"And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment." (James 5:1-3)
We live in one of the richest countries in the world. The large majority of us are what the world would consider rich. According to Richard Stearns, President of World Vision and author of "The Hole in Our Gospel," those who make $50,000 a year or more are in the top 1% of the richest in the world. Earning $25,000 or more puts you in the top 10%. We live in a very rich country when it comes to material wealth- spiritual wealth is a whole different post. So as I write about "the rich" in this post, I'm talking to all of us.
As I read over these verses, I did what I always do. I asked Jesus what he wanted me to take away from them. What does he want me to learn? And then, what does he want me to share with those reading this blog? And this is what I feel like he's saying: We love our stuff too much in this country, and we don't love our neighbors enough.
We have houses, cars (sometimes more than one or two), closets full of clothes, and refrigerators packed full of food- we often have so much left over that some of it goes bad waiting to be eaten. We have swimming pools, perfectly manicured lawns, toys for our kids pouring out the windows, every electronic device created- many of which we no longer use because they aren't new enough. And I'm not saying that having this stuff is necessarily bad- neither is James. It's what we do with it that determines its value.
Somehow we have lost focus. We've forgotten that we are called by Jesus himself to love our neighbor. But loving your neighbor is way more than a feeling. Love isn't a feeling at all- it's a choice you make, an action you take. Saying "I love you" with your mouth is pretty easy. Saying "I love you" by babysitting the neighbor's son for free for the last six years, painting the shutters on the old neighbor lady's house, sharing your food with a new mom who needs a meal after giving birth, or handing over some of that hard-earned money to a kid who has nothing in another country and will never ever pay you back (in money that is)? Those are totally different, much more difficult ways to say "I love you." They take serious action, sweat equity, and the tough decision to keep going even when it just plain sucks and the other person doesn't seem like they "get it."
"All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it." (James 5:4-6)
You know, I read these verses over and over again trying to wrap my head around them and figure out what on earth to write about them. And the part that stands out is this: "You've looted the earth and lived it up." Aren't we, as a country, doing this? We use up so many resources each and every day, much more than many other countries in the world. In fact, this is a quote I found on this subject from EMagazine in an article they published in September 2012:
"United States Leads the World in Consuming Natural Resources. With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses a third of the world's paper, a quarter of the oil, coal and aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper. The U.S. ranks highest by a considerable margin in most consumer categories as well."
We might not be personally abusing or using any people at this point, but we sure are using and abusing our earth. We overuse every single thing that is available to us, everything that God put here and declared "good" we are digging up, using up, and leaving for dead. I'm not going to go all "Environmental Protection Group" on you, but we need to do this one better. We have to slow down on our overuse of resources.
Off the top of my head, the one I struggle with the most is buying and then wasting too much food. I really don't like to admit that one at all. What I really need to do is use what's already here first and then only go shopping again when it's truly necessary. Honestly, I should just donate half of the non-perishables that are currently residing in my cabinets. I don't NEED that much food here. I'm hoping I'm not the only one that struggles with this.
Okay, so let's talk about a challenge for this week. First, look around your neighborhood. How can you say "I love you" to at least one of your neighbors this week? Does someone need their lawn mowed, their dog walked, or their chickens fed while they're away? Do you have a child that's older than theirs whose clothes you could pass down when they're outgrown?
Second, look outside your neighborhood and into your community. How can you say "I love you" to your community? Is there a food bank that needs more donations or some help with organization? Is there a soup kitchen in need of volunteers? How about a halfway house that needs some paint work or a pregnancy center taking donations? What about a nursing home that just needs some regular visitors or some gardening work done on a weekly basis? How about a smaller church that could use help mowing their lawn? The possibilities are endless. Pack up your family and do something! Do anything! Not only will you be helping out your community, but you'll be bonding with your family and demonstrating real love for them.
Finally, take one more giant step out. How can you help a community in another country? Do you know someone collecting donations for a new well they want to dig in Kenya? Or what about sponsoring a child? Missionaries always need donations, how about finding one to start donating to? Is there a mission's trip you can sign up for?
Can you imagine what the world would be like if every single one of us took the resources that God blessed us with and used them to further his kingdom by demonstrating active love? It is my heartfelt prayer that we get to see that one day. I know we may not see it this side of heaven, but I still pray for it. Don't just be blessed today, choose to be a blessing to others.