[Hat Tip: ONE Moms]
[Hat Tip: ONE Moms]
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
GEORGE ORWELL, “Politics and the English Language” (1946)
(HT: Advice To Writers.)
Below is chapter 4 of my book, The Generous Soul, available for your reading. The standard restrictions (do not copy, do not print) still apply. You many quote for sermons, teaching and the like.
the missiology of missional giving
does God have a plan for my stuff?
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To whom be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:36 (NKJV)
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”
Luke 16:10, 11 (NIV)
“All too often, I fear, we are bad givers. If I am only a receiver and not also a giver, I am unworthy of the God who sent me. The divine principle is not ‘Save and you shall grow rich.’ It is ‘Give and it shall be given unto you.’”
A Table in the Wilderness69
“Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging things to grow.”
Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand)
“Do not value money for any more nor any less than its worth; it is a good servant but a bad master.”
“’What then should we do?’ the crowds were asking [John].
He replied to them, ‘The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.’”
Luke 3:10, 11 (HCSB)
It is difficult for a follower of Christ not to be moved by a missionary story. From the earliest moments of salvation, it seems stories are relayed about the faithful lives and sometimes deaths of those intrepid servants of God who left most—if not all—in pursuit of souls. David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Stan Dale, Phil Masters, Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, John Paton, Mary Slessor, and countless others have inspired believers for centuries. What believer, having heard the story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, Elizabeth Elliot, Rachel Saint and, now, Steve Saint, has not marveled at the grace and wisdom of God among the Huaorani people and been challenged in his or her own spiritual journey.70
Meeting with missionaries on their field of service is always a humbling experience. Crowded around a kitchen table or crammed three-people-too-many into a small car, listening to the stories of call, training, and experiences are enough to warm any cold heart. Some of the richest “God moments” of my entire life have taken place in these kinds of situations. I think the lack of these times constitutes a hole in the spiritual development of many believers.
On the move
The gospel of Matthew contains what is generally referenced as “The Great Commission,” those words of Jesus preparing His disciples for their mission, which soon would become a reality.71 In Acts 1:8, Jesus informed the disciples that they would be witnesses to Him (meaning His life, death, and resurrection), beginning where they lived and continuing across the entire world. Over time, this is exactly what happened. In fact, two millennia later, you and I came to faith in Christ as a result of their initial obedience.
As long as those early followers were in predominantly Jewish areas, they were able to tell the story of Jesus among Jewish people using Jewish history and Jewish ideals, hopes and expectations, explaining that Jesus the Jewish rabbi was Jesus Christ the world’s Messiah. As they moved out farther into the Roman Empire, where cultures began to be mixed or distinctly different, it was common to utilize some of those particular cultural forms to share the gospel. They did not change the message, but they did use word pictures and ideas familiar to their audience so the truth was communicated. These—Paul, Barnabas, Mark, Silas—are thought of as some of the first Christian missionaries.
Over time, the idea has taken hold that only those fitting this kind of criteria are missionaries. It will be helpful to determine whether this idea fully squares with Scripture.
On the move
The scriptural record seems clear that all followers of Christ are missionaries no matter their country, culture, or context. God is a sending God and we are a sent people. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”72 Like John the Baptist we are sent “from God.”73 We may not be sent from heaven, but we are definitely sent by heaven. We may not be sent across a culture, but we are definitely sent into a culture. Our town is a culture, our schools have cultures, our neighborhoods have cultures, our activities—golfing, cycling, running, scrapbooking—can each have a culture of its own (often called a subculture). The culture where we live and/or spend significant portions of our time is often termed our “host culture.”74
Virtually all of us reside in a host culture that is ignorant of, indifferent about, or hostile toward the gospel. As missionaries, our role is to understand the culture and attempt to enter it in every way we can, so the gospel may be introduced in a way that is both comprehensible and convicting. The goal is not to make the gospel palatable, but understandable; not to cover it, thus producing questionable conversions, but to unveil it, thus producing authentic ones.
Missional believers do not wait to be sent by a church or mission board into a foreign land, but recognize they are already sent from heaven to earth as Christ’s messengers wherever they live, work, study, and play. Missional believers receive the call to participate in God’s mission when answering the call to enter God’s kingdom. All believers are missionaries to somebody, somewhere.
That includes us.
The world is not our home
Despite that call, observers of Western religious culture, perhaps especially American evangelicalism, would be hard pressed to believe that we view finances in the same way the average missionary is expected to do. Missionaries routinely sell their houses, cars, and furniture, fly far from home and live in a modest dwelling among the people they wish to impact for Christ. They drive a modest vehicle (often just one, sometimes provided by a mission board sometimes not), wear clothes appropriate to their new home and, generally, have enough money to live. Often their money is spent in ministry, especially if living in a less than affluent area. Though some missionaries engage in business, more often than not it is for the purpose of building relationships and may or may not be a profit-making venture. They typically view everything about their assignment as directly related to God’s kingdom.
The contrast with American Christians could hardly be more stark. Most of us are multiple car families, have more house than we need, more stuff than we can use, make wasteful purchases without a second thought (much less prayer), and give 2.8 percent of our income to “charity,” many of which have nothing to do with Kingdom purposes. Some Christians spend hundreds or thousands of dollars a year to enroll their kids in every manner of activity, far outpacing the amount given so the gospel can be taken to those who have never heard. Because we have so long believed that missionaries are “those super spiritual people who get sent to live with cannibals,” and have failed to understand our own calling, it has been easy to excuse our lifestyles that might otherwise have been called exorbitant, wasteful, or excessive. When each believer begins to live as a sent messenger, a missionary on assignment, an ambassador in a foreign land, we can begin to more biblically evaluate our money and possessions.
Dr. Jerry Rankin is the president-emeritus of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. In his book, Spiritual Warfare: The Battle for God’s Glory, he recounts two instances in which missionaries struggled with money or possessions. Of one, he writes: “A missionary, serving in a high-cost economy, resigned, explaining he could not possibly live on the support being provided…As an illustration of how they could not make it on their missionary salary, he pointed out that it cost his family $57 to eat out at McDonald’s each week.”75 Another missionary struggled with the idea of moving to an area with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Rankin records, “A lady stood up in our meeting and spoke with emotion. With tears she said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to move to the villages and kampungs (neighborhood ghettos) if we’re going to be used of God. We can’t isolate ourselves and continue the way we’ve been living.’ Then she blurted out between her sobs, ‘But I can’t give up my refrigerator!’”76
In our mind these stories might sound extreme. “How could a missionary be so concerned about this kind of thing? Are they not living in poor areas? Are they not expected to make sacrifices?” We might even laugh sympathetically at the lady’s desire to have a refrigerator while we are grabbing a drink from our side-by-side LG with water and ice dispensers and, maybe, a built-in TV or computer screen. Are we guilty of judging in the midst of indulgence? James indicted his first century audience over this very issue, “You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (5:5; NASB).
Country, culture, context
The point we may miss is that each follower of Christ is a missionary in our country, our culture, and our context. There is not a single follower of Christ who is not called and sent. Should we judge that a missionary is not sufficiently in love with Christ when we do not give a second thought to vastly more wasteful expenditures than wanting to eat at McDonald’s once a week? To tell some American Christians that they could only eat out once a week would be akin to putting them on the fast track to starvation since so many meals are eaten at restaurants. Years ago a young lady named Kirsten at the church where I was on staff had just returned from Papua New Guinea, or “PNG” as she called it. After two years of teaching children in the Wycliffe Bible Translators missionary school, she was sitting across my office and had this to say as she slowly shook her head, “I cannot believe how much money Americans spend going out to eat. If they only knew how much Kingdom work could be funded by that money.”
A former pastor of mine, who answered the call to ministry after being married (and having three children), moved to Louisiana to attend seminary. His wife drove a school bus during their seminary years and he pastored a church (part-time) many miles from where they lived. I recall him telling many times that they would scrape and save every penny and nickel they could, putting the money in a jar. Then, once at year they would attire themselves, he in his best suit and she in her best dress, and go out to eat…at McDonald’s.
Compare that with the attitude of the missionaries who felt somehow slighted because they could not eat out once a week. Now think about how much money Americans spend eating out; not out of necessity as when traveling away from home, but out of convenience. Some Christian businessmen eat breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner at restaurants. Some pastors eat breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner out at an exorbitant running cost.
The question for us should not be, “Can we not have what we like?” but “Can we not live with what we must and use the rest for the Kingdom?” The scripture says, “To whom much is given much is required,”77 not “To whom much is given much is allowed.” There seems to be no end to how much we can spend on things that bring us pleasure, while specifically ignoring the things that bring God pleasure. This is the result of materialism.
Remember the statistics from the introduction? Remember how much money is spent on pet stuff every year? Remember how much it costs to help all those male animals have better self-esteem through fake “parts”? Did you know that people in the United States and the European Union spend more than thirteen billion U.S. dollars annually on perfume and cologne?78 Imagine how many children could be supported through Compassion International at thirty-four dollars a month with that surplus of redirected cash. (Save your imagination—it is 31,862,745 children.)
Scripture is not silent as to how we understand this earthly life: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”79 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.”80 “We are ambassadors for Christ.”81 “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”82 Our problem is not that we have no access to the truth; the problem is that we have carefully censored the parts that make us uncomfortable. We are practicing revisionist missiology.
The worst-case scenario?
Actually, the problem may be worse than that. The worst-case scenario is that we have actually folded materialism into our worldview and are now unable to recognize it as such. Americans, for instance, have instilled within us from our earliest years that this is the “land of opportunity” where “each generation has done better than the one before it.” Done better how? Morally? Philosophically? Spiritually? No, financially. Each generation has accumulated more stuff than the one preceding. This is expected; it is part of what it means to be an American. In fact, when the recent “Great Recession” wiped out so much paper and real estate wealth, the lament became that the next generation would be the first in our history not to have more than their parents.
The combination of the American Dream, the lack of understanding about each believer being a missionary, and the reality of God’s universal ownership has birthed a generation of American believers who are blinded to their own materialistic worship. There is a very simple test that will demonstrate the kingdom to which we are aligned; ask yourself this: When is the last time I had to forgo the purchase of anything at all, delay or cancel a vacation or cancel entertainment plans because my giving to the kingdom of God would not allow it? The simple, but disheartening fact is that too often the opposite is true: we have often missed God-given opportunities due to our base worship of things. Before he reached the peak of his wealth, Andrew Carnegie wrote, “Man must have an idol—the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry—no idol is more debasing than the worship of money.”83
How our position as missionary relates to our use of possessions is only one side of the coin. The other side is that we are managers of portions of God’s wealth as He distributes it.
A familiar tale
Years ago there lived a wealthy landowner who had an estate with numerous servants. Each of these servants had varying degrees of responsibility, which they performed for him at his command.
One day, the landowner’s business carried him away for an extended period of time. He called some of his servants together for the purpose of giving them management responsibilities over certain segments of his possessions. To one of them he entrusted fifty thousand dollars, to another twenty thousand dollars, and to another ten thousand dollars; the decisions were made based on the management abilities that each had already demonstrated.
When the rich man left, the first two servants went to work in short order investing the money left in their care. Each was able to double the amount, the first to $100k, and the second to $40k. The third servant, however, took a different approach. He took the $10k entrusted to him, built a waterproof box, found a place on the back side of the property, dug a hole, and buried the box and money in the hole.
When the owner returned, he called the three servants, expecting an accounting for the money he had given. When the first two gave their reports, the owner was ecstatic. “Here,” he said to the first, “you’ve done well. Now, experience my joy by taking authority over these ten cities!” The second servant received a similar commendation receiving responsibility over five cities.
The third servant then stood before the master who demanded to hear a report. “It’s like this,” the servant began, “when you gave me the money, I knew that you were a very forceful man, an austere boss. To tell you the truth, I was kind of afraid of what you would do if I didn’t meet your expectations.” Noticing the narrowing eyes of the master, the servant continued, stammering, “So, I t-took the entire $10k and b-buried it on the back of your property. Here it is, every p-penny!”
The master was visibly angry as he closed the short distance between he and the third servant until the faltering man had no personal space remaining at all. Almost nose-to-nose he finally spoke, “You are not just a foolish servant, you are a wicked man! You say that you knew I was a powerful, that I reap harvests that I had not sown. If you really believe that, the least you should have done was to have put the money in a CD at the bank and let it earn some interest! Do you not realize that inflation has actually made the money worth less than its value when I gave it to you?”
The master then stepped back a pace and yelled to some other servants standing by, “Take the box of money, open it and give it to the most successful servant. At least he knows how to properly invest my money. After you have done that, take this loser and throw him off my property forever. I don’t care what happens to him, just get him away from me.”84
Those familiar with the New Testament may have noticed similarities to the parable of the talents taught by Jesus Christ. Despite the belief of some, this parable has nothing to do with abilities like playing piano, solving math problems, or hitting a baseball. The parable very specifically states the servants are managers of property and money. They are also judged by what kind of managers they each turn out to be. Two were well rewarded while one was judged and destroyed. This parable provides a great New Testament insight as to what God expects from His servants in relationship to what He owns.
The coming opportunity
This parable was given not long before Jesus was to return to the Father. His disciples would soon be given responsibilities they had only partially experienced while walking with Him. The unequivocal expectation God had for them was for faithful management; that expectation applies to us today. Everything we oversee by way of money and possessions is a test of faithfulness for us.85 This faithfulness was (and is) to be exemplified by managing the investment opportunity in the way that the owner would were He here. How we manage God’s possessions is a matter of faithfulness; how we give them is a matter of love.
Speaking of his denomination, a friend of mine likes to say, “There is only one pot of money and it’s in the pockets of the people in the pews.” It may sound simple, but that is true. It may come as a shock, but God has no bank account in your town. He has left a certain amount of wealth under the control of His children and that wealth is in bank accounts, stock accounts, safety deposit boxes, mattresses, Mason jars, goat pens, cow herds, and the hulls of ships worldwide. God’s wealth resides in gold Maple Leafs, American Eagles, and Krugerrands; in silver and platinum bars, in collectible figurines, ’65 Corvettes, pictures autographed by Jerry Garcia, and guitars that once belonged to Eric Clapton. He has wealth scattered everywhere under management of different people with different abilities. To those who have little, He expects faithfulness with little; from those who have much, He expects faithfulness with much. But do not be deceived; God expects faithfulness. As the Corinthians were reminded, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”86 Alfred Edersheim, who was a scholar of 1st century Jewish culture, believed such mismanagement resulted from irresponsibility and a lack of effort. Writing of the wicked servant referenced above, he states, “The prominent fact here is, that he did not employ [the money] for the Master, as a good servant, but shunned alike the labor and the responsibility, and acted as if it has been some stranger’s, and not his Lord’s property.”87
“Our” possessions are as much God’s as if His name was on every deed and every single piece of ownership paperwork. “Our” money is also just as much at His disposal as if He had a debit card to our account and His name was on every check. Imagine checking your account online one morning to see that God had used His debit card to take three hungry people to IHOP the night before. What would you say? Would you complain about how God spent His money? Think it over: are we careful to spend our money the same way that God would? Spending the money God has entrusted to our management, without His involvement, is no different than embezzlement.
The authors of A is for Abductive issue this challenge:
It is also time for the church to ask its members some probing economic identity questions: Are you consumers? Are you citizens? Are you Christians?
If you are the first, your economics revolves around the question, Is this the best deal for me? If you are the second, your economics revolves around the question, Is this best for the nation? If you are the third, your economics revolves around a very different question, Is Christ calling me to do this?88
It will help us more easily accept our calling as missionary and our role as manager if we truly believe that God owns and sustains everything. It will also help to remember that God has taken upon Himself the responsibility to take care of His children. He has promised to provide for our needs; we are about to see that we can take Him at His word.
Social media online influencing tool, Klout, has just released their first ever app for iPhone. Appropriately enough it is called “Klout for iPhone” and is now available in the app store.
It has a clean interface and limited functionality. You can check you score and that of your influencers. You can also share on Twitter when given a +K and view the profile of the giver. At this point, perks cannot be seen or explored nor can your score analysis be viewed.
Notifications include: score changes and +Ks. Your Klout score can be set appear as a badge on the icon. Overall this is a decent, basic 1.0 style app. It is not a full replica of the Klout website.
For more info on Klout check out the article in this month’s Wired, “What your Klout score really means”.
For the ability to track multiple Klout scores on the same screen, I suggest the app “KloutScore” developed by @jaminguy.
Worried that your cubicle neighbor is furiously underlining The Anarchist Cookbook each morning during coffee break?
Not sure that throwing your desk chair would be sufficient to repel approaching hoards?
Popular physics lecturer and author, Brian Greene, talks about the possibility of multiverse existence at TED. From TED:
Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, has focused on unified theories for more than 25 years, and has written several best-selling and non-technical books on the subject including The Elegant Universe, a Pulitzer finalist, and The Fabric of the Cosmos—each of which has been adapted into a NOVA mini-series. His latest book, The Hidden Reality, explores the possibility that our universe is not the only universe.
Greene believes science must be brought to general audiences in new and compelling ways, such as his live stage odyssey, Icarus at the Edge of Time, with original orchestral score by Philip Glass, and the annual World Science Festival, which he co-founded in 2008 with journalist Tracy Day.
Greene has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996. He has worked on mirror symmetry, relating two different Calabi-Yau manifolds (concretely, relating the conifold to one of its orbifolds). He also described the flop transition, a mild form of topology change, showing that topology in string theory can change at the conifold point. (Yeah, I don’t have the faintest clue what any of that is either.)
You can order Greene’s books and DVD below the video.
If the laws were suddenly changed to restrict break up songs from all artistic expression, a void would be left in popular music that might never be filled. From the old saw about country music (“What do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your wife back, you get your car back, you get your dog back…”) to the ultimate girl-power breakup song (and a true classic), I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, people have expressed thoughts and emotions through song as long as people have been writing music. Such songs speak for us of mutual, hurtful experiences.
Last year a Belgian-born, Australian-raised artist, Wouter “Wally” De Backer, who goes by the name, Gotye (GO-tee-ay, not “Goatee, eh?”) exploded onto the world music scene with the breakup song, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” from his project Making Mirrors. Featuring New Zealand-born Kimbra (Johnson), the song alternates a guy and girl talking through their feelings of a relationship that ended badly. The single has gone 8x-Platinum in Australia (more than 560,000 copies). By mid-April 2012, it had reached #1 on the music charts in 18 countries, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Denmark, and the USA.
As of this writing, the official video for the song has been viewed on YouTube more than 171.6 million times, while a brilliant cover of the song by the American group Walk Off the Earth has garnered more than 93 million views.
This is a song I love because the music is subtle and accurately expressive of the moods in the lyrics, but also because the lyrics are as meaty as a grilled New York Strip, seasoned to perfection.
It should come as no surprise to people who watch relationships that men and women do not communicate on the same level. Men typically grunt and talk in sports metaphors about most everything, except a few Bible scholar types who think all worthy things end in “-ology.” (One may surmise “urology” is excepted from that rule.) Women, however, tend to communicate thoughtfully and emotionally, at more levels than most men know exist. We are different, these wonderful genders. Yet, it often means men are often at a loss when trying to communicate with women, even those we love.
What man who has ever been in a relationship of any length at all has not found himself, on occasion after occasion, standing, with hands spread apart at the waist, completely dumbfounded staring at his eyes-narrowed significant-other, while he retains the ability to utter the single syllable, “What?”
When it comes to inter-gender communication, we men function better with a little more grunting and a little less poly-syllabic, thousand word orations. But, that’s where we find ourselves.
Enter Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Below are the lyrics and a humorous but realistic exegesis of how accurately it captures the sometimes futile attempts of male/female communication, especially when strong emotions are involved. Breakup songs never had it so good.
Now and then I think of when we were together
The guy begins with his best shot, bringing up his feelings. “I’m still thinking of you.” But it’s really a slam because he only thinks of her “now and then.”
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
But, now he throws her words back in her face. He doesn’t remember he cannot win a war of words.
Told myself that you were right for me
See? I really liked you. You might even have been the one!
But felt so lonely in your company
Another shot to hurt her. Dummy.
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember
This guy’s been reading bad poetry or something. A feeble attempt to express his feelings. The “ache” is obviously her fault.
You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Well, maybe I wasn’t that happy. I was kind of happy sad being with you.
Like resignation to the end, always the end
“I was just resigned to this.” Wow. “The end” is her fault.
So when we found that we could not make sense
“We” means “you.” He’s not taking any blame.
Well you said that we would still be friends
The all-time breakup line.
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over
Typical guy talk when emotions are involved. He’s hurt, so he lashes out to hurt her, “I was glad it was over.” He wasn’t of course, that’s why he continues with…
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
Right. This comment is that of a 5-year old.
But you treat me like a stranger and I feel so rough
Now his hurt is on full display, but it continues to be about him. “I don’t even need your love…I feel so rough.” Make up your mind, dude. If he doesn’t “need her love,” why does he care if she treats him “like a stranger”?
No you didn’t have to stoop so low
“So low”? This one’s coming back around soon…
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
Seriously? What was she supposed to do with her things, wait for you to put them on Ebay?
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
This has been his ace in the hole all along. This is the dagger he’s waited to plunge into her heart. “You are nobody to me. Just somebody that I used to know.”
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
Oh. There’s another side to this story? Who’s the one that stooped so low?
Part of me believing it was always something that I’d done
And guess why she felt this way? That’s right. These were his accusations against her pre-song, “You make me crazy!” “I only do this because of you!” “This is your fault!” All the shouts of a weak, weak man.
But I don’t wanna live that way
Who would? His accusations led to her guilt.
Reading into every word you say
Because women communicate at a deeper level, she decides to protect herself from his Neanderthal ramblings. She shields herself from further hurt.
You said that you could let it go
Now she throws his words back at him. “If you could let it go, why are you still accusing and blaming?”
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
This is her moment of truth. She turns his dagger against him and fully disembowels him with it.
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and I feel so rough
And you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Though this is the chorus of the song, it’s also typical of men. We can be a one argument gender, and because we don’t readily translate female communication it becomes a repetition of the same thing over and over. It’s usually louder and louder, too, like a tourist trying to make a non-English speaker understand, “WHERE IS THE BATHROOM?” by increased volume.
(I used to know)
(Now you’re just somebody that I used to know)
(I used to know)
(That I used to know)
(I used to know)
Read part one of this series, Christians, race, and the U.S. legal system.
Recent years have given rise to what John W. Whitehead and others refer to as the “Prison Industrial Complex.” The Prison Industrial Complex, comprised of companies like the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, are for-profit corporations making money for shareholders by building, owning and operating prisons. Whereas state and federal jails and prisons are maintained by federal or state employees, the prison industrial complex operates for profit like McDonald’s or Burger King. Custody of prisoners transforms taxpayer dollars into corporate profits.
Continue reading →
[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ustice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Isaiah 59:14 (ESV)
Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars. Psalm 43:1 (NLT)
But let justice flow like water, and righteousness, like an unfailing stream. Amos 5:24 (HCSB)
The subject of justice has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in the Christian community of late. I think this is rightfully so. For so long, filled with the hope of Christ’s immediate return, we tended to ignore our neighbors asleep on the sidewalk heating grate in favor of watching the next installment of A Thief in the Night. Those who gave compassion to the poor–and demanded the same from others–were often derided as “liberal” or promoting a works based salvation in which societal reform is the gospel. We rejoiced that Jesus was with the two or three of us gathered in His name, but seemed to forget He also promised to meet us in prison or when He was naked as long as we ministered to Him in those cases. Forming a holy huddle of prayer after Sunday night church is one thing; taking the stranger Jesus into our home is quite another (Matthew 7:34-46).
Owing much to the heartbeat of young believers who have proclaimed that being the light of the world means actually being in the world in order to light it, there has been a renewal of interest in stopping injustice wherever it occurs. It is now easier to convince believers who were formerly on the sidelines to stand against sex traffickers, corporate exploitation of third world workers, government undercutting of a national economy (suffered by Haiti, for instance), or to become involved in adoption movements. Injustice now arouses our anger. Even when we do not know exactly how to act we are, at least, moved viscerally to pray. We are concerned, and we often express it online, on the phone or in person.
Despite the advances recently made one area where issues of justice have a hard time building a fan base concerns the injustice of the American “justice” system. Remembering Romans 13 many of us were taught to be strong supporters of our government. Thus, excepting overtly anti-biblical atrocities like abortion-on-demand, we are far too hesitant to critique the state. (That hesitancy is quickly cast aside, it seems, if the party opposing our cherished beliefs controls the Congress or the White House. In such cases critique is all some Christians know.)
As it now stands in the United States, the most consistent, the most embedded, the most troublesome injustice is our justice system. It has become a perpetual motion machine of search, arrest, cajole, convict, and imprison. Adam Gopnik, in The Caging of America, writes:
Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States. Emphasis in original.
Mass incarceration resulting from perverted justice, like the flu, is not epidemic or even pandemic; it’s endemic. It is just the way of things.
In her troubling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander writes,
In two short decades, between 1980 and 2000, the number of people incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails soared from roughly 300,000 to more than 2 million. By the end of 2007, more than 7 million Americans–or one in every 31 adults–were behind bars, on probation, or on parole. (pg. 60)
Constitutional attorney, John W. Whitehead, wrote in a recent commentary:
Consider this: despite the fact that violent crime in America has been on the decline, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. Approximately 13 million people are introduced to American jails in any given year. Incredibly, more than six million people are under “correctional supervision” in America, meaning that one in fifty Americans are working their way through the prison system, either as inmates, or while on parole or probation. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of those being held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses—namely, marijuana. Presently, one out of every 100 Americans is serving time behind bars.
In a July 2009 article for The Howard Journal Professor of Criminology David Wilson noted regarding Charles Dickens’ 1842 visit to America:
For Dickens, America would stand or fall by how it treated those whom it imprisoned.
And, it should be observed, how we treat those we imprison starts with the lengths we are willing to go to incarcerate people in the first place. Since the 1970’s that length has been increasing like taffy on a hot summer day. This is especially true when the incarceration of African-Americans is concerned.
Glenn C. Loury addresses this in his book, Race, Incarceration and American Values:
Between 1980 and 1997 the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses tripled, and the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses increased by a factor of eleven. Indeed, the criminal-justice researcher Alfred Blumstein has argued that none of the growth in incarceration between 1980 and 1996 can be attributed to more crime…As of 2000, thirty-three states had abolished limited parole (up from seventeen in 1980), twenty-four states had introduced three strikes laws (up from zero), and forty states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from three). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990’s as crime rates fell. (p. 8, 9, Emphasis added.)
(The role of increased laws, eviscerating the 4th amendment, and the rise of the Prison Industrial Complex will be explored in Part 2 of this series.)
Racial bias in the legal system is pervasive, from arrest to execution. A June 2011 opinion piece in the Palm Beach Post stated:
In 2008, four out of five arrests were for mere possession of drugs, one-half of those for marijuana. Due to selective enforcement, those imprisoned are primarily minorities.
While there is no evidence to support that African-Americans use drugs at a higher rate than white Americans, and although they make up only 12.6 percent of the general population, African-Americans account for 37 percent of total drug arrests annually and 56 percent of incarcerations. As Georgetown University law Professor David Cole put it, were whites being arrested at the same rate as blacks, “We would almost certainly see this as an urgent national calamity, and demand a collective investment of public resources to forestall so many going to prison.” (Emphasis added.)
Regardless of one’s position on the War on Drugs, it exists and there are laws driving it. However, it is unjust to search, arrest, prosecute and imprison members of one race to a greater degree when the evidence suggests equal violations across races.
A January 2005 paper entitled Racial Disparity in Sentencing: A Review of the Literature by Tushar Kansal of The Sentencing Project, found:
–Young, black and Latino males (especially if unemployed) are subject to particularly harsh sentencing compared to other offender populations;
–Black and Latino defendants are disadvantaged compared to whites with regard to legal-process related factors such as the “trial penalty,” sentence reductions for substantial assistance, criminal history, pretrial detention, and type of attorney;
–Black defendants convicted of harming white victims suffer harsher penalties than blacks who commit crimes against other blacks or white defendants who harm whites;
–Black and Latino defendants tend to be sentenced more severely than comparably situated white defendants for less serious crimes, especially drug and property crimes.
Studies that examine death-penalty cases have generally found that:
–In the vast majority of cases, if the murder victim is white, the defendant is more likely to receive a death sentence;
–In a few jurisdictions, notably the federal system, minority defendants (especially blacks) are more likely to receive a death sentence. (p. 2, 3, Emphasis added.)
An Amnesty International USA report, based on a 1990 U.S. General Accounting Office study
found a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty. The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.
If research at the federal level demonstrates anything it is that white lives are more valuable than those of African-Americans. This is racism by definition.
Christians in the United States simply cannot claim to hate racism while supporting an unjust legal system that exercises racial oppression by its selective prosecution of the law.
Below you will find chapter three of my book The Generous Soul. It is free for you to read or reference in teaching, but not to print or download in any format. Note that footnote references appear as full sized numerals in the text rather than superscripts. If you are behind in getting started, you can read the introduction here, chapter 1 here and chapter 2 here.
the ghost of mammon present
“If you was to make a real strike, you couldn’t be dragged away. Not even the threat of miserable death would keep you from trying to add ten thousand more. Ten you’d want to get twenty-five, twenty-five you’d want to get fifty, fifty a hundred. Like roulette. One more turn, you know. Always one more.”
Howard (Walter Huston)
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
“There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get at it except for me!”
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)
There Will Be Blood
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
1 John 5:21 (NKJV)
Scrooge had had a loooooong night. What he surmised would be another cold winter evening alone by the fire was interrupted by the chained, head-wrapped ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Lest Scrooge feel relieved too quickly in hoping for the departure of Marley’s ghost, the specter promised that Scrooge would have an entire night of interruptions. Three more spirits would visit Scrooge, replaying his past, reiterating his present, and revealing his future.
With increasing futility, the tight-walleted financier made excuses for his greed and covetousness. Finally, with morning about to dawn, Scrooge was led by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to a place most repugnant. Dickens describes the scene: “[Scrooge] recognised its situation, and its bad repute. The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slip-shod, ugly. Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth and misery.”39
Disgustedly Scrooge watched as the thieves, beggars and broken bartered the goods they secured during the day’s scrounging. To his horror he saw some of the goods were from his own home, taken after his death. Buttons, a watch and bed-curtains contributed to the chattle of this bizarre bazaar as the traders joked ruthlessly at the expense of Scrooge’s reputation. Or perhaps because of it. He finally demanded of the Spirit to see tenderness, to see depth of feeling rather than the callous display of worldliness he had been forced to witness. The best the phantom could do, though, was to take Scrooge to a couple rejoicing because the miser no longer held their debt. They reckon “it would be bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep tonight with light hearts!”40
In the rare times when we do evaluate ourselves, we too easily assign covetousness to those like Scrooge, the notorious miser Hetty Green,41 or others we feel are doing a better than exceptional job of misdirecting their treasures. Carefully we categorize our needs as genuine, our wants as necessities and draw ambiguously blurred lines between the excesses of covetousness and what we must have in order to live; that is, our genuine needs. Without warning our wants morph into perceived needs with a 1080p, flatscreen TV suddenly sharing equal billing with groceries for the family. It is with good reason that Tim Keller lists money as one of our counterfeit gods. Keller writes, “Innumerable writers and thinkers have been pointing out ‘the culture of greed’ that has been eating away at our souls and has brought about economic collapse. Yet no one thinks that change is around the corner. Why? It’s because greed and avarice are especially hard to see in ourselves.”42 “Satan well knows that, generally speaking, to try to ensnare real Christians through things that are positively sinful is vain and futile,” wrote the Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee.43 Craig Groeschel agrees, “Trusting in money generally sneaks up on us.”44
Perhaps because of the insidious nature of covetousness God chose to include it in the Ten Commandments; we need to be on constant guard. Groeschel also calls money our “functional savior.”45 A functional savior is the one we turn to in times of need and our material possessions easily fill in the “need gap.” We need an eternal savior when we stand before the judgment so we claim Christ, but, in our daily lives we too often turn to that which is more tangible: possessions.
It is not, however, mere instructions about how to balance a budget or make investments that are foundational in our relationship to possessions. If possessions (wealth, mammon) can actually be a master in our lives, then we are dealing with emotional and spiritual submission toward a false god, not simply bad investment advice or choices between which car to buy. Like any false god, possessions cannot hear, speak, give life direction, or help us. They are deaf, dumb and blind, as are those who are submitted to them.46 While more fashionable than worshiping Baal or Amimitl, the worship of mammon is the same foolish dead end.
Idolatry? In the twenty-first century?
Paul warned the Colossians that covetousness was the same as idolatry,47 but this is rarely how Christians think about it today. Like Pavlov’s pooches we drool on command over every electronics sale paper, new car advertisement, or 30 percent off coupon at the local clothing store, but we rarely think of it as idolatry. This is a heinous error since covetousness—greed, unbridled desire—is the same as idol worship. Keyes notes, “An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God.” These are the very idols about which Jeremiah warned, “For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good” (Jer. 10:3-5; NIV).
Wait…idolatry? For real? Yes, as John R.W. Stott concludes, “Anybody who divides his allegiance between God and mammon has already given it to mammon, since God can be served only with an entire and exclusive devotion…To try to share him with other loyalties is to have opted for idolatry.”48 The modern equivalent to the god mammon about which Jesus warned is materialism. The Encarta World English Dictionary defines it as “devotion to material wealth and possessions at the expense of spiritual or intellectual values.”49 Note carefully the use of the word devotion; it is an emotional connection made with things. An atheist might define materialism as “the idea that everything is either made only of matter or is ultimately dependent upon matter for its existence and nature.”50 It can be thought of as the religion of those who reject belief in God; it is closely related to naturalism, “a system of thought that rejects all spiritual and supernatural explanations of the world and holds that science is the sole basis of what can be known.”51 It should be easy to see why Jesus made such a clear distinction: the worship of things equals the abandonment of the true God for idols.
There goes the neighborhood
Imagine that you arrive home one night just after dark to a roaring fire in the backyard of your next-door neighbor, who himself is stripped naked with skin glistening in mud and blood smeared from head to toe. Moments later his similarly adorned wife emerges from their home with a sharpened chef’s knife and their two-month-old child. With the blood draining from your own head, you watch as their child is murdered, then offered in the flames to the pagan god Molech. The virtual certainty that we will never witness this kind of scenario helps us form a barrier as to the true nature of idolatry, even as the love of money and possessions form an idolatry that differs in style but not in substance.
When Paul warned those early believers of the idolatrous nature of covetousness, i.e., greed, he was not merely practicing the rhetorical flourishes of a former Pharisee trying not to lose his touch. He was speaking in a culture still fully aware of the nature of false gods, from images of rock and stone to the emperor of Rome. Every Christian anywhere in the Roman Empire was exposed to and familiar with idolatry. Though twenty-first century Americans are, by way of the calendar, far removed from the Roman Empire, our idolatry is just as real. We are kissing cousins even if we will not admit it. Harold O.J. Brown warns of our materialistic bent, proposing that we have become a “sensate culture,” that is, a culture that “is interested only in those things, usually material in nature, that appeal to or affect the senses. It seeks the imposing, the impressive, the voluptuous; it encourages self-indulgence.”52 He continues, “No apology is made for encouraging people to squander their resources on self-indulgence. Let us ‘eat, drink and be merry,’ forgetting that ‘tomorrow we die.’ Sensate culture…[goes] beyond simple materialism in that materialism merely defines matter as the only reality; the sensate mentality becomes enthusiastic about it.”53 The Corinthians were told that the Epicurean philosophy of “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” was accurate only if there is no resurrection (1 Cor. 15:32). Theologian Wayne Grudem agrees: “The fact that creation is distinct from God yet always dependent on God, that God is far above creation yet always involved in it…[is] clearly distinct from materialism, which is the most common philosophy of unbelievers today, and which denies the existence of God altogether.”54 Where there is no God, everything becomes god.55
Too much junk in the trunk
If the way that Christians give money to Kingdom purposes is any indicator (and it is not just any indicator, it is a primary one), then we have long ago become “enthusiastic” about materialism (to use Brown’s term) even though it is financial atheism. When we need God, we pray and beg His blessing, but our possessions leave us believing that we rarely need God. We budget, spend, and borrow as if there is no God nor ever has been. Our homes are as large and well-appointed as those of unbelievers, our cars as expensive and frequently traded, our clothes bear the same branded labels, our conventions in the same cities and hotels, our gizmos as intricate and pricey—there is virtually no difference between the rank atheist and the “follower of Christ” when possessions are the measure. An honest examination would reveal that we have traded God for things, laughing all the way to the bank. We are not simply observers in the worship of mammon, we stand with arms high and hearts abandoned!56
A friend recently called relating an incident that happened during a meeting at his work. The owner, a professing Christian, told the agents in attendance, “Greed is good.” If a believer, this businessman would find himself in some rather questionable company. Besides the obvious reference to Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) from the movie Wall Street, the renowned anti-theist, Christopher Hitchens said in a 2009 documentary, “Coveting your neighbor’s goods [is] a perfectly healthy thing to do.”57 When believers find themselves joining atheists in calling sin “good” and “healthy,” the problem cannot be overstated.
Once when a rich young man came to Jesus58 asking the way of salvation, Jesus hit him right in the heart (not like wrestling or Bon Jovi; like the Holy Spirit): “Sell everything that you have, give it to the poor and follow me,” He said. This was never the norm in the gospels nor in the balance of the New Testament; nowhere is poverty extolled as more virtuous than wealth.59 In this man’s life, however, it had to be the centerpiece of his repentance. His god was mammon; his possessions ruled his life. It was not that the young man was a philandering, sensually indulgent pig; on the contrary, he affirmed his personal, law-keeping morality. When Jesus asked about his adherence to the commandments, he replied, “Master, all these I have kept from my youth up.” In their New York Times bestseller, Freakonomics, Leavitt and Dubner write, “Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work.”60 Their thesis is a perfect description of the young man’s struggle. He was looking for moral rightness, but his economics told the story; he could not get beyond his money and get to Jesus.
Jesus’ treatment of the rich young man was no different than if a Baal worshiper had come seeking eternal life. Jesus might well have responded, “Turn your back on Baal, trash all your Baal idols, then follow me.” It would have been an equivalent instruction; an idol is an idol is an idol.
The difference here is in the fact that the Baal idol needing to be trashed is sitting on the fireplace mantle, while the possession Jesus commanded the young man to sell was the fireplace mantle. And the fireplace…and the house…and the furniture…and the property. You get the idea. Jesus never presented following Him as an easy thing; it means the dethroning of every idol. Since we tend to more closely identify with the idols of the rich young man, we hope and pray it was a one-shot deal. Otherwise we might have to become homeless to follow Christ. Who would want to do that? Yet, Jesus was clear about the cost. When Peter reminded Jesus of all that His disciples had left to follow Him, Jesus only affirmed that there would be a reward, not that their abandonment of “everything” was unnecessary.61
(Now before you throw this book into the recycle bin expecting that a call is coming to sell everything that you have and give it to your church’s building fund or the Red Cross, don’t pass out; that is not where this is going. It is not where most people need to go. However, to get where we need to go, we have to deal with what is keeping us from getting there, and what is keeping us from getting there is pretty deeply ingrained. We will consider later whether the worship of mammon has actually been integrated into our worldview.)
Why it goes wrong and where
The war between materialism and the kingdom of God is all the more difficult because it is a war between the seen and the unseen. Money is tangible, possessions usable, bank and stock accounts reviewable, debit and credit cards holdable. All of these things can war against faith, which strives to see that which is invisible, lives in the hope of eternity, holds to a God who is transcendent, and emphasizes the existence of the reality of which what we see are mere shadows and smoke. It was this feature that moved C.S. Lewis to call this earthly home the “shadowlands.” So what happens when we start treating the shadows like the substance? It should be obvious; we are left with nothing.
Visualeconomics.com recently featured a breakdown of how the average American consumer disposes of his or her annual income. Based on a U.S. Department of Labor survey, the breakdown reveals that Americans spend 5.4 percent of after-tax income on entertainment, the same amount that is spent going out to eat. Cash contributions (including the tithes and offerings of Christians) equal 3.7 percent ($1,821/yr), just less than the amount spent on alcohol, tobacco, personal care, and “miscellaneous.”62 The practical reality of giving 3.7 percent provides a stark contrast to a Kingdom expected to consume 100 percent of our lives and the King who requires it. (One organization, Giving USA, using the GDP as a baseline, says our giving was 2.2 percent in 2008, just less than the 2.3 percent in 2007.63)
We will not see the spread of the gospel to those who have never heard when we are more financially committed to movie tickets.
All that preacher talks about…
For years, members of Western churches have complained, “All the preacher ever talks about is money.” Sometimes these missiles of negativity are launched with good reason; the capital campaign that is not reaching the mark results in a weekly scathing to “dig deep” and “give more.” It can get tiresome. Realistically, though, there can scarcely be a more needed reminder for us. Perhaps we do need more sermons on the right handling of possessions than on murder, adultery, and jihad. Are we to believe that there are more murderers in attendance on a typical Sunday morning than those who have misspent God’s money? More adulterers than the covetous? A greater number of imminent suicide bombers than thieves? A larger portion of those laying up for themselves treasures in heaven than those laying up treasures in the garage, family room or walk-in closet? If our false god is mammon, then we need to be called out regularly for following that idol.
John Piper writes, “Money is the currency of human resources…So the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasure, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer. So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money or belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.”64 Even the folksy wisdom of Benjamin Franklin teaches us better than to believe that: “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of it filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and triples that want another way.”65 The “Preacher” wrote much the same thing in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity”(5:10; ESV).
Perhaps the reason Jesus pitted God against mammon in the Sermon on the Mount is because He knew this devastating, vacuous nature of materialism. To serve things is to commit both idolatry and adultery. It is idolatry because we submit ourselves to its lordship, but it is adultery because we are already married to another.66 It is not too far a stretch to call it prostitution since, in both instances, the affections are bought with money. The Old Testament prophet Hosea’s marriage to the unfaithful Gomer was the visual God used to picture of Israel’s playing the harlot. How much more drastic would God’s visual have to be today to picture the way American believers have betrayed the vows with our heavenly spouse? The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer described it in these blunt terms, “Whoredom is the first sin against the Creator,”67 while Tozer concluded, “The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.”68
The good news is that, like all things of God, there is a better way. The proper relationship between God, possessions, and ourselves centers us in the stream of God’s mission and releases us from the burdens of ownership into the blessings of missionary management.