Winds of change and winds of the spirit
11/12/10 at 11:32 PM 0 Comments


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There are few things that have greater importance in today’s world than the cost of living, the interest rate, the credit card, the stock exchange, the GDP, or company profits. There are few dreams that loom larger than wealth, prosperity and self advancement. This is the twenty first century where if you don’t have a bank account, an investment, a big income, house, car, computer and future prospects, you are nobody.  How does a Christian live in such a world? How does he follow Jesus Christ when the rest of the world doesn’t?

At one time, many centuries ago, it was a crime to charge interest on money lending. The bible called it usury. {Exodus 22:25} The Koran also forbade usury. There were good reasons for this. To be in the power of a money lender might easily lead to a prison sentence or slavery with no one to redeem the borrower. Jesus was well aware of this and frowned upon merciless lenders who refused to write off bad debts. {Matthew 18:27 NRSV} There were no bankruptcy laws then to cushion the blow of insolvency and avoid the wrath of a money lender.
Today, the banks are the perpetrators of usury, or money lending, on a massive scale. They are the parasites of nations, societies, and the poor around the world. The credit card, the mortgage, and the interest rate, combine to destabilize families and societies, resulting in massive debts and economic instability because, as we have recently seen, greed and covetousness are the root cause of our world economic crisis. Barak Obama, America’s president has been scathing in his attack on greed in American banking and financial institutions, openly acknowledging the moral failure of bank and company directors.

A Christian in today’s world has to make a choice, whether to serve God or mammon. Jesus made this very clear.  ‘No man’ he said, ‘can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ {Matthew 6:24 KJV} But is that not precisely the predicament of living in a money dominated society? We are not just dealing here with an intellectual problem but a very practical crisis. The spirit of our age  is the love of money and as St. Paul, reminds us ‘The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.’ Paul adds, commending Timothy for turning his back on this evil, ‘But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness.’ {1 Timothy 6:10}
How then do we live a Christian life in a materialistic age?
Jesus said, ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’ {Luke 18:24-25 NRSV} There is no mincing of words here. Wanting and having wealth is an unsurpassable obstacle to entering the kingdom of heaven. The rich man’s problem is not his money, investments and profits but his love of these. Love is the most precious attachment and yearning a person can have of another, which is why Jesus said of his disciples, ‘Love one another as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.’ {John 13:34-35 NRSV}  To give our love to a piece of metal, to the power and worldliness that this can buy, is a tragic perversion of love, the finest gift we can give another.

There is no denying that rich people have many advantages in life and why should they not love God and still remain rich? Is not prosperity a blessing? Are not the rich benefactors of many good causes? There was one rich young ruler who  came to Jesus and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’ {Mark 10:17 NRSV} If the young man was looking for some good thing to do to get eternal life, the answer Jesus gave him was disappointing. Only God is good. How then can anyone get eternal life by doing a good deed? Nevertheless, Jesus told him to keep the commandments.
The response of the young man was quick and confident, ‘Teacher I have kept all these since my youth.’ The record says, Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ {Mark 10:21 NRSV} Jesus knew and so did the young man that the commandments gave no assurance of eternal life, otherwise the young man would not be looking for something else. There was something deeper that kept the young man from realising what it was. Jesus warmed to the young man because he was looking for the truth, the right answer to his question. So Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ {Matthew 19:21 NRSV} In this invitation we can see that Jesus is not against money, only too much of it, whether in the value of possessions or money. He told the man to sell his possessions and give the money to those who needed it, the poor. The record says the young man went away grieving for he had many possessions.

Of what good would they be to him if he were to follow Jesus? Jesus and his disciples had no possessions. They had a common purse to buy food and a common purpose to spread the good news throughout town and country. This interview with Jesus was about counting the cost of following Jesus. There is always a cost. And the cost is no less than that which the young man was unwilling to pay. On another occasion when Jesus spoke to the crowd about discipleship, he said, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.’ {Luke 14:26 NRSV} The TLB translation changes the metaphor     of this sentence correctly from ‘hate’ to ‘love.’ It says, ‘Anyone who wants to be my follower must love me far more than he does his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters--yes, more than his own life--otherwise he cannot be my disciple.’ {Luke 14:26 NRSV} Jesus spoke of carrying a cross, the symbol of burden bearing and crucifixion. ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me,’ he says,  ‘cannot be my disciple. {14:27 NRSV}
There is no exception then. Neither the young man nor any man  can love his possessions and follow Jesus. He, or she, must love Jesus more.

What is it about possessions that stop us being disciples of Christ? Why did the rich young ruler falter and turn away from following Jesus? It was the love of money and possessions. It grieved him to part with his ownership of wealth. Is it not ownership of wealth, property and money that distinguishes us from the penniless, the destitute and the poor? To swop places with the poor is what people most fear. They save up, work hard, invest, buy and sell, take out life, accident and property insurance; they do anything to buy and protect themselves from want.
So, examine this in detail, look at it this way or that; do not money and possessions occupy our whole life, what we value most and what we even pride ourselves on? What are possessions but ours? Our car, our house, our bank account, our aim in life, our job, our children, our marriage, our future.
This is why Jesus makes a clean sweep of our possessions. We cannot love our possessions and love God. The reason is perfectly simple. We can own possessions but we cannot own God. God is not a possession. We love God because he first loved us. {1 John 4:19} He is our creator, not we his. God’s providence, even in our fallen sinful state of nature, is generous and ample for all the needs of humanity and if we would love God we must love all that he has created too, so that no child, no mother, no orphan, no homeless person should go hungry or want for clothing or shelter. God gave the world to men in common. How then are we to view money and possessions in God’s world?

The sin in having possessions and wealth is not in their intrinsic value but in the intrinsic value we place on them. Jesus told a story to illustrate the foolishness of a man whose business was prosperous and who had such wealth that he had no immediate use for it. His foolishness is in what he then did. He said, ‘I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'’ {Luke 12:18-19 NRSV} He wouldn’t even trust a banker. He wanted his grain and goods where he could lay hands on them. God said of this man,  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.’ {Luke 12:20-21 NRSV}
The obscene sin of this business man was that he stored his grain and goods up for himself. It is this storing up wealth that is so wrong and foolish. Jesus told his disciples,.  ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ {Matthew 6”19-21 KJV}
It is not hard therefore to see what a Christian, a follower of Christ, wants to do. God does not call many of his disciples to forsake all money and possessions like the rich young ruler. The itinerant life of missionary work is for those Jesus calls to be missionaries. Yet the love of a disciple of Jesus is no different. He is ever willing to follow where Jesus calls him, whether to be a journalist, a teacher, a musician, a doctor, a librarian, a shop assistant, an employer of others, a business man, an inventor.....whatever he is, he is first an foremost a disciple of Jesus. If he is successful in business he does not store up the profits for himself but uses them to improve the health and happiness of the poor, the disadvantaged or to employ more workers. His first love is to his Lord who said, ‘Sell what you have and give to the poor,’ in other words what you don’t really need for yourself or your family, give away. ‘Sell what you have and give to those in need. This will fatten your purses in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no rips or holes in them.’ {Luke 12:33 TLB}
One Jewish employer I worked for discovered that I was in need of money to pay for a college education. He called me into his office and asked me why I wanted to leave his company. I told him I needed  a higher wage. I was getting $5 a week as a trainee garment maker. He increased my weekly earnings to $18. His only condition was that I did not mention this to anyone else.
I knew an old lady in New Zealand. She corresponded with me for years. I happened to mention to her that I had a young friend in Lesotho, in Africa, a student minister who was touring many villages to bring people together in Christian communities. He badly needed a motor bike to cover the distances he made each day. She said she would like to help him and after determining what type of motor bike he needed, bought one and shipped it to him. He praised God for his goodness and thanked the lady for her kindness. But that was not all. She bought an air ticket and flew to Africa and met the student minister. He was engaged to be. She paid for his wedding and built him a house to live in.
The young man is still serving his Lord over thirty years later.         There is no limit to love. If we love Jesus more than all else we will love one another as he loved us. ‘The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.’ {Psalm 24:1NRSV} We all belong to God and all we have belongs to him, also. Not only our wealth but our talents and time belongs to him, too.
To divest ourselves of excessive possessions, wants and fears, live a simple, prayerful life of faith in Jesus, learn from him how to live, listen to the Spirit’s guidance and teaching, for this is holiness and truth. Consider and count the cost of following Jesus. Lay your whole life at his feet, hold nothing back and he will bless you and fill you with joy, peace and eternal life. It is a question really of repentance and faith. Turn away from a money dominated life and truth in God to provide for all your needs and seek the kingdom of heaven. {Matthew 6:33 KJV}

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