7 Weeks Living out of Suitcase

During my sabbatical in New Zealand and California a few months ago, I lived for seven full weeks with just the clothes in one fairly small suitcase. I had a few shirts, a few pants, some socks and underwear, and a toothbrush, razor, and stick of deodorant.

Yes, I did wash the clothes from time to time. But I traveled light and never lacked a thing.

Shortly after returning back to the Carolinas, I went through the arduous process of moving into a new residence. I couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast.

For seven weeks, I had done just fine with only the belongings I could carry in one suitcase. But back at home I had countless boxes and pieces of furniture to move. Too many clothes. Too much furniture. Too many books.

Too much junk…

What an eye-opening experience! If I could get along so well with just the items I could carry, what was I doing with all the other stuff back home?

Jesus said a lot about “traveling light” as we journey through life. When sending out His disciples, He warned, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9-10 NIV).

And then there was Jesus’ famous statement about unloading our “stuff” if we truly want to enter into the riches of His kingdom: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25 NIV).

I don’t think He meant we must disavow owning any property. Rather, this is a warning not to clutch our possessions so tightly that they hinder us from the eternal abundance derived from wholeheartedly following Him.

In order to enter a city’s narrow gateway, a camel’s heavy load often had to be removed. In the same way, we must lay down our possessions—and our very lives—in order to enjoy the maximum blessings of God’s kingdom.

I think many of us Americans are so attached to our material goods that we fear what would happen if we ever lost them. But I’m glad I discovered that, if necessary, I could have kept living out of my suitcase.

Likewise, I’m glad I finally came to realize that much of the “stuff” in my storage unit wasn’t really a blessing, but merely a burden.

What do you really need in order to comfortably live? It’s probably a lot less than you think!

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The Heresy of Unbalanced Truth

scale balance

Recently I attended a new church plant and was horrified by the young pastor’s message. His premise was that all Americans are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, and we should feel guilty about that. According to his perspective, our materialism is the biggest hindrance to living the normal Christian life.

Why was I so troubled by this pastor’s earnest sermon? He quoted lots of Bible passages along the way, including the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the verse about not serving both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

Much of my annoyance with this anti-materialistic rant stems from the fact that I used to preach almost exactly the same message. “Live for the kingdom, not for money!” I would passionately said. “And if you happen to have any money beyond your basic necessities, you should give it all away, just like Jesus told the rich young ruler.”

Hmmm… What’s the problem here? Isn’t this a sound Biblical perspective?

As I looked around at the pastor’s small, fledgling congregation, I saw that it was mostly composed of young people. My guess was that many of them were struggling just to pay their rent, utilities, and car payment. I could be wrong, but I didn’t spot a lot of rich young rulers that day. And by the looks of the cars in the parking lot, these weren’t extravagant spenders.

I took away several lessons from this church visit…

First, I concluded that even if a message is Biblically accurate, it may be the wrong message for a certain audience. If I had been preaching to the young congregation that day, I would have given a much different message. Instead of telling them they were too rich, I would endeavor to stir their faith that God wanted to bless them and meet all of their needs (Philippians 4:19).

And that brings me to my second conclusion: Most heresies are not an absence of truth, but they’re merely unbalanced truth. The pastor said many things I fully agree with. For example, he told his flock that material things never bring a person true and lasting happiness. Very true.

But the problem is what he failed  to say. He shared the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. And because of that, I’m convinced it misrepresented the heart of God.  

A few days after this church service, I had lunch with the pastor. He’s a pretty humble guy and received it well when I told him his message was heretical.

I explained that he had missed a key point in the rich young ruler story. How could Jesus demand that this man sell everything he had and give the money to the poor? Take a closer look at what He said: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).

You see, Jesus’ goal was not to turn the rich man into a poor man. To the contrary, He wanted the rich man to have true and lasting riches—“treasure in heaven.”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about God’s desire to have a covenant relationship with His people. What does that mean? Among other things, it means that EVERYTHING we have belongs to Him, and EVERYTHING He has belongs to us as His beloved children.

This explains why the disciples readily dropped their fishing nets and left their boats in order to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). They had just seen Him supply them with a miraculous catch of fish. They “forsook all and followed Him” because they saw they could trust Him to abundantly meet all their needs!

So I agree with the young pastor that we should lay all of our earthly possessions at the feet of Jesus. In fact, that’s a great thing to do on a daily basis.

However, the point of laying things down is to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). Once we’ve laid our possessions on the altar, He usually tells us to take them into our hands again so we can make an impact on a lost and needy world (Matthew 14:15-21).

Does your Heavenly Father want to bless you? Absolutely! And for two distinct reasons: because He loves you, and because He wants you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

My visit to the new church plant was a reminder that we must be careful in handling Scripture, making sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Even the devil quotes the Bible, after all (Matthew 4:1-11). As a former attorney, I’m keenly aware of how dangerous it is to only present one side of a case, while conveniently ignoring any contrary facts.

Our Savior was full of grace, but also of truth (John 1:14). He opened the pathway to heaven, but also warned people of the dangers of hell. And yes, He cautioned us not to be controlled by a quest for earthly possessions—even as He promised to give us an abundant life (John 10:10).

I’m convinced the truth will set you free today (John 8:32), especially if you embrace the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us, God.

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Jim Bakker’s Reflections on Lavish Lifestyles

“…as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet

possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

I doubt that any minister in church history has paid a higher price for his lavish lifestyle than Jim Bakker did. Not only did he end up spending nearly five years in federal prison, but he also faced widespread criticism and ridicule for his opulent lifestyle while building his PTL TV ministry at Heritage USA.

During a period of five years, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker received $3.7 million in salaries, bonuses and benefits. What few people realize, however, is that they also gave away  millions of dollars of their royalties to the ministry during that period. Although not entirely accurate, the widespread image still remains: The Bakkers were money-grubbing preachers who defrauded the people of God.

In prison Jim Bakker spent a lot of time studying the words of Jesus, and he came to some startling conclusions as to what Jesus had to say about money:

As the true impact of Jesus’ words regarding money impacted my heart and mind, I became physically nauseated. I was wrong. I was wrong! Wrong in my lifestyle, certainly, but even more fundamentally, wrong in my understanding of the Bible’s true message. Not only was I wrong, but I was teaching the very opposite of what Jesus had said (Jim Bakker in I Was Wrong, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).

Few issues are as thorny as the question of a minister’s lifestyle in relation to material things. One extreme is exemplified by the deacon’s prayer, “Lord, we ask you to keep the preacher humble, and we will keep him poor!”

This view expects those in ministry to practically take a vow of poverty in order to keep from seeming greedy or materialistic. Having a nice house, car or wardrobe is seen as a sign of worldliness—unbefitting a person in ministry. Peter’s declaration of “Silver and gold have I none”  (Acts 3:6 KJV) becomes a proof-text model for the financial condition of all those in ministry.

As imbalanced as this view is, there are many scriptures sometimes cited to support it. Those in ministry are repeatedly warned about the dangers of greed and of trusting in money. For example, Paul wrote that “the overseer must be above reproach…not a lover of money  (1 Timothy 3:1-3 NIV). And Peter said that leaders should be “not greedy for money, but eager to serve  (1 Peter 5:1-2 NIV).

Paul warned that people of “depraved mind”  would “suppose that godliness is a means of gain”  (1 Timothy 6:5 NAS). If you are a minister struggling just to make ends meet, this may be a scripture that is hard to imagine. How could someone seriously see the ministry as a way to get rich?!  you might wonder.

However, while most of those in ministry have very modest lifestyles—whether they want to or not—some indeed have been guilty of “merchandising” the gospel. The anointing of the Spirit has literally been sold to the highest bidder.

Jim Bakker echoes these biblical warnings:

I believe one of the reasons I had to go to prison is because I was teaching people to fall in love with this present world…the gospel began to take second place. I began to write books on how to get rich, even though Jesus did not have one good thing to say about money. Take another look at what Jesus says in the Gospels. Instead of teaching people to get rich, He warned people about the deceitfulness of riches (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal,  Volume 7, Number 2).

This issue of Christians and money is one that will not go away—it will only intensify as we approach the end of this present age. If the church does not sound a clear message, people’s thinking will be shaped by the unbalanced dictates of the world.

But just as there is danger in Christians falling in love with money, the opposite side of the coin is also dangerous: Many Christians are tragically entrenched in a poverty mind-set. While they may feel “spiritual” about their lack of material goods, their poverty is actually restricting their ability to bless others and extend God’s kingdom.

Jim Bakker finally came to this conclusion about the prosperity message:

I am not against prosperity; I believe in it. I believe that if God wants to give your ministry a billion dollars or give you an entire city block in New York City, He can certainly do it. But we need to beware of falling in love with things rather than with Jesus (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal, Volume 7, Number 2).

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Will we fall in love with things  rather than with Jesus? However, rather than casting stones at someone else’s lifestyle, let’s examine our own  hearts–making sure our priorities are truly aligned with the purposes of God.

 

 

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