Profaning Money

  Kent Hughes’ chapter on materialism and money in Set Apart is a great discussion of Christian stewardship.  In our wealthy Western culture, this is for sure worth thinking about.

“Along with this understanding that our money is not our own, we must give it away joyfully.  Theologian Jacques Ellul says that the only way to defeat the godlike power that money seeks to impose on our lives is to give it away, which he calls profaning it: ‘To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character.’  This destroys its power over us.  ‘Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence,’ says Ellul.  Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me.  Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.”

“This makes great sense, and it cuts through the paralyzing controversies over affluence and individual lifestyle.  Wherever you are on the economic continuum, you need to give generously and regularly.  Generous giving as it relates to your affluence will free you from the bondage of money.  You will be profaning money – declaring that it is not a god in your life.  You can talk until the moon stands still about what is the proper lifestyle for a member of you church, and the result would be a corporate orgy of judgmentalism.  And if we came up with a written description, it would entrench a grace-nullifying legalism.  Paul minced no words with Timothy:”

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart, p. 33

shane lems

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Do Not Love the World… (Bernard)

Around the year 1129 AD St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote a letter to Alexander, a bishop who was known for his greed and injustice.  Among other things, Bernard addressed Alexander’s greed.  This is worth thinking about today.   He said,

“[I exhort you] lovingly not to take the glory of the world seriously as something that will last, and so lose that glory that will never pass away.  Do not love your possessions more than yourself or for your own sake, and so lose both your possessions and yourself.  Do not let the pleasure of your present prosperity hide your end from you, or endless adversity will follow.  Do not let the joy of this world bring about while concealing from you, and conceal from you while bringing it about, the grief that is everlasting.  Do not think death is a long way off, for it may catch you when you are not ready; and when you think life will go on and on, it may suddenly come to an end when you are in the wrong frame of mine, as it is written ‘When they are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then suddenly death will come, like the pains of a woman in labor, and they will not escape it.‘ (1 Thes. 5.3).”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Chesterton on Riches, Needles, and Camels

 

“Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich.  For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man.  Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment.  I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle.  I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel.  But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest – if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this – that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy.  Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags.  The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world.”

“…The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt.  There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony.  They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.”

Taken from Orthodoxy (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 125.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

The Art and Jewel of Contentment

 Working through Burrough’s Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment has been a great exercise.  I’m not quite finished with it, but so far I’ve been making many little notes based on Burrough’s wisdom.   There are some aspects of it I probably wouldn’t capitalize on, but others I am trying to etch in my memory and on my heart.  One thing I’m committing to memory is that Christian contentment is indeed a precious jewel – and that it is also an art.  Here are a few quotable quotes, ones that are worth getting onto your “hard drive,” so to speak.

“So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires. …The best way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires” (p. 47).

“A contented man, though he is most contented with the least things in the world, yet he is the most dissatisfied man that lives in the world” (p. 43).

[The contented man says] “The Lord knows how to order things better than I” (p. 36).

Burroughs also says the reason that things in this world do not give us contentment is “because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself” (p. 91).  What does that mean?  It means that trying to find contentment in the things of this world is like trying to get a full stomach by opening your mouth on a windy day (Ibid.).  It means that finding contentment in the things of this age is vanity – foolishness akin to saying more wind will fill my stomach while staying open-mouthed in the wind longer.  Sounds like Ecclesiastes 5.10-16!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Materialism, Wealth, and Idolatry

Product Details This is quite the book – a truly deep and thought-provoking read.  Although it was written around 30 years ago, the message is still relevant.  Schlossberg takes the reader through the main things in American culture that serve as people’s idols.  At first I thought it was going to talk about how Christians end up making idols out of certain things in our culture, but the book is broader than that.  He simply lines up the main things American’s “bow down to” and gives proof, citation, and critique.  The chapters include idols of history, humanity, Mammon, nature, power, and religion.  He ends with a few “application” chapters.  Below is a part from his last chapter, a constructive account of how Christian pilgrims should live in and interact with this idolatrous culture, specifically on the topic of materialism and wealth.

“Materialism, coupled with the productivity of machinery and electronics, has brought us to the universal expectation of More, first rising expectations and then rising entitlements.  This is what the Bible refers to as covetousness, which is condemned from the original Ten Commandments through the whole biblical literature.  The common observation that prosperity tends to bring spiritual complacency, pride, and moral decline goes back at least as far as the Pentateuch.  The wicked are identified as those who trust in riches rather than in God.

The biblical outlook on wealth seems odd only because we have adopted as normal a way of life that is hopelessly unable to produce what it promises and has demonstrated that inability to almost everyone.  As little children we learned that the doll or the game we invested with the aura of desire, and of which we thought we would never tire, inevitably palled on us after a time.  The same is true of all the world’s glittering satisfactions.  What they have in common is that, after the initial flash of gratification, they fail to satisfy, leading us to seek further for the next bauble. 

We ought instead to reconsider the basic assumption.  For if past acquisitions and attainments have not satisfied us, perhaps it is not in their nature to provide more than fleeting satisfactions.  This is the insight that led the prophet to inquire: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread…?’ (Is. 55:2).  For the greedy there is no conceivable level of wealth that would be enough, for greed is insatiable.  That is why trying to satisfy it, giving in to the love of money, causes such intense suffering (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Here’s his exhortation. 

“Christians need to renounce the systems by which their fellow citizens plunder each other, either within or outside the law.  …They should learn to give without receiving anything in return, reversing the process by which society is reducing itself to poverty.  They should be wary of the temptation to have ever more of the world’s goods, for that desire is what takes away personal freedom, delivering people into the clutches of those who want power. …The early Christians were said to have ‘joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property’ (Heb 10:34); but this could only have happened to people who regarded themselves as pilgrims, content with whatever they had, having renounced the quest, on which their neighbors had embarked, for ever more goods to consume.  For them the statement of net worth was valueless in determining human worth.”

If I can add a quick illustration, we’re like that creepy dude in those treasure hunting movies – the foil to the main character who gets way into the cave to see all the jewels and gold.  We, like that guy, cram our pockets full of golden chains, saucers, and coins only to be stabbed for our idiocy by that spear-trap falling from the cave’s ceiling.  If only we could keep our hands off that glittering treasure!

Quotes above taken from Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 311-312.

shane lems

sunnyside wa