Life is the Purpose

Life is the Purpose

You are likely confused. And why shouldn’t you be? Everyone is talking about purpose. I agree with Westminster that the primary purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But just beneath that is a penultimate purpose. What is your purpose?

Is it helping people? Is it world peace? Is it music, math, or money? 

You have been told again, and again, and again that if you don’t find your purpose you will be miserable and worthless. Your life will be meaningless. If you do find your purpose, you might live in constant tension with your purpose as you struggle to give energy to it while also fighting the desire to do other things.

I want you to consider that after your purpose to glorify God, your purpose is … to live (which is part of glorifying God). 

After all, what did God create man to do? He created him to produce and multiply. In other words, he created him to live.

Your life is your purpose, just like it is for everything that lives. Ask any plant, amoeba, or rabbit—they’re all looking to flourish. 

Could it be that our obsession with finding our purpose is a disguised need to feel important? It is legitimate to want to know what God wants for our lives, what he wants us to do. We want to know, because we love him and we want to do what he wants. But think about this: if God has one specific thing for you to do with your life, why wouldn’t he just throw a burning bush in your way, invite you to take off your shoes, and just tell you? You don’t need to feel important. You simply are important, at least to you (which is what matters in this discussion). 

I believe that if God isn’t showing up in the bush, or as a giant hand writing on the wall, or by sending the Angel of the Lord, or at least speaking in an audible voice, then he doesn’t care what you do. He only cares how you do it. Produce. Multiply stuff (and people), but do it in a way that honors him. What did he put you here to do? Live.

That doesn’t mean that every way is as good as the next for you. But it does mean that there may be nothing mystical about it. What should you do to sustain your life? I don’t know, but I’ll ask you, what do you like to do? If you’re going to be successful, you will likely have to grind to get somewhere. So avoid things you hate. 

I do three things for a living, and I love them all. I have had plenty of jobs in the past that made me want to poke my eyes out. I’ve had plenty of jobs I loved but didn’t pay well enough to support a family (I was “minor league” opera singer). But what I do now, I love. And it still takes grind.

I am a pastor/church planter. If I don’t work hard at it, then the people God has given me to shepherd won’t thrive spiritually, and I will fail. 

I am a writer. As of now I make no money writing for myself, but I make plenty of money ghostwriting (Fiverr.com). I have to do a lot of it to pay the bills. I love it, but it feels like grind most days to hit the quota that will support my family as I plant a new (meaning—too tiny to pay me much) church. I get up no later than 3:30 a.m. to start writing. 

And I am a business owner (www.christianghostwriting.com), which is terribly fun for me, except that it requires a lot of ingenuity, creativity, and conscientiousness to run. Someday, it will mean doing less actual writing and more managing writers, and maybe I can even pay someone to do that! That’ll be nice. 

I truly enjoy all these endeavors, including writing this blogpost, which may very well never earn me a dime. But it is grind. So why grind? Because I have a life to live. I need to spend time doing things that I don’t despise to make the money that I want (not just need) to live out the principles and values that I run my life by. I am very intentional about what is important to me, to my life. Values are what make up the quality of your life, so you should decide for yourself what they are going to be—based on what you believe is true. God and his truth are my highest values. Everything after that is a choice, and even God and truth are a conscious choice. Make choices and live your life. That is, run your life accordingly.

Understanding Systems Will Change Your Life

Systems

Everything is a system. Life is a system of systems of systems.

Think about it.

Everything comes about by a 1-2-3-4…progression of events. Everything abides by certain rules. 

I’ll give credit right here to Sam Carpenter for opening my eyes to this. His book Work the System red pilled me from thinking things were random, and that if God caused all the things, he did it in a way that was random to me.

But my eyes are open. Figure out what the system is, what the rules are, and tweak it along with all the other systems of your life. 

Consider the highway system. You’re on a four lane road, everyone is going the same way on your side. There are lines telling you where to be, there are rules you had to learn in order to be allowed to drive. There are consequences for breaking the rules, some severe–death, and some less severe–a traffic ticket. 

There are exit ramps, on ramps, and turn lanes. There are traffic lights and speed limits. Therefore, we are not constantly hurling our cars into one another all the time. 

But what about an accident?

It was a breakdown in the system. Someone broke a rule. 

In life, if you can figure out what the systems are, how they are broken, and then just get about fixing them one break at a time, and one system at a time (I recommend starting with the ones that are most important), everything changes. Life begins to make sense, and you start seeing the good things that come from being a good steward, that is, one who takes responsibility for what you’ve been given control over. This is truly living in focus. 

How Do You Know if You Love Money?

Do you love money?

Do you like money?

How would you know if you love money in the way the Bible warns us against?

“Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you’” (Heb 13:5). 

Here are some questions: 

  1. Do you regularly compromise your true values in order to get more of it?
  1. Do you ever sin in order to get it?
  1. If you are self-aware enough to know your motives, do they have anything to do with impressing other people so that their affirmation makes you feel good about yourself? If so, you don’t just love money, but you love the approval of people. Deadly combination. 

I would bet that some of you answered no to all of these, but you still feel worried that you love money. It is because you like money and you may have been taught that liking anything is bad. After all, the verse says, “be satisfied with what you have.” 

But does that really make sense?

Maybe you would say it this way: Liking anything more than God is bad. That is certainly true, but do you like anything more than God? How would you know? 

I’m a dad. It does not bother me to see my children enjoy something. In fact, I like it. I have never had one of my children show any sign that they like or love me less because they like another thing or person. 

I don’t think we love God less when we love something else too, unless it is something that puts us at odds with him. For instance: it is something that causes us to sin, to lie, to cheat, to get angry or anxious.

Is there a godly way to be satisfied with what you have and also work to get more? What if you didn’t have a job? Would you be satisfied with what you have, or would you go get a job? If so, does that mean you love money? 

I am potentially facing a large medical bill in the near future. Should I be satisfied with what I have, which is not enough to pay it, or should I be thinking of ways to make the money I need to pay the bill? I think God put me here to work to provide for myself and my family and to be generous towards others when I can. This means solving problems, particularly the problem of staying alive. I can do that and at the same time trust God to provide, knowing that, even as I work, he will never fail me or abandon me.

Christian Businesspeople are Handicapped

Christian businessmen and women have a handicap. 

They are confused. 

They waste a lot of mental energy trying to justify things that don’t need to be justified. 

For instance: 

  1. Making money — No matter how well we teach that the Bible says money itself is not evil, but rather, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10), people– Christians and nonChristians alike– think that money is evil. 

The poor are, rightly, held up in Scripture as important to God. They are. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you if you are not poor. It only means that God does not allow us to look down on someone because they are poor.

But if you feel ashamed of making money, then you have to find ways to convince yourself to be okay with making money (since you need money to live). That is hard mental work, and there is a contradiction that is inherent and will prevent you from accomplishing it. You will rationalize and self justify making money by offsetting the fact with some kind of charitable motive on the other side of the balance. 

This is what you are seeing when businesses announce that their purpose is to give to charity. They say, “We want to give back, so we are donating…” My question is, “Why are you having to give back? Did you steal your profits from someone?” Their answer is actually, “Yes,” because there is an assumption that any money made from others is stealing. But is it? NO. But since all money is evil, you should be giving your product away. There is that contradiction. What would happen if you gave your product away? In most cases, you will run out of products. You will not be able to provide for your family. 

A business is profitable if they provide something valuable to others. If they don’t figure out a way to provide value at low enough overhead to make a profit, then they will not stay in business. In a free country with the rule of law, the market will sort this out just fine. 

Rather than think of ways to “give back,” think about what you are giving for the money you are paid. Whether you are in business for yourself, or you are an employee, the principle is the same. If you are being paid for the service you provide, then it is a probable sign that you are being valuable to whoever is paying you. 

By all means, give to charity. Help the poor. But it will never make up for doing evil. If making money is evil, no amount of giving or religion will suffice to ease your conscience. The attempt is wearing you out and tying your mind in knots. You need the money, so you work, but you feel terrible about it, so you don’t thrive as you should. You’re too busy devising ways to feel good about yourself. Impossible, since you are an “evil profit seeker.”  

  1. Putting People First — Countless manufacturers and construction companies have the motto posted everywhere: “Safety First.” Really? How much can I make going around being as safe as possible? What does it pay to sit in a bunker eating soft food inside a bubble suit? IT PAYS NOTHING.

The reality is that these companies must put profit first, and so they must put providing value to a customer first. Safety is super important, but it is second at best. In the same way, I think there is wrong thinking against the idea of putting people first. There is a great book about managing the finances of your business. It’s called, Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz. The book is about making sure you don’t eat up all your profits by not budgeting and then spending too much on expenses. That’s all. Common sense.

But I heard an accountant call into the Dave Ramsey Show to ask his opinion about the system. Apparently a client who was paying her to work for him had wanted her to read the book and work that budgeting system in her accounting of his business. She called Dave to ask if he’d ever heard of the book and what he thought of it. It was obvious from her questions that she had not read the whole book yet.

Dave, who I have usually found really helpful in the area of personal finance, went on a rant. He had a serious issue with the wording “profit first.” He slammed it with zero understanding of what the book was about, and then he gave a speech about “putting people first.” “Put people first and the profit will come” (he said with a thick and confessing southern accent). He made the author of the book look like a money grubber who hated people. Through the whole thing, the accountant laughed along at the stupidity of her client, saying, “that’s what I thought.” 

Dave’s erroneous point was that it somehow makes money to put people first. I had a friend who was an accountant, and she really hated her job. I asked her why she was working there, and she had obviously done some hard mental and theological work to come up with a palatable answer. It was the kind of answer that can really ease your conscience when you a) make a lot of money, b) make it doing something you are ashamed of—A.K.A. anything besides social work or being a public school teacher. She said, “My purpose there is to love the people, to serve them.” 

I said, “So you hate the job and want to quit, but you love serving people. Easy. Quit and go volunteer at a shelter. You’ll be more fulfilled, because you’ll see a closer connection to the fact that you’re helping people.” 

She said, “Well, I can’t, because I need to make money.” Right. So, again, why do you work there? 

“To make money.” 

“Do you do something for this money?”

“Yes, I work hard.” 

“So stop trying to justify it, and just learn to enjoy it.” 

It’s really great to serve people and help people, and you should love everyone. Jesus said so. But when it comes to adding value, you have to provide something valuable. You should do it lovingly, but it can’t be just anything. 

Dave was wrong. Putting people first is not going to pay your bills. First you have to answer the question of what you are going to provide. You generally can’t make a profit honestly unless your service or product is valuable for some reason. Putting people first is great if you mean you need people to pay you for the value you add to them. Dave is correct that being attentive to people’s needs is a great way to get them to pay you. After that, Profit First is simply the old adage of save off the top, which I’m certain Dave approves of.

My friend was ashamed deep down, because she knew she was working a job that was hard and she didn’t enjoy it, because she liked that it paid a lot. She needs to reevaluate her priorities. It may be that the money is not really that important. It may be that she is betraying her own values by working there for the money. If so, then this would in fact be a sinful love of money, and she would be suffering for her sin.

But it also may be that the money affords important things in her life that tip the balance toward working a difficult job for now, so that she can have the benefit of what that money can provide. That’s perfectly acceptable. 

But what she must not do is pretend otherwise. If she pretends she is working there only because she wants to serve others, she’ll know she is lying to herself and everyone else. When you know you are living a contradiction, lots of bad things start to happen in your life. When you know you cannot trust yourself, then you earn the anxiety and fear that come about to push you around. 

There are more contradictions, but if we can grasp just those two, it will have a profound impact on the way we live. Be honest, and root out contradictions. You will lose the handicap that has kept your life and performance mediocre and has nearly crippled you with anxiety.

Buddhism, Christianity, and Love

I can’t remember if I have shared this on this blog. But before I was a Christian, I was a Buddhist. Before I was a Buddhist, I was a Methodist. I am not saying that you can’t be a Methodist and a Christian. I know many good ones, but I don’t think I was.

Growing up in church in the Bible Belt, I somehow missed the personal relationship with Jesus, the saving faith. I heard it, but I didn’t hear it. I just didn’t, though we spent every Sunday in a perfectly good and faithful church full of good and faithful Christians.

As a young man I joined the Air Force and was stationed in Delaware, outside the Bible Belt. I worked on Sundays, so I couldn’t go to church if I wanted to. Because of this, when I had a spiritual hunger, it simply did not occur to me to go back to Jesus. I needed something that made sense.

Buddhism made sense. And it was cool. Most importantly it was simple. Life is suffering, (made sense to me), and we can be content anyway. We should be loving and kind to others. Without going and looking up the whole eightfold path, I’ll go with what I remember. Right speech meant for me no lying and no gossiping. Right action meant doing nice things for people. Add meditation to it and that was enough to go on.

For a year and half I meditated every day, I was as nice as humanly possible to other people, I didn’t eat meat, and I didn’t kill bugs. There may have been more to it, but that is what I remember 25 years later. It was wonderful. People were drawn to me. They were asking me the question that Christians dream of being asked. “What’s your secret? Why are you so different?” 

I should say there was plenty of sin in my life. Without the Holy Spirit, true transformation is impossible. But the above things I was doing noticeably well. 

I will also add that I never could bring myself to buy any sort of Buddha statue. I still had church upbringing in my bones, and if a statue wasn’t idolatry I didn’t know what was. 

Then I was invited to a church. I went and experienced the tangible presence of Jesus. I saw him. He was real. I thought, “Ohhhhh. That’s who God is.” I believed then, and I believe now that God allowed me to get there through the side trip of this particular version of Buddhism (who I never considered to be a deity), because Chrisitanity had been very complicated in my mind. Now I understood that God is love. There are only two Great Commandments that matter. After you have put your faith in Jesus to forgive you by his death for you, then you must use your whole heart to love God and people. It was an easy transition. 

Sometimes I let faith get complicated as I study theology, but always the cure is to think back to that first understanding. No matter how complicated your theology, the point is the love of God for you, the love of you for God, and your love for other people.

Purpose

Because I get confused easily in this fallen world with my fallen emotions, it helps me to repeat things I’ve said before.

Apparently there was a time when only God existed. God always existed, so existence always existed. 

God existed perfectly true to his nature, so he created. He produced and blessed. 

He created all things, and all things he created exist. 

Everything exists as the thing it is.

THIS is the whole thing about purpose. Everything has a purpose springing from what it is. Just like God, everything exists perfectly according to its nature. Almost everything.

Only one created thing in the whole universe sometimes fails to do what it was created/purposed to do. That is man. You and me. 

Why? Because God has made us volitional beings. Yes, it is even harder because of the fact that we have a sin nature resulting from the fall (Gen 3). But even if we didn’t, we’d still be faced with the constant choice to live according to our purpose or not.

Another way to say that is to say we’d be faced with the constant choice to live or not.

Which means we are faced with the real and constant choice to do what is best according to our purpose or not. 

I agree with the Westminster people that my primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him.

This means two things at least: One is that enjoyment is a good thing, a concomitant of life, which means it is a concomitant of living our purpose, which is living our life really well as humans.

The other thing it means is that we need to know what glorifies God in our daily living. At the most basic level, being what we were built to be, a living being in his image is what glorifies him. Pursuing enjoyment, (enjoyment being a sign that we are on the right track in the pursuit of living purposefully) glorifies God. He made us to do that very thing. 

It is also true that it glorifies God for us to worship him directly (such as when we sing to him), which is also what he made us to do. Learn to see living well and productively as your purpose that glorifies God, and you will thrive.

Yes, we are fallen. We do need to allow Jesus to fulfill his purpose by saving us, redeeming us, giving us peace with God, and being Lord. So an important part of life is trusting Jesus for salvation and getting a new heart, a regenerated spirit, and the Holy Spirit living inside us. But…you will still have to make choices (remember Adam was not fallen when he made the wrong choice). And if you don’t come to terms with that, you will get confused about your purpose, when in reality, nothing could be simpler. 

Please Comment if you’d like me to elaborate.

The Secret to the Christian Life

Do you still get angry? Do you fight with others in actuality or even in your own mind? Do you know why? I do. And I think you can stop. In fact, I think your whole life can change if you can understand two verses of the Bible. 

James 4:1-2 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

The secret to the Christian life, that is, the answer to the question: How shall we then live, is given in these two verses.

James is writing to Christians in a church. They are fighting with each other pretty intensely over something or other. What is it? It doesn’t matter. They should not be treating each other this way, because they should not be feeling so murderous and angry. 

Why are they feeling murderous and angry? Because they have “passions” at war within them.  

This is “lusts” right? No. It’s the word for “pleasures,” the same word we get our word “hedonism” from. My translation:

“Why do you fight? You want pleasure, and your desire for pleasure is at war with another one of your desires for pleasure, AND, with someone else’s desire for pleasure.

So, desire for pleasure is wrong? Sure, if you don’t want to have any enjoyment of life at all. But is that what you want? Is that what God wants for you? You might be thinking: “No, God wants me to have pleasure in him.”

But how will you do that if you shut down your pleasure mechanism, which is what you’d have to do. You’d have to train yourself to be stoic. If you’re stoic, you won’t take the right kind of delight in God.

So, desire for pleasure must not be wrong, and I guess I can take pleasure in some things.

Ok, logically, that must be true. So it’s ok that we take pleasure in some things. So how is it that our pleasures get at war inside us and with others? 

I think it is because we have not done the hard work of prioritizing our life and values.

Pleasure is something I get when I gain something that I value: God, success, sex, cake, something beautiful, lot’s of things. The lack of pleasure comes from not getting those things when I’d like them, or losing them when I had them. It feels bad. It feels like pain, or depression. It should feel bad. This is not sinful.

So here’s how I do it: I set priorities logically based on what I perceive to be the facts of reality and causality. These are the things that I value, that is, the things that I act to gain or to keep. I make sure these things are the proper things for the way God has called me to live. 

It starts with my ultimate purpose: To enjoy and glorify God. He is my highest value. If I were thrown in a dirty dungeon to starve to death, I’d still have my highest value. You want your highest value to be the hardest thing for anyone to take away.

My penultimate purpose is my life: I believe in the biblical principle stewardship, so I believe life is not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. The most basic thing I have is my life. While I am on earth, I value staying alive and enjoying it if I can without corrupting my other values. Because of this, my next value is…

My health: I can’t do any of the important things of life if I not only don’t stay alive, but don’t have any strength or energy.

My work: I have to produce something in order to provide for me and my family. You could convince me that my family is a higher value than my work, but in the sense that I would tell a young man who wants to find a wife and have a family that he needs to get a job first, I put producing as a higher priority. If I don’t, all the Millers (that’s me and my wife and kids) die. I also put handling finances/investing in this category, and any mundane daily work as well. I put dishes, diapers, home repairs, and lawn work in this category. Work is producing some kind of order. But this would not justify workaholism, because my next value is…

My wife: Marriage has to be attended to. It is such an important part of joyful life and it brings attention and glory to God. I want my marriage to be fulfilling, and encouraging. Romance, connection, and cooperation are the key areas of focus and all equally important.

My Children: The kids come before any other relationships outside the marriage. I won’t put friends, church members, or extended family before my kids. The areas of focus in order of importance are: Their faith, love between us, character training, education. I suppose I might put my home in this category as well, because my home is the place for my family to live.

My church: For me, this is mixed up in my work, since I am a pastor, but I still try to think of my church as my church family separate from thinking of my job as the pastor of that church. Otherwise, worshiping on Sunday with my church family feels more like work and less like gathering with my brothers and sisters in the local expression of the worldwide Body of Christ. One is not restful, the other is.

Service to the community, the poor, and my geographical neighbors: This is not optional for Christians. We make time for it after the other things. If you are tempted to put this before the stuff above, seriously rethink that logically.

Extended family: They technically come before service to the community, but none of mine live close.

Leisure: Reading and playing the piano are my leisure activities. I don’t have time for any others (well, Mario Cart with my kids too), although there are things I would do if I had much more time (fishing, golfing, playing softball, singing in a choir).

Nice things: Having something I like is a bonus, but not a huge priority. I’d like a nicer car (I have 2006 Hyundai), but I value financial freedom more.

That’s the main stuff. To get any of it out of order will cause confusion, a war of pleasures/passions. For instance. I say I value family over reading. If I am trying to read more than I really have time to, and one of my kids is trying to get my attention, I might blow up on him. If I am aware of my value priorities, then I would get the proper pleasure from putting my book down, a lesser value, and talking to my child, a greater value.

Some of these values could seem like they are equal and need to be balanced as though they were. What I mean is, they are all important when it is possible to have them all in the course of your regular life. Work is really important, but things get messed when you cross a line into the other really important things in your life. So you balance intelligently based on your true and righteous values. You pick your values based on principles. If you currently don’t feel like making your health a high priority, then you need to readjust based on logic, not on what you feel like. If you don’t feel like putting your wife ahead of your friends, then you need to readjust your values based on logic, based on truth, based on what you thought was best when you were in your right mind with God with some space for visioning and planning.

Have you taken space for visioning and planning? Do it. Figure out what is important, and make those things important. Your “pleasures” will begin to align with your values in the right order. They won’t be at war with each other, because each of your values will know its proper place. Your emotions, the pleasure and pain mechanisms, will begin to serve you. This is the secret to never having “fights and quarrels.” It is the secret to a peaceful enjoyment of a powerful and productive life abundant. It is a life that glorifies God and brings a smile to the face of your good Father in heaven, who loves you very much.

Principles are Better than Laws Part 14, Do Not Covet

Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

We are considering some of the most important biblical laws as principles by which to live. Once again, and for the last time, since this ends the series, the fact that God has given us these commandments is plenty enough reason to obey them. But because I am realizing that our good Father gives us no arbitrary laws that don’t also produce abundant life when we live by them, I am looking at them as principles. They are principles, and I truly believe that God wants you to have a better existence, even on this fallen planet in this age, by following him and keeping his ways. It brings him glory and pleasure to see his children walking in light.

The prohibition against coveting falls into the same category as many of the others. We have learned that God loves life. We have learned that God wants us to live and not die. This was the choice set before Adam, the Israelites, and now it is the choice set before us. As Christians, we know we are saved, not by our good choices, but by Jesus’ choice to give himself for us and for our sins. But, in general, the quality of our life on earth will be largely based on our individual choices. Apart from the things that are outside our control, there are a million choices we make through the course of a lifetime that are in our control.

Each man or woman has a right to this choice. They have a right to their life. That is why it is such a horrible thing to murder someone. That’s obvious. Slightly less obvious is that the same principle applies to theft, and even to bearing false witness. It applies to theft, because a person’s possessions are considered part of what is making their life possible. To steward something for God by ownership is to take responsibility for it, and the purpose is the furthering of one’s life. To take one of my things is to take from my life. To be sure, I should learn to hold my stuff with an open hand, remembering that it all belongs to God, but none of it belongs to anyone else but me. That is why God protects private property.

Coveting taps into the same sinful tendency as the desire to take someone’s life, or at least to take from someone’s life. It also tells God that you don’t like your own life, that God should have given you what the other man has, instead of giving it to him. To covet is to not trust God. It is also to prioritize things in your own life that should not be a priority. James says,

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God (Ja 4:1-4)?

Coveting and murder are in the same category here, because the above statement shows that they both take from someone else’s life. This is why it is considered by James to be a root cause of “wars” and “battles.”

So, on principle, do not allow yourself to covet another man’s (or woman’s) possession of anything. It’s a trap of Satan and an invitation for demonic torture.

It tricks you into looking away from the facts of your own life, which is where your attention needs to be.

What is happening with you; why do you not already have this thing that you think is so important? How can you use the facts of your life to see where you are, where you could be, and how to get there? To keep this principle is to trust God. To go a step further, practice thankfulness for what you have, awareness of what you could have and where you can grow, and focus on doing those things that will move you toward a greater faithfulness in your stewardship.

Do not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s.

Principles are Better than Laws Pt 13 Don’t Bear False Witness or Lie at All

I was watching a short clip on YouTube by Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christiansen on religion and capitalism in America. He was recounting a conversation with a graduate student from China who had come to America to study capitalism. When Christiansen asked him what was the most surprising thing he’d learned from his time studying in America, the man said something to the effect that he had not previously understood the role that religion played in the success of capitalism in America. What he went on to say was that it was remarkable that Americans are more or less honest. They pay their taxes usually without the police coming to beat them up. He (rightly) attributed this to an inherent fear of God baked into the culture. He said (rightly) that the attempt to impose capitalism and democracy on other countries has failed because of a lack of similar foundations. 

This series of posts is about the idea that we should not only reverently obey the laws of God, but we should also see them as principles, following which will lead to the best possible life we could be living on earth and beyond. Having now arrived at the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness,” I must distinguish briefly between bearing false witness, that is, perjury, and plain old lying. Both are wrong, but the first is worse. 

Lying is bad. It warps reality, and warping reality is a kind of chaos that leads to destruction. But bearing false witness is worse, because it means that you are deliberately lying about a person in order to do them harm. This puts it up there with murder, because it is an assault on the person’s LIFE. And life is sacred.

As a straightforward command, this works pretty well. To see this as a principle, we can go deeper into the “why” behind the prohibition against false witness. The problem with perjury is that it is injustice. Someone goes to jail, because someone lied under oath. The wrong man paid for the crime. The fabric of society depends on justice.

To bear false witness or to lie in any way is to give in to unreality. If you live according to anything except truth, your life will become disintegrated. You will come apart little by little. Everyone knows that to pull off a lie requires more than just that lie. You have to lie about lying. You have to lie about lying about lying. You have to remember who you lied to and remember what the lie was and to keep the lie going. You have to lie to yourself that you are not a worthless person, at least in practice. You may have worth as an image-bearer of God, but you add nothing to that by being a purveyor of unreality, making the world a worse place because of your existence and your lies. This is the opposite of what we are called to do as humans, and especially as God-fearing humans.

One way to look at this is to be ruthless on yourself to represent your opponents accurately. Why? Because the truth matters, even when it hurts your cause. There is no true conflict of your interests if you are telling the truth. Don’t shortcut the argument of who is right and who is wrong in a dispute by misrepresentation of the other side. A basic example would be a the common practice of making a straw man out of your opponent. If you cannot beat them with an accurate representation, you are not having a fight worth winning. Your win will be a lie, and the ends don’t justify the means.

Be a person who loves the truth on principle, even if it wrecks your world. If your world can be wrecked by the truth, then you are living the wrong kind of existence. It may be brutal and painful to clean up a life of contradictions, lies, evasions, and false witnessing about the other side, but if you have the heart for it, keeping this command along with all the commands against lying, will change your life. You will become a whole person; stronger, more confident, with more self-esteem and yet humility at the same time. Submission to truth is submission to God, and submission to God and his laws is humble.

Principles are Better than Laws Part 12 Don’t Take People’s Stuff

Besides part ten, “thou shalt not murder,” I’ve most been looking forward to this post. When I write anything, often my goal is to flesh out thoughts. This will be that, and if you are reading it, that is a bonus for me.

The seventh commandment says you cannot take other people’s stuff. “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:15).

Once again, I start out wondering how there could be a principle behind such a straightforward law. Shouldn’t this be one where God the Father gets to say, “Because I said so!”? It seems like that’s what he wants to do, since this is one of the commandments with zero explanation. 

God should get to say whatever he wants, and we should listen. But I am committed to this project of considering his laws as principles, so how is the law of keeping our hands off someone else’s stuff to be applied as a principle to live by? In other words, what does this commandment say about God and about the way he has created the world to work? What does is say about how he has created mankind to relate to one another?

This commandment is tied closely to all the others, especially the commandment prohibiting murder. God does not want us to murder, becuase life is precious. Life is precious because God created it. Existence exists, and the way we must live springs from this fact. A person is a created thing. A created thing has a right to be. And humans especially have a right to be. Continuing to “be” is a key purpose for our efforts in life, and the most fundamental way we glorify our Maker. 

This requires us to have the stuff we need to exist. 

There is something profound about possessions. Jesus said a man does not get his identity from his possessions. He said it this way, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15). Then he told the parable of the rich fool whose land produced abundantly, so he tore down his old barns, built bigger barns, and relaxed. This was foolish, because he died the next day. 

Whatever else this means, it means that “life” does not consist in what we have. “Life” is something else. But then, who cares if someone steals our abundance of possessions? 

This apparent contradiction is why Christians are confused enough on this point to never save enough, AND/OR never give enough.

A man does not get his identity from his possessions, but possessions do get (part of) their identity from the man or woman who owns them.

This is tied to the principle of stewardship. God stated it again when he told Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen 9:3).

Everything in the world belonged to the man who lived on it alone with his family. What was the purpose? To live. It was God’s stuff that he gave to Noah to use for life. This is what he gives us our stuff for. When we possess it, we become stewards of it. This means that we become responsible for it. We own it. Our name is on it, but it is for God that our name is on it, because his name is on US. We belong to him.

I believe that this is profound. I own something. My life does not consist of that thing. My life owns that thing. That possession does not own me, but I have put my name on it. I don’t get identity from it, but it gets identity from me. It is not just a car. It is Jeff’s car. It is not just money. It is Jeff’s money to use for Jeff’s life for the glory of God (because Jeff’s money is God’s money, because Jeff belongs to God). If it is going to be given away in generosity, it is going to be given away by me, because I am generous. If it is going to be hoarded, it is because I am stingy, and I am hoarding it.

God will and does hold me accountable for that. And possession and identity are important to God. Stewardship and responsibility are fundamental biblical principles. He does not want someone else to take what belongs to me for the same reason he does not want someone to kill me. This is a part of my life once I put my name on it. I am using it to further my life. Whether it is food for my physical sustenance, or even if it is something for my “spiritual” sustenance, like a piece of art. If it furthers my life according to my biblical values, to take it, is to violate my life as you would by any use of force and violence against me.

We are not to steal, because to steal is to subtract from life, it is to kill. Sometimes it looks explicitly like that. If you took the last scraps from a starving man, he would die because you stole his property. 

This still does not mean a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions. His life is still something separate and spiritual. Jesus told his parable and made the comment because two brothers were fighting over their parents’ estate. Jesus saw they were greedy for the possessions. He saw that they thought “things” were the key to their value, their identity. The opposite is true. 

Now, I think Christ would say, “Do not steal other people’s stuff.” But I also think he would say, “Let them steal yours if they are going to do that, because my Father in heaven will take care of you.” I believe he wants us to trust God that much.

Why? Because there is a fine line between knowing you have responsibility for your stuff, which is to further your life, and being fearful that God will not take care of you, or just plain old loving money and possessions more than God. 

Jesus and his Father want us to be free. Money is important, especially if you are trying to raise a family. And I imagine that most Christians feel some guilt about making very much of it, but we shouldn’t. We should make the most we can if we can do it without compromising biblical values and our Christian character. We should live in such a way and think of it in such a way that we could still be happy in God if we lost it all and were made to start again. 

We should not be like the man with the bigger barns. What is the point of relaxing for the rest of your life and not being productive? Have you ever seen anyone who did that? I’m thinking of what happened to George Foreman when he first won his title. He retired young to go fishing and hang around drinking beer and spending his money. He nearly died until he became productive again, even gloriously coming out of retirement to box professionally again and sell grills. 

Humans aren’t made to be unproductive, even when it seems they no longer need to be. 

So What Does This Mean for How We Relate to One Another?

Everyone has a God-given right to his or her life, and they have a God-given right to what possessions they have their name on. It is theirs to dispense with, whether it is sold, or given away. When we relate to others, we relate as traders, value for value. We seek win-win arrangements with everyone from our boss, to our customers, employees, spouses, children, neighbors, and even our rivals. Life is truly not meant to be a zero sum game. The seeming inequalities that exist are an illusion, because abundant life means there is enough for everyone who uses their God given capacity to produce and stewards it appropriately. In our trades we create value and should both win. 

When this is not happening, it is because someone is violating reality and righteousness. But for those people, there are ways that God ultimately deals with them and evens the score. 

Theft comes down to force, just like murder, and they are in the same category of taking away from a person’s life. I know there is more to say. Feel free to comment if you want to continue the conversation.