Thursday, January 22, 2015

What must I do to be really, really rich?

The scriptures are full of conundrums - those "life riddles" which get us to thinking a little bit, but almost seem "counter-intuitive".  It is this idea of "getting us to thinking" which I believe God might just have in mind, for all action begins in thought and all thought has one of two outcomes - good or bad.  When the thing presented is "counter-intuitive" it can be a little hard to understand.  If you have studied the New Testament, you will likely remember a wealthy Jewish man coming to Jesus one day and asking Jesus what he must do have eternal life.  Jesus responds with somewhat of a conundrum to this young ruler.  He references the goodness of God and tells the young man he must keep God's commandments.  That is all well and good, but the rich young ruler wants to know "which ones" he must obey.  Isn't that just like us?  We hear "keep his commandments" and we want to know where there is "wiggle room"!  So, Jesus lists a few of the "biggies" and the rich young ruler is bolstered in his confidence of entering into eternal life as he proudly announces, "I have kept all of those!"  Then he asks the further question, "What ELSE must I do?"  Uh oh...now he has gone meddling!  To this Jesus replies, "If you want to be perfect, go sell everything you own.  Give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and be my follower." (Matthew 19:16-21)  As you may well expect, the young ruler was a little disheartened by this answer.  If he had just left "well enough" alone, he might have stood a chance!  Yet, in the answer Jesus gave there was a hidden meaning having nothing to do with the wealth we amass, but what the wealth does with our heart. Never forget God's purpose is to redeem our hearts!

Sometimes you can become rich by being generous or poor by being greedy.  Generosity will be rewarded: Give a cup of water, and you will receive a cup of water in return. Charge too much for grain, and you will be cursed; sell it at a fair price, and you will be praised. Try hard to do right, and you will win friends; go looking for trouble, and you will find it. Trust in your wealth, and you will be a failure, but God’s people will prosper like healthy plants. (Proverbs 11:24-28 CEV)

Richness or a state of poverty are really based not on what is in our bank account or what we wear on our backs.  It is based on what is in our hearts.  This is what Jesus wanted the man to really know - the freedom of heart which follows with full abandon.  Too often we have become "followers" of Jesus, only to find we are trying to do so with hearts so full of other stuff we cannot really allow him much room there!  Yes, God is after a generous heart, but generosity is a state of being which stems from a heart that realizes the intensity of God's love first!  I think this is what Jesus had in mind as he revealed this man's heart - he was holding onto what he had amassed (his accomplishments, his position, his power) while Jesus was asking him to accept what all true believers trust in - Jesus' accomplishments, his power, and his position at the right hand of God the Father.

I am not into prosperity teaching, so if you are I might just step on your toes for a moment here.  God never declared we could "name it and claim it" - I don't really see that in scripture.  In the same way, he never really declared we have to be penniless and barren of any "substance" in the realm of material things.  He DID remind us several times about how these things can give us a false sense of security and can become the primary focus in our lives, making very little room for Jesus!  To this end, he reminds us repeatedly these things are not eternal - they don't last past the grave!  They don't pave our way into eternity.  They may make life enjoyable while we are here, but they don't make life any different for us at the foot of the cross!

The scripture is quite clear - you overcome poverty by your generosity; you get consumed into poverty when you hold onto "stuff" too tightly.  Nothing enriches us more than laying down what we have for another - nothing robs us more than to hold on so tightly to what we have that others are denied a blessing.  It is more than our riches in a material sense that God is after here - he is after our very lives.  Richness comes in laying down our own self-directed intention to live by our own measures of goodness and to take up the goodness which only grace can produce.  Poverty comes in denying we need God's "grace riches" to make us truly "wealthy".  

The conundrum is - give to get; lay down to receive; deny to be blessed; leave to follow.  All are polar opposites and all produce the same result - poverty when we hold on or stay behind; riches when we let go and move forward with Jesus.  Just sayin!