Today my daughter and I went to Bergamot Station (http://bergamotstation.com). The Bergamot Station currently houses several art galleries but from 1875 to 1953, it was a railroad station serving the Los Angeles and Independence Railroad followed by the Santa Monica Air Line, according to Wikipedia.
Of the many art exhibits, I thought this one was interesting. I’ve felt that American Christianity has wandered from its core teaches and moved into a heretical place. I don’t think Christ would support nationalism, assault weapons, or consumerism the way the right portrays him (God, guns, and goods); nor do I think He was a communist or socialist. The love portrayed in the early church was born out of the love received from God (we love because He first loved us 1 John 4:19).
I certainly long to see a church that reflects the early church. Jesus said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s when it came to taxes. I certainly prefer more accountability and better fiscal stewardship with our tax dollars, but we are to set our eyes on another priority. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:10). Money is NOT the root of all evil. the LOVE of money. ‘It is THROUGH THIS CRAVING that some have wandered…’.
In the early church, “There was not a needy person among, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4: 34-35). But, if the church is a “People who”, and not a “Place where”, then that needs to come from each member individually, which means me. Having been on a few different short term mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and volunteering here locally, there certainly is tremendous need. While I have been moved by the needs; I have generally acclimating back to my comforts. I have come to the realization that as a member of the ‘body of Christ’, I have certainly fallen pray to a false God – the bulls and bears of Wall Street (metaphorically speaking? Perhaps not…). I can’t deride the government, it’s leaders, the church or it’s leaders, when I have fallen short. It’s easy to point out the speck in another man’s eyes, yet have a plank in your own!
I do think we have to work, Proverbs makes that clear:
Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8 she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
So I absolutely think work is a gift from God. In fact, the only place where God says to test him is in Malachi 3:10 ” 7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
Unfortunately, I think this ‘prosperity gospel’ has been twisted to end with the individual. If “I” give, “I” get. But imagine if we, as a “Christian Nation” (I’m talking to the professing Christians who say this about our country, not others), understood that His “Kingdom Here on Earth” extends beyond us. If we truly tithed, sold off our excess possessions (not increase our standard of living to a position of gluttony, but lived modestly and gave directly to those in need, through education programs, support, and transformational programs, investing time, money, and energy to those around us in need). This forthcoming of blessings God refers to in Malachi is to be the beginning, the impetus, to a life of joy. These blessings are actually the means to the end, not the end unto themselves. After all, we can’t take it with us! It’s in giving that we receive; “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:2-4
I don’t think government should do this, but mature Christians living a counter-culture life. How attractive would that be? A lot more attractive than what we see today in many instances. Is the media biased and painting a negative view of Christians? I believe so. But with cause? I think we have given a lot of fodder and it’s time to become relevant in the public square again, not having our faith pushed into the personal, or private sphere.
This year I’ve really been taking a hard look at how I’m living and how that lines up with the Gospel. I must confess, I’ve fallen short. It’s so subtle. This image really captivated me. I think back to my time at the Dominican Republic. According to the World Bank, the DR has a little over 10.5MM people, 3.4MM of which are living on less than $4 per day. 4.5MM living on $5 per day. 40.9% are living BELOW the poverty line. source: http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/country/DOM. This is just one small country. We are one of the most generous countries on the planet and in history, but Christian giving seems to be on the decline, and the average tithe is only around 2.5%. What’s more astonishing is that during the great depression, giving was around 3.3% per capita for Christians (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-would-happen-if-church-tithed).
According to http://church-development.com/Quick-Stats-The%2095-Who-Dont-Tithe; 5% of Americans tithe (voluntarily contribute 10% or more of their income/resources) and of the remaining 95%,
- 30% of the U.S. makes no charitable contributions
- 50% of the U.S. give more than 0% but less than 2% of their income to charity; and
- 15% give more than 2% but less than 10% of their income to charity
As I’ve mentioned, I’m really taking a hard look and my wife and I are making radical adjustments to how we approach this topic. We want to be the light on the hill, an attraction to the lost, as Jesus was to the poor and needy.
When I first saw this image, a couple things came to mind:
- I really like neon so this image really caught my attention
- I initially reacted in a negative way, thinking this was just some way of mocking Christians again; I think back to the art exhibit that made headlines several years ago of a crucifix in a jar of urine displayed as “art”.
- The more I looked at this image, the more I realized, my retirement, my security, my, my, my is what I’ve come to really rely on and as the market crash of 2008 has proven, reliance on a finite ‘self’ can be scary when your idols are messed with.
As scary as it is, I hope to move further and further from an “Erin-centric” model to a “God-centric” model; from the finite to the infinite; from fear, selfishness, greed, and self preservation to courage, selflessness, generosity, and joy.
I’ve come to realize/learn that I had always mischaracterized the reason for Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction.
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
I’m really trying to take this to heart. I write this mainly for myself. I would hope it resonates for others, but more importantly, I want to put this in front of me and try to get from “head to heart”.