Maksim Chmerkovskiy - Celebrity Ghost Stories

I find his experience and others like his highly intriguing. If you like "Dancing with the Stars," you should at least find this interesting.

Discernment in Love: Choosing between the Good, the Better, and the Best

Everyone knows you are supposed to do good things and avoid doing bad things. The trouble is that life tends to be more complicated than that. Or, wouldn't it be nice if we always only had to choose between doing nothing at all and doing something good? Instead, we find ourselves torn between multiple good activities where we have to choose one or some, but not all of them. Because it is often difficult to know the better or best choices, this is where the opportunity for self-deception comes in. It is easy to justify activities on a whim because they are okay or even good and do so without asking if that is really how my time and resources will best further God's purposes.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not trying to resurrect an earned righteousness view or talk about how we can become good enough for God. God forgives his children despite themselves and, furthermore, he is able to use the accidentals of all our doings to his own glory. We cannot botch God's plan. My point is, however, that the virtuous person will be interested in doing the best (s)he can and it is all too easy to unthinkingly lapse into a stagnation of status quo on the basis that one's schedule is filled with all good things. I could stand at a gas station all day, every day and do nothing but hold the door open for each person walking in and out. These individual good things could fill my schedule, but that does not mean that my God-given resources are best used that way indefinitely. It is necessary to ask what opportunities I would be giving up in the process.

The Bible and various other maxims from all the world may give instruction for particular situations, but love itself, a virtue that dominates ethical discussion in the New Testament, is so broad that one could never spell out for a person what love demands of him or her in every given circumstance. In a sense, then, the very chiefest of virtues that God longs to see in his children is the one he has left the most open and ambiguous. The lack of a publicly objective standard for love also means that we are not free to scrutinize one another's attempts at love, not knowing their hearts. Ironically, then, the accountability we can give each other for what matters most is very limited.

At least two things keep us from the better and best: (1) Constant distraction by the spontaneous on-goings of life and (2) the nature of the flesh to prefer the path of least resistance. For that very reason, the primary tools to fight this good fight are (A) the focus that comes with constant prayer and meditation, and (B) regular self check-ups to see whether one possesses the humility to deny self for the common good.

This topic has been weighing on my mind recently because I'm a people-pleaser with ADHD who works in a busy hospital. When I'm at work there are a thousand good things I could do, but I must choose among them. Unfortunately, distractions are everywhere. Even if I have settled upon a good thing to do for the time-being, I may be interrupted shortly thereafter by another good thing advertising itself as urgent. But choosing good things to do in a hospital is not being a one-man army or trying to rack up points on a pinball machine any way you can. I have discovered recently that you can really let some people down by doing other good things when you should have been doing the good thing that is actually in your job description, or the good things that are the priority for your own department. So often I find myself walking back to my unit from taking a patient out and bump into some staff member I can cheer up or a former patient that I can show care for. Or, perhaps somebody from another unit is transporting a patient somewhere and could use a hand. I'd love to help them and often do, but it is not always the right time for those good things. Indeed, these brief little asides can function as a means of escape for me. The downside is that all the while I can be letting people down whose claim to my time, energy or resources really ought to get the higher priority.

In these scenarios, I can allow myself to be completely distracted so that I do not even think about what might be better or best, or I can work on building the discipline of constant prayer and meditation in order to remain focused on or discern the particular good God has in mind for me. I can do what I prefer in these scenarios, which is usually to do the little aside that ends in a vainglorious pat on the back, or I can exercise a humble spirit in order to refuse indulging myself at the cost of the greater good. To be clear, I realize that the aside might sometimes be the greater good and that allowing myself what I desire can be recreative and replenish my ability to exercise that self-sacrificing love. My point, though, is that if I am not diligent in my introspection, going through my days willy nilly will tend to produce the rationalizations that stifle my potential. I can only maximize my love by constant meditation in all circumstances and the conscious humbling of myself in order to choose God's will over my own. Of course, the accumulation of my own and others experience contributes, but only if I'm intentional about it. For life in general, I wish that I would stop asking, "But who is my neighbor?" and start asking how far I can stretch myself. Please pray for me in this endeavor.
  • quasimodo
    As I was reading this I wondered whether this was your own commentary on your post about Discipleship, Wealth, and Social Justice.

    In 4 years working with kids with severe emotional, mental, and social problems I discovered that good intentions and the will to carry them out is not always for the best especially if you aren't aware of the ultimate goal one needs to strive for. In working with a church, I knew a man who loved forcefully but not well. I don't mean this as a cop out at all, but I've also discovered at times the best way to love someone is to not interfere with consequences or carry them when they should walk. Not that I love well at all, because I don't.
    by quasimodo at 06/07/11 11:25PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    But the discernment about which you write is not whether to love, but how love will handle various situations. I'm going to open that can in another post, though. I would not consider this post a commentary on the wealth post, though I suppose both could easily fit together under the rubric of the radical nature of discipleship. Thanks for reading it and commenting.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 06/07/11 11:32PM
  • canardmom23
    God will always put you in the situation you need to be in, so if you are in the hall or on your unit rest assured that is the place you are to be standing. It is what you do in each moment that matters. Never see cheering up a staff member as a lesser good, God put you in front of that staff member in that moment. If at that exact time you needed to be on the unit, you would have been there. Also while sometimes a good might seem lesser, you don't know what is in the heart of others at that moment. To a manic depressive walking into a gas station, your opening that door saved a life! You wouldn't know they are manic, you'll never know the good you did. All good is created equal. Do with what you have, where you are in each moment, that is where saints are made.
    by canardmom23 at 06/08/11 1:13PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Michelle, perhaps we are speaking about different things. I agree that on God's end, he can accomplish something great through someone's action whether it is great or small. And in determine what course of action one shall choose to take, this needs to be considered. A small thing might be just what is needed at the time, or maybe a big thing. But one needs to be mindful that when there are competing goods that call for attention at the same time, one must choose. If we are not attentive to this need to exercise discernment, then we will often fail to distinguish whether there is a greater priority for our time and resources.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 06/08/11 4:21PM
  • aaronw
    Josh, those are great thoughts. I think you're taking the right approach. While you are where you are because God put you there, God does not want you to turn off your brain. I do believe He does want you to be meditating and praying for discernment and guidance. But I don't think He necessarily wants you to agonize over the choice after you've made it. I think He wants you to walk in faith, trusting that He answers your prayer for discernment. Just my opinion.
    by aaronw at 06/08/11 8:27PM
  • lilsis
    but sometimes the worst choice feels the best and sometimes the best choice feels the worst... so there's no way to know what's best or worst... so we should really just watch movies and eat chocolate and not worry about it. ;-P
    by lilsis at 06/10/11 2:36PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Wow, Renee, this wisdom was not revealed to you by flesh and blood. In fact, I don't think that counts as a revelation at all. Go fish... ;)
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 06/13/11 4:32AM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Oh, Renee, I just realized that my comment could be read as rejecting both parts of your comment. I was just agreeing with you in a joking way that giving up and living the indulgent life is not the answer. In fact, I think I really just misread what you were saying.

    You are right that doing the right thing sometimes feels badly and vice versa. However, there is at least some measure of objectivity about love it is not defined as simply pleasing another but by the intent to act in their best interest. There are multiple levels of interest. At least on the physical level it is often simple enough to know how to act for the good of someone else's well-being. Spiritually, things are perhaps more confusing. Knowing someone's best interest there assumes we can know God's ultimate goal for our lives, or where the transcendant journey is supposed to end.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 06/28/11 5:25PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Greg, three years later, I find it painful to read my response (a mixture of denial and underappreciation) to your entirely helpful comment. I just want to apologize. Your comment shared genuine insight from experience and I just couldn't see that then. And somehow I felt threatened to be rightly accused of extending thoughts I was having from a previous post. Please forgive me.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 03/13/14 12:33PM
  • quasimodo
    josh, if there is anything to forgive it is forgiven. It is a long strange journey we are on and I always count you as a brother.
    by quasimodo at 03/13/14 11:14PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    You set me free, Greg. Thanks for sharing the journey. Love and hugs
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 03/14/14 2:03PM

Star Wars: Starring My Family


A little more wisdom...

I discovered, as I was wheeling out one of my patients today, that he has been a Southern Baptist minister for 45 years. He indicated that he had some success in helping to build churches. He said that his key ingredient was simply this: "You gotta be a people-lover." That, and find ways to come in contact with and minister to lots of different kinds of people. I guess love plus people equals relationship/community.
  • lilsis
    I believe it!
    by lilsis at 05/11/11 1:13PM
  • canardmom23
    Attract more with honey than salt. Nah, who ever gave you that idea? lol. Good advice, thanks for posting.
    by canardmom23 at 05/11/11 10:29PM

Discipleship, Wealth, and Social Justice: May I Request Feedback?

I have to admit that I have been a bit crippled the past few months in terms of social justice ethics. Many passages in the New Testament lead me to believe that the stated ideal (but not necessarily stated law), is the one should divest oneself of all possessions except the basic necessities in order to meet the needs of others.

It is often said in our Bible classes when discussing the Rich Young Ruler, that Jesus asked him to sell everything and follow him because Jesus knew that money was something that had a particular hold in his heart. For him, then, it was a needed discipline to give those things up. This has a certain logic to it, but it neglects so much of the immediate and broader context of the Gospels. In that very passage in Mark 10 and parallels, the disciples go on to remind Jesus that they left all to follow him. This was standard fair for becoming a disciple of Jesus (as seen both with the fisherman in Luke 5:11 and the tax collector in Luke 5:28). Jesus then makes a general comment about the blessings that would come upon those giving up various things and relationships in order to follow him.

Nor is the story of the Rich Young Ruler the only place that Jesus tells people to sell their possessions. In Luke 12:31-34, Jesus says the following: "Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

In one of his famous sermons, Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled" (Luke 6:20-21). He goes on, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry" (vv24-25).

We are tempted to see "poor" and "rich" as relative terms, allowing perhaps that we have approval to follow through with our middle-class lifestyles as long as we are willing to give to this or that cause from time to time. But the story of the "widow's mite" in Mark 12:41-44 absolutely forbids us from thinking this way. Lots of people were donating money to the temple treasury. Jesus had no criticism for those who chose not to give. His criticism was that the giving he observed, even if it seemed like a lot some people, was no big sacrifice to those giving. We are told, "Many rich people put in large sums" (Mark 12:41). But it is the widow who gets the praise. Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (Mark 12:43-44).

Likewise, Paul compliments the Macedonian churches about which he says, "their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means..." (2 Cor 8:2-3). And, like the widow, Paul says that, "For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has--not according to what one does not have" (v12).

It should be no surprise to note that Paul's model for giving is simply an application of what he sees in Christ: "For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). Predictably, Paul follows this very model in his own life. He says, "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ....For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I main gain Christ" (Philippians 3:7-8).

This sounds like little more than an echo of Christ's words about gaining the world and losing your soul. Rather, the converse is that we must be willing to lose the world to gain our souls in Christ. Paul suggests that such poverty characterized apostles in general (1 Cor 4:9-13).

Not that the ideal of giving up all for the sake of others was limited to apostles. Thee book of Acts recalls those early Christian communities in which believers did in fact sell their possessions to meet the needs of others (2:44-45; 4:32-37). We are told that "no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common" (4:32). And, more strongly put, "for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold" (4:34).

In a time of no health insurance or 401K plans, the community itself was the insurer of each member, holding all in common. Indeed, the very thought of a personal retirement fund is rejected in Luke's Gospel where the man who pulls down his previous barns to build new ones for all of his crops is told that his life would be required of him for laying up all his goods and not giving them for the good of others (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus concludes the section, "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God" (v21).

But, again, selling your possessions and giving the proceeds away is not just all about meeting the needs of others. It is also a discipline to protect your heart for worldly affections. Jesus says, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15). Likewise, in 1 Timothy 6:10 we are warned, "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves through with many pains." Instead we are told, "for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these" (vv6-7).

James tells us, "Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?" (James 2:5). That is, lack of means requires of a person more faith in life just to get by. Divesting oneself of wealth, then, is a discipline that leads to more faith. This is precisely why, in the sermon on the mount, after exhorting the disciples to lay up treasures in heaven and reminding them that they can only serve God or wealth (Matthew 6:19-24), Jesus tells them, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear....indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (vv25-34).

So, there are two general reasons why Jesus tells people to sell their possessions and give the proceeds away. (1) As a discipline to protect your heart from attachment to the world. And (2) to help those in need. Presumably, these are also the reasons he required those who would be his disciples to do so. Again, this is not to say that it is a sin to have a lot of money or that you are lost if you do. The NT knows examples of those who are wealthy but considered disciples. My point is simply that it was not considered the ideal for a disciple. Living in a world with an unlimited capability to find those around the globe in need, anyone of us could easily spend ourselves completely out in a short time.

The middle class lifestyle seems so foreign to the ideals of NT Christianity. And, yet, the road to radical generosity and frugality is inevitably also the road to less convenience. Cars, cell phones, computers and such decrease the time necessary to accomplish certain tasks and increase productivity in various areas of life. Fortunately, many of us have learned to grow suspicious about the "cost of progress." If it is in the best interest of the common good to be less "efficient" and slow down, so be it. Nevertheless, certain kinds of goals that seem noble may seem to require large sums of cash or costly tools. Education, for instance.

I say I have been "crippled" by this matter mainly because many of my tentative plans include spending money I don't yet have on education. However, when you plan on something that requires a fair sum of money you are then less inclined to give what you have away. I have chosen to live in a dumpy apartment complex to stay close to the kinds of people I ultimately long to help and look out for. However, given my one-track personality, I find myself very focused on school. That is, getting my thesis done and thinking about where to go to school next. I have spent probably hundreds of dollars on books this past year, over a thousand dollars on gas, and various other things that if I spent more time on I could spent less (food, etc). So, I spend my money on resources instead of people and notice around me as I hurry off to work the kinds of people I said I would like to help, but then don't have the time to. I come home and I go to a coffee shop to read.

Nevertheless, not to sound cliche, but I feel "called" toward the educational end toward which I working. There is no doubt that a good can be accomplished through it, but that doesn't settle whether or not it is God's will for me. After all, there are all kinds of competing good things we can do all around us every day. Maturity is about moving from good to better to best.

My constant fear is that I am choosing a course that I prefer rather than simply taking up the cross that I have been called to. Am I planning too far ahead and not really living by faith one day at a time? Should I stop concentrating on school and invest my time and resources in helping the needy? If I do this should I anticipate that God will somehow send me off to school without my over-planning it, if it is his will? Or should I simply be willing to accept doing without the education or fulfilling my personal desires for furthering God's kingdom? Should I wait for a sign of some nature to override the general of radical generosity/frugality? Every time I come home with food or come home from the coffee shop and reflect on how well I have it versus how poorly some of those lonely souls around me have it, I feel guilty. I truly struggle with what God would have me do. What can I do to best advance God's kingdom. Or is that even my decision to make? Its a crisis of ethics.

I would like to hear whatever feedback you all might give. Admittedly, I'm not particularly interested in a point of view that does not take radical generosity as an ideal or intended norm for discipleship (perhaps that eliminates most of my readers). Both Dallas Willard and Richard Foster have chapters in their most influential books denying that impoverishment could be considered an ideal for Christians. I find their arguments mostly philosophical and in neglect of many of the passages I have quoted here. They basically call on the individual to decide for themselves what would help them most as a discipline, but they neglect the particular approach consistently suggested by Jesus and the functional aspect of meeting as many needs as you can. So, with that caveat, please share with me your thoughts. Brotherly, Joshua

Post-Script Scripture

"Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you" (Matthew 5:42).

"Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:10).

"John answered, 'The man who has two tunics should share with him who has none. The man who has food should do likewise'" (Luke 3:11).

"If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:15-17).

"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (1 John 3:17).

Jesus is merely drawing on an old tradition from the Hebrew Bible in emphasizing taking care of the poor:

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see them naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7).

"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him" (Prov 14:31).

"Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished" (Prov 17:5).

"Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and will be repaid in full" (Proverbs 19:17).

(Consider the appropriation of these verses in Matthew 25:31-46, where Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" and "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.")

"Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land'" (Deuteronomy 15:10-11).

A comment someone made on the facebook version of this post helped me to boil down my question even further:

I can envision so many scenarios where I or others can spring into action wherever they find themselves, and for a while I was striving to do what I thought that entailed. And, to be sure, I enjoyed doing it. The real predicament I'm facing here is whether or not there is a one-size-fits-all spirituality where we all drop whatever we were working on, give away all non-necessities, join a Christian community with which to share all resources, activities and dreams with, using whatever skills previously accumulated to make ends me, grow the body of Christ like wildfire, swallow the entire globe in radical love, and the rest is eternity...

...Or, is it possible for some to be legitimate disciples, just as tuned in with radical values and longing to return to the norms of such a Christian community, but called for a time to pursue a special project, the good of which cannot be underestimated? And, in so doing, requiring the use of precious resources that would otherwise be channeled to the impoverished? Is such a good feasible, or is feeding the hungry belly always the ultimate priority? Could there be a good that competes with that? Could knowledge or understanding, even about God, be so important? Could the standard paradigm be so inflexible so as to disallow the use of resources for other great things in place of fulfilling basic physiological needs? This is the question that haunts me each day as I gear up to spend tens of thousands of dollars on more education (in which I truly believe I would make important advances) but do so knowing that tens of thousands of children die each day for poverty related reasons. I cannot avoid the seriousness of this question, nor would I want to. Thoughts?
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Ethan, another well thought out comment. I can see how virtues can be in tension (mercy and justice, etc), but I have a harder time seeing how ideals can be in tension, since ideals are more often spoken of as concrete realities instead of as nebulous abstractions. I think it would be more proper to appreciate that Paul refrained from setting celibacy as an ideal for the church, though he makes his opinions of its advantages known.

    I'm glad you used an example of an investment, because I believe this is exactly the kind of thinking that characterizes cross-cultural norms, because it is efficient. It is better to spend more money on storage facilities so that you don't have to purchase items at retail value all the time, so you save "in the long run." If you invest money in some fund, it pays off "in the long run." Why should I give away my resources today so that someone will have to take care of me tomorrow because I have nothing left? I should set up a retirement fund that will ultimately profit those around me "in the long run." I had better not sell my field today to feed 10 people, because next harvest I'll be able to feed 100 people with it ("in the long run").

    The problem is that the NT specifically undermines "in the long run" efficiency for a couple of reasons: (1) Because you don't know that you have tomorrow so you should do the good you can with your resources today. And (2) hording resources produces a sense of security and self-sufficiency that is antithetical to trusting God for your daily bread. It is an anti-discipline.

    In Luke 12:33-34, Jesus says, "Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." Jesus is all for investing your money, but not in earthly banks. The way you should invest your money is by putting it in heaven, and the bank teller is anyone who is in need of alms. This is exactly the point of the Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16:1-13. Jesus says, "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes" (v9). I believe the point of the Parable of the talents in Luke 19:11-27 is exactly the same. The master entrusted slaves with money and went away. The one who earned no interest earned no interest because he merely kept what he did not own and did not invest it. The point of the parable is not the literal. Jesus isn't encouraging disciples to go out and make earthly investments. Rather, he is encouraging them to put their money in the right kind of bank. That is, in heaven. But the way to make the deposit, as Jesus encourages all over the place, is by giving it all away. Only then is it in a safe place and will it come back to you.

    The critique in James of those who would literally invest (250,000?) have no guarantee that their life or the existence of this age will last long enough for anyone to benefit from it. For all practical purposes, that big chunk of money sitting their is as "Corban" to the impoverished today who wish they could have a piece. For this reason, James concludes that section by saying, "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin" (4:17). Can we critique such well intended investments? Apparently so.

    The man who pulled down his barns to build new ones in which to put all of his crops more or less resembles the modern concept of retirement. But Jesus doesn't criticize him for retiring early, he criticizes him because he had no guarantee that he would be around long enough to merit such a large personal supply. We read, "But God said to him, 'You Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store of treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God" (Luke 12:20-21). What was the man to do to become rich "toward God"? The answer is obvious in the context of the whole chapter. He should have given his goods away.

    But, then what would he retire on? Isn't giving all you have away irresponsible? How can you know you'll have enough to get by on? Won't you then become dependent upon others and burden them? Jesus goes on in the very next verse to tell his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear....your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Luke 12:22, 30-31).

    Efficiency in doing good in the long run seems not at all to be Jesus' concern, but doing however much good you can do one day at a time while trusting that God will provide for you and others in whatever way he chooses. It doesn't sound efficient at all. Indeed, it sounds quite scary. But, again, as a discipline, it also necessitates increased faith.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/06/11 7:23PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Ethan, forgive me one more edit to my blog, but please note the new light blue block at the end of the post. I was able to boil down my question a little further. You don't have to go in a different direction than what you were about to reply, though. I just throw that in as a little help understanding the foolishness going on in my brain.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/06/11 7:55PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Again, Ethan, if being wealthy and giving generously is no less ideal than giving all up front, then why does Jesus seem to criticize the wealthy who put in large sums of money to the temple treasury but praise the widow who gave "all" she had to live on? Perhaps Jesus gives no explicit condemnation of the rich here (though "woe to you rich" in Luke 6 is fairly explicit), neither can we say that Jesus values large sums from the rich as much as the "all" from the widow (Perhaps they were able to give large sums because they had interest coming in from the $250,000 they invested?). Given that the widow was able to give considerably less than they, Jesus makes it out not to be about the practical and efficient way of meeting needs, but first and foremost as a personal devotion. Indeed, the practical seems to go out the window in this account. Giving "all" seems to be the ideal here, no?
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/06/11 11:01PM
  • deusvitae
    Josh, is Jesus really criticizing the ones putting in their greater funds, or is He pointing out the proportional excess of the widow to make a compelling point? The emphasis seems to be on what the widow is doing more than what the others are doing.
    by deusvitae at 02/07/11 1:01AM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Ethan, its good to ask that question, since much is obviously at stake with this one pericope alone. You seem not only to reject that Jesus is making a contrast between the bad and the good, but even that Jesus is contrasting the good and the better. For, if even you accepted the latter, you would still be conceding that giving all is the better and, therefore, ideal. On your suggestion, one wonders what function the rich putting in large sums of money even have in the short narrative. Apparently they are not there as a contrast, so why are they there at all?

    Rather, I would highlight two words: "rich" (Mark 12:41; Luke 21:1) and "poor" (Mk 12:42; Luke 21:3). It is Luke himself who contains the explicit contrast in his great sermon where Jesus says "Blessed are you who are poor" (6:20) and "Woe to you rich" (6:24). In the way Luke has set up his narrative, how could he not want us to see a contrast and an implicit critique?

    The virtue of leaving everything is highlighted particularly in Luke's Gospel who notes how the fisherman "left everything" (5:11) and how the tax collector "left everything" (5:28) There is a repetition in terms of this emphasis in the account of the Rich Young Ruler. After the man walks away and Jesus says how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom, Peter comes back with, "Lord, WE have left everything and followed you" (Mark 10:28). Jesus then sings the praises of those who make big sacrifices in forsaking things for him. Are we really to understand Jesus' critique of the Rich Young Ruler as asking him to make a special sacrifice that Jesus did not ask of people in general? Jesus tells him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Mark 10:21). Notice here that this is precisely the message that Jesus generally preached to those who would be his disciples (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:33-34).

    When the man walks away from Jesus sad, we are told it is because "he had many possessions" (10:22). Are we really allowed to think that most normal people good have given away just some of their possessions to follow Jesus, but that Jesus was making an unusual request for this rich man? I hardly think so. Giving up all was standard fair for discipleship, which is precisely why Peter points out in response that they had left all for Jesus for which Jesus commends them.

    I think this casts at least some light on what Jesus means by not being able to serve two masters. Again, we have modernized this to mean, "You can own as much stuff as you want, as long as you don't become too attached to it or idolize it." However, in light of Jesus' historical ministry and the demands of discipleship, it seems much more likely that Jesus meant that loving the one master and hating the other meant abandoning worldly wealth to follow Jesus. The probability of this meaning for the saying is increased by the fact that Luke puts it on the tail end of the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:13). His point being that we should give away our master's ("dishonest") wealth in order to be faithful in a little (vv9-10).

    After the saying of not being able to serve two masters, Jesus goes on in Luke to criticize the Pharisees who were "lovers of money" (v14) and says to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God" (v15). What is the "prize" and what is the "abomination" here? Since v11 makes the contrast between "dishonest wealth" and "true riches," one can only conclude that the abomination is the mammon.

    A few chapters later we come to the story of the "rich" putting in large sums of money and the "poor" widow who puts in all. Are we really allowed to read it without seeing a contrast or an ideal inferred?
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/07/11 6:46AM
  • lilsis
    This is an eye-opening super good read, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty by Peter Singer. (Yes, I disagree with him on many things, but he's amazing in this book). Of course Singer is atheistic but if you read his stats and stories in this book and believe something as simple as the golden rule (whether you're religious or not) his book is extremely compelling. Also, I'm currently reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller... good so far, religious, nothing shocking, but still somewhat thought provoking.
    by lilsis at 02/07/11 11:08AM
  • lilsis
    On the issue of investing money to give more later vs giving what you can now, I personally think that you should do whatever will do the most good... that can be somewhat hard to calculate though. Singer argues that giving now will help more (for various reasons) than giving later, unless you're just ridiculously good with investments and have a ton of money to invest.
    by lilsis at 02/07/11 11:31AM
  • lilsis
    As far as what standard of lifestyle to have... I think that depends. Some argue that having a really big house gives them room to be hospitable to large amounts of people. I can understand that perspective... but only if that's a genuine nonselfish reason and wanting a large house doesn't mean it has to be super fancy (although they typically are). Of course people who believe it's okay for Christians to live a very comfortable lifestyle point out that there are plenty of wealthy people in the OT who diligently followed God... it's as if He wanted them to be wealthy... Abraham, David, Job, etc. It's like God rewarded them with wealth if they followed him. Of course you have Jesus rebuking Judas saying it was better to use costly perfume on him than to sell it and give the money to the poor. That's a little confusing when you match it up with the scriptures that talk about doing good to the poor is like doing good to Jesus. I tend to agree with you about living very frugally, but it is a bit confusing.
    by lilsis at 02/07/11 11:38AM
  • deusvitae
    Josh, none of that really addresses the question. Jesus has been watching the people come in and give the money, and does so without comment until the widow comes and makes her contribution. He then calls His disciples to comment on what the widow does to emphasize that amount means less to God than proportion.

    That there is a contrast is without doubt; the question is whether the contrast demands that Jesus is actually condemning one group involved, and that does not seem to be the case-- the only thing Jesus says is that they are giving out of their excess and not in their poverty, but if they're not in poverty, it's not like they can give in poverty.

    Yes, there are plenty of examples where people give up everything, follow Jesus, and are commended. And yet there are examples where people clearly have not given up everything-- the women who are supporting Jesus' ministry (Luke 8:1-3), Joseph of Arimathea, and later in the NT men like Gaius of Corinth, Philemon of Colossae, and so on. It is interesting that while many disciples in Jerusalem were selling all their possessions and giving the proceeds to the Apostles, they were still meeting in homes (Acts 2:46-47), one even belonging to Mark's family (Acts 12:12), which demonstrates that not everyone sold everything and yet found ways of using what they had to support fellow Christians.

    Therefore, to take one part of the story and declare it normative in the face of the other part of the story is dishonest to the text and misleading. If there is criticism of the people who put in great sums, it is that they gave of their excess and did not really sacrifice. Would Jesus have made such a criticism if they gave 20% of their resources and had to scale back and sacrifice because of it? If Jesus would not condemn, who are we to?

    Anyone who serves Mammon will be in trouble. But Jesus Himself used money. It is a means to an an end and it exposes what is really in the heart, as Jesus says in Matthew 6, leading up to that verse of condemnation you mention.

    This is not as black and white as you're trying to make it out to be.
    by deusvitae at 02/07/11 12:05PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Ethan, I have a few comments to make to you in the next day or so, but before I do, let me thank you again for all the time that you have put into having discussions with me over the past few years. Its frustrating not having people to analyze your thoughts who have a firm grasp of what the Bible says or a good memory of where things are. Not everyone is capable of that kind of memory, but probably more are than choose to put the time into study. Nevertheless, I'm so thankful that you have and that you care enough to dialogue with me at times, even though we disagree often. I hope that sometimes you've been impressed with a more-conservative-than-you-would-think position held by me a time or two. Anyway, more soon. Thanks.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/09/11 5:13AM
  • canardmom23
    For clergy of the church, they are to give away everything, holding no possessions of their own. As laity though, there is much more discerning to do. God wants us to love wisdom and knowledge there are numerous passages for that. So to think God wouldn't want you to get educated, is rubish. If He has provided for you an open door to learn, do not neglect. As far as selling off everything, it is not necessary if you are not attached to it. To give is noble and right, but you have to use good judgement. Exactly how much to give and how much to keep has to be determined on a daily basis. I don't think anyone can wake up one day and say for the rest of my life I will only own x amount and give anything else away. You never know who will knock at your door or what they will need. You never know when or if God will provide you the ability to help, or if someone else was meant to help that time around. Exact days and situations have to be taken into account. Perhaps for now, staying in school is right, but at a later time more may be required of you. Pray on it. Jeremiah 29:11

    Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.
    Saint Augustine
    by canardmom23 at 02/10/11 9:44AM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Thanks again, Michelle, for your comments. I like your quote from Augustine. However, rather than an official church position, I'm more looking for someone to take seriously the verses quoted in the post and integrate them into a balanced point of view with the rest of apostolic teaching.

    Thanks, private commenter, for you conscientious input and for your suggestions, too.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/10/11 6:34PM
  • aaronw
    Josh, I think you are doing well to be sweating over this question. God guides people in their desperation for Him. As good and important as meeting the physical needs of others is, I do think that there is a greater good. I think we ultimately exist to glorify God and advance the gospel. We were born to glorify God, we are given necessities of life to glorify God, and we have possessions to glorify God. Even our salvation glorifies God.

    I take the position that whatever place we find ourselves in, we are there to bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So my money doesn't exist to glorify myself or to be worshipped. Same thing applies to possessions, salvation, and anything else in my life. God is to be glorified and worshipped, and this can be done through our money, food, relationships, possessions, etc. The Bible is saturated with the idea of bringing glory to God as the chief end. I think many of the passages you mentioned in your post point to that end, since giving money/selling possessions to help those who are in need and laying hold of eternal wealth glorifies God.

    I think you can glorify God in either path you take, Josh. And your wrestling with the question of which is God's will is good for your soul. In any such situation, you need to continually pester God about this and search your own heart to see if there may be greed or some other sin causing you to hang onto your money, etc. Just as your possessions can be used to glorify God, they can also become idols. I honestly think that today's technology and conveniences for the most part have not given us more time and freedom, but have just made us want more things, and in the meantime, have made us more impatient. But these things can also be used for God's glory, if we recognize what we're here for.

    I always enjoy reading your thoughts and honest dilemmas regarding the Lord :)
    by aaronw at 02/10/11 7:31PM
  • quasimodo
    I think you are on the right track to understand why poverty is the preferred state of being before God. God is painting a picture of our own bankruptcy before him. To survive poverty, one must have no pride and be willing to ask even beg. God wants us to be in a position of trust so deep we willingly come and ask daily for what we need from him. 2 Corinthians 8-9 make it clear that God will bless us with material prosperity if we are using it to meet the needs of others. my own personal prayer concerning wealth is from proverbs 30 :
    7Two things I ask of you;
    deny them not to me before I die:
    8Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
    give me neither poverty nor riches;
    feed me with the food that is needful for me,
    9lest I be full and deny you
    and say, "Who is the LORD?"
    or lest I be poor and steal
    and profane the name of my God.
    by quasimodo at 02/12/11 3:53PM
  • quasimodo
    it may be the most spiritually mature is the man who is wealthy and has submitted his money to Christ. obviously Jesus himself fits this picture as the one greater than Solomon - not just in spiritual wealth but material possessions as well - everything was made for him.
    by quasimodo at 02/12/11 3:58PM
  • quasimodo
    So Josh, lay down your guilt about not being able to save the world. You cannot give what you do not have. You need love and wisdom poured into you before you can share it with others. You may need to go to school to do that or it may be some other path that gives it to you. But I agree with Aaron. The right answers are not nearly as important as the right questions.
    by quasimodo at 02/12/11 4:05PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Thanks, fellas, and I appreciate all of this, but I would like to remind everyone that I'm not as much interested in off-the-cuff personal philosophies held beforehand as much as I am a well rounded approach that integrates the many, many passages I have cited in my post.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 02/12/11 5:30PM
  • nick_katie
    Hmm.. did you try right clicking on the picture and clicking "show picture," if that's an option?
    by nick_katie at 02/24/11 11:07PM
  • jlmanager
    Josh, I'm a little late to the game here, but thought I'd throw in my two cents anyway. I've found myself dealing with people of late that have caused me to ask similar questions. To add to what has already been said:

    - I agree with Ethan on Jesus' emphasis on the amount not mattering in regards to the widow's mite.
    - In the parable of the wealthy landowner, he had no thought for God or for his fellow man, but only for himself. "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." (1 Tim. 6:17-19). The command here is not for them to sell everything, but to be generous with what they do have, "ready to share" which implies that they still have something to share. The wealthy landowner was not looking to do either. I would say that those whose only intention upon retirement is to hit the golf course with little thought for anyone else are in a similar position, while the person who is able to retire and devote themselves to preaching or serving others is not.
    - In regards to the apostles leaving everything, that was what was required for them to follow Jesus, but others were told to go back home and work there (Luke 8:38-39). Telling them to go back, rather than following him, made them no less a disciple than the twelve. The kind of training that the apostles would go through required them not to work, and even to be supported by others, as has already been pointed out.
    - As you've pointed out, many Bible characters have had large amounts of money - David, Abraham, Cornelius, Zaccheus, etc. - none of whom were told to give up everything, but were generous with what they had. Mary, the mother of John Mark, was mentioned earlier, but it is worth pointing out again that she had a house, likely in the city, large enough to accommodate "many", possibly a courtyard with an outer gate, and a servant (Acts 12:12-14). Zaccheus gave only half of his goods to the poor, which in his position probably meant he still had quite a bit, yet Jesus proclaimed, "Today salvation has come to this house" (Luke 20:9). The principle would seem to be not for everyone to give up everything, but to use it wisely. If it's a choice between getting the latest video game, versus helping someone that I find out is in need, and I choose the game because I want it, I haven't done as I should.
    - In regards to the church in Jerusalem, a unique situation existed where you had thousands of people who suddenly needed to stay and learn as much as possible, with little expectation of being able to hold a job and provide for themselves, thus the brethren were willing to sacrifice to help them do that. There was a time, though, when it was time for them to go, and God used the persecution to scatter them throughout the world. Interestingly enough, it seems very likely to me that many of them later ended up sending relief to the brethren in Jerusalem and Judea, which follows with what Paul says in 2 Cor. 8:13-14. I think this does make a good point to us - who knows when God may bless the saints in China or Africa as much as he has blessed us, and we find ourselves being the ones in need? What will we have sown, and what will we reap?

    There are other points that could likely be or have been raised, but I think the posts above have given a good picture, so I'm going to stop here.
    by jlmanager at 03/30/11 4:58PM
  • slave_of_jesus_jdb
    Hmmm...its nice to revisit all of this after a few years. Ethan, I never did respond like I said I would. Its probably because I was forced to realize that there are tensions within the text of Luke-Acts. There are some generous rich people who are presented in a positive light, even though still wealthy. Yet, the verses I referred to in my post seemed to me to be presenting the rule rather than the exception in Jesus' teaching. When one views the many teachings outside Luke-Acts in the Bible, the views on wealth are quite diverse and the common denominator is that one should search one's heart and be generous. But since I know that it is the tendency for people to adopt this position in a rather luke warm way without any specific commands on it (or accountability), I was hoping to push the teachings of Jesus in Luke-Acts as a way prioritizing a more radical view.

    These days I have a hard time seeing a way to push any one view as biblical and tension-free (biblically speaking). Perhaps exemplary lives alone will convict those who feel called to it to enact a more radical view. I'm not ready for it just yet either and seem to have retreated from the question. I hope some day soon I'll make a middle class wage and have the blessed difficulty of figuring out what to do with all that dough.
    by slave_of_jesus_jdb at 03/13/14 1:03PM