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Your Good Name

A good name is more desirable than great riches;
    to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.  Proverbs 22:1

If we were honest, how would you answer when asked if you’d rather have money or respect?  Some might say money can buy you a form of respect but you would certainly know the people who bow down to you simply because of your wealth.  And that would sit there in the back of your mind at all times.  Resentment would probably grow.  And resentment destroys our hearts and minds.  

When I quit my regular job to become a stay at home mother, I struggled with the idea of not having an income of my own.  Since I was a child, I brought in money in some form or another, be it collecting cans and newspapers to babysitting, and then working in restaurants and finally my career in public relations.   Not only did I “pull my weight” with money I found pleasure in the accolades others gave me for a job well done.   When I “retired,” what I found was wherever I would volunteer it was my reputation that was the more important factor.  People knew they could count on me to get the job done right.  They knew I would show up when promised.  In every volunteer position I have ever had I found myself being asked to take on more responsibility – because my reputation was that of someone to be trusted.  

I was recently reading about Elizabeth Kenny (died 1952).  She was a self-taught bush nurse from Australia. Without any formal medical training she became well respected for her volunteer work with polio patients.  She hailed from a farming family and through her passion for helping others earned the title of “Sister” during World War I as she tirelessly gave aid and comfort to the wounded.   In 1932, her polio work caught the attention of the wife of the Trade Commissioner.  She was invited to create a makeshift clinic to treat hundreds of children.  She eventually set up clinics all over Australia.  In recognition of her work, in February 1950, U.S. President Harry Truman signed a Congressional bill giving Kenny the right to enter and leave the US as she wished without a visa. This honor had only been granted once before, to the French leader in the American War of Independence. 

While Kenny’s work eventually brought her wealth from patents, she contributed much of it to her work with children and polio.  She never seemed to reach for that wealth, rather for the recognition of the results of her work.  Like so many others we may admire isn’t it their gutsiness, commitment to bettering society, willingness to forgo comforts in their quests, and their faithfulness to truth and honesty that we hold up higher than their income?

Friend, if you are grasping for wealth at the expense of your good name, I want to remind you that gold flows easily through our fingers and can disappear in an instant.  It is the good we do, the trust people place in us, and the commitment we make to do our best that will stand the test of time.  Our touchstones for living a life based on a good reputation can be found in the apostles and Jesus.  They never sought wealth.  Only to be trusted with the expansion of the Gospel.  Today we can say they succeeded. 

Heavenly Father, when faced with a path to take that diverges from wealth or reputation, please help me make the longer term choice to be a faithful servant to you and stand firm on the principles of honesty and integrity.

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Stop Pretending

One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
    another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. Proverbs 13:7

According to an article in Psychology Today the advent of social media brought about a terrible case of lying.  Lying about our weight, our age, our financial status, social standing, looks, and well, just about everything about ourselves.   In a study that reviewed 80 online daters, researchers found that two thirds of participants lied about their weight by five pounds or more. In a large sample of over 2,000 people in England 43 percent of men admitted to making up facts about themselves and their lives that were not true.  Most commonly, participants said that they only shared “non-boring” aspects of their lives (32 percent) and were not as “active” as their social media accounts appeared (14 percent).

Some might say, eh, what’s the big deal?  While we humans like to think we are individually responsible for our own health and well-being we actually are in a giant social contract with each other.  When a young teen looks at people online having the time of their lives 24/7 they may think, “why is my life so boring?”  Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, loneliness, or worse, thoughts of harming themselves are paths many may take when evaluating their own “normal” lives.

I remember having this very conversation with my youngest daughter her first year of college.  “Everyone else that went off to school seems to be so happy.  Why am I struggling?” she once said.  I reminded her that very, very few people post the other 12 or 18 hours of their day when they are studying for a test, sitting alone having lunch, or crying from homesickness.  

Our wise words today speak to how we show our wealth or lack thereof.  But in the larger scheme of things, it’s about pretending to be something we are not.  I can’t help but think this comes from a place of looking for love and affirmation in the wrong places. God loves you when you have money and when you don’t.  He loves you when you are doing boring things like taking out the trash.  He loves you when you are on a fabulous vacation or quietly reading a book on the couch.

Friend, God loves you when you are being true to your situation.  You don’t need to pretend to be something you aren’t.  So stop trying to keep up with the influencers who stood in line for three hours to get that perfect shot in Malta.  If all you can do for a vacation is take a hike in your nearby woods, enjoy every single minute of it.  God is with you and loves you right where you are.

Lord, help me shine for the person you made me to be right now.  I want to be thankful for the blessings you have given me.  I know you love me whether rich or poor.  Whatever you have blessed me with help me to bless others by being genuine and true.  Amen

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Heart Lessons

Before I became a Christian and even when I was a “baby Christian” I’d hear a lot of phrases from the Bible thrown about by believers and non-believers.  Passages such as “judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt 7:1) and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) are frequently taken out of context and misused.  And then there’s the quotes that aren’t even in the Bible such as, “God helps those who help themselves,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  While all those sound good, we must always be careful not to put words in God’s mouth.  Along with all of these I think one of the most misunderstood concepts people have is about being wealthy.  Non-believers will use this against successful Christians.  And believers sometimes think having wealth is a sin.  When Jesus said,

“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18:24

This was in response to asking a wealthy ruler to give up all his power and wealth and come follow Him.  The ruler was very sad because he was very wealthy and he wasn’t all that honest.  It’s necessary to know that no one is saved by giving up all their wealth.  What Jesus was really asking of the ruler was to be honest about what he coveted.  There was much more going on in this story than a man being told to give up his wealth to follow Jesus.  This is why I keep hearing over and over these days to not just read the Bible but to study it.  Take, for instance, this famous poem by William Wadsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze …

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

If we were to just read it for what it basically says we would think he was a lonely man who thought he was a cloud.  And when he saw some flowers he thought they were actually dancing.  Sounds like someone on drugs.  But when we study the poem, we find a beautiful short tale about a man who loves nature and finds joy whenever he sees daffodils. Therein lies the need for great Biblical teachers and pastors. 

As we explore the last chapter of James, we find him being very angry with the wealthy members of the church.  Not because they are wealthy, but just like the ruler Jesus admonished, they have turned their wealth into their god.  They have cheated and lied all in the name of increasing their wealth.  How many of us today covet our bank account in lieu of helping those in need?  As an American, even our poorest are considered wealthy in relation to other countries.  Just having a home, a steady job, owning one or two cars, having three meals a day, a closet full of clothes, a tv and more, far and away exceed what others have.  And none of that is wrong.  James condemns the wrong use of riches – using wealth as a weapon rather than a tool to build others up.  I’ve heard so many people over the years actually worry that Jesus will ask them to give up all their money and become a poor missionary.  I say, if that’s truly what you are worried about then be careful, that just might be what God asks you to do!  

How many times have you heard people say they’re worried God will ask them to be another ‘Mother Teresa?”

James doesn’t stop there.  Our lack of patience, our lies (both little and big), our lazy prayer life, and our lack of desire to help our fellow Christians grow and be their best in the eyes of Christ, are all on display this week in James 5.  

If we aren’t careful so much of James can turn into one of those misused verses or phrases.  If we remember two things as we work on the final week of this study let them be this: 1) it is always about what is in our heart that Jesus cares about and 2) thankfully we are given grace each and every time we confess that we have forgotten the first.

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Rich Man, Poor Man

My husband used to watch The Sopranos religiously.  I for one, have never enjoyed any mob-related tv show or movie.  The reason being is in order for the “Mob” to be successful it requires a willing citizenry to, at best, look away or at its worst, show favoritism.  Never has there been more a blatant example than the Italian Mafia and the Catholic Church.  Until recently the mafia had unfettered access to the church in Italy.  Many priests would almost be part of the “family.”  And why? There lies the question of favoritism.

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”

James 2:1

James goes on to ask the reader what they would do if you saw a beggar and a rich man enter your church. Who would get the seat of honor?  And why?  It’s typical for churches to seat VIPs front and center.  But did you know churches didn’t have places to sit for about 1,400 years?  During the protestant reformation, churches began selling boxes to the wealthy for them to sit in, along with their families and special guests.  The poor still had to stand at the back.  And of course, there’s the private wings so common throughout Italian churches where wealthy families have their patriarch’s painting and own altar.  It’s as though the entire biblical message about favoritism had been lost.

The underlying theme of favoritism comes down to a perceived value — real or imagined.  Yes, we can say people are afraid of the mob.  But they sure did love the money those mafia families provided the Italian churches and other communities in which they currently operate.   Favoritism also is born of the desire for power or fame.  Which results in, typically, more money.

“Privileged groups work for greater power consolidation through favoritism.”

Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason

In other words, we humans love to have other humans adore us and vice versa.  We favor those we think can provide us more wealth and power.  This is not based on race, color, etc.  If someone has what we desire, we’ll cozy up to them.  It’s not reserved for just adult relationships.  “Stage moms,” “dance moms,” “band dads,” “pool parents” are just some examples of how we adults use children to elevate ourselves.  We make sure our kid is friends with the best athlete on the team so they can be “in.”  Or we just promote our kid to anyone who will listen, thereby rubbing some shine on us. 

Love of wealth can foster the sin of favoritism

The dangers of favoritism and the sins it fosters can been seen throughout the Bible.  Stories of brotherly jealousy (Joseph and that coat!), wives wanting to be favored (Rachael and Leah), kings worried about losing power (Saul vs David) and whole churches fighting over leadership (Corinth) all include favoritism within.  

And yet it’s God’s words that tell us to treat people equally – even our slaves.  We are admonished to “Treat your slaves in the same way (as the slaves are to treat their masters).  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism in him.”  Note, the subject of slavery was different at that time.  Many people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts or even to be under a “master” who would take care of all their needs.  Even professionals – such as doctors, artists, etc – sometimes made this choice.

The funny thing about God is He is always looking for ways to teach us and get us to see His truth of Love, Mercy and Forgiveness.  Like showing favoritism to a mobster, the true consequences are what we would normally wish to avoid.  Frequently the person or group receiving the favor will then wield that power and authority over you.  We see this when Jesus speaks in the synagogue.

“Beware of the teachers of the Law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”

Luke 20:46

And all the people bowed to them as they walked around like “cock of the walks.”  Showing them favoritism while spitting on Jesus.  But here’s the result:

“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished severely.”

Today we favor celebrities, overlooking all their sins.  For a glance from them some would pay any price.  We favor famous pastors and pretend we don’t see how they twist scripture.  We favor politicians because they know how to say just the right things to make us feel good, even though their years of actions are in direct opposition to us.  We favor certain races because its “socially aware.”  We might favor one of our children or a teacher, a student in our class, a player on the team we coach, or someone with a higher status.  But we must also be aware that favoritism toward what we’d think wouldn’t be in this category is wrong — toward the perceived “lesser.” Those that expend hate for the rich because of a supposed love for the poor are still in the wrong. What they get out of this type of outrage is a sense of piety. Even being a champion of the disabled while having disdain for able-bodied is not equality. It doesn’t matter if the subject of your favoritism is rich, poor, black or white, high or low in status, young or old, the Bible is clear — it’s wrong. The sin comes in what we expect out of that favoritism and what have we done to those “out” of our favor.  It creeps into our lives sometimes without us being fully aware.  And what’s worse, it can bring out hatred. We can feel jealously while still favoring others. People outside our little “clicks” feel left out, ignored or even abused.

“God does not show favoritism.”

Romans 2:11

It reminds me of a children’s book I once read and it helps me to put it all in perspective. It’s a reminder that everyone that day will poop.  A very “undignified” and messy action that everyone, no matter their status, wealth, race, color or creed will undertake.  The pope, the US president, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Oprah, Lionel Messi, Christina Aguilera, the mafia boss, your mayor, your pastor, your mother in law, the homeless person, you.  Everybody poops.  God did that.  I think it’s one of His little winks.

Write down all the people or groups you tend to favor. Pray about how you can flip that script and treat people equally.