Archive for the ‘covet’ Category

This is a reprint of a post I wrote several years ago. It has been updated since its original posting. Each Advent I read and re-post it here. It is my favorite piece, of all the things I’ve ever written. It continues to challenge me every Advent

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A friend of mine was walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Living in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place; shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before a renaissance in my own thinking over the last 7 years, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree.  A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was tasty.  It had nothing to do with Jesus.  In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event.

It was purely secular!

I remember asking my sixth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar.  No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing!  Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible.  That’s true, I suppose.  However, I also knew that my grandmother, as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi, had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledged her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught me that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: The stuff!

That teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around, I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing alluring – no iPhones or new cars.  I tell myself that I don’t need anything, don’t want anything, and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans.  Suddenly newer things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement.  Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately.  So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness for Christmas sales.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world, and the healing of our broken relationships with each other, and our broken relationship with God has somehow become a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience? Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously).  Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After an illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings.  He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor.  As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated!  His father took Francis to court and asked that the Bishop force him to give back all the money Francis had given to the poor.  Equally as irritated as his father, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out of the court proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism.  Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders.  Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property.  In short, they had no stuff!  For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. Jesus owned nothing. Francis owned nothing.  One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things, he detested money above all.  From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Might we imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house this year?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment who married “Lady Poverty” for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales.  Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus?  Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff already, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little.  Maybe he would say that during Advent and Christmas, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty.  Of course, there are a lot of us who give to good causes year round, but that’s not the only kind of poverty I’m talking about.

I’m also talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way many Christians display no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians.  I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves.  I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them.  I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole.  We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year.  We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven.  If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.  Yet we will certainly not find it.

It took seeing Vice-President, Joe Biden, on MSNBC donning ashes on his forehead to remind me that today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Over the past five years, I have formed a deep appreciation regarding Lent. As a boy, I was tacitly taught that it was some strange “Catholic” practice, and as such should be rejected on that basis and that basis alone. Fortunately, some good people showed me the deep benefits of engaging these deep and highly spiritual practices. I know that some of you — especially those with my American Restoration Movement tribe heritage — are somewhat skeptical about Lent, but you needn’t be.

Here’s what Lent is all about: Lent is a forty-day liturgical period of fasting and prayer before Easter. (I think we can all agree that fasting and prayer are Biblical. And 40 days is certainly Biblical!) The forty days represent  the forty-days Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted and tested by Satan. Not only does Lent engage us in some sense of Jesus’ fast, it also prepares us for Holy Week and Easter, as we encounter sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed. In addition, Lent is designed to teach us that we are dependent on God and God alone to provide for us. Though some practice differently, Sunday’s during Lent are not generally considered as part of the 40 day fast.

In previous years I’ve given up red meat, caffeine and a host of other things for Lent. Each has been difficult, but each has been as blessing. I find this season of the liturgical year both inspiring and challenging. In Lent, I’m reminded about how desperately we need to experience sacrifice. Sacrifice is a terribly important way to imitate Jesus. Indeed, without sacrificing we can never truly imitate Jesus. And for those who question the legitimacy of Lent allow me to tell you about a wife who was horrible deceived by her husband about the family’s personal finances a few years ago. This came as part of several instances of disruption and heartache. Fortunately for him, his house of lies came crashing down just before Lent. In response his wife gave up thoughts of divorcing him as her sacrifice for Lent. You guessed it. The marriage recovered and she remained with him, working through pain and forgiveness and saving their family.

Trust me, this season can reshape, reform, and renovate our lives. So I encourage you to engage Lent this season. Some of us need to start slow, others need to dive in deep, but I encourage you to sacrifice as our Saviour sacrificed and use the next 40 days to share in the lifestyle of Jesus.

This is a reprint of my favorite thing I’ve ever written. It may not be the best, but it’s my favorite. Each Advent, I post it and continue to be challenged by the life of St. Francis.
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A friend of mine tells a story about walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Here in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only, inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before I came to the church where I currently serve, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree. A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was good. It had nothing to do with Jesus. In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event.

It was purely secular!

I remember asking my fifth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar. No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing! Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible. That’s true, I suppose. However, I knew that my grandmother as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledge her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught all us kids that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: The stuff!

And that teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing sexy – no iPods or new cars. I tell myself that I don’t need anything, and don’t want anything and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans. Suddenly things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement. Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately. So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness for Christmas sales.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world and the healing of our broken relationships with each other and our broken relationship with God becomes a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience? Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously). Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After and illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings. He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor. As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated! His father took Francis to court and asked that the bishop to force him to give back all the money Francis had given away. Equally irritated, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism. Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders. Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property. In short, they had no stuff! For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things he detested money above all. From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Could you imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment who married “Lady Poverty” for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales. Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus? Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff already, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little. Maybe he would say that during Advent and Christmas, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty. Of course, there are a lot of us that give to good causes year round, but that’s not the only kind of poverty I’m talking about.

I’m also talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way that many Christians exercise no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians. I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves. I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them. I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole. We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year. We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven. If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.

The world is in trouble! Big, big, big, freakin’ huge trouble! The reason? No one takes ca$h!

In my seemingly endless curiosity and lust for the iPhone 3G, I stopped by my local Apple store today to check out the machine first hand. First, I was shocked that nearly a month after its introduction, there was still a sizable line to purchase the device. Second, going with my gut, I asked a Mac Specialist if someone had to purchase the iPhone with a credit card (for some reason, this is how the iPhone rolls). The answer was yes. You cannot buy an iPhone with cash or a check, only a credit card. Then the aforementioned Mac Specialist told me that you could purchase an Apple gift card with cash and then buy an iPhone with the gift card.

What?

You can buy the card  with cash but not the phone that you bought the card to buy.

What’s more, last week — while in Mississippi for my grandmother’s funeral — my mom went to the bank to buy a money order. At the window she was instructed that she could not purchase a money order with cash. Instead they asked her to deposit the money, they would then write her a counter check, and she could purchase the money order with the counter check.

Are you hearing this people?

They no longer take ca$h at the bank!

THE BANK!

My friend, Jesse Ward, had a simple statement as his “status” on Facebook a while back and I think it’s worth repeating.  It said, “Jesse Ward thinks society is losing control of itself.” Well, Jesse, I agree!

Prayer

Posted: June 16, 2008 in consumerism, covet, iPhone, iPod

Forgive me, Lord. I covet.

?whY Phone?

Posted: July 2, 2007 in Apple computers, consumerism, covet, iPhone

Besides thinking that $500 is too much to pay for a phone and besides the fact that $60 is a hefty price per month, there is another reason why I can’t but an iPhone. After church yesterday one of our students caught a ride home with our children’s minister. As the two rode, the student, knowing that I’m an Apple nut, asked, “Do you think Sean will get an iPhone?” Melanie, our children’s and worship minister answered, “If he did, I could never listen to him preach again, because that’s the one thing that he is always preaching against.”

Well, there you have it! Though my heart wants to tote the newest Apple must-have item, all of my sermons and talk about consumerism and the American culture of lust and excess have blown up in my face. Alas, if I buy an iPhone, I lose the “cred” that I cannot buy.

I have to make a confession: At the same moment these two were having the conversation about me and the iPhone, I was in fact at the Apple store looking at the iPhone! I watched a movie trailer on it — it looked great; I listened to music — it sounded awesome; I made a phone call — my wife never picked up; and I looked up this blog — it was hard to read, but the blog content was excellent! All in all, the phone is very, very cool, but not a necessity if, like me, you have a laptop that is almost always with you. Plus, I was taken with the fact that the Apple store had plenty in stock still, kinda makes you wonder why so many folks camped out so long to spend so much money.

And this is where my commentary of consumerism does click in.

How much stuff do we need? The human condition and experience tell me that somewhere today there is someone who is deeply in debt already showing off his new $500 phone to his coworkers. There’s some person out there who already had a phone and a way to take pictures and a way to get on the net and so forth, who now has a new $500 way to do the same things that they could do already.

And at the same time, 1 billion people in the world live on $1/day and 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water. Yet, knowing that, I, along with many others, find myself desirous of something that doesn’t do anything that we couldn’t do before, but only does it in a sleeker, cooler looking way. What’s up with us?

I get that in the American culture, things like internet access, e-mail, sms test messaging, mobile communicating, etc… are needed, even a necessity for some; but it seems that so many of us don’t think twice about buying and buying even if we don’t have a genuine need.

As children of God, we are called more to create than to consume. Maybe that’s something we should give some thought to. That’s just my take!

iPods eVerywhere

Posted: November 14, 2006 in 7th anniversary, Apple computers, covet, iPod

Apple announced Tuesday that it is teaming up with Air France, Continental, Delta, Emirates, KLM and United to deliver the first seamless integration between iPod and in-flight entertainment systems. These six airlines will begin offering their passengers iPod seat connections which power and charge their iPods during flight and allow the video content on their iPods to be viewed on the their seat back displays.

Dang it! I had been telling myself that I could continue to live with my blue iPod mini for many years to come, but now I might have to come off the money to pick up a new video iPod.

My problem is that Apple makes me covet! I was in the store yesterday for a podcasting workshop, and those new, shiny MacBook Pros and iPods just started calling out to me–it’s like I’m an addict. The problem is that I don’t have $2,700 for new 17-inch MacBook Pro or even the $249 for a new iPod. As a matter of fact, both my iBook G4 and iPod mini are just a little over a year old. But when I’m in the Apple store, I feel like I need new stuff.

That’s the problem with covetousness; we will never be satisfied with anything outside of God. We will keep reaching and reaching never to find that ONE thing that we think will cause our straining to cease. And Satan knows it. He promises that the next new gadget, a thinner waist line, the love of that person you’ve been pining for, a better sex life, or whatever it is for you, will bring you the satisfaction that you desire. It won’t! Just like Apple and their introduction of the newest MacBook Pro last month which was an upgrade from the first MacBook Pro that came out in January, the evil one keeps moving the finishing line. There will always be a newer model, and faster mode, but it will not satisfy. Only one thing can: enjoying God and worshiping Him forever.

When God says, “Thou shall not covet…” He’s may be saying, “You’d enjoy life a lot more if you could not covet; you’re only hurting yourself.”

I think that’s good advice.
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Wednesday marks my 7th anniversary of serving the Bering Drive Church. There have been ups and downs, joys and deep hurts, but in the end, it has been good for me. Some of the best people I know worship God here. I am honored to know them, to be able to speak to them with grace, and have them love me, my wife, our 2-year-old daughter, and the little girl that is on her way to joining us. Thanks!