Tag Archives: Greed

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!

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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.