Monday, August 10, 2009

circumstances, fairness and bark mitzvahs

We finished up the Summer of Love series on the Ten Commandments with, of course, Number Ten: Don’t Covet. The slant on this was to love contentment. Okay, I know it’s a stretch to love a “state of mind and heart”, but you get the concept.

What I wanted to do was spend a little more time on how we view our circumstances. After traveling to several third world countries, it’s a little hard to talk about difficult circumstances, particularly ones that deal with finances, when we all drove to church and are sitting in cushioned seats with cupholders and free coffee.

But here’s the deal: we typically assess our circumstances by what we perceive as fairness.

Some time back I read an article on what American pet owners spend on their dogs. Sun Rooms Plus—a remodeling company in Albuquerque—had a brisk business building additions on homes for dogs, averaging $20,000 per unit. A store in Newport Beach sold sofas for dogs for $2000. Or at the Doggie-Do Salon in Manhattan, owners could throw dog birthday parties and “bark mitzvahs” with printed invitations and gift registries. A hotel in Beverly Hills offered doggie room service with a menu that included poached salmon belly with frothed milk or caviar with hard-poached eggs for only $98.

These dogs don’t have owners—they have a staff.

Two questions: Does it seem fair these dogs have it better than 99.99% of us? And is it any surprise why so much of the rest of the world often doesn’t like us? Hmmm.

On the other hand, it seems Jesus had a very different view of fairness. Consider the terse response He gave the man in Luke 12 who asked Him to get his brother to divide the inheritance. With this apparent issue of fairness, Jesus turned it into a pointed public moment of introspection for this poor slob. That was probably the end of Q&A time for everyone.

Or how about the parable on Matthew 20 of the factory owner who paid everyone the same amount at the end of the work day, no matter how many hours it was? Though Jesus turned it into a lesson of radical generosity and mercy, the issue of fairness is what drives it.

One thing for sure: How I view my current circumstances is a way to assess my level of servanthood to Jesus and His mission.

I love this line of thought from Christian philosopher C. S. Lewis in his little book of essays called God in the Dock:

“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad. Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it as a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.”

Think about how Paul saw his own presumably unfair imprisonment:

And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ. (Philippians 1:12–14 NLT)

Perception is huge. It helps if we see life as a total learning experience…the place where we practice becoming what we will become.


  1. as a follow-up to the message over the weekend and this post my question is: at what level does God use dis-contentment to communicate that it's time to move on? the message was one that i did not want to hear but one i needed--terribly wonderful. love contentment...yes, that's right. is it possible to be unnecessarily struggling with circumstances trying to find joy when the Holy Spirit is in fact using the un-joy to say "This is not for you or for now"?

  2. Learning to love contentment has been a daily struggle/lesson for me since April 9th. That's the night I lost my home, to arson, committed by my husband no less. Losing every personal possession has a way of putting things into perspective. I'm truly grateful for the simplest of things. Many of those simple things came through the generosity of others. I take things a day at a time. Praying for strenghth, praying for the ability to forgive and above all giving thanks.

    Giving thanks for what I do have: a home with my Dad in his basement, food to eat, a driveable car, my family around me, an adorable little boy who learns more each day, my dog, friends I can lean on and yes my church family at the Vineyard. I don't know what I would have done without you.

    God was watching over me that night, as well as everyone who helped put out the fire and my neighbors. It was only through God's grace no one was hurt.

    Do I sometimes grieve the things that were lost? Yes, mainly things that can't be replaced, like pictures. But when I reflect on the rest. They really were just things. All replaceable, and God has been seeing to that as well.

    So, they next time you think, 'Man if I just had that!' Think what it would be like for everything to be gone in an instant. You might find what you have is just fine.

  3. Learning to be content with what you have?

    Many people right here in this country would love to have the allocades some of the more well heeled people spend on their dogs as you have stated.

    We should be down on our knees daily thanking God for what we do have. We should also be sharing with those that are less fortunate ( Especially the one that are fortunate to spend that kind of money on dogs).

    How many of you would be willing to practice the spiritual gift of Voluntary Poverty in serving God?

    How many of you would be willing to give a free home to fix up to one that could not afford a home or the high prices that Cincinnati charges for rent?

    How many of you would be willing to help one that lost their job and couldn't pay the rent?

    Ok I know Vineyard gives out free food and clothes. That is nice and they drill for water in Africa too. That is OK too.

    What if some one offered Vineyard free homes for the ones in need. Why would Vineyard turn down the offer? They say they have members that are skilled in the construction trade. Easy fixer uppers for some one skilled in those trades.

    I can only guess not many.

    Yes I am content with what little I have and what I give to those less fortunate. For I am more wealthy beyond imagination in the grace of God as my wealth is stored in the Lords House.

  4. I, too, have shared in "random blogger's" question. I would love to hear what the Lord has taught others about this.
    Sometimes I think I concern myself way too much with WHERE I am -vs- who I am in Him - regardless. Make sense?

    "the place where we practice becoming what we will become." I love this thought and truth. I just hope to remember it when it counts.

    Excellent message, Dave. GOOD medicine.