Yesterday we sang a song in church that provoked quite a bit of wrestling in me. I don't remember the exact song - but it had a line that went something like this:
All this world offers I give up to follow you...
I wrestled with this question all afternoon and it is still on my mind a bit. What does it mean for us to "give up all the world offers" yet have everything the world offers. I look at my life and those around me and there is nothing that the "the world" craves that we do not have. Well, that is probably an overstatement in that I don't have a jet plane or a Larry Ellison yacht...nor do I want one. But the parking lot of our church is full of luxury cars and luxury SUVs. The neighborhoods of our area are as nice as you can ask for. The average income in this county, and likely in our church, is close to 100K a year.
What does it mean for us as American people to reject the world for Jesus when we have the world? I have wrestled with a few options - all of these I am asking of myself:
- We can have position, possessions and power as long as they don't have us? Question: Is this just a love thing? I don't really love these things, I just have them. Yet it seems we configure life and work in order to have these privileges for ourselves and our kids. You know, you have to have what is best for the kids. If I don't love them and don't need them...why have them?
- We could be monks and follow St. Francis into poverty? Question: I don't think the life of a monk/hermit is for all people. Some perhaps, but not all. The reformation was clear in making all work sacred, not just the work of priests or those in cloisters.
- You can live in a culture yet not choose its excesses - you intentionally live lower than it. You live a lifestyle that is less that you "could" live. You choose the Toyota over the Lexus, the Honda over the Acura, and a 2000 sq foot home rather than a 4000 sq foot pad. Generosity seems to be God's call upon the wealthy - but if we are generous to churches that simply use that wealth to take care of their own, could this become an act of community wide selfishness as well? A reminder to church leaders to wrestle with budget priorities no doubt.
This is a real question for me in America - some are surrounded by wealth and the "good life" - others are feverishly chasing it. All this shook me pretty hard yesterday as we listened to the book of Philippians. A letter written from a guy in jail, to a church giving to others out of its own poverty (not giving out of its abundance). We even paused to reflect on a man named Epaphroditus who nearly died (and this means dead, death, temporal life lost) for the sake of the gospel. We followed this with a ballet dance to the song "Take my life, all of me" - I loved the beauty of the art portrayed and the offering of our talents to God...but it seemed to be a disconnect for me as we were just talking about a guy giving up his life in the mission of the gospel. I think it somehow this call upon us is more than a dance in church.
Are we too comfortable? Am I being a jerk? I know a lot of this is just my own issue and wondering how my family should live in the midst of this world as we follow Jesus.
I see no mandated command to poverty in Scripture. I also abominate the health/wealth prosperity doctrine. I see great warnings about loving the world, loving money, and the deceitfulness of riches. Yet I see the virtues of gospel living and industry as being helpful in the gaining of wealth. Historically, the frugality and industry of Protestantism has brought a high amount of prosperity to cultures. I personally know some very gracious, generous and wealthy people whom I consider dear friends. So some are going to get paid, yet, how do you keep it from getting you?