Greed: the Favorite Sin of Free Enterprise

“Is life passing you by because you don’t have a high definition television? Well, now you can….”

The advertisements in the various media make no secret of it. If you do not have the latest computers, televisions, phones, and techno-gadgets, if you are not driving a car less than three years old and equipped with rear cameras, heated seats, and Sirius radio, you are surely among the deprived in this world. You must be the poor and deprived we keep hearing about.

Life is passing you by.

That’s how it feels to some of us. Teens in particular fall prey to this deadly syndrome.

The old-timers called it avarice. We know it as greed.

Twenty years ago, Wall Street was telling the world that greed is good, that the hunger to get more and more, to gain and possess and control and dominate, was all good. If anyone is listening to Wall Street any more, they’re not saying.

And yet, greed is alive and well in this country. And every other country, too, I expect, since it seems to be related to the depravity of the human heart and not geographically situated.

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (I Timothy 6:9)

Someone responds, “I don’t want to be rich. I don’t actually care for money. I just want the things money buys.” That’s a little word-game we play to camouflage our grasping, groping greediness.

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The Pastorate: No Place for Crybabies

It comes as a surprise only to a very few that pastoring a church can be extremely hard work. Rewarding, yes. Fulfilling, challenging, and blessed. But there are times when it taxes the child of God to the core of his being, when it tests his sanity, and drives him to question everything he ever believed about the faith he is proclaiming and the people he is serving.

Only the strong need apply.

They used to say that only the hardiest of stock settled the early American west. “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.”

There’s something about that which fits the ministry.

What triggered all this for me was the sports guys on ESPN the other day talking about Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback. He’s had an ankle injury this year, and has been making every effort to play on in spite of it. Whether this is smart or foolhardy, we’ll leave to other people. The commentators were of one mind on it, however: Isn’t Big Ben great! He doesn’t give in to a little injury. He knows how to play hurt!

Playing hurt.

I’ve played hurt. You too, pastor? I will go so far as to say that every pastor who stays in the Lord’s work for any period of time will sooner or later “play hurt.” He will have a serious burden or strong opposition or major trial or some kind of massive handicap which would destroy a lesser individual (“a career-ending injury” it’s called in sports), but he still stands in the pulpit preaching, still goes to the office, still leads his church.

Every week I hear from pastors and/or their wives with similar stories of great upheavals in their ministries. The one this week said, “I perceive that you too have had troubles and trials in your life. That’s why I decided to write you.”

She said what the others have say: “Please do not use any details from my story. I wouldn’t want this to get out to certain people.”

If they only knew. Each story is so similar to all the others, one would think it was the same thing happening repeatedly.

Take the letter this week.

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Nostalgia: Why This Friend Bears Watching

A few years back, a young friend in our church became hooked on “Happy Days,” the television series. She fantasized of the 1950s as the golden age in American life. She thought it was all Elvis and sock hops and soda fountains.

One day I just couldn’t take it any more and did something really mean.

I said, “Melissa, I became a teenager in 1953. In the ’50s, we fought the Korean War, then went through the Cold War. We feared being bombed by Russia every day, and racism was rampant. I wouldn’t go back there for anything.”

I know, I know. I should have left her alone to her daydreaming. She wasn’t hurting anyone.

The truth is I’m as much into nostalgia as anyone I know.

Nostalgia: Fantasizing about an earlier time in a way that denies the reality. That’s my definition, not one you’ll find in a book somewhere.

The current Sherlock Holmes craze owes its popularity to an idealized love for the 1890s as much as to an admiration for the observation and reasoning skills of the great detective, I wager. This fictional creation of Arthur Conan Doyle is more popular today than he has ever been, and that’s saying something.

In “The Sherlockian,” Graham Moore’s new book that plays to the fascination for all things Sherlock, the protagonist, Harold White, sizes up the nostalgia thing perfectly.

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Looking Back on 2011

My friend Don Davidson, who pastors Alexandria Virginia’s First Baptist Church as well as it’s ever been done, turns out an end-of-the-year retrospective which will serve as my model for what follows.

So, here’s my report on my (ahem) Retirement Ministry in this, my third year of unemployment….

Revivals

Six revivals this year. In diverse and wonderful cities such as Ochlocknee, Georgia, Saragossa and Deatsville, AL, Mt Hermon and Crowville, LA, and Picayune, MS. I loved every one of them and made friends for life and beyond.

Banquets.

McComb and Columbus, MS. Zachary and Moss Bluff, LA. Linden and Grove Hill, AL. In banquets, I sketch people before, during, and after the meal, and at the appointed time get up and tell my stories, doing my best to be entertaining and inspirational. I have more fun than anyone there.

Senior Adult stuff.

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My 1975 Super Bowl Sermon

I remember that sermon like it was last month. I was one year into pastoring First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, and as a 34-year-old determined to say something significant on the cultural disease afflicting this country, chose Super Bowl Sunday to address America’s fascination with sport.

How well I did it is another matter.

Last week, a lady who had been in the congregation that morning came across the printed copy of that message and forwarded it to me. “It will give you the giggles,” she said.

After reading it, the only thing I could see that would make her say that was my reference to the New Orleans Saints as losers. Which they were, at that time.

All right. Here’s the printed copy of the sermon. At the conclusion, I’ll share where the sermon came from and what happened afterwards.

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Envy: The Sneakiest Sin of Them All

Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:26)

It’s funny that the Old Testament’s references to envy focus on God’s people looking outward to the world (“sinners”). They were not to envy wrongdoers.

The New Testament’s references, by contrast, are directed inwardly, warning believers against envying each other. For those of us who know the inner workings of church life, we fully understand the change.

Now, a confession first.

Over the last two weeks, as I’ve reflected on the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, avarice, anger, sloth, gluttony, and lust), the one that interested me least was this one: envy. What’s exciting about that? Nothing exotic. No funny stories to tell, no dramatic scriptural stories to relate.

In fact, I decided envy is not a problem in my world. I honestly don’t know anyone sitting around stewing over the neighbors having a car and wishing it was in their own driveway. I know of no preachers fuming because another pastor received a doctorate which he should have rightfully received. So, maybe envy is no longer a problem to moderns.

The reason for that strange–and erroneous–conclusion is the narrow definition I was applying to the concept.

If to envy means to wish we owned something another person now possesses and only that, few of us would be guilty. But that’s far too skinny an interpretation of this obese transgression.

Here then are several observations on envy, what I’m calling “the sneakiest” of the seven deadly sins.

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Pride: The Sin That Looks Most Like Me

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (I Peter 5:5)

When a British newspaper invited readers to submit their answers to the question “What’s Wrong With the World?” the inimitable G. K. Chesterton wrote: “Editors: I am. Sincerely, G. K. Chesterton.”

Of the so-called seven deadly sins, pride always leads the parade. It’s the granddaddy of them all, the source of the other six. Consider how this is so—

–Lust is pride expressing itself sexually, as well as in other ways. It takes what it wants, uses it, and tosses it in the trash.

–Avarice is pride in the marketplace and in our culture. It wants more and more and is never satisfied.

–Anger is pride on the highway and in relationships. It didn’t get what it wants and wants revenge.

–Envy is pride casting an evil eye at its neighbor, wishing for what he has and that he had a wart on his nose. (An old childhood curse we would inflict in jest)

–Sloth is pride expressing its selfishness concerning work. None for him, thanks. He’ll sit this one out. Everyone owes him.

–Gluttony is pride at the dinner table.

Pride is an exalted sense of oneself. It’s that simple.

Sometimes people speak of pride as a correct and healthy sense of oneself, as in, “Take pride in yourself” and “Take pride in your work.” And since there is no Czar of Correctness concerning word usage, that is as legitimate as using pride to mean an inflated, puffed up ego.

This is probably as good a place as any to quote my wonderful old professor, Dr. Ray Frank Robbins, who would tell us seminarians, “Words do not have meanings. Word have usages.”

Chesterton was correct; he was the problem. But so am I. And so are you.

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Why Sin Matters

…the idea of sin is preeminently a construction of Christian theology. (From Henry Fairlie’s book, “The Seven Deadly Sins Today.”)

It bugs some people that the Bible does not give us a comprehensive list of sins and end all the speculation, frustration, and false guilt.

I suspect we are victims of a rulebook mentality as a result of the endless controversies over interpretations of rules in NCAA football, NFL football, MLB baseball, and so forth. What complicates those discussions is that the authorities are forever tweaking the rules. Each year representatives of the NCAA get together to discuss requirements for athletes to play collegiate sports, rules governing the playing of those sports, and one thousand related issues.

The IRS constantly tweaks the rules for taxpayers, forcing CPAs to attend regular updating conferences.

Why don’t we do that in church, some wonder? How in the world could the Lord send us forth into this world to accomplish such grand missions without providing a list of all the no-no’s and taboos?

We are such legalists at heart. And for good reason.

When we have a list of rules to keep and prohibitions to avoid and do them perfectly, we have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. “Look what I did.” Ahhh. Such self-satisfaction.

And that’s why the Lord doesn’t do it. Self-satisfaction is the last thing He wants in His children. “Boasting in the flesh,” scripture calls it, and it is anathema to believers who would be used of God.

The Lord much prefers His children have an on-going sense of dependence on Him, that “I can’t do it without you, Lord,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Once we get the hang of that, we find ourselves saying what those who do not “get it” consider utterly stupid, such as “when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

So where does the concept of sin figure in this? Answer: Prominently.

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My Favorite Sin: Gluttony

I read somewhere that Diamond Jim Brady, a character in American life a few generations ago, loved food so much, his stomach was 6 times the size of a normal belly.

Now, that, we think, is a glutton!

Can we talk?

How ironic that the season during which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus provides us the perfect excuse to over-indulge.

Like the megalopolis that now stretches from Washington to Boston or from Dallas to Fort Worth, this eating holiday dominates our calendar from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.

Walk through any modern large-box store, and study the edibles they’re offering during this season. It’s not just turkey and dressing and yams and egg nog any longer. It’s chocolates like you would not believe, in every kind of assortment and combination. It’s cookies and cakes and pies coming out your ears. Books pour off the shelves telling homemakers of new recipes for the latest taste sensations for these holidays. Restaurants offer special smorgasbords for the holidays with prices approaching $100 per person.

The wonder is that Americans are not all 400 pounds.

What’s that? We are? Well, far too many of us are.

What position should the disciple of the Lord Jesus take regarding this little crime-against-one’s-body we call gluttony?

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