For someone who understands the New Testament, the only thing more frightening than the consequences of disobedience is the consequence of obedience. When we read the Bible for what it's worth we find that it's got allot less to say about believing in Jesus and prayer than it does about helping the poor (not to downplay those two things). The problem is that we either value verses like John 3:16 over verses like Mark 10:21 or we contextualize our way out of them. Well, you might say, Jesus said it to that guy because he was super rich... that's not everyone's call. But Jesus also said to be born again to one guy but we don't hesitate to read that as a universal call. So if Jesus said "sell all you have" to one guy and "be born again" to another guy what's the logic in saying one command is universal and another is not? So then our next option is to say that both are universal calls (we wouldn't want the born again verse to be explained away, now would we). But if we do that we'd be in a terrible bind... it would mean that pretty much the whole of the United States Church is disobeying God (we are one of the richest institutions in the world... we are super rich) but we can't say that now can we. So what do we do? We allegorize it. We say that selling all you have isn't really selling your stuff... Jesus was just kidding around... we can keep our stuff as long as we pretend it belongs to God and He just wants us to be "willing" to sell all we have in case the time comes when someone needs it. The unsettling news we've all been ignoring is that someone already does need our stuff. And more that just our stuff, they need our interest and our time. But instead we change the channel when Sudan comes on, or Haiti flashes across the screen (perhaps those situations aren't being flashed on the screen enough). I figure its ok for me to keep my stuff and live in luxury so far away from the poverty that plagues the rest of the world as long as I pray for them. Prayer might be good enough if it were done for a reason other than to make myself feel better... to let myself off the hook. I will say that I care because I prayed. I have faith and so everything is ok. I fear the day when we actually start believing that our prayers are enough when we are killing Jesus by keeping our wealth to our selves and thus away from Him while He is dying in our front yard begging "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink" (Matthew 25:42). Our prayers become worthless to God without our obedience. "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Samuel 15:22)
To quote another overcontextualized/overalegorized/extremely ignored passage: "What good is it... if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:14-17) "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire." (James 5:1-3)
While these passages from the book of James should be scary to us sitting in front of our computers with enough time on our hands to read and write blog posts, still somehow we are more afraid of losing our stuff... we are more in love with our comfort than we are with our very lives. We are more in love with our stuff than we are with Jesus. It's not hell that I'm afraid of even though James seems to think I'm going there (after all I have a few verses in the bible to let me off the hook... special thanks to John and Paul). What I'm really afraid of is what it might mean if I actually obeyed God and the New Testament. I'm more afraid of losing my things than I am of hell. Can I even call myself a Christian at that point? If I'm a follower of Christ, then why am I here and He is in poverty (please get my point here... I know that Jesus is everywhere)? Does God drive an SUV?
If you're not catching my conviction here please catch it now. If you feel like all I'm doing is sending you on a guilt trip just know that that isn't really my intention. This has been my struggle. So far the only way I've been able to escape my convictions has been to ignore them and excuse myself on the basis that I believe the Gospel and am in love with Jesus... but even that has been hard for me to believe. I sincerely want to do what's right but what can I really do? I have student loans... to pay for my "Christian education" (ironically, I wouldn't even be thinking about these things if it weren't for my $100,000 education) if I don't pay them my parents will have to and in order to pay them I need to be rich. This post was not to convict you as much as it was to convict me and for me to spew forth my frustration. When all's said and done, I'm a hypocrite and you shouldn't listen to a hypocrite.