Tag Archives: Greed

When Idolatry Thrives, the Church Subsides. Raising the Alarm on Greed and Materialism Within the Church.

Scripture speaks a great deal about the dangers of wealth. Jesus addressed the subject frequently during His ministry, issuing a number of powerful warnings to the rich. Yet for some reason the church tends to ignore these messages or explain them away, signaling their irrelevance to churchgoers. But we disregard them at our own peril.

The apostle Paul offered this advice on the topic. “People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6: 9-10, NLT).

No ambiguity exists in Paul’s message. Those who desire wealth succumb to temptation and become ensnared in destructive lusts that eventually ruin their lives. Wicked and ungodly behavior flows from the insatiable appetite for money, which even leads some churchgoers away from authentic faith and into eternal torment.

Paul’s candor and clarity make his warning nearly impossible to mistake. Don’t pursue prosperity; and avoid the love of money! These deadly desires will drive you away from Christ and toward a future filled with sin and suffering.

Yet the world, perhaps not surprisingly, embraces these desires without hesitation. Unfortunately, the Church and its membership increasingly do as well. In America especially, the lust for riches and craving for earthly treasures are escalating exponentially inside church walls, and within the hearts of believers.

How do Christians justify our obvious disobedience to Paul’s counsel? Rather easily as it turns out.

We proclaim we have no desire to be rich and insist we do not love money. It is a ridiculous response in face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Our lifestyles mirror those of our non-Christian friends and neighbors. Like them, we fill our lives with earthly comforts and our homes with worldly treasures. And we do so with such excess that it is absurd to suggest we neither love money nor lust for wealth.

What we fail to understand is that our spending habits and unbridled materialism represent an outward manifestation of our hearts’ desires. Irrespective of what we say, our lifestyles are the best evidence of what we really believe.

Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler illustrates this. You may recall that the young man approaches Jesus with a question. He wants to know what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments. The ruler immediately responds that since his youth he has kept all the commandments. So Jesus tells him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10:21, NKJV).

This exchange offers incredible insight into the human condition and the deceptive nature of the heart. The rich young ruler genuinely believes he has never violated God’s commandments. As a result, he is confident his love for God is real and he will spend eternity in heaven. He simply wants Jesus to confirm that fact.

But Jesus knew the man’s heart; that he loved worldly treasures more than God and therefore would never love God with all his heart, soul, and mind (what Jesus referred to as the great commandment). He worshipped wealth and conducted his life in accordance with that priority, thereby violating the first of the Ten Commandments.

To reveal this truth and expose that barrier to genuine faith, Jesus instructed the young ruler to crucify his materialism. Only by selling everything and donating to the poor could the young man break the bondage of idolatry. Only then could he enter into a real relationship with Christ.

The ruler, of course, declined Jesus’ offer. Scripture informs us the man “was sad at this word, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:22, NKJV). His love for worldly treasure surpassed his love for God (and desire for eternal life).

Sadly, an overwhelming number of Christians share this outlook. We have convinced ourselves we love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul, and are certain we will spend eternity in heaven. Like the rich young ruler we are completely unaware of our spiritual blind spot: that we love worldly things more than we love the Lord.

For proof we need look no further than our homes, garages, closets, and cars, and then consider Jesus’ challenge. Are we willing to sell everything we have and distribute the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Christ as His disciple?

I imagine every reader will agree that he or she is willing. Of course, Jesus didn’t tell the rich young ruler to be willing to sell everything. If He had, the ruler would have quickly agreed he was willing. Our willingness, then, is irrelevant, absent substantive action that puts that willingness into practice.

The truth is, most of us have some possession, some treasure, which compromises our relationship with the Lord. And in fact many of us, like the rich young ruler, have an idolatrous relationship with wealth and material possessions. It impedes us from knowing Christ intimately and hinders us from pursuing His call on our livesiHH.

At this moment Jesus is challenging each of us: Go, sell those treasures you have worshipped for too long, donate them to the poor, and fully surrender your life to Christ.

Avoid the temptation to simply say your treasures are not an idol; that you do not love them. That is a lie from the devil. You must permanently rid yourself of them if you want to be free from idolatry and its grip on your life.

Do you resist? Dismiss the challenge as ludicrous?

Our inability to respond to Christ’s challenge, or even understand the necessity for doing so, reveals the condition of our hearts. They mirror the heart of the rich young ruler, filled with deceit, greed, and idolatry.

Instead of closely examining Scripture, prayerfully considering what God wants, and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance to do what is right, most of us parse words to justify our lifestyles and explain why the Bible does not prohibit our insatiable materialism and impassioned pursuit of prosperity. In fact, we often insist that God wants us to enjoy the lavish American lifestyle.

Such outlandish views, however, simply prove Paul’s point that wealth and greed lead us to embrace a false faith that ends in destruction.

Jesus understood the ease with which the heart convinces us that our covetous lifestyles are approved by Scripture and ordained by God. To dispel this myth, which enjoys incredible popularity in the Church, Jesus declared, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:23, NKJV). Knowing His listeners would think He had misspoken, He repeated Himself, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:24b, NKJV).

How can Jesus make such sweeping statements? And on what basis does He claim that the wealthy face considerable difficulty gaining eternal life?

The answer lies in Jesus’ two statements. In the first, Jesus references “those who have riches” while in the second He mentions “those who trust in riches.” His point, of course, is that those who have riches frequently trust in riches – preventing them from placing their trust in God. In a similar vein, those who have worldly treasure often love their worldly treasures – supplanting their love for God.

Many Christians presume this issue does not apply to them. However, that is a dangerous perspective, and one that runs counter to the evidence. For example, the average American churchgoer gives about 2% of his/her income to the church.

That fact reveals a great deal about our spiritual condition, and suggests we have much in common with a farmer from one of Jesus’ parables. Jesus shared this parable in response to a request that He intervene and secure an inheritance for a young man.

The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this. I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:16-20, NKJV).

American Christians are the modern manifestation of this farmer. We share his selfish spirit. When our incomes increase or we experience economic windfalls, we typically acquire more worldly treasures and reward ourselves with more comforts.

Like the farmer who tore down perfectly good barns and replaced them with bigger ones, we trade-in perfectly good cars for newer ones; we upgrade working electronic devices (e.g. cell phones and televisions) with faster, fancier ones; we renovate functional kitchens and bathrooms to better suit our evolving tastes; we replace clothes and shoes we no longer like with trendier ones that fit our style; we move into bigger houses in more prestigious neighborhoods, so we have more room to store more of the possessions we desire.

Our choices, which are simply more extravagant versions of the ones the rich farmer made, put us in the middle of Jesus’ parable. We are the lead character in His story. So what message does Christ have for us?

We, too, jeopardize our souls as we chase the intoxicating riches, crass materialism, and indulgent excesses that increasingly define the American Dream. And it is not a remote risk. When our commitment to Christ extends no further than our lips, and does not extend to our checkbooks, we signal our belief that this world’s passing pleasures are of greater value than eternal life with the risen Lord. It is an incredibly foolish choice. But it is one made by millions of Christians every day.

Our selfish, greedy lifestyles have numerous causes but perhaps none more critical than a severe misunderstanding of biblical stewardship. We mistakenly believe that we take ownership of the income and financial blessing God steers our way. As such we can do with them as we want: lavish ourselves with luxury, pamper ourselves with pleasure, or consume the latest amenity that catches our eye.

Sure, we give a little to the church and less fortunate. But we spend the vast majority of our financial resources on ourselves. We refuse to recognize that it is God’s money. All of it. And He expects us to invest in things that drive His agenda, further the gospel, and accomplish things of eternal value.

Our selfish use of God’s money has dire consequences. Jesus says, “If you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven?” (Luke 16:11, NLT). Our unfaithfulness in stewarding the financial resources God has entrusted to us in this world means we will have no heavenly riches entrusted to us. And that’s the best-case scenario for those who worship at the altar of materialism and greed.

Scripture makes clear that the likeliest outcome for those who pursue prosperity and love worldly treasure is eternal darkness. When explaining the meaning of the parable of the sower, Jesus informs His disciples that the seed sown among thorns are those who hear the Word of God but “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19).

Once again Jesus reminds us of the deceitful nature of wealth and worldly treasure. Our desire for such things distracts us from a healthy relationship with God and eventually sabotages our faith.

We may insist that we love neither riches nor worldly treasure, but our lifestyles and spending choices contradict that claim. While sharing the parable of the rich farmer Jesus offered this warning. “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15, NKJV).

It is important to note the implication of that statement. Jesus is equating the farmer’s lifestyle (which is comparable to the lifestyle of many American Christians) with covetousness. That troubling revelation ought to concern us since Scripture clearly defines covetousness as idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5).

Some may wonder why we can’t simultaneously pursue a genuine relationship with God and satisfy our desire for the riches of this world. Jesus answers that question in unmistakable language at the conclusion of his teaching on stewardship. He says, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate the one and love the other; or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” (Luke 16:13, NLT).

Unfortunately, most of us have little interest in exploring what the Bible says about our financial lifestyles and the danger we invite when we chase wealth and riches. Jesus addresses that danger directly in His remarks to the Laodicean Church. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17, NLT).

Like the Laodiceans, we have become so entrenched in the world and so enamored with its treasure that we fail to understand our condition. We have convinced ourselves that we are people of God when in fact we are lukewarm pretenders. We are neither on fire for God and His agenda, nor are we refreshing water for a culture dying of spiritual thirst. Worse, wealth and comfort have established in our hearts a spirit of pride and self-reliance. We don’t know what it means to truly trust God on a daily basis. We are spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. And we are on the cusp of facing God’s judgment if we don’t repent from our lifestyles of greed and covetousness.

Our lifestyles should instead mirror the example provided by the New Testament believers of Macedonia. Paul said, “They are being tested by many troubles, and are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5a, NLT).

This is the model of financial stewardship that Jesus calls us to embrace and live. In contrast to the wealth and excess enjoyed by American believers, the Macedonian believers were impoverished and burdened with economic troubles. Despite their onerous financial circumstances, they gave generously to their needy brethren in Jerusalem, and did so freely and with great joy. They considered it an honor to help those in God’s family and begged Paul for the opportunity to do so. They put the welfare and interests of others ahead of their own.

Their example offers us a clear illustration of what sacrificial giving looks like.

The Macedonians, out of their poverty, gave generously and sacrificially. In contrast we, out of our abundance, give paltry sums to the Lord (as a % of our income). We resist God’s prompting and guidance to give more, and instead convince ourselves that the best way to honor Christ is to spend nearly all our income on enjoying the good life. In doing so, we move further down the path that leads to destruction.

Sacrificial giving was also the lesson Jesus emphasized to His disciples outside the Temple. After observing worshippers drop money in the collection box, including many wealthy people who donated large sums and one poor widow who gave two small coins, He declared, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44, NLT).

The wealthy gave exponentially more than the widow. But Jesus commends the widow on her stewardship and asserts that she gave the most. Why? Because she gave sacrificially and out of a deep love for God.

Christ wants us to follow the widow’s example. We, too, ought to give sacrificially to the Church and Christian ministries that advance the gospel. Sacrificial giving means it hurts financially. We resist the temptation to buy non-necessities and indulge in extravagances, and use those resources to fund the Lord’s work instead. And we give out of joy, not begrudgingly.

This is a difficult model to follow. And it is made all the more difficult when we fuel our selfish desires by chasing prosperity and accumulating worldly treasures. These pursuits pose a real threat to our spiritual vitality and relationship with God. It is why the apostle John warns, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15, NKJV).

The basis for John’s counsel not to love the world is critical for Christians to understand. He explains that you cannot love God if you love the world. And the more wealth we obtain and the more treasures we amass, the more likely we are to turn our backs on God and place our trust in worldly riches.

Christ gives potential disciples similar guidance. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

Investing in God’s work here on earth accrues to us eternal treasure, whereas earthly treasure is fleeting. Why would anyone jeopardize eternal life and heavenly treasure for eighty years of earthly pleasure? It is an insane exchange.

Yet millions of churchgoers have placed that bet, believing they can love the Lord with their lips on Sunday while simultaneously becoming intoxicated with worldly riches the rest of the week. They believe they can ignore what Jesus taught about financial stewardship and disregard His numerous warnings about wealth and money, without consequence.

By fostering an environment in which greed and idolatry thrives among believers, the Church compromises its credibility with the culture and undermines its authority to speak to society on issues of morality and biblical truth. If we want to impact the nation for Christ we must embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and not just the ones we find palatable and easy to follow.

As you consider how to respond to this message, meditate on these words from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; NKJV).

Now ask yourself, ‘Where is my treasure?’

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It’s Time to Embrace God’s Message on Stewardship

In 520 B.C. the house of the Lord lay in ruin. Though exiled Jews had returned to Jerusalem decades earlier the Temple languished in a state of disrepair. Its condition represented a stark contrast with the lavish homes the Jewish people lived in. Against this backdrop the prophet Haggai voices God’s displeasure over the disparity, proclaiming:

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord’” (Haggai 1:2, NLT). The Lord then challenges His people with a rhetorical question: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in luxurious homes while my house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4, NKJV). God later advises them to: “Consider your ways” and links their greed with the sustained economic malaise they’re suffering. Their selfishness, He explains, always produces poverty, hunger, and discontentment.

God’s people used the financial windfall He sent them to indulge themselves in luxury and enjoy a lifestyle of extravagance, while leaving the work of the Temple undone. It was an egregious example of poor stewardship. The Jews misperceived God’s purpose. They mistakenly believed His material blessings were primarily for their benefit, and not intended to advance His kingdom or glorify Him.

Sadly, we make the same mistake – often on a much larger scale. As American wealth skyrockets the average Christian gives less and less of his income. Think about that for minute. God blesses us with greater prosperity and we respond with less generosity. My friends, something is seriously wrong with that trend.

Christians now give, on average, less than 2% of their income to the church. That’s one-fifth of what the Israelites were required to give under the law. Grace may liberate us from the law’s obligations, but apparently it doesn’t free us from the clutches of greed and selfishness.

Of course, God doesn’t expect us to redirect the resources he lavishes on us to fund bigger more opulent churches to worship in. Rather, He expects us to tithe ten percent to the church and donate another generous portion of our income to fund ministries that advance His kingdom, fulfill the Great Commission, and relieve human suffering. Not because the law demands it but because grace compels us. Gratitude for God’s mercy and relief from sin’s stain should inspire joyful generosity far beyond what the law stipulated.

If, however, we resist and continue down the path of financial idolatry – choosing selfishness over stewardship – we face a fiscal future as grim as the one confronted by those Jerusalem Jews twenty-five hundred years ago.

Examine your spending history from the past year and ask yourself: Does it reflect biblical principles of generous financial stewardship or mirror the greed and materialism that plagued the people of Haggai’s day? If it’s more like the latter you may want to take God’s advice and “Consider your ways!

Dangers of Feigned Obedience.

Remember the story of Balaam and Balak? Balak is the Moabite king alarmed by the arrival of the Israelites, who settle on the plains of Moab after they escape from Egypt and defeat the Amorites. Their numbers arouse fear in the king and his people. He is certain these foreigners represent a threat to the safety and prosperity of his kingdom.

So he sends messengers to Balaam, a diviner for hire, and asks him to come and place a curse on these interlopers. Balaam receives the messengers graciously and invites them to stay the night while he inquires of the Lord. Balaam then engages God in a dialogue and explains that the Moabite king wants the Israelites cursed so he can overpower them and force them from his land.

In response God tells Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12, NKJV). Balaam reluctantly obeys God’s command and informs the king’s servants that he cannot go back with them; the Lord has not given him permission. So the messengers return home and notify the king of Balaam’s refusal.

On hearing the news Balak decides to send a larger and more prestigious delegation to solicit Balaam’s assistance. They locate Balaam and deliver an attractive proposition. ‘The king will pay you handsomely for your work and will do whatever you request. Just come and curse these wretched people.’

Balaam knows God’s will on the matter. But the allure of wealth and power spur him to petition the Lord a second time, hopeful God will change His mind. Those selfish and impure motivations anger God but He nevertheless allows Balaam to accompany the envoys back to Balak.

During their journey the angel of the Lord blocks Balaam’s path three times. Balaam cannot see the angel but his donkey does. Each time, the beast takes evasive action to avoid the angel, which infuriates Balaam. So he beats the animal. After the third encounter the angel reveals himself and explains that he would have killed Balaam had the donkey not acted as it did. God used the donkey to spare Balaam’s life, despite his greed.

I wonder how many of us are like Balaam? We know what God wants us to do but we resist. We pray over and over, hopeful that God will change His mind and give us what we want. Our delayed obedience doesn’t reflect a genuine desire to get God’s plan right, it simply reveals a craving for our own agendas.

And how many of us respond like Balaam when God uses circumstances and events, sometimes difficult or tragic ones, to steer us away from the path that leads to destruction? We kick and scream at God, perhaps even shake our fist in defiance, because He refuses to allow us to pursue an agenda we are certain is best, but in fact is catastrophic.

Does the story of Balaam resonate with you? Has disobedience and rebellion left you in a place of ruin or misery?

Well, take heart. God desires a restored relationship with you. He will never abandon you. Instead, He patiently beckons you back to Him, calling you by name. Come home.

Wells Fargo Fraud Evidences Troubling Trend.

Recent news of the massive fraud perpetuated by thousands of Wells Fargo employees exposes troubling trends with America’s great institutions. According to multiple reports the company opened up more than 2 million fake accounts for customers who did not request them. Ongoing since at least 2011 (though it now appears it may have begun as early as 2009), the fraud negatively impacted consumer credit ratings and resulted in fees charged to account holders.

If you or I illegally opened an account under someone else’s name, we would be criminally charged with fraud and/or identity theft and almost certainly spend time in jail. But not so with our nation’s banks. Not so with corporate weasels and their minions. No one faces criminal charges. No one goes to jail.

In fact, CEO John Stumpf refuses to call it fraud, insisting it was simply an ethical lapse. But his refusal to come clean doesn’t stop there. He also contends low-level and low-wage employees executed the fraud without involvement or awareness of senior leaders and executives. Nothing systemic, he claims with a straight face. In the aftermath 5,400 employees were fired while the executive who oversaw the department received a $125 million golden parachute to retire.

Essentially, Stumpf wants us to believe that he and other Wells Fargo executives are the brains and talent behind all the success the bank enjoys (and therefore deserving of their eight and nine figure compensation packages) but have no responsibility for anything nefarious that occurs in the bowels of the company. Like other corporate shysters, Stumpf wants it both ways. Claims credit for the good. Pleads ignorance for the bad.

It reminds me of the court scene in the movie, A Few Good Men. Jack Nicholson’s character has just chastised Tom Cruise’s character for suggesting he doesn’t have control over his military base, Guantanamo Bay. He explains his soldiers always obey orders; otherwise people die. After he allows the jury to absorb that assertion, Cruise wonders how it is that two of Nicholson’s soldiers administered a code red – a serious form of discipline – against a third soldier since Nicholson previously claimed to have ordered the practice stopped. Nicholson hems and haws and says the two men charged for the crime took matters into their own hands. No, Cruise reminds Nicholson, that’s not what happens on your base. Soldiers obey orders or people die. He goes on to expose the colonel for the lying hypocrite he is.

Which brings us back to Stumpf and Wells Fargo. How is it possible for so hideous and extensive a practice to thrive unabated and unknown for more than five years? Either Stumpf and his leadership team are utterly incompetent and therefore undeserving of their plutocratic incomes or, like Nicholson’s character, they knew what was going on and chose to ignore it until it became public – at which point they shifted to cover-up mode.

Like other corporate executives who administer cultures of fraud, greed, and unethical behavior, Stumpf believes us fools. And he knows the American system is designed to allow such behavior to continue. Sure he has to go before a Senate committee, take a few bi-partisan whacks, and suffer several minutes of public shame. But tomorrow it’s back to the basics of pretense and fabrication.

Sadly, neither Stumpf nor Wells Fargo will suffer any substantive consequences. The bank was fined a figure that amounts to peanuts relative to its considerable annual profit. Stumpf will remain at the helm and continue to rake in his hefty income. The Senate committee threw some shade but otherwise accomplished nothing.

What needs to happen (as well as what this says about modern capitalism and our government) is another story. I’ll offer thoughts on those subjects in subsequent posts in the next week or two. Suffice it to say on this issue dramatic change is required because our nation can no longer tolerate the pattern of fraud, dishonesty, and malfeasance that permeates a growing number of banks, corporations, and insurance companies. Their prioritization of profit over integrity is changing more than the culture of corporate America; it’s changing the culture of America itself. And that evolution leads down a primrose path of peril. So it must stop and it must stop now.

Jesus’ Least Popular Warning More Relevant Than Ever.

One of the gravest warnings Jesus issued during His ministry involved the dangers of greed and materialism. “Take heed and beware of covetousness,” He said, “for one’s life does not consist of the abundance of things he possesses” (Luke 12:15, NKJV). Jesus’ admonition addresses one of the dominant themes of Scripture, and seems tailor-made for a nation inundated by avarice and unbridled consumerism. But in a strange twist of irony it is one of the least sermonized subjects on Sunday.

Perhaps that’s no surprise. After all, we don’t consider ourselves covetous. No matter how many possessions we acquire, how selfishly we spend our income, how quickly we pursue the latest technology, or how much stuff we consume, we insist that Christ’s warning does not apply to us. We explain away any apparent contradiction by declaring that our hearts belong to Christ and therefore we’re free from a spirit of materialism. Our possessions cannot be idols because we profess Jesus as Lord. Therefore no matter how much stuff we accumulate it’s never sin.

But these excuses reveal more about our ability to rationalize then they do about the absence of covetousness in our lives. We have become adept at gaming the system of God’s admonitions. We convince ourselves that rabid consumerism constitutes sin only if it supplants Christ as Lord, and since that never happens we continue to pursue the things of the world without trepidation.

Our expertise at justifying such idolatry threatens our spiritual vitality and dulls our ability to identify the rampant materialism in our lives. What results are lives with divided loyalties – committed to Christ in principle but intoxicated with the world in practice. Our profession of love for the Lord is starkly contrasted by the wild-eyed enthusiasm with which we chase the things of this world.

Jesus tackled this subject early in His ministry and left no room for ambiguity. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches” (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). We nod in agreement with Jesus’ assertions. They produce no angst because we see no battle being waged for our allegiance, our love, or our souls. We make no effort to validate our claim that Jesus is the object of our love, service, and devotion.

But Jesus anticipated the ease with which we would enthrone idols in our heart and the casualness with which we would deny their existence. So He tackled that subject as well. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NKJV). That succinct statement slices through the noise and exposes our duplicity. Irrespective of what we say about the heart’s affections, it always lies with our treasures.

It is easy to say we treasure Jesus and our relationship with Him. But what do our checkbooks identify as our true treasure? What do our calendars point to as our real treasure? And what would our colleagues at work say we treasure? If Jesus really is our treasure shouldn’t every area of life reflect His presence and Lordship?

We can no longer afford to ignore this epidemic. It’s time we expose its existence in our hearts, our churches, and our nation. We are covetous – as a body and as individuals – and that spirit of covetousness is weakening our witness in the community, undermining our effectiveness for the Lord, and often revealing an absence of faith altogether (though not the absence of religion – for religion thrives where covetousness goes unchecked).

To remedy this spiritual contagion we must recognize that it is insufficient to simply quit acquiring stuff, stop spending lavishly on ourselves, and refrain from pursuing the world’s treasures with wild abandon. Our greed and materialism are symptoms of a much larger problem and are not the entirety of the problem themselves. The real problem at the root of our covetousness is our failure to abide in Christ.

Amidst our pursuit of pleasure, products, and merchandise we have lost our first love. Our hearts and our attention have been captured by the lures of this world and we no longer seek the presence of Christ regularly. To resolve our idolatry, then, we must pursue Him with passion. It is only as we rekindle the flame of affection for Jesus that our burning desire for worldly treasure grows dim. It is only then that we fulfill our purpose in this world and grow to resemble our Lord and Savior.

Signs of End Times – Part I

I traveled regularly when I worked in the corporate world and occasionally I would experience a flight delay. In one instance a severe storm swept through the area I had been visiting causing a two-hour delay. Since I had not eaten yet, I walked to a restaurant just around the corner from my gate and ordered dinner. In an effort to optimize time I pulled out my laptop and began working on a presentation.

After an hour I poked my head around the corner to see if the weather had further delayed my flight. Imagine my surprise when I noticed no one in the waiting area and the gate information sign had been updated to reflect a departed flight. I hustled to the gate agent, asked about my flight and learned it had just left. Apparently a brief break in the weather allowed the pilot to secure clearance from air traffic control to depart. The airline had loaded passengers quickly and then left the terminal.

I protested and asked the agent why she hadn’t made an announcement on the PA system. She informed me that she had made several such announcements. Evidently I was so focused on getting my work done that I had not heard the updates. I had allowed something of secondary importance, my work, to distract me from that which was of primary importance, going home. As it turned out, that was the last flight out the day and I missed it. I was left behind.

God knows how easily the things of this world distract us. We get focused on things of secondary importance such as our careers, education, reputation, entertainment and even our friends and family. Often they distract us so much we lose focus entirely on the one thing of primary importance, our relationship with God. Our time with Him diminishes to a point of such insignificance that we are unable to hear His voice. The cacophony of voices demanding our attention prevent us from hearing His guidance for our lives and His instruction for our decisions. We do not hear Him sending us a message just I did not hear the gate agent make her announcement over the PA system.

Unfortunately, failing to hear and respond to God’s call carries far greater consequences than failing to hear an update on a flight departure. We risk missing the return of Christ and failing to join Him when He takes His followers to their eternal home. Billions of people will miss that ultimate journey because the world distracted them. Sadly, many of those will be folks who thought they were following the Lord all along.

I think that risk of distraction is why Scripture informs us of the signs that reflect end times. God wants us ready when His Son returns to gather His people. He does not want us caught unprepared and therefore left behind. Let’s examine a biblical passage (2 Timothy 3:1-5) that identifies some of the signs of the end times and see what we can glean from it.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy he observes, “in the last days times of stress will come,” (2 Tim. 3:1, NKJV). Certainly many in the world are experiencing significant stress in their lives today, perhaps unprecedented for some. Paul then proceeds to list a number of sinful behaviors that people will manifest in later days. Of course, all of these sins have been evidenced since the beginning of time. In today’s world, though, they seem to be growing exponentially in frequency and intensity. Here are several he mentions that appear especially germane in our world today. You may want to consider whether you reflect any of these behaviors in your own life.

People will be lovers of themselves. With the explosion of social media, reality television, and the phenomenon of the selfie, it is rather obvious that our culture has fallen in love with itself. People love to promote, adore and celebrate themselves, and encourage others to join them in their acts of self-aggrandizement. Our society has become crazed with becoming famous, popular, and esteemed by others. We have evolved into a culture that celebrates self. The danger in this is that intense love for self precludes the presence of God – who demands we love Him supremely.

People will be lovers of money. Greed. Our society lusts for money with increasing ferocity and money has become the dominant motivation for much of our nation. Political, corporate, educational, and cultural leaders seem to base their decisions on what generates the most income, not on what is best for others or on what is right and wrong. That has had catastrophic consequences on our nation and will contribute significantly to its impending economic collapse. America’s love for money has reached idolatrous levels and God abhors idolatry. Greed is destroying our culture and, sadly, the church along with it.

People will be boasters, proud, and haughty. Arrogance has evolved into an art form. Athletes talk smack to one another and exclaim they are the greatest. Politicians speak of themselves in glowing terms and insist we revere them. We emphasize to others our educational pedigrees, our career successes, and our achievements in the world. Listen to conversations around you and many focus almost entirely on themselves and their accomplishments. The emphasis on me, me, me, has become an epidemic in our nation’s dialogue. It represents pride, which the Lord loathes. This sin is especially notable in that it has infiltrated the church, contributing to its declining power and influence in the nation.

People will not exercise self-control. This sin seems to capture the overall condition of our world today. Everything seems to be out of control. The economy, the government, world affairs. Even the weather appears out of control. But the lack of order in these areas is merely symptomatic of the lack of control exercised by those managing the economy, operating the government, and leading world affairs. Our inability to control our behavior, spending, dialogue, attitudes, and anger have generated the conditions ripe for war, corporate exploitation, governmental abuse of power, exploding debt, and severe weather extremes. Sadly, our leaders are trying to solve the symptoms without addressing the cause: our lack of self-control.

People will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. While Christians may readily agree this applies to our nation, I encourage them to reflect on whether the sin exists in their own life. Most believers pursue pleasure with the same fervor and focus that non-Christians do. Most Christians enjoy entertainment as much as the secular culture and take relaxing vacations, follow sports, enjoy spa treatments, and participate in fun activities as frequently as non-believers. The fact is, most of those in the church love pleasure every bit as much as our unchurched neighbors. We justify it by insisting the pleasure we pursue is godly fun and not the sinful pleasure the world pursues.

But Paul does not distinguish between the two in this passage. He simply asserts that people will love pleasure rather than God. And that is the connection we fail to understand. Our love and pursuit of innocuous pleasure is as dangerous as the non-Christian’s love and pursuit of wicked pleasure. Why? Because both distract us from God and loving Him. As Christians we may profess to love God but our pursuit of leisure, fun, and adventure often reveals our true love is pleasure.

That will offend many who will insist God wants us to have lots of wholesome fun and any other view is legalistic. But that is not what Paul teaches. When we direct most of our free time toward the pursuit of pleasure, it is evidence we love pleasure – and as a result do not love God. We have become distracted by the lures of this world and are in grave danger of missing God’s call when He returns.

Based on Paul’s signs that return is very likely in the near future.