Tag Archives: Riches

Of Riches and Rubble

Of Riches and Rubble (CaD Mk 13) Wayfarer

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2 (NIV)

I still remember my first trip to Chicago. I had never been to a major city. My hometown of Des Moines was my only frame of reference, and even at a young age I knew Des Moines like the back of my hand. A person could get from one end of the Des Moines to the other in about 20 minutes. It just wasn’t that big. Chicago was a revelation. I and my friends went to the observation deck of the John Hancock building, and I stared out at city as far as my eye could see. It was impressive.

For Jesus’ followers, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to the Temple, was a similar experience. As far as we know, the Twelve were from small rural villages in the Galilee, and the Temple complex in Jerusalem was the equivalent of the John Hancock building, the Sears Tower, or the Empire State Building.

Casual readers may not realize that the temple in Jesus’ day was not the same Temple that Solomon built. That temple was razed to the ground by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. A generation later, it was rebuilt by Hebrews who returned from exile. Then, Herod the Great came to power around 37 B.C.

Like many egomaniacal tyrants, Herod had an edifice complex. He wasn’t Jewish, but he understood that his constituency was, and the temple in Jerusalem was the center of that constituency’s worldly power. Herod was shrewd. He knew it was in his political best interest not only to keep peace with the power brokers of the Jewish community, but he knew it would be even better if this potential threat to his power felt indebted to him. So, Herod decided to invest his vast riches to fix-up the five-hundred year old Temple.

Of course, egomaniacal tyrants with edifice complexes aren’t just going to do a little sprucing up. They have to spend their vast riches to build something that will bear their name (whether officially or unofficially) so the size of the project must be in relative proportion to the size to their egos. The original size of the Temple was relatively small compared to the impressive temples built by the Greeks and Romans. Herod made sure to not just rebuild the Temple itself, but he built an entire Temple complex around it. Sure enough, it’s still known today as “Herod’s Temple.”

That’s why, in today’s chapter, Jesus’ disciples are still exclaiming what a magnificent complex it is even after they’ve spent two entire days listening to Jesus teach in the Temple courts. They can’t get over the sheer size and architectural beauty of it.

And then, Jesus ruins the moment: “It will all be rubble 40 years from now.”

And, it was. The political tension between the Jewish people and their Roman occupiers will continue to grow. There will be wars and rumors of war. It will eventually boil over. The Romans will raze Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in the year 70 A.D.

Enjoy the view while you can.

In the quiet this morning I couldn’t help but think of the spiritual lesson in this brief exchange. The rest of today’s chapter is Jesus’ prophetic foreshadowing of where the Great Story is headed in the climactic final chapters. It’s not idyllic.

Wars
Earthquakes
Famine
Deception
Tyranny
Families divided
Betrayal
Hatred
Exile
Darkness

I’m reminded as I contemplate it that every good story ends up there. The death eaters descend on Hogwarts. Gandalf and Aragorn stand surrounded and outnumbered at the Black Gate of Mordor. Aslan is bound and lying on the White Witch’s stone table. Jesus lies dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

There’s always darkness before the dawn.

Without catastrophe there’s no eucatastrophe.

“Be careful what your heart treasures,” Jesus said. “Cars rust and end up at the dump. Today’s fashions will end up at the thrift store where nobody wants them. That expensive gadget will be obsolete in a year. Herod’s Temple will be nothing but rubble in a generation.”

“Invest in the only things that remain,” Holy Spirit whispers to me in the quiet. “Faith, hope, and love.”

I’m off into another day reminded to enjoy the view while I can.

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

All Worthwhile Things…

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
    but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 12:11 (NIV)

When I first met the man he was a drug dealer. He knew it was wrong, but it was so easy and the money was good. He’d never really given college a serious thought (even though he was very intelligent and had been offered a full-ride). His job options, therefore, were somewhat limited. As the years went on I would see him on an occasional basis. He gave up dealing, but it appeared to me to have given him an appetite for easy money. There was a period of time in which each time I saw him he was trying a different get-rich-quick scheme. I observed that every new scheme he was convinced was his golden ticket to wealth had an up-front-cost to get started which, ironically, quickly made him poorer. The “get rich” part of the schemes never panned out. He eventually worked a few menial jobs for a period of time but his life continued to spiral into despair and depression. Last I knew, he hasn’t had a job for a long time and lives in depressive isolation.

I thought of him this morning when I read the proverb pasted to the top of this post. I have never met a person who so diligently sought a shortcut to riches and ended in such a tragic place, though I have certainly encountered others like him along my life journey. I am reminded of a visit that I paid to a former high school teacher many years ago. As he shared with me the changes that he’s witnessed in students over the years of his career he said, “If my students simply took the time and energy they expend trying to cheat and applied it to their studies they’d be fine.”

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that work is work, and there is no avoiding this fact. It’s stated plainly right at the beginning in the Genesis story. Ironically, I just heard it referenced on Ash Wednesday last week as a young man rubbed ashes on my forehead:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

There is something in me that desires for life to be easy, but I long ago embraced the reality that worthwhile things require time, energy, attention, and discipline. In other words: it’s work. This is true in pretty much every area of life including education, career, relationships, family, physical health and wellness, and spiritual growth. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that work is required for results. Right now I’m struggling with the changing body metabolism that occurs naturally at my stage of life. I need more sleep. My body doesn’t burn energy as efficiently. The same diet and exercise regimen suddenly has diminishing effects in comparison to a few years ago. It takes more work than it used to.

Worthwhile things require work. It is what it is. I can try to avoid it, or I can embrace it.

It is Monday morning. Time to get to work.

Have a good week!

The Call to Contentment

Not that I was ever in need,  for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. Philippians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Jesus never told poor people to seek after earthly riches.
Jesus told certain rich people to give up all their earthly riches.
Jesus told all people to seek after heavenly riches.
God’s Message tells us all to learn to be content.

I have come to believe that God’s call to contentment is one of the most critical spiritual concepts we have most consistently ignored.

Eternal Investment

English: Image of an Saracen king of West Afri...
Mansa Musa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 49

Those who are wise must finally die,

    just like the foolish and senseless,
    leaving all their wealth behind.
The grave is their eternal home,
    where they will stay forever.
They may name their estates after themselves,
     but their fame will not last.
    They will die, just like animals.
This is the fate of fools,
    though they are remembered as being wise.
Psalm 49:10-13 (NLT)

Can you quickly tell me anything about the following people?

  1. Mansa Musa
  2. Richard Fitzalan
  3. William de Warenne
  4. Alan Rufus
  5. Osman Khan

I’m pretty good at trivial knowledge, but these names were completely lost on me when I saw them. The truth is, these five men were among the richest men ever. While they lived they amassed vast fortunes to rival and even surpass names you do probably have heard of such as Rockefeller, Carnegie and Vanderbilt. I say that they were rich, because like everyone else, they died and left their fortunes behind. As the old saying goes, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-haul.

That is the point of this morning’s chapter. Jesus said that there will always be poor people around. I guess that means there will always be rich people around as well. Death is the great equalizer. Time and time again God reminds us not to invest our hearts and minds in material things which will rot, rust and be left behind when we die. The economy in God’s Kingdom bears little or no resemblance to the economy of this world. Citizens of God’s Kingdom invest in things of eternal value which all flow from Love: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

FYI:

  1. Mansa Musa: rule of Malian empire, at one point he personally owned more than half the world’s supply of commodities.
  2. Richard Fitzalan: English nobleman.
  3. William de Warenne: Norman nobleman.
  4. Alan Rufus: fought next to William the Conqueror.
  5. Osman Khan: last ruler of Hyderabad. Owned a 184 carat diamond which he used as a paperweight.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 22

Lord Voldemort
Image via Wikipedia

Choose a good reputation over great riches; 
      being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1 (NLT) 

There was a certain executive I knew. Bright, intelligent and charismatic, this man made things happen. He made good things happen to the mutual benefit of everyone in his company. This gentleman was a winner and was on the fast track to great things.

Then, one day, he was gone. Suddenly, without warning, he wasn’t there and the company has kept their lips tightly sealed with regard to the reason. One coworker quipped that the departed executive had become Voldemort (e.g. “He who must not be named”). Another, who could not and would not speak of the circumstances for the exec’s leaving simply said of the man, “He’s dead to me now. So sad. Worse than the fortune he gave up was the loss of his reputation around here.”

Perhaps it’s because of that last statement that the image of this person came to mind when I read the first proverb in today’s chapter. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Lord knows, I can’t point a finger without three pointing back at me. Nevertheless, I am reminded this morning that a man’s reputation – whether it is justly or unjustly destroyed – is incredibly difficult to rebuild.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 11

Riches won’t help on the day of judgment, 
      but right living can save you from death.
Proverbs 11:4 (NLT)

Silvio

Stake my future on a hell of a past
Looks like tomorrow is coming on fast
Ain’t complaining ’bout what I got
Seen better times, but who has not?

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

Honest as the next jade rolling that stone
When I come knocking don’t throw me no bone
I’m an old boll weevil looking for a home
If you don’t like it you can leave me alone

I can snap my fingers and require the rain
From a clear blue sky and turn it off again
I can stroke your body and relieve your pain
And charm the whistle off an evening train

I give what I got until I got no more
I take what I get until I even the score
You know I love you and furthermore
When it’s time to go you got an open door

I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain
You give something up for everything you gain
Since every pleasure’s got an edge of pain
Pay for your ticket and don’t complain

One of these days and it won’t be long
Going down in the valley and sing my song
I will sing it loud and sing it strong
Let the echo decide if I was right or wrong

Silvio
Silver and gold
Won’t buy back the beat of a heart grown cold
Silvio
I gotta go
Find out something only dead men know

Copyright © 1988 by Special Rider Music

Chapter-a-Day Luke 21

Widow's Mite - Ancient Roman Bronze Coins
Image by IronRodArt – Royce Bair via Flickr

[Jesus] said, “The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all!” Luke 21:3-4 (MSG)

There is an interesting place where money and faith intersect. I come from a Dutch heritage. The history of the Dutch is a fascinating study. In the 1600s, Amsterdam became the financial center of the world. Dutch trading ships made the Netherlands the richest republic in the world. At the same that time their coffers were brimming over with gilders, the Dutch were staunchly entrenched in their Reformed faith and Calvinist theology against greed and worldliness. The result was a wealthy people who felt intensely awkward about being rich. In a small town founded by Hollanders, half a world and four centuries away, I can still see that awkward struggle trying to work itself out. 

It is the season of giving centered in the greatest, most extravagant gift of all. Despite a heritage of wrangling with riches, I’m reminded today of the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching.

Let go. Be generous. Give extravagantly.

God did.

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Chapter-a-Day Amos 6

infomercial
Image by Marilyn M via Flickr

Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain! those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles! They could not care less about their country going to ruin. Amos 6:6 (MSG)

Flipping through the channel guide on television this morning, here are the titles I saw:

  • Step & Lose weight
  • Get Luscious Hair!
  • Carve Abs in Bed!
  • Look Younger
  • Anti-Aging Secrets
  • Easy Hair Removal!
  • Weight Loss Breakthrough!
  • Millionaire’s Secrets
  • Sexy Swimsuit Body
  • Summer Sexy Abs
  • Microwave Grilling!
  • eBay Riches!
  • Get Sexier in 90 Days!
  • Look Younger in 14 Days!
  • Body Gospel
  • Look Younger Instantly
  • Food Lovers Fat Loss
  • Overcoming Anxiety

Was Amos talking to Israel, or to us?

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Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 10

Patterns emerge in the journey. King Solomon was wiser and richer than all the kings of the earth—he surpassed them all. People came from all over the world to be with Solomon and drink in the wisdom God had given him. And everyone who came brought gifts—artifacts of gold and silver, fashionable robes and gowns, the latest in weapons, exotic spices, and horses and mules—parades of visitors, year after year. 1 Kings 10:23-25 (MSG)

One the most awesome things about journeying through God's message is the way the various pieces and themes fit together. Today as I read the chapter my synapses started sparking and I saw patterns emerge in the text!

A few chapters ago, we read that God gave Solomon a choice of wisdom or riches. Solomon chose to ask for wisdom, and as a result, God said he would grant Solomon's request and added: "As a bonus, I'm giving you both the wealth and glory you didn't ask for."

So, there's a principle and a pattern established: Make wisdom your priority and seeking understanding your goal. Prosperity follows wisdom.

In today's chapter, we see that pattern repeated in both a macro level and a micro level. Look how the chapter is contsructed on the whole. We see that Solomon's wisdom attracts the Queen of Sheba, who comes seeking Solomon's wisdom and understanding. Impressed, she plies him with gifts and the rest of the chapter describes Solomon's riches. Solomon had wisdom, which led to his success.

Then in verses 23-25 (above) the principle is summarized at a micro level. People came to Solomon for wisdom, and his wisdom led to his incredible propserity.

Now, consider Solomon's own words in the book of Proverbs where he writes:

You're blessed when you meet Lady Wisdom,
   when you make friends with Madame Insight.
She's worth far more than money in the bank;
   her friendship is better than a big salary.
Her value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
   nothing you could wish for holds a candle to her.
With one hand she gives long life,
   with the other she confers recognition.
Her manner is beautiful,
   her life wonderfully complete.
She's the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
   Hold her tight—and be blessed!
Proverbs 3:13-18 (MSG)

If I seek wisdom, it may very well lead to prosperity and then I am doubly blessed. If I seek prosperity and have no wisdom, I actually profit nothing in God's eyes. That's the way Kingdom economics works.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kh-67