Grinch Clip.. “Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me…in your garbage.”…
The Whos of Whoville, while being very much about Christmas…had kind of lost sight of some important things…it had become a bigger and better and more than sort of thing…they had all this stuff and yet they bought and bought and bought more than they could ever use.
The word The Grinch uses is “avarice”…it is a synonym for Greed…and that is what the Whos were guilty of…they had lost sight of the fact that getting and receiving gifts was a good thing…having things isn’t sinful…but there comes a point where the tide turns and something sinful sets in. And it begins to consume us…to take over…and in the words of last week’s Scripture,
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Greed…it goes by a bunch of different names…and words like Greed can cause a reaction inside of us…I’m not greedy!!! Phew! Glad Eric isn’t preaching a sermon that applies to me this morning! I get the morning off to watch these greedy people around me squirm. I sure hope my wife gets the hint and stops all that shopping!
But at it’s root…greed is discontentment…we are discontent with what we have, who we are, where we are going in life…and then it grows until it is a major driving force that we don’t even recognize.
It seems easy to point out greed…in other people and in other arenas…but but then miss it in our lives…
Maybe not full blown Gordon Gecko type greed…but just this general sense of discontentment with what we have and who we are.
We don’t always recognize it as wrong, because what is wrong with pushing to improve things? What is wrong with wanting to be better?
But what happens is we stay dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and discontent with our lives…so we keep pushing for more because maybe that one more thing…maybe just one more improvement will be the one that makes me feel ok.
And our world seems structured to create greed. You don’t have enough. Your car is not good enough. Your house is not good enough. Your grilling utensils are not good enough. Your teeth are not white enough. You are not fit enough. You are not smart enough. You don’t have the right career. You need more, more, more.
And we buy into it because if we just accomplish this one thing…If I get that one thing…maybe then I will be happy…maybe I will feel content.
The truth is we want more because there is something missing deep inside…something broken that can only find healing through God.
Greed, coveting, discontentment, whatever synonym you want use…they all come from the same place…the false belief that enough is not enough…and that some how more will meet this deepest need inside of us.
I know in my own life, greed and discontentment has shown up as a belief that If I could just preach the right sermon and enough people came to God…then I would know I did something for God! If I could build a church where lots of people attended then my life would be worthwhile, and my existence would mean something…If I just had this degree or that award…then maybe…maybe I would feel fulfilled and loved and worthwhile.
And what I discover over and over…and keep failing to grasp…is that nothing…not one of those things is going to be able to fulfill that deep lacking I feel. I could preach the most eloquent sermons and pastor the largest church in the world and write books and speak around the world…and I haven’t found healing for my discontent…then I will never be content even at the top.
Being content, fighting the issue of “greed” means resting in the “enough” that you have. It is learning to trust that God is enough…and that God has given us enough..
It is learning, in the words of Sheryl Crowe…that
“It’s not having what you want It’s wanting what you’ve got”
This morning I want us to dig into a passage from the The Apostle Paul. He is writing to the members of the church of Philippi, and he is talking about something things he doesn’t have…and then he says this..
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
When I think of passages of Scripture that have been used and abused in all the wrong ways…this is one of them. Especially verse 13. When we were at the Racquetball Club they had a plaque with this verse on it in the room where we met…and I knew why it was there. It was being usurped as an inspirational slogan to encourage people to work out harder and still feel religious…and that isn’t what this verse means…AT ALL.
It has to do with being content and fighting the desire for more inside of us. So let’s take a look…First,
Contentment must be learned.
Paul knows the generosity of the Philippians so he puts in this caveat that he isn’t asking them for anything…but he also wants them to know that getting to the place where enough is enough and fighting greed and discontentment with what we have is not something we just “get” one day. It doesn’t just come to us.
It is possible because He practiced the discipline of being content.
The desire for more comes from this deep place within us that needs healing, but some times we have created this idea that healing just happens or that God will automatically remove all of our character flaws…but that’s not really true.
God certainly works, empowers, and even pushes healing to happen faster than just our simple ability to work on things…but there is still a bit of effort that you and I have to put into this. It is something we have to learn…
It helps our learning if we ask a few simple questions…and these work for more than just the physical, possession, money things in our lives…
Is this a basic need that I just don’t have?
Why do I want this? Or, why do I feel I need this?
Do I really need it?
Does God really want me to have this?
Is there something else God might want me to use the money for or put my effort into?
How will I use this to be a blessing to others?
Taking the time to self-reflect gives us time to evaluate and think about why? Does this purchase, this achievement, this desire flow from something good within us, or is it a result of us feeling deficient, trying to fill a hole, trying to look better in someone else’s eyes, to feel complete.
It helps our learning when we regularly practice generosity…whether you feel like it or not.
7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
The generous will themselves be blessed,
for they share their food with the poor.
2 Corinthians 9:11
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
See God blesses us so we can be a blessing…but sometimes, we hoard, we keep, seek to gain more and more and miss the opportunities God gives us. Something happens when you and I practice generosity…even when we don’t feel like giving it.
I think that is why God asks us to tithe. Does God need your money? No, but you are practicing two very important things: You are practicing Trust…you learn to trust that God can do more for you and your family with the money left over after the tithe than if you held on to that money.
But I also think it is an act of teaching ourselves to give…we are living with an open hand toward God out of obedience to Him. We are saying here, this is yours…and in the process we are learning to not hold on to this money…that we could use elsewhere.
But God does it with more than just our money…as we give to others in need…we begin to pay attention to the needs around us…but it also begins to work on our hearts.
I have found that if there is something I need to work on in my life, like a character flaw, that I will often have to fake it till I make it. I’m not trying to be fake or put on a mask by doing it, I just realize that sometimes things like generosity don’t just come…they have to be worked on, and there are times I have to approach it as an act of discipline rather than as something flowing from within.
And this leads us to what is really at the root of the Greed and discontentment in our lives…
Contentment comes from trusting God.
And we, often, don’t really trust God. That last verse… “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
That’s what that means…we can be content because of who God is and the strength he provides. Even when we don’t believe we can make it with what we have…He gives us the strength…and that comes from learning to trust Him.
So this week I was praying about the church and things in my life…and I have been working now for about 15 days straight with no real day off. I do it partly because if I want to provide for my family…then I have to…and because over Christmas break I don’t work so I don’t get paid. So I’m praying, “God, I want to be able to go full-time at the church sometime soon.” But then I thought, I’d better be a bit more specific with God because knowing him, I will will walk into the school tomorrow and they will call me in and fire me…and God will be like, “Well, you are now full-time!”
So I started to pray, “God, I don’t want to be fired. I just want things to grow here at the church so we can have a good transition…” And that is where I stopped, and thought, “Why do I feel the need to be so specific in my prayer…and I realized it was because I didn’t trust God to do this right. I didn’t trust him that even if I was fired, it was because He had a better way.
And that is at the root of greed and discontentment.
We don’t trust God.
We don’t trust that he has our best interests in mind.
We don’t trust that he won’t make things a bit difficult…maybe in the long run things will work out, but he likes to play games along the way.
We don’t trust that what God has given us is enough.
We don’t trust God when he says we are enough…what I mean by that is we don’t believe him when he says we are truly loved and forgiven and accepted…we don’t have to earn his love or impress anyone…HE LOVES and ACCEPTS us.
Do you trust that God has given you and will give you all that you need?
That if you don’t get that bigger house, that better job, if you aren’t recognized, if you don’t achieve that next goal or success that you really are enough and will have enough just like God says.
I don’t think we like to admit it, but we all have this hole in our lives. For some of us it is less noticeable than in others…but it is there.
It shows up as this discontent with who we are or what we have and then builds…It shows up as greed for more, consumerism that buys and discards for the next shopping fix, it shows up as the nagging voice that maybe this accomplishment or achievement will make me feel good about myself…and left uncheck it becomes its own kind of beast that consumes us…we can’t stop…we want and need more.
Imagine…if we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, could truly grasp and put into practice this idea that God is enough for us…that God will and does provide all we need…that God’s statement that we are loved and forgiven not because we can do anything for him or because we impressed him…but simply because we are us.
Imagine if we could live out this generosity…not just with our possessions and money, but with our time and with our love and with our forgiveness…
Why? Because God has been so generous with us…and we have come to realize that God blesses us so we can bless others.