Wealth is Relative

The adult Sunday School classes at my church are studying James chapter five tomorrow. This chapter begins with a stern warning to rich and oppressive landowners:

1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

In God’s providential timing, tomorrow is also the Sunday that we will be collecting money for Christmas in August. What, you may ask, does a warning to the rich have to do with collecting an offering at church? It all goes back to the title of this post: wealth, my friend, is a relative term. In studying for my lesson tomorrow, I read the following statement in a commentary on James:
The second complaint James made was against the wanton indulgence of the rich. They lived luxuriously and in wastefulness. They went beyond what could be justified under any conditions; they flaunted their riches and wasted them in excesses. Israel had been plagued by such people in almost every generation. Prophets like Amos cried out against such luxury when the poor were starving. This matter raises a question concerning ourselves. Most of us are not rich, but we have an abundance of the necessities of life. Will God overlook our unconcern for the multitudes of people in our world who lack the minimum food and clothing needed for survival?

It is true times are tough economically. But what better time to teach our children and remind ourselves that our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills? I encourage you to seriously look for ways that you can practice some self-denial and make a sacrifice of praise for God’s work to be done among the nations. Maybe you can give up your daily Starbucks fix for a week and donate that $20. Perhaps you could brown bag it to work two days this week. Or rent a movie instead of going to the theater. Or give the money you would have spent on gas had you gone to the lake in your boat or gone for a ride on your motorcycle. Maybe it means you sit down with your family, discuss the urgent need ministries have across the world and then you sell some video games or movies you don’t use. Maybe it means committing to missions the money you would have spent on playing fall ball or going on a mini-vacation. Perhaps Christmas this year should be giving a well to a village in East Africa through Samaritan’s Purse or World Vision.

Did you know that on average, Americans spend $13 billion every year on materials produced by the porn industry? Evangelicals make up approximately 10% of the US population, and we spend nearly as much as the general population on pornography. That means that evangelical Christians most likely spend around $1 billion a year on pornography. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal last year was $170 million and Southern Baptists were $41 million short of the goal. We spend nearly 100 times more on our idol of sex than we do to ensure that the nations know the love and salvation of Christ. It seems as though our priorities may be a little askew.

We often think there is a great sacrifice on our part when we give out of our abundance. But how much more faith does it take to give when we have less than we are used to having? And how can you really consider it a sacrifice at all when we live in such wealth and our money is going to provide food and clothes and access to the Gospel for millions around the world?

To learn more about the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, visit here. To learn more about the Christmas in August campaign, read this post. To see how one community of believers has answered the call to give sacrificially, read here.

When you see how we still have so much compared to the rest of the world, and you are faced with the great need that we are able to meet, the question becomes not “why should we give?” but “Why would we not give?”

Tony Dungy is my Hero

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who hare spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3, ESV

I watched the press conference yesterday morning in which the Philadelphia Eagles formally announced their signing of Michael Vick. There has been great public outrage since word leaked Thursday night that the Eagles had signed him to a two year deal. One person in Philadelphia wondered aloud on a radio program why Vick had not been executed for his role in a dogfighting ring. The fact that, as a society, we are more outraged at dog fighting than we are of child molestation or spousal abuse is outrageous to me, but that’s another subject for another time. What impressed me during this press conference was Michael Vick’s mentor and adviser, former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy is an outspoken Christian. In fact, one of the reasons cited for his decision to leave coaching was the fact that he wanted to have more time to contribute to the lives of young men who needed guidance and direction. He left a multi-million dollar job to pursue the work of mentor ministry.

The Eagles have been blasted in the media for giving a second chance to Vick when he hasn’t proven that he deserves one. Last time I checked, that’s why we called a “chance” and not a “guarantee.” Michael Vick doesn’t deserve a second chance. None of us do. But Coach Dungy didn’t provide Michael with a second chance, he extended to him the grace of Christ. He didn’t sit at his home in Tampa and pray that Vick would contact him. He went to Leavenworth and extended grace to him where he was. Grace doesn’t say, “There’s help available to you after you do this list of things to prove you deserve it.” Grace says, “You don’t deserve it, but I’m giving it to you anyway.” What Vick does with the grace extended to him is ultimately up to him. What we do with the grace extended to us by God is up to us.

I understand the world’s reaction to Vick; those in PETA who have set animal life as their idol have no concept of the grace and mercy of Christ to work in and change the life of a person. What I don’t understand are those who claim to be Christians who join in the verbal lynching of a man who has done what he can in the limited amount of time given to him to show himself to be broken and contrite. What he has done to “deserve a second chance” is that he has been willing to confess his sins, apologize for them, humbly speak out against them, and then allow a mentor to walk through life with him. I don’t know too many of us average joes who will allow someone to truly mentor us, for to be mentored you must first admit you don’t know it all and second, submit to the guidance of another.

Part of the problem with the prison system in America is that it is not truly designed to rehabilitate offenders. It’s used to mark them with the Scarlet Letter of “Felon” and then, as a pridefully blind society, we force them to carry that stigma for the rest of their lives. If you tell someone they’re nothing but a worthless ex-con enough times, they will believe you. Coach Dungy has set an example for his fellow Christians of how we should respond to those who have paid their debt to society and need to be brought back into society with the goal of making them productive members of society.

Mentoring takes time, it takes wisdom, it takes commitment. But it’s a command of Scripture that applies to the lowest of criminals, to the most famous of criminals and to everyone in between. After all, Scripture tells us that if you are guilty of breaking one law, you’ve broken them all in the eyes of God, so none of us is really aren’t any better than the dog abuser, the child molester, the thief, or the murderer. Before Christ, we are all criminals in the eyes of God, and we all need a mentor to guide us through this life.

Put in the wrong circumstances at the wrong time with the wrong people, I’m sure I would be capable of anything. May I never think so highly of myself to look upon anyone caught in sin and say, “That would never be me.” Such a self-righteous attitude is the first step down the slippery slope to entanglement in atrocious sin. I know. I’ve been there before, and it took someone willing to walk with me back up the dirty slope to get me out. And if, God forbid, there is another lesson I must learn in this life that must begin in the pit, I pray there is a Tony Dungy standing there who is willing to walk that road alongside me.