The Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

If you aren’t the proud owner of a twenty-pound unabridged dictionary, let me remind you that Christmas is just around the corner. The dictionary is capable of doubling as a weapon and I can assure you that the definitions in my unabridged are much more enlightening than online dictionaries. Take, for example, the simple word greed. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.com use the following definitions: “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions” and “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.” But my unabridged adds “an excessive, extreme desire for something, often more than one’s proper share,” and lists seven synonyms.

A couple months back I blogged about Best Buy’s marketing slogan: You, Happier. I visited Best Buy again a couple of weeks ago in search of a VCR (lots of VHS tapes and a broken player) but they don’t have them anymore. They didn’t have the You, Happier. banners either, which I initially thought was kind of cool, but then the employee I was chatting with pointed up to the Happier, Holidays. banner. Ugghh. Best Buy’s unabashed appeal to greed promotes the pervasive idea that more and better stuff leads to happiness. But consider our own grandparents: we have more possessions than they dreamed possible, and yet we seem to be less content. We can think of and have lived many examples of how more is not better or how that thing we just knew would make us happy did not. But we can’t seem to accept that the formula always fails. Instead we believe that we just haven’t yet acquired the right stuff.
Jesus tells us in the Bible that He came so that we might have abundant life (John 10:10), but He warned us to be on “guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15). So obviously an abundant life is not a function of stuff. So why are we so inclined to this excessive, rapacious, extreme desire? Given how rich our society is as a whole, greed is even hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it’s manifested personally as tightfistedness or an unquenchable thirst for more, but sometimes it’s more social in nature, wanting to have more than others or wanting what belongs to others. Greed is not knowing what is enough, it’s not living the virtue of temperance, and at its core it’s a disposition of the heart about stuff. So really only you know how greedy you are. Well, you and your Maker.
So what’s the cure for greed. It’s actually quite simple. I found it right there in my beloved unabridged. The antonym for greed and its cure is generosity. I said it was simple, not easy!
Think of the most generous person you know. Don’t you just love and admire that person? Now, think of the most generous person that ever lived? And I’m not talking about Bill or Melinda Gates. Although it’s truly incredible how much their foundation has given, the biblical view on giving is proportionality and so they haven’t given as much as the impoverished woman who gave her last two coins (Luke 21). And the most generous person who ever lived was Jesus Christ. He wasn’t generous in terms of giving away great wealth (there’s no evidence that he ever had much), but He loved people. He took time for people. He asked for the little children to be brought to Him. And ultimately He died a brutal death for the scoffers who spit at him. Now that’s generosity.
We are called to emulate His loving and generous spirit. (John 13). It is a high standard — one that we can only hope to work toward.
Let me close with a thought-provoking and convicting question: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3: 17)

The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

So my sweet friend Melissa was the sole commenter on my last blog–further evidence of the widespread denial of sin! Actually, I’m kidding. I know this is a really tough subject and one people are reluctant to talk about. You might have noticed that I didn’t specify or even hint at how I envy. I’d be embarrassed to reveal just how shallow I can be.

But I will give you a personal example for our next deadly sin: anger. On Saturday we took the boys to their first college football game. It was thirty-five degrees, but other than Sam’s refusal to wear his mittens, we all had a blast. Sam danced to every ditty of the marching band, and the older boys screamed and cheered for every first down. It was just a very, very fun day. We bought the boys foam cavaliers and hats and t-shirts. We ate stadium food and sipped hot chocolate. I mean it was an all-out good time. But later when I was putting the boys to bed, our oldest son, Will, was unhappy. Really unhappy. He complained that he wasn’t tired. He complained that it wasn’t fair. I was sort of taken aback my his ingratitude but reminded myself that despite his stature, he is only seven years old. But then as he was brushing his teeth, and I was sitting on the floor, putting Sammy in his pajamas, Will called over to me with a deadly serious look on his face, utilizing a condescending and emphatic tone.
“Let me be clear!” he said.
I was instantaneously livid, and I imagine many of you can sympathize. Since “it is not the impulse of anger but the way we handle it that turns into sin,” you might want to know how I handled it? (Dunnam and Reisman).
“Get over here,” I snapped, using an even angrier voice than Will had used. Then I cupped his little face in my hand and said, “Don’t you EVER, EVER talk to me that way again. Do you understand?”
So whatever it was that he wanted to be clear about is yet a mystery! But here are some of the problems with how I handled this situation: (1) I raised my voice; and (2) I was acting more out of personal hurt and wounded pride than I was acting to teach my son an important lesson about respect and gratitude. And that’s really one of the major problems with anger. As much as we may think our anger is justified, our motives are never pure–our own self-interest is always there to mar the righteousness of our indignation.
But consider Jesus and how He cleared the moneygrubbers out of the temple. He didn’t use his disciples as a swat team and He didn’t use his power as Creator of the Universe. Isn’t it kind of amazing that He was able to send them running with a whip of cords? Dunnam and Reisman observed that, “It was not his physical strength, but his moral power. The moral force of Jesus’ anger against their wrongdoing sent them scrambling from the temple.” But that doesn’t work for us mere mortals because we cannot attain the moral authority. Nearly all of our anger is tainted by our own self-interest. Jesus was angry because his Father’s house was being defiled. If we want to emulate Jesus we will be angry about things which violate God’s law, but aren’t harmful to us personally. We can be righteously indignant about the mistreatment of others: about human trafficking, slavery and child prostitution, and I hope you are. (One great organization to give to on this is The International Justice Mission www.ijm.org). And certainly there are examples closer to home as well, but my main point is that we try to justify our own outbursts as righteous anger, but really we are kidding ourselves.
Instead the Bible issues many warnings about anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11). An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22). Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22: 24-25) [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
So even though I’m not usually much of a hothead, I now realize I’ve been misconstruing the real issue. If we look at ourselves honestly and with the right standard — provided by Jesus himself — I think we all have some tendency toward anger. So what’s the cure? C.S. Lewis said, “The surest means of disarming an anger…[is to] start examining the passion itself,” and Dunnam and Reisman suggest exploring what your feelings of anger really tell you about yourself. These are good starting points. You can also meditate on the verses above, and like everything else in life, you can pray about it.
In closing, here is a great thought to consider: “The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.” (author unknown).
I hope that you are spurred, as I am, to make sure that thing is not small.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Envy

In my last blog I told you that I am studying the seven deadly sins as part of the C.S. Lewis Institute fellows program. Even though I’ve gone to church my whole life, and spent the last ten years seriously pursuing a relationship with my Lord and Savior, I have never before taken a hard look at the seven deadly sins. And yet I am more and more convinced that talk of love and grace without acknowledgment of our own sin trivializes the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. As one scholar rightly asks, “What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about?” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be). His observation that the local church often ignores “the lethal reality of sin” resonates with me; he says the “sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”
And I have to say, I am finding the study of the seven deadly sins to be a very fruitful endeavor. It is altering the way I look at myself, and the way I look at society as a whole. There is so much sorrow in this world. We rightly attribute much of our pain to natural causes, but we also allow individuals to escape blame for the most heinous of crimes. We reason that people with horrific backgrounds of abuse, neglect or other injustice cannot possibly be held accountable for their actions. But I believe this is a mistake. Let me be clear: I am not saying that experiences do not affect our behavior, they do. But even though we are uncomfortable with the topic, even though it’s taboo in our politically correct culture, we cannot ignore that sin also plays a role. Sin is real and we are all masters at denying it. As we start to be more aware of its reality, we begin to see it as a major component of the sorrow all around us.
Although the sin of pride is usually listed first among the deadly sins, I’m going to close these seven blogs with pride and start with envy. There are many facets to envy, my Webster’s Unabridged has three full paragraphs describing it, but simply put, to envy is “to feel resentful and unhappy because someone else possesses, or has achieved, what one wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved.”
Have you ever felt that way? Of course you have, and so have I. It’s a terrible feeling, and even though we don’t go around admitting it (you hear people say they struggle with lust, with greed, with overeating, but when’s the last time you heard someone say they struggle with envy?), but we are all guilty of it, some more than others. And all sins have built-in punishments, but the terrible thing about envy is that there is no pleasure in it, and yet it is insatiable. Even if you obtain the possession or the status that you envy, that is no cure–you’ll just envy the next thing.
As Frederick Buechner says, “Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are.” But not only is envy consuming, it can lead to all kinds of other sins. Remember how King Saul envied David or how envious Joseph’s brothers were of his special status in the eyes of Jacob? Where did their envy lead them? Not exactly to the paths of righteousness, right? So we’re fooling ourselves if we think envy isn’t a big deal. Envy impedes our ability to recognize the blessings that God has graciously bestowed upon us, and envy also keeps us from rejoicing in the blessings of others.
So what’s the cure? Well, naming it is step one, but beyond that I’m certainly no expert. I just started studying this myself, remember? But from what I’ve read, here are some ideas:
  1. Take an honest look at your life, ask God to reveal to you where you have issues with envy;
  2. Then pray for confidence in God’s Word, that in your heart of hearts you will rest in the fact that you are His unique creation and that you are fearfully and wonderfully made;
  3. Pray for the person you envy;
  4. Meditate on God’s love;
  5. Know that love and envy are incompatible (“We cannot deeply love and at the same time envy, for in love we wish the very best for others.” Dr. William Backus).

From Life to Entertainment

I’ve been reading a thought-provoking book entitled, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. A section of the book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death” has the following quote: “the value we place on entertainment suggests that it has become a diversion not only in the sense of a playful relief from the main business of life but also in the sense of a distraction from it, an evasion of it…”

Do you know people like this? People who seem to derive more meaning from watching others, than from living their own life? It’s certainly nothing new to say that Americans watch too much television, but I do think it’s interesting to consider why we are watching in the first place. Is it “playful relief from the main business of life”? Or have we let entertainment become a way to distract ourselves from our lives, or even evade our lives? Of course, TV isn’t the only culprit. With the latest technologies a person can avoid even a second’s reflection by taking their iPod everywhere they go. There are some wonderfully enriching and edifying options, and while I am thankful for these resources, the still small voice of God still cannot be found on iTunes. Another readily available distraction is this medium: the Internet. This is my biggest weakness. I can be pretty compulsive about it. And sometimes I sit down to do something very specific like pay a bill, and I get off on ridiculous tangents that consume way too much of my time. When one-year-old Sam toddles over and takes control of the mouse I know I’ve exceeded a reasonable limit.
I am currently doing the second year of a fellowship program offered by the C.S. Lewis Institute (find out more at http://www.cslewisinstitute.org). During year one of the program the fellows were required to do a time-audit. It was a useful exercise to take a candid look at how I spend my time. I highly recommend keeping a record for a few days, especially with regard to how much television you watch, how much time you spend on the Internet, how much time you spend in quiet reflection, and how much time you spend studying the Word of God. I need to do it again myself. Maybe, if I’m feeling brave, I will share with you just how much Internet time I log on an average day. The truth is I don’t even want to know. It’s not like I sit here for hours, but the two minutes here and ten minutes there really add up.
Of course, I have three huge reasons to be intentional about how I spend my “couple more soons” (see previous post if that doesn’t make sense to you), and their names are Will, Nate and Sam. Obviously I want to spend as much time as I possibly can playing with them, teaching them, and loving on them, but what’s more is that, just like all children, their behaviors are more caught than taught. And that means that I need to be ever-cognizant of all that I am modeling.
Sam is only nineteen months old, but I am continually amazed at what he has already caught. I don’t wear makeup everyday and I only curl my eyelashes once in a blue moon, but if Sam gets into my bag of tricks (my sister Laurie’s term) he holds the curler up to his eye! In fact, Sam somehow knows the proper use for each item in the bag, and has for months. And the sippy cups I use have a little rubber valve that fits into the top. It looks like a symmetric piece of rubber with two sides, but there is actually a right way and a wrong way. There is a tiny little arrow on the translucent valve that points to the right way and I usually hold it up to the light to see it. Sam loves to get into the dishwasher and fit the sippy cups together. He takes the cup, the top and the valve, and guess what he does with the valve? Yup, he holds it up to the light. Kind of freakish really. If we think anything is getting past our little ones we are mistaken.
But whether you have children or not, there are people watching how you live, and they are making judgments about how consistently your life aligns with what you profess to believe. How you manage your time is just one small part, but I believe it is an important part. And I for one can definitely do better.