Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Four

So Habakkuk is listening for God. He has asked some seriously tough questions in the midst of a test of his faith. And God speaks. God said, “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

That’s stunning. Shocking. And hard to swallow. God’s raising up the enemy?

Basically, He told Habakkuk, a guy He had chosen to be His prophet and therefore His messenger to the Jewish people, “Here’s the thing: you’re right — My people have really sunk to a new low. And while it may feel like I’m letting things slide, really I’m not. In fact, I’m going to have to destroy the people of Israel because they’re so wicked. And I’m going to use the Babylonians to do it.”

I imagine Habakkuk’s jaw dropping as he expressed some deep, theologically mature response like, “Say what?” Essentially God said that things would get worse before they’d get better. The Babylonians were notorious for being ruthless, violent, and aggressive in the relentless conquest of other tribes and nations. Corruption and violence among the Israelites might have been bad, but it was nothing compared with that of the Babylonians. It would almost be like us asking God why He allows so much injustice in our country, only to have Him tell us that He was going to allow foreign terrorists to annihilate us.

When times are tough, the last thing we want to hear is that they’re about to get tougher. But we know that real life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. So what now?

When you’re going through a season of struggle with God, remember: Habakkuk’s name means both to wrestle and to embrace. You can wrestle with God about all that you don’t like, yet simultaneously embrace Him because He is good and trustworthy. It really comes down to how we respond to a crisis of belief. Usually when a person enters that valley, they go to one of two extremes.

Many want to return to their last spiritual high, that mountaintop experience in which everything with God seemed great. He was answering their prayers, life was good, and their faith felt strong. They deny all the doubts undermining their faith, telling themselves, “I’m going to pretend this crisis isn’t happening right now. I know if I can just get back up on that mountaintop again, everything will be all right.” Now, you can’t fault this person for their strong belief in God’s provision and providence, but sometimes we have to come down off the mountaintop and let God help us deal with the real world.

Some others slide into the valley and decide to descent even further. They say, “Okay, God, if you’re not going to do what I know you could do, then forget you! I’m going back to the life I used to know. If you could help, but you’re not helping, then you must not be good, so I can’t trust you.” They wrongly assume that God must not love them if He’s not willing to do what they want Him to do to alleviate their suffering. 

Thankfully, there is a third option. If, like Habakkuk, we’re willing to lean into the hardship we’re experiencing and wrestle with how God might use it to achieve His purposes (the bigger picture), then we can begin to climb out of the valley. You have to remember, through, that just because things aren’t going your way doesn’t mean God isn’t still working. But I will admit that from a human perspective, His interventions may seem mysterious or even capricious. 

Although we don’t understand, we continue to believe God, listening for His voice and waiting for His answer. And just like Habakkuk, we will cling to God and trust Him, even when He doesn’t seem to make sense. The I-want-to-believer who will continue to embrace God, even though things may not get any better at first, will grow much closer to God than he or she was in the past. If you look at the people you know who are closest to God, often they’re the very ones who have been through the most difficult times, and God has proved Himself faithful to them. Their intimacy was forged through honest and open conversations with Him — permission to speak freely — asking Him and then listening patiently. 

Once more – more next time 

I Am Afraid

Bill Lewis is a teacher and preacher who ministers apostolically and prophetically. Nearly 50 years of ministry is reflected in his writings. He currently lives in the State of Ohio, U.S.A. and is a friend and co-worker in the Kingdom.

I am afraid. I am not afraid. I think it is a threat and real. I think it is a hoax and a plot to manipulate. I am staying home. I refuse to stay home. You are a racist. I am not a racist. Black lives matter. All lives matter. The president is doing a great job. The president is insane. I love the president. I hate the president.

We live in a bowl of toxicity. No one is right; no one is wrong. Opinions are flying at the rate of a 100 mph fastball. No matter what you say or do; it is a swing and a miss.

Even sitting down to write this blog, (which I have put off for a long time) I am concerned to even express anything.

However, in studying history, we have as humans been here many times. Even in American history we have survived events like these time and again. Going back to the American Revolution we had folks split down the middle on issues to the point of demonstrations and  loss of life. Even a few years later the country was divided breaking into political parties and branding one another as un-American. Moving to the Civil War period the country was divided deeply and Lincoln was vilified to the end that he was assassinated. Pre World War Two, there were many Americans who thought Hitler was a great leader moving Germany out of financial collapse. Later, of course, Hitler’s true colors were revealed. When we live in that moment, it is hard to see clearly at times. History tends to sort it out years later. As they say, “Hind sight is 20/20.”

As a minister of the Gospel, the real issue comes to the wicked heart of man. Man is fallen. His nature, without redemption, is self centered, wholly carnal, hedonistic, and spiritually lost. While the world swirls around us, there is one thing that remains true; the sovereign will of God will be executed in the long run. There is a definite plan revealed in the word that brings things to a culmination. Jesus indicated that nations would rise and fall, wars and rumors of wars would persist. He said that there would one day be a false peace.

Personally, we, as believers, need to focus on principles of God’s word. We lose the power of the Gospel when we trade heavily in political parties. We become enmeshed in the platforms of the philosophical and political agendas of those parties. We slowly become more avid about the platform than the Gospel.

I am not advocating un-involvement, nor a position of disengaged pacifism. I know there are principles that must be upheld, talked about, embraced, and action taken. However, the real answer is Jesus. Seemingly simplistic, I know. Rather a pat answer you may say, maybe even trite. But contained in that simple statement is salvation, humanitarian reform, Prince of Peace, love, dignity, value, altruism in its best form. “Come unto me”…rings true today as it did when spoken for the first time.

I do not know when all this will end, but I do know that the Gospel is the best answer. Historically, America in its worst times, has been the seed bed for evangelical revival. The gospel has risen in each crisis to bring hope and restore civility. This should be our prayer and answer…Jesus.

I sincerely believe we need a move of God and thus I pray

Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Three

We have been looking at the prophet Habakkuk and his boldness to ask God all the hard questions that were on his heart. He may have known that sometimes just allowing yourself to ask these questions can take you a long way toward reconnecting with God and learning to, once again, trust Him. It’s hard to love someone — even the Creator of the universe — if you’re holding grudges and hiding your true feelings. Habakkuk clearly loves God but that didn’t keep him from respectfully challenging God (not testing Him; there’s a difference) with a request to help him understand the huge gap between what he believed and what he saw around him.

Once the prophet had finished asking his questions, he knew it was time to listen. The same is true for you. Habakkuk wrote, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts;

I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint”   (Habakkuk 2:1, emphasis mine)

I love those images. I will stand at my watch and look to see what God will say to me. As basic and obvious as this may seem, sometimes the reason we’re not getting answers to our questions is that we’re not willing to pause and wait long enough for God to reveal Himself to us.

Sometimes when we rave and rant, what we really want is simply to vent our emotions, not to engage in a conversation. When we allow our anger, doubt, and fear to control us, our questions can drown out what God wants to say back to us.

Other times, we may pose our questions to God, but then, because we’re so preoccupied with the many things that are pulling at us, we don’t pause to listen for His response. We hear but we don’t listen.

Why don’t we slow down to hear God’s still, small, comforting voice? Honestly, I think it’s because too many of us are overwhelmed. We’re so busy juggling work, home, school, church — not to mention whatever crisis ignited our doubts in the first place — that we don’t take the time to stop, to quiet our hearts before God in silence.

The writer of Psalm 46:10 quotes God: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When was the last time you stopped everything and just sat completely still, listening for God’s voice?

Notice that God did not say, “Be busy, and know that I am God.”

Be said, “Be still.”

Be.

Still.

And listen.

How do you actually listen to God? You can open His Word and let His Spirit bring truth to life. God speaks through circumstances, if you pause long enough to reflect. He speaks through people, offering divine wisdom from heaven. And He can speak directly to you through His Spirit. When you belong to Him, spend time with Him, and quiet yourself before Him, you will learn to recognize His voice. Only then!

Think about it this way: one of the unexpected benefits of going through a difficult season — walking in and through the valley — is that it gives us the chance to stop and reevaluate our priorities. To refocus. In fact, some say that the Chinese word for crisis uses two characters: one means “danger,” and the other means “opportunity.” When hard things happen, we often see more clearly what means the most to us. Spending time alone with God should be at the top of our list, even if the conversation with Him will be a difficult one.

However, as Habakkuk discovered, when you ask God the tough questions, you have to be prepared to listen to His answers, even if you don’t like them. Hopefully, if you are hurting and you press into God’s presence, He will direct you, guide you, and comfort you. But in Habakkuk’s case, God had other things to do first. And the news would be difficult to hear. 

More next time.

Permission To Speak Freely – Part Two

I am a fan of space movies and have watched most of the Star Trek series on television and the big screen. I enjoy the plot of each episode or movie and the action. It stretches my imagination and helps me to wonder about the universe. When the situation is difficult or demanding in the story often a junior officer will say to the senior commander “Permission to speak freely.” This means off the record and deep, personal honesty usually with some risk.

Habakkuk, as we saw yesterday, is having one of those “permission to speak freely” times with his superior officer and “boss” – the God of Israel. He is going through a deep valley and is questioning what is happening to him and his people. Wondering where God is in all the things that are happening. And, as we saw, it has been quite a conversation. It might be good to reread yesterday’s blog to refresh your memory. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I agree with C.S. Lewis that God’s highest agenda is not our immediate happiness. I believe that God is much more committed to our eternal joy, our spiritual growth, and the condition of our hearts. This means what we need to grow out of spiritual infancy into a richer, ever-maturing belief in a God who is infinitely wiser than we are. We need to learn to trust Him even when we can’t feel Him, believe in Him even when He doesn’t make sense, and follow Him even though we’re not sure where He’s leading us.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). As counterintuitive as this may sound, I don’t think James is telling us just to suck it up and keep going. I think he is reminding us of that bigger picture, the larger story, that sense that something greater is going on than the trial we find ourselves caught up in. Here’s something curious: James don’t tell us that we can’t ask God what’s going on; he tells us only to count our problem as joy.

The point, as Habakkuk seems to have grasped, is asking honest questions while also trusting God and His Word. Think about it: you can have a sincere faith in God even as you are wrestling with unanswered questions. God is big enough to handle it. And He loves you enough to be patient with you as you learn about parts of His character that were too deep for you to comprehend before your crisis of belief.

Apparently, this prophet was also willing to listen when God responded. The good news is that God will meet you in your moment of greatest need. Just as He responded to Habakkuk, He will respond to you. In fact, God has plenty to say to us about how we should face our trials – the valleys we walk through. Again, He never says we can’t ask Him our honest questions. On the contrary, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)

So if you have questions, ask away.

Just be prepared when God answers. 

Mountaintop Experience – Part Two

We had a mountaintop experience with the Lord and now life has apparently settled back to “normal” and we are walking through a deep, dark valley. Faith does not seem to exist and you even question whether God really does love you and wonder if He seriously cares for you or even knows that you exist.

Sometimes the pain in these valley times is so intense that all you can think about is relief. Everything in you just wants it to stop. Because the immediate hurt is so extreme, instead of thinking about Jesus, you may just be thinking about getting out of the pain you’re in. But this can be become a pivotal moment in your faith journey. This is when you can experience the depth of God’s grace in a way that’s impossible during better moments. During mountaintop times. His presence is real in your pain. And it might become more real in this valley than it was on the mountaintop, if you can recognize that the way is through, not out.

Perhaps that’s why Blackaby sees this crisis as so vital, a requisite part of the Christian’s faith. If we’re going to become stronger in our faith, more committed to God, more in love with Jesus, then our beliefs will be tested. They must be tested. Blackaby explains, “Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do? The answer is yes, all the time!” People may tell you that God won’t give you more than you can bear. While they probably mean well, that’s simply not true. The Bible does say that God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). But He often gives you more than you can handle, so you can learn to depend wholly on Him.. 

Those words can be difficult to read and digest when you’re hurting. Believe me, I understand. Remember: I’ve been there. As a father of 6, I have been there. And as a pastor for 50+ years, I often walk with people through the lowest points in their lives. It’s never easy. But God’s faithfulness is always evident. Often in hindsight. But He is always there and working on your behalf.

I think Christianity has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades because so many Christians try to pretend they have everything figured out. This includes the problem of pain in the world. I’m not against developing a theological understanding of evil in the world, of human suffering, and of the goodness of God. That’s very important. It’s just that when you’re standing in front of a father whose son has just be killed for his faith, or a woman who just learned that her cancer has returned, theology — or at least the ability or need to explain it — isn’t necessarily our first objective. When words don’t work, remember that presence does. Love does. An embrace does. It is time to embrace those walking through the valley and do the same thing Jesus did: love them, challenge them, accept them, forgive them, be there for them.

That’s the beauty and power of the incarnation. God didn’t shout His love from heaven or the mountaintop. He showed us His love on earth as He became one of us in the person of His Son Jesus. When someone is in the valley, rather than trying to explain what’s happening, sometimes we are better off listening. Rather than preaching, we focus on loving. And in those moments of quiet presence, God often reveals Himself in ways that go beyond our human ability to understand. 

Unless our own suffering draws us closer to God, it’s hard to offer genuine compassion — and hope — to others. When we aren’t connected to others’ pain, it’s tempting instead to offer them bumper sticker platitudes and pat answers designed to keep our own fragile faith intact. Some people even go so far as to tell those who are suffering that it’s because of sin in their lives or because they don’t have enough faith or because they’re simply getting what they deserve. What a terrible, dangerously, hurtful, unbiblical response! Nowhere do I see Jesus condemning people who are hurting; I see Him only allowing His grace to convict their hearts and convince them of their real need.

Our world is broken. Because we live in a world where our free will has opened the door to our spiritual enemy, we will all continue to experience painfully hard, terrible, unexpected events in our lives. It’s not that growing mature in our faith exempts us from these events. The opposite might be closer to the truth. It’s simply that we’ve experienced enough pain and grown so much closer to God — even in spite of our pain — that our faith has been strengthened, deepened, and matured for the next tough time in the valley.

Author and scholar C. S. Lewis explains it this way: “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think He wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”

So, remember, mountaintop or valley — God is with you and He never leaves you or forsakes you. Take His hand and walk through the valley. 

Mountaintop Experience – Part One

Most of us know what it’s like to have a mountaintop experience. For many of us, this is how we became Christians in the first place. We had an amazing experience in which we felt God’s presence in a real, tangible, all-consuming way. We sensed His love, His grace, His power, His Spirit. In that moment we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives on this earth, as well as the rest of eternity, serving Him, pursuing Him, and making Him known.

That is certainly my story. The night that I was saved I actually saw Jesus ‘in the flesh’ and He physically hugged me and poured His love into me. I saw Him. I touched Him. I heard His voice speak to me (see 1 John 1:1-4). I experienced His forgiveness and an inner washing resulting in a supernatural clean feeling inside. And the spiritual transformation began!

It didn’t matter where I was; I believed that God was with me. I shared my faith with anyone and everyone I met or ran into while out shopping or just taking a walk. I especially spoke to other pastors and priests assuming that, like me, they had bought into religion and did not have a personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ. It seemed like God answered every prayer. Every Bible verse I read seemed to be written just for me. And everywhere I went it seemed like God gave me the words to say and showed me a difference that I could make.

Initially, being a Christian felt like this amazing experience. You have these powerful times of praying and studying the Bible. Each day the words of the Bible seem to jump off the page, ministering to you in just the perfect way. Sermons seem to be especially for you, directly addressing something important that you’re going through or thoroughly explaining a Scripture you just read. Then you see the same verse on somebody’s social media feed, and you know that God is speaking to you. When you get in your car, your favourite song comes on the radio, and it feels like God played it just for you. You feel an urgency to help your non-Christian friends, and God constantly gives you the right words to say. You know He’s with you. When you’re in a rush at the mall, a parking spot opens up right in the front row.

That’s when you know you are on the top of the mountain. 

Then, at some point, life starts to creep back in. And God’s presence seems to fade. Without even realizing it, you have come down from the mountain, back to the real world, and your faith doesn’t seem quite so amazing anymore. You still believe in God, still go to church, still try to read the Bible and pray when you have time. But the sermons aren’t always just for you. Your favourite song isn’t on the radio anymore. And the best parking spots are all taken.

Suddenly life isn’t going as you planned and hoped. Your prayers feel flat and stale. Like God has stopped listening. Someone betrays you. God doesn’t feel as close as He once did. You feel disoriented, uncertain where you stand with God, or whether you’re still standing at all. You were up on the mountaintop, and now you’re down in the valley.

If you’ve never been there, I hope you never are. But I suspect you might know something about what I’m saying. You woke up one day only to realize you were burned out. Discouraged. That little orange light comes on, telling you that your faith tank is dangerously low. It’s at this time that we hit the valley. You have come off the mountaintop and are now walking through the dark valley 

In his book Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby describes this valley as a “crisis of belief,” a season of struggles and doubting God and His goodness in our lives. Usually, this crisis is ignited by a specific trigger, such as a serious physical challenge, a financial setback, or a relational disappointment.

Often the trigger is something unexpected or even unthinkable. Sometimes several smaller but challenging events overlap, and the combined burden becomes a crushing weight that causes a person’s faith to collapse. Didn’t Christ say that His burden is light and His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30)? Suddenly, getting out of bed in the morning feels intimidating. You can’t imagine how you’re going to get through the rest of the morning, let alone an entire day. Where’s God now?

In those moments, faith seems irrelevant. When the Titanic is sinking, it’s hard to enjoy a game of shuffleboard on deck or to appreciate the string quartet playing music on the bandstand. When you don’t know whether the radiation and chemo will work or where the money’s going to come from or when you’ll see your child again, it’s hard to believe that praying, trusting and hoping will make a difference. It’s hard to keep the faith when you have so little control over everything else in your life. Yup, you are in the valley. 

More next time…

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Five

Remember what your mother told you when you had two cookies and your sister had none? “Quick, eat them both before she can wrench one out of your greedy little hands!” Probably not. She would say, “Share.” What do you tell your own kids, nieces, and nephews when they have more than they need and a friend or sibling has none? We tell them to share. Watching someone eat two cookies in the presence of someone who has none doesn’t seem right, does it? We feel compelled to say or do something. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42).

Imagine seeing the world from God’s point of view. Imagine being able to see everybody in the world who has two cookies and everyone who has none, all at the same time. You would probably say something. You would tell everyone to share. If God has blessed you with more than you need, it’s so that you can share your abundance with those who have need, Embracing that simple truth is the key to ridding your heart of greed and removing that dreaded Bigger Barn Syndrome.

It is so basic and simple – not easy, but simple… Generous giving (and living) will break the grip of greed on your life. So whether or not you think you have extra, give and give generously. You’ve got to give to the point that it forces you to adjust your lifestyle. If you are not willing to give to the point that it impacts your lifestyle, then according to Jesus you’re greedy. If you’re consuming to the point of having little or nothing left to give, you’re greedy. If you’re consuming and saving to the point that their’s little or nothing to give, you’re greedy.

I know that’s strong. Actually, it’s harsh.

But it’s true. 

Maybe this is a bit hard for you to swallow because you’ve never had a greedy thought in your life. Maybe you feel compassion every time you see someone in need. And in your heart you really do want to help. You want to give, but you can’t. Or you won’t. Why? Because you’re afraid you won’t have enough. But your heart genuinely goes out to those in need. So is it fair to say you’re greedy? Yes. Because greed is not a feeling; it’s a refusal to act.

You can feel compassion toward people in need and be as avaricious as Scrooge. Greed is evident not by how you feel but by what you do. Generous feelings and good intentions don’t compensate for a greedy heart; in fact, good intentions and greed can cohabit in your heart indefinitely. This is what makes this covert enemy such a threat to the heart. You may never feel it the way you do anger or guilt or even jealousy. But it’s there. It’s dangerous. And it can lead to total loss. 

Just as you can’t wait until you’re in shape to start exercising, you dare not wait to start giving until your fear of giving is gone. Don’t wait until God changes your heart to begin giving. Giving is the way God chooses to change our hearts. As your heart changes, your attitude and feelings will follow suit. God loves a cheerful giver, but He’’ll put your money to good use whether you’re cheerful or not. My advice: Give until you get cheerful.

Our giving must impact our lifestyle if it’s going to break the power of greed in our lives. The best way to do this is to become a percentage giver. Percentage giving involves giving away a percentage of everything you receive right off the top, as soon as you get it. Specifically, the first cheque or e-Transfer you would write after depositing your paycheque is a cheque to an organization(s) that supports the work of the Kingdom. That’s how you become rich toward God. In New Testament times there were no such organizations; believers gave to their place of worship and to the poor. We now have multiple options. Choose one or two to start. Now.

Writing this cheque or making this e-Transfer ensures that God’s Kingdom is funded ahead of yours. You’ll have to live on the leftovers for a change. If that scares you, start at a low percentage, say 2 percent. You’ll never miss it. Bump it up a percentage point every 6 months or every year until you’re giving at least 10 or 12 percent of your income. Giving at that level is evidence of a lifestyle adjustment. But percentage giving is just the beginning.

You need to be a spontaneous giver as well. When you see someone in need, give. Isn’t that what you expect God to do for you when you’re in need? Then go ahead and make the first move. If you’ve got extra and somebody is in need, share. That’s who your extra is there for. 

These two habits, percentage giving and spontaneous giving, will protect you from Bigger Barn Syndrome. The day will come when you receive an unexpected windfall and your first thought will be, who can I help? What Kingdom endeavour can I fund? In that moment you’ll know that through the habit of generous giving, you’ve broken the power of greed in your life.

It’s a habit that changes everything. 

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Four

We finished yesterday with a thought and a question:

So, when we don’t have enough, we wonder why.

Why not wonder when we have more than enough?

You know where I’m going with this. The parable of the rich fool makes it all too clear why we have more than we need. But before we head down the path of predictability, let’s consider our options.

What are the possibilities? What might God be up to in providing us with more than our daily bread? 

Perhaps you have more than you need in order to ensure that your children have everything they need. Is that why God has provided the way He has? Probably not. In fact, leaving or giving your children a lot of money generally doesn’t set them up for success in life. In all my years of counselling, I’ve never heard anyone say”My problems began when my parents didn’t leave me enough money.” But the world is full of people whose problems began when they received money they didn’t earn. I don’t think God gave you what you have in order to ruin your kids.

Maybe God provided an abundance for you so you won’t worry. Maybe He wants you to lean on your accumulated assets for peace. But I’m guessing that’s not it either. Generally speaking, the more a person accumulates, the more he worries about it. Besides, peace is a fruit of the Spirit, not a by-product of accumulated wealth. The more I have, the more I think about it and the more I worry about it.

There’s a third option. Perhaps God has provided you with extra in order to elevate your standard of living. Maybe it’s all about bumping up your lifestyle a notch or two. Most people today, regardless of the nation they live in, enter adulthood with the assumption that our lifestyle should keep pace with our income. In fact, thanks to the credit card industry, for many of us our lifestyle slightly outpaces our income. Either way, we’re continually urged not to allow one to lag too far behind the other. The result, of course, is artificially induced income pressure.

“Artificial?: you say. “My financial concerns don’t feel very artificial.” They don’t feel artificial because the costs associated with maintaining your lifestyle are very real — you really do have to pay your cable TV bill, your cell phone bill, and your credit card bill. But those bills exist because you’ve chosen to lead a lifestyle that keeps pace with or outpaces your income. You’ve convinced yourself that all those luxuries are necessities – things you can’t live without. Your inflated sense of what’s essential has created financial pressure, but it’s artificial pressure. Maybe all you need to do is throttle back your lifestyle a notch or two and the pressure would subside.

Think about it. Regardless of how much money a person makes, if he leaves himself no margin, there’ll be no peace of mind. Worse, if all your money is spoken for before you deposit your paycheque, greed has an all-access pass to your heart. Why? Because any extra that comes in is already spoken for as well. You’re planning ahead of time to consume it. Where’s there no margin financially, there’s no way to avoid avarice. When the pressure’s on, we have little choice but to think of ourselves first.

That’s the essence of greed. You don’t have to actually have extra to be greedy. As long as you plan to spend whatever comes your way on yourself, you’re a candidate. It you’ve allowed your lifestyle to keep lockstep with or surpass your income, you’ll find it next to impossible to keep greed from taking root in your heart. And, if the surplus is rather large you begin the experience the Bigger Barn Syndrome. 

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Three

The real moral of the story we have been looking at is this: Those whose eagerness to store up material goods outpaces their willingness to give will suffer a complete and total loss when their time runs out. The landowner suffered a total reversal of fortune at death: He lost everything in this life and had nothing to show for it in the next. He didn’t just lose his life, he lost everything he considered “life.” He was rich in this world but poor toward God because everything that came his way was used for his private consumption. 

In the words of Jesus, he was a fool. A fool that most of us would have envied had we known him. A fool that many of us have a tendency to emulate, but a fool just the same. The landowner was foolish enough to believe that an abundance of stuff meant an abundance of time. He was a fool to assume that his good fortune was the direct result of his hard work. He was a fool not to give to the less fortunate from his abundance, knowing that the day would come when everything would be taken from him, including any further opportunity to be generous. As Mignon McLaughlin once wrote in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, “‘Your money or your life.’ We know what to do when a burglar makes this demand of us, but not when God does.”

The parable of the rich fool does two important things for us: First, it defines greed from God’s perspective. Second, it offers a simple remedy. The problem with God’s definition is that it’s a bit broader than most of us are comfortable with. The problem with His solution is that it’s unavoidably practical.

The parable leads me the think of the power of generosity. What does it really mean to live life in “seriously generous” mode? 

Here’s a questions we all need to ask ourselves from time to time: Why do I have so much?

Now, I realize you don’t have as much as you want. Few of us do. Again, the desire for stuff is like the rest of our appetites — it can never be fully and finally satisfied. But just for a moment, shift your focus away from your potential possessions and income and consider your actual financial and physical accumulation and flow. Think of all you have. Chances are, it more than your parents had at your age. Perhaps it is considerably more than most people in the world can lay claim to. So why you? Why do you have so much?

We need to slow down occasionally and force ourselves to wrestle with that question. Why? Because a consumer-driven culture keeps us laser-focused on what we don’t have, and focusing on what we don’t have leaves our hearts vulnerable to greed – wanting more for the sake of more. How? Because as long as I’m on a quest for more, then when more does come along, I’ll assume it’s all for me. You know, like the farmer who built bigger barns. As long as I’m living for the next purchase, the next upgrade, the next whatever, I’m consuming mentally what I hope to soon be consuming physically. I’m anticipating future consumption. That kind of attitude leaves us little margin for generosity. And before we know it, we’re building bigger barns or a bigger garage or renting a heated storage space.

So let me ask you again: Why do you have so much? The wealthy landowner believed he deserved it; he didn’t recognize the divine providence behind his bumper crop. Assuming you aren’t as shortsighted as he was, let me ask the question this way: Why has God provided you with more than you need?

If it is an uncomfortable question, consider this: In the past, when you didn’t have enough, were you hesitant to question God about your lack? You probably didn’t hesitate at all. You let Him know immediately that you were in need. And if you’re like me, you let Him know what your expected Him to provide for you. And when He came through, what did you do? You thanked Him. You may have even shared your story with a few folks. So now that you’re on the other side, with more than enough, why don’t you questions God about that?

When we don’t have enough, we wonder why.

Why not wonder when we have more than enough?

Bigger Barn Syndrome – Part Two

So, the farmer has decided to build bigger barns to secure his future and not be a burden on his children in his old age. Sounds good.

If the story ended there, we might even consider this man a role model. But the story doesn’t end there. Nobody’s story ends there. While it’s true that the landowner planned ahead, he didn’t plan far enough ahead. He was right: He did need to consider his future — but not in the way he thought. He was presuming on years he didn’t have coming to him. Just as he overlooked the God-factor when evaluating his good agricultural fortune, the landowner has overlooked the God-factor when counting how many years he had left.

He assumed that his abundance of stuff assured him an abundance of time. But the two don’t have anything to do with each other. The very day the landowner made the decision to keep everything he’d earned (and thus, in his mind, deserved), he lost it. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, it lost him.

Just after this man gets off his phone with the barn-renovation experts, he receives some shocking news: He’ll die sometime in the night. He’s about to learn the hard way that his life is not equivalent to the amount of his possessions. He will run out of time before he runs out of stuff.

As it turns out, the landowner is more dependent on God than he realized, for he’s entirely reliant on God for his allotment of time. Too bad he didn’t see that he was equally dependent on God for his allotment of stuff. 

When God delivers the bad news, he asks the landowner a question that’s loaded with implications for each of us:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20)

The answer to this question should be obvious: Someone else. Someone else will end up with everything he has “earned” and consequently “deserved” and therefore stored up (saved). Someone else will end up with the very stuff he has hoarded for himself instead of depending on God’s provision. In the end, all of his possessions will be distributed to others. Not because he’s generous, but because he’s dead! More irony.

The parable of the rich fool directed our attention to an obvious but often overlooked reality: Eventually everything we claim to own will be owned by someone else. In the end it will be given away. So to assume that everything that comes our way is for our own consumption is shortsighted and foolish. It’s not a matter of if somebody else will get it; it’s just a matter of when and how. Either we’ll give it away while we still have time, or it will be taken away when our time runs out.

Jesus closes the parable with a stern warning:

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

This is Jesus’ definition of a greedy person: A person who stores up things for himself but isn’t rich towards God. Being “rich toward God” is Jesus-talk for being generous toward those in need. A greedy person is a man or woman who saved carefully but gives sparingly.

But what’s the warning Jesus is trying to convey? What is He saying will happen to you and me if we’re generous savers but not generous givers? Death? I don’t think so. That’s pretty much a given for all of us. Unexpected death? I don’t think that’s it either. I know a few generous people who died unexpectedly. Conversely, there are some very old greedy people; to the chagrin of their greedy relatives, they just keep on living. 

The real moral of the story is …