How many of you like meatloaf?
Go ahead. Raise your hands (I know I’m not there to see it, but I am in spirit). I love it. Meatloaf is one of my favorite things to eat. I have lots of good memories about it. And of course, no one makes meatloaf like my mother. Isn’t that true? Aren’t there just some dishes your mom or dad makes that no one else makes just like them? Meatloaf is one of those dishes for me. When I go to a new restaurant if they have it on the menu, I usually order it so I can compare it to the one I used to get at home. It’s sort of my barometer for restaurant quality. If the meatloaf is good, the restaurant must be good. If it’s not…well, I probably won’t be coming back. But meatloaf is one of those dishes where there are always leftovers. It’s a leftover dish. And I like it that way. As a kid, I used to love making it into sandwiches for lunch. It was one of the fringe benefits of having meatloaf. Put a big chunk of it in-between two slices of bread with some mayonnaise on it. Yum. The funny thing is even though it’s good enough for me, I would never serve leftover meatloaf to a girl I was dating. Or anyone for that matter. And it’s not because of what it is or how it tastes because obviously I love it. It’s because it’s a leftover.
Now, leftovers might be okay for us, we might even like it, but would you ever serve leftovers to someone who was a guest in your home? Someone you were hoping to date? Would you serve leftovers to your boss? There’s something about leftovers that people associate with being “not worthy of my time.” Leftovers are for “other people” once we’re done eating what we want. Leftovers go in the “doggy bag.” Think about it. The “doggy bag.” Because it’s leftover scraps of food that goes to the dog. Before the invention of the doggy bag, most people wouldn’t even THINK to take the leftover food home. It was considered in poor taste even as late as the 1970’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love leftovers, too. But there is something about leftovers that people associate with unworthiness. So the question needs to be asked, “Are you giving God your leftovers?”
When we give to God, we’re supposed to give from our “first fruits” meaning the first portion of our crops. This idea comes from the very beginning of the Bible in the story of Cain and Abel. In that story, God was very pleased with Abel’s offering because Abel gave of the firstborn of his flock. God was not as happy with Cain because Cain withheld his best from the Lord. Cain only gave “some of the fruits” to God compared to Abel’s “fat portions of the some of the firstborn of his flock.” Apparently, Abel gave to God first and only then took some for himself while Cain seemingly did the opposite. It didn’t matter to God that Cain brought fruit and Abel brought meat. Each brought as he was able. What mattered was their attitude and trust in God – Abel had it and Cain didn’t. Abel recognized that without God he would have nothing and so he first gave back to God the very best. He trusted that even if he gave it away, that God would provide for him. Cain, however, did what many of us do. He held back. Either Cain didn’t recognize God as the one to whom he owed everything or just wanted to keep the best for himself figuring that God didn’t need it and he did. Cain didn’t trust that God would give him enough. And so he took portions for himself first. The stress on willful giving is found throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The story of the widow’s mite comes to mind or Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Having the proper attitude is more important than the amount you give. Too many of us give God the leftovers.
Whether you give to your local church or to the Red Cross or to the homeless guy on the street, give of your firstfruits. Designate a portion of what you make each month to God and give it away quickly to where you feel God is leading you. Don’t hold on to it “just in case.” Put your faith in God and God will look after you. Giving after all is a sign of thankfulness and in this season of giving thanks we should remember to give thanks first to the one who made our lives possible.
What do you think Jesus looks like? When you hear the name “Jesus” what image immediately springs to mind? Whatever image pops up probably came from a picture or painting or description of Jesus from somewhere other than the Bible because nowhere except for a few vague references in Isaiah (who wasn’t even around when Jesus was alive) does it say what Jesus looked like. We’ve all seen the pictures of Jesus with blue eyes and long, flowing, almond colored hair – almost blond in some pictures – probably wearing a white robe (who wears white in the desert?), a sash of some sort whether rope or cloth, and sandals (at least THAT was probably correct). But scholars pretty much agree that isn’t likely to be an accurate representation of Jesus. COULD Jesus have looked like that? I guess the person who created the universe can look like whatever he wants, but is it likely? No.
I was thinking about this because in my research for one of my sermons (How to Make A Chocolate Chip Cookie) I came across a quote from Senator Robert Kennedy who had gone on a tour in South Africa after his brother President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. It was 1966 and Sen. Kennedy was championing the anti-apartheid movement twenty years before that effort became popular and after the tour, he spoke to LOOK magazine in an interview and said, “At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black’, I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.” (from Wikipedia and other sources)
But suppose God is black? That is one of the most powerful statements I’ve read because its implication is so profound. Too many people in the world today make sweeping assumptions about what the God of the universe wants when in fact, if they only actually READ and LISTENED to what God wants, they would find that it is far distant than their moral presumption. For centuries, slavery was sanctioned because “that’s the way God wanted it.” It’s not, but people would use Scripture to justify it and twist around the meaning of the Bible to suit their own needs. Women were treated as inferior because “God created women that way” when in fact, Jesus held women in high esteem and even Paul had women disciples who taught about Jesus with men and to men. Children were treated no better than slaves and sometimes like property or tools because they were supposed to “honor their father and mother.” I guess those same people never read the parts of the Bible where Jesus warns against harming the children or causing them to sin or to get in the way between him and the children. I guess they never read the parts of the Bible that tells fathers to raise their children well and admonishes parents to raise their children up in the way of the Lord (mind you, that’s not just TEACH them about God, but raise them up in his ways by MODELING a Christ-like / God-like pattern of living). Racism, sexism, ageism, and pretty much every kind of morally negative “ism” out there has been justified in the Bible. Take a look – a real look – at the Bible and you will find that the Bible is both more complex and more simple than that.
I think Jesus sums it up best when he tells us in John 13:34-35 to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” The Lord of the universe said it three times in two verses. Love one another. Must be pretty important. Here’s the thing. If you feel God is calling you to do something that goes against this simple moral directive, question it. QUESTION IT! Is it coming from God or from man? Is it coming from our Heavenly Father or is it the result of fear, hate, or prejudice? Because the great story of God in the Bible is seen through the lens of love and to see it any other way is to twist the narrative around. Love one another. That’s ultimately God’s message for us.
I like STUFF.
Not for the sake of having it, but there are certain material things I enjoy. I collect comic books, certain LEGO sets, and Disney pins. They add to my life in different ways. Comic books remind me of my dad and the stories, when well written and drawn, are a great diversion from the stresses of life. I love LEGOs and especially the ones with comic characters, Star Wars, and now The Lord of the Rings. It’s fun to build something concrete since most of my life deals with things in the abstract or the untouchable. And I love Disney pin trading! Certain pins remind me of times I’ve had with my family, others remind me of when I used to work at the Park (Disneyland that is), and I like the camaraderie of the folks who collect. They are for the most part a great group of people. But in each of these hobbies, there are some people who turn it into an obsession. To them, having it all and having it first makes their life meaningful and I think that any time we define our lives by the material things we possess or have we are in grave danger of losing our souls. We become fixated as much as if we were taking a drug and end up with that same distorted view of life – that it all amounts to STUFF. We know it doesn’t. Watch this clip below. I think you’ll hear some interesting ideas.
The clip above is from the show CSI and when I saw it, it really made me think.
It was from an episode about a woman who suffered from disposophobia or compulsive hoarding. If you’ve even seen someone like this, or you’ve watched one of those reality shows about it, you know how bad it can be. Just STUFF everywhere! Just this constant accumulation of STUFF! Piles and piles of it in every nook and cranny possible. And it becomes obsessive to the point where the hoarder doesn’t even realize what’s going on. They just keep getting more STUFF that most of us would consider junk or trash, but for them there is meaning to it all. It becomes ridiculous how the hoarder begins to justify every scrap of paper and every piece of food. It just makes me wonder what in the world drives people to this point. And then I watch TV. Or read a paper. And I can see how we are constantly bombarded by the message that we need more STUFF. We really do have a society focused on material things. Our identity is shaped by our possessions. Our social status, our sense of identity, our acceptance into social circles – all often has to do with “things.”
As the clip said, the philosopher Erich Fromm had a theory that we have two basic human orientations: having and being.
Having and being. It does seem that our culture is dominated by the “having” orientation, doesn’t it? But as Ray said in the clip, it doesn’t have to be that way. WE don’t have to be that way. To change it, we have to learn to get into the habit of giving, on focusing not on how much we get but on how much we give to others – and not necessarily giving material things either but giving our time and our talents and our resources away for free. Because by giving, we get rid of the barrier of STUFF between us and God. We let go of the material world and instead embrace God’s world. And that’s where God wants us to be. He wants us to live in HIS world instead of the material world. He wants us to focus on our relationship with Him and with those around us and that’s hard to do when we are surrounded by a barrier of stuff. That’s why God talks about all the time. That’s why Jesus says it’s so hard for the rich to get into Heaven. Not because they have money, but because they keep getting blocked by all the STUFF in their way. I’m convinced that the story of the rich young man in the Bible (Mark 10:17-25) is told to us for exactly this reason – to help us understand that the material world gets in between us and God. That’s why Christ tells us to get rid of it! So we can learn to rely on God instead of our STUFF. If the world were filled with people primarily focused on “being” instead of “having” wouldn’t this be a better place?
There’s nothing wrong with STUFF in and of itself. Like there’s nothing wrong with money in and of itself. But when we let it take over our lives, we risk the things that are truly important – our family, our friends, our very relationship with God. All for a bunch of stuff we can’t take with us in the end.