brothers. It was a gift to me many years ago. That verse is from today’s chapter, which I originally memorized from the Living Bible paraphrase:

Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.

That verse understandably leapt off the page at me this morning, but the thing I really noticed was the verse before my life verse:

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

I have to confess this morning that generosity was not something that came naturally for me. Growing up, I had everything that I needed, but definitely not all that I wanted. Being the youngest of four, I grew up used to receiving the things handed down to me. Somewhere early in life, I developed a gross measure of selfishness. Any money I was given or earned flowed quickly and freely through my fingers. I would quickly spend everything I had to get something, anything that was new and shiny, and all mine even if it was something I quickly consumed.

Along my spiritual journey, I eventually had to own up to the fact that I had a massive blind spot. I was deep in debt, had very little to show for it, and a look at my finances would reveal that my behavior pattern hadn’t changed since I was a young boy. I continued to quickly spend everything I had (even money I didn’t have) to get something, anything that was new and shiny, and all mine even if it was something I quickly consumed.

The harsh truth of the matter was that I had memorized words that said I wanted to love people and show it by my actions. Ask me and I could rattle it off by heart at the drop of a hat complete with the reference. If you asked me to recite the verse before it, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. I had completely ignored the description of what that love by action really meant. How can I say that the love of God is in me and that I am following Jesus when everything in my life revealed a total lack of generosity fueled by endless and out-of-control consumption?

I am glad that this life is a spiritual journey. It allows time and opportunity for old things to pass away, and new things to come. Just as John had to be transformed by love to address his anger, rage, and lust for prominence (which I wrote about in yesterday’s post), I needed to be transformed by love to address my selfish consumption, fiscal irresponsibility, and lack of generosity.

I confess that writing this post is a little uncomfortable for me this morning. However, that’s another lesson I’ve learned along my journey: If I’m not at least a little uncomfortable then I’m not making progress.

Before me lies another day. In fact, it’s day 19,723 for me (FYI: You can quickly calculate your days at this website). It’s time to press on.

Thanks for reading, my friend.

Escalation, Truth, and Discomfort

“[The teachers of the Law] devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Mark 12:40 (NIV)

Over the years I have had the privilege of serving certain clients in the monitoring, coaching, and providing Quality Assessment (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.”) for their collections teams. The process of working with customers who owe you money can be a sticky wicket. We’re not talking about third-party collection agencies who just want to bully people into paying so they can quickly get their cut and make their margins. My clients are businesses who want to collect the debt, but also want to keep most of their customers knowing that the lifetime value of that customer’s business far exceeds the amount they are past due in the present moment.

As I always remind both my team members and my clients: “When you are dealing with people’s money, the conversation takes on additional layers of complexity and emotion.”

In today’s chapter, Mark continues to share episodes from Jesus’ final days. There had always been conflict brewing between Jesus and the religious power brokers and rule keepers in Jerusalem. Most of His ministry, however, had been in the region of Galilee far from Jerusalem. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem and is teaching in the temple during the most crowded week of the year. Three times in previous chapters Jesus has told #TheTwelve that He was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, beaten, and killed, and then He would rise from the dead. The episodes Mark relates in today’s chapter illustrate the escalation of conflict between Jesus and the institutional religious powers.

In the first episode, Jesus tells a parable that metaphorically states what He has said plainly before: The religious rule-keepers killed the prophets that God had sent in the past, and now they’re going to kill God’s own Son. The parable antagonized Jesus’ enemies who have already been looking for a way to make sure Jesus “sleeps with the fishes.” Ironically, Jesus said that, like Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days, He would spend three days in the grave. [FYI: That’s a reference from The Godfather for those of you who didn’t catch it.]

What follows is three different attempts to trip Jesus up with religious questions that were political hot potatoes. The intent in at least two of the three questions was to try and get Jesus to say something that His enemies could either spin to diminish His approval rating or condemn Him. Each time, Jesus deftly handles the question and leaves His enemies flummoxed.

On the heels of these trick questions and attempts to trip Him up, Jesus speaks critically of His enemies and warns His audience to “watch out” for the teachers of the law. He then offers a curious accusation that is lost on modern readers. Jesus says that the religious power brokers “devour widows houses.”

In most cases, women had very poor legal and social standing in Jesus’ day. This was especially true of older widows who might have been left with her husband’s debts. With limited means and a social system that made it virtually impossible for her to produce an income, the widow was incredibly vulnerable. Unless she had an influential and/or wealthy male advocate, the widow fell prey to wealthy and powerful men (remember, the religious power brokers were “Teachers of Law” (aka lawyers) within the Jewish religious, legal, and social system. These lawyers would use the law to seize a widow’s home and assets, leaving her destitute and living off the mercy of others. Even though the Law of Moses demanded special consideration for the defenseless (including widows), the “Teachers of the Law” found legal loopholes to justify their greedy victimization of these women.

What was most fascinating for me in today’s chapter is the very next episode. Right after criticizing the Teachers of the Law for their treatment of widows, Jesus leads His followers to the place where people came to give their “offerings” to the temple treasury. Wealthy Jews from around the known world were in town for Passover, so there were certainly many wealthy travelers using the annual pilgrimage to give generously (and publicly). Jesus sits and watches the riches being offered to the temple coffers. Then an old widow (I wonder which Teacher of the Law there at the temple now owned the home she once shared with her husband along with all of its possessions?) steps up and puts in two pennies.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Two things stuck with me this morning. The power brokers in this world have their way through systemic advantage, intimidation, instilling fear, dishing out punishment, and eliminating the opposition. This is true of any number of systems including criminal, political, governmental, organizational, business, financial, social, educational, legal, military, familial, and even religious systems. It is obvious in the episodes Mark shares that there is rapid escalation between Jesus and His enemies, and His enemies have political, religious, social, legal, and financial systemic power. They want Jesus dead, and Jesus knows this. In fact, He knows that they will kill Him. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to fearlessly speak spiritual truth that both condemns His enemies and pushes the buttons that will ensure the signature on His death warrant.

The second thing that struck me is that I have infinitely more in common with Jesus’ enemies than with the widow whom Jesus praises.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” Jesus said, “and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

In other words, Jesus is in the Collections business.

Most days the chapter and my meditation leave me encouraged, challenged, inspired, contemplative, and even comforted.

Today, I leave my quiet time very uncomfortable.