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?”

Is Twilight Emotional Porn?

Much is made today of the devastating effects of pornography in the lives of men. Articles and books have been written by the thousands outlining the emotional, financial, time and relational impact of porn addiction. I work for a ministry that deals everyday with the effects of pornography. We have learned that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimulation—I have been told by numerous men that, try as we might, women will just never understand the power of lust and the battle they fight against their sexual desires. I believe them.

Sometimes I wonder if the damage done by pornography is felt more by the women in the lives of these men than by the men themselves. Porn gives men an unrealistic expectation of how women should look and behave. Because men tend to be visual creatures, they respond to what they see. When what they have in real life doesn’t match up to what they have trained themselves to respond to on TV or the computer screen, they turn to those images for satisfaction. The problem is that no woman meets those expectations; not even those women themselves. They are airbrushed actresses, playing a part in a fantasy that cannot come true in real life. There are few things more damaging to the self-worth and emotional well-being of a woman than to feel like her husband is more attracted and sexually connected to an image on a screen than he is to her.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the book series Twilight? Just like men tend to be stimulated visually and crave sexual connection, women tend to be wired emotionally and crave relational connection. In the past couple of years, I have watched middle and high school girls become obsessed with this book series and its characters. Recently, I have begun watching my friends in their twenties and thirties become equally caught up in the lives of the characters on the pages. More than any other character in the series, the obsession really lies in Edward Cullen, the teenage vampire heartthrob that loves the heroine, Bella Swan. Not only is Bella the heroine, but the books are written in first person from her perspective– as you read, you become Bella. You read her thoughts, you feel her emotions, you are drawn into the story in a way that is next to impossible in a book written in the third person. Fantasy becomes your reality, and Edward is set up as the perfect gentleman—he loves Bella at first site, sacrifices himself in an attempt to protect her, gives himself up to make her happy. He becomes a Messiah figure in her life, and because you are so attached to Bella’s character, he becomes your messiah, too. Deep down, we are all wired with a desire to be saved. That’s what makes the “knight in shining armor” story stand the test of time.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a man who will exemplify the standard of sacrificial love; after all, Scripture tells us that our husbands are to love us as Christ loved the church, which means he is willing to lay down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5). But in becoming obsessed with this fictional character, are we placing a standard of fantasy perfection on the fallen, sinful men who God has called to both serve and lead us? Just like pornography sets an unrealistic visual expectation for men, is Edward setting an unrealistic emotional expectation for women, particularly teenage girls?

Don’t think I’m picking on Twilight; it’s just the latest in a long line of things I would consider emotional porn. If you aren’t sure what I mean by emotional porn, have you ever been dumped by a boyfriend or been disappointed or hurt by your husband in some way and comforted yourself on the couch with a night of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan “chick flicks”? Have you ever read a romance novel or watched a movie and thought, “If only he would treat me this way?” Have you watched The Notebook at least a dozen times and still sob like an infant, wondering if you will ever have a Noah Calhoun? The expectation has been set that men should sweep us off our feet—but then never put us back down.

And that is the crux of the issue—we are looking for a fulfillment in the creation that can only be found in the Creator (Romans 1:22-25). When a man seeks a woman who is a “real life porn star,” one who was created in the mind of a man instead of in the image of God, he is ultimately worshiping himself and his desires and he will always be disappointed. When a woman begins seeking a man who will meet her every need, satisfy her every desire, she has set herself up as an idol to be worshiped both by herself and by those around her, and she will always be disappointed. Only One is described in Scripture as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).

While fantasy and fiction are fun, when we become so caught up in them that we begin to expect our fantasy in reality, a line has been crossed. So if you’ve read Twilight, has it altered the expectations you have set for the men in your life? Do you think it has created a fair expectation? And, does that expectation line up with the expectation laid out in Scripture of a godly man?