Friday, April 16, 2010

"Tough Love" in Today's Economy

Several families from my church got together recently to do a 4-week bible study that Crown Financial Ministries offers for parents and children called, “In God We Trust.” In the first week, the study had us looking at Jesus’ conversation with a rich young man, who wanted to be assured that he would have eternal life so he ran up to Jesus and asked him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus tells him that he must obey the commandments, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not cheat, honor your father and mother. The rich young man answers him saying, “I have kept all of these commandments since I was a boy. And the scripture says that after he said that, “Jesus looked at him and loved him and said ‘One thing you lack, go sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.’And the man’s face fell and he went away sad because he had great wealth.”

As we discussed the story with our children, I couldn’t help but be struck by the challenge that Jesus made to this young man and how he used it to expose the barrier that could keep the young man from seeing the kingdom of God. Jesus challenges him by instructing him to: “Go and sell everything he has and give to the poor” Think of the implication of that challenge in terms of showing us how that young man viewed the ownership of his stuff. He obviously saw the things he owned as belonging to him. Let’s face it, if someone came up to you and said, “Hey, will you go and sell all my belongings for me and then take the money and give it to the poor.” We might wonder why the guy wanted to do such a thing, but we wouldn’t have a hard time with actually doing what he asked because it wasn’t our stuff. We didn’t have any attachment to it. Compare that to: “will you go and sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor.” Now the request gets more personal, which is exactly one of the things that Jesus sought to reveal to this man.

He was revealing the fact that the man viewed his possessions as being something HE had obtained through his own effort. If he thought otherwise, it would have been easy for him to give those things up. Jesus was revealing that the young man did not recognize that God owned everything he had.

In addition to that, in making such a request, Jesus was essentially exposing the young man’s sense of priority. He is asking him, “What’s really important to you? Where does your sense of security lie? What does your money really mean to you?” Jesus certainly doesn’t expect everyone to sell everything they have to follow him, however, we should have the attitude that what we have belongs to God and should be used to honor him and serve others. What Jesus was really getting at, was for the young man to examine the position that money and material possessions had in his life. He wanted him to see that his attitude toward his “stuff” had gotten in the way of his relationship with God. Remember Jesus already knew the condition of the man’s heart because he tells him ”one thing you lack” He knew the man’s possessions were more important to him. He just wanted the man to come to realize that as well.

During our small group we all examined ourselves in the same way. What earthly possession do we have that would be really hard to give up? If Jesus came up to you and asked you to give up your home or your car or perhaps your flat screen TV, could you do it? Would you do it? What if he asked you to to reduce your level of income or take a lower position at work? The way WE react to such request, just as in the case of the rich young man, says a lot about our attitude about money. It shows us who our true master is. Is your money your master or is God?

He does this in our lives today by putting us in circumstances that challenge us in the very same way…

How do we respond when we lose a job or are asked to take a pay cut? How do we respond when we don’t get that promotion we think we deserve or when someone else has something that we think we should have? How do we respond when we are asked to give more? All of these circumstances reveal the condition of our hearts in regard to money. Do we think we are in control of these things? Do we think we obtained our things as a result of our own effort and so they BELONG to us? Do we derive our identity or our security from these things or from God?

What I really love about this story is seeing firsthand how the Lord goes about teaching us. He is so loving in his approach... Jesus knew the young man wasn’t perfect, (certainly not as perfect as he thought he was :) ), but rather than condemning him, Mark tells us that he looked at him and “loved him.”

Even though he knew the condition of the man’s heart, he loved him too much to simply enable him to stay the way he was.

He didn’t come right out and condemn the young man. Jesus never operates that way. But, he didn’t just give him his approval to make him feel good either. Jesus gave him truth. By challenging him to look at himself to determine where his own heart was, Jesus was allowing for the young man’s heart to convict himself. And he obviously was convicted because the scripture says that he went away sad because he had great wealth. He wasn’t willing to give up what he had on this earth. He had everything, on earth but was unwilling to sacrifice it for eternal life, something he obviously wanted. He didn’t have enough knowledge about who God is to make that sacrifice. He didn’t have enough faith in God’s promises to make that sacrifice. He couldn’t see beyond his current circumstances to realize God had something better for him and so he couldn’t TRUST God. He knew it and it made him sad.

These are tough times we are living in. It’s easy to forget what the Christian life is really all about. Is Jesus using circumstances to show us, just like that rich young man, where our heart truly is? Could it be that He is using these tough times to get closer to us? Could it be "tough love" so to speak?

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…Matthew 19:23



Warren Baldwin said...

You use this story to raise some very good and appropriate questions for today. I do wonder what God is doing. Seems like he is definitely trying to get our attention somehow!

In the OT God forbid Israel to conduct their economy on a debt-based system. Today, we are doing that very thing. All of our paper money enters circulation already debt-attached. Nationally, we owe more money to private stockholders of the Fed then we have money in circulation to pay. Such a system can not prosper indefinitely.

I hope current conditions will lead us to evaluate our present economic expecatations and practices in light of Scripture.

Good post.

Kelly Combs said...

These are very tough economic times. So wonderful to know that God provides us our daily bread. It's just that many of us are used to steak, and don't appreciate the bread.

Good words to reflect on today.