Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Worker is Worth His Keep

Acts 2:42 says this:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

My heart is racing and my palms are sweating as I think of the possibilities, the implications. This was not a people who gathered for a Sabbath Corporate gathering and a small group once a week. This was a people who LIVED together. This was a people who formed a village in the midst of an empire, who formed a counter-culture in the face of oppression, who stood together, daily, with arms linked and hearts connected, exuding the Light of Christ in a very dark place. This was a people who lived their lives focused on the vision of being Jesus’ witness. Period.

And so they cashed everything in, knowing that together, they would take care of each other. Together, they could stand and not be in want. Together, they could demonstrate the compelling nature of our Christ.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

The part that speaks a very powerful message is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were part of this early faith community, and they too wanted to sell their goods and contribute to the larger vision. So they sold a piece of property and brought the money before the apostles. Except that they held back a portion of the sale for themselves, without disclosing the full amount. They reserved part of the money and did not give it as a whole, but said that they were giving it all. And they were struck dead for the act.

Not a slap on the hand. Not a “well, they’re just not in the right place.” Not an excuse from the community. Not an acknowledgement that it is their money to do with as they please and so the rest is between them and God. Nope.

Struck dead.

I often wonder about Ananias and Sapphira. Did they get scared? Did they have a moment of doubt, or selfishness, and just didn’t see it prudent to give it ALL away? Did they have something in mind that they wanted to buy for themselves alone? Did they doubt the generosity of the community and think that they were going to be short-changed? Did they grow weary of interdependence of the community and wanted freedom to break away? Did they just want more, maybe for their home? Were their needs not being met? What fueled that decision?

Reason and logic of this day and age would say that they were being good stewards, wise to set some aside. After all, it was their money and they can do with it as they please. It is nobody else's business how they decide to use it. You never know when that rainy day may come and you find yourself in need. In fact, I have heard many Christians say, in the midst of discussing this Scripture, that if they were to give everything away, then they would be the ones in need, depending on others.

As radical as it sounds, maybe that is exactly where God wants us to be. Depending on Him, through the generous hearts of each other, knowing that He. Will. Come. Through. Then we boast in nothing but Him.

That was the model that He set for us. Remember, Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus was homeless.

As He sent out His disciples to teach and heal and love, He told them, “As you go, preach this message, ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.”

The worker is worth his keep.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Cost is High

Three years ago, when the economy tanked, a husband and wife both lost their jobs. The man in his early 60’s, the wife in her late 50’s, both came home empty handed. The company that she had given years of hard work to laid off all their employees and closed their doors. The nationwide hiring freeze put his recruiting firm out of business. So this hard-working, middle-class couple found themselves with no jobs, and no benefits for their chronic health problems. He was cutting blood-pressure medication in half to make it last longer. She was skipping days of her thyroid medication to stretch it out. They were scrambling to put money together for non-negotiable insulin, and he stopped taking his cholesterol medication because they just couldn’t afford it.

So this couple, in the prime of their lives, found themselves starting over. But they were clever and creative, so they put their heads together and started a small business, making and selling tie-dye clothing and his beautiful artwork. They worked tirelessly throughout the week to get their inventory up, and then traveled every weekend, chasing after arts and crafts fairs to peddle their goods. There was no Sabbath for this couple, but they were growing weary.

They filed for every government benefit available to them at their age, fought against red tape and middlemen, and even still, were just scraping by. Even through all of their toil, though, they were falling further and further behind. So after three years of just trying to keep their heads above water, they made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy and let their house, their home of 13 years, go to the bank. They had run out of options and energy. They would move to a different state, and share a home with their aging in-laws who were in need of live-in help. Humbled and torn, they began the process of selling off all that they had left.

In late September, my family and I returned to the states from Africa, just in time to help that couple, my parents, neatly arrange all of their possessions on tables in the carport of their home, with paper signs that read “25 cents each.” Family heirlooms, memorabilia from around the world, gifts from family and friends; each item had a story, and piece of our past attached to it. And a person walks up, bargains it down from a dollar and walks away with it in hand, never knowing where it came from, the stories that made us laugh when we talk about it, or the family that we remember when we see it. All of it gone for a couple thousand dollars in two weekends’ worth of yard sales. And then my parents loaded up what was most dear in a small truck, and headed east for Texas, 15 hours away from children and grandchildren, trusting God for guidance and peace.

And I mourn it all.

Probably more for selfish reasons than anything else. And I know it is only a season. But I mourn it nonetheless. To know how hard they have worked throughout their lives, how they have struggled and toiled, I just wonder if we could have, should have, stood together better. The community failed. We failed.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the rich young ruler who approached Jesus, and the early Church community described in Acts, and the modern day Church, and my parents, and countless others just like them, and the lost and broken, and the call to be set apart, be a light, give everything, no poor among them, thousands added daily, addictions and pain, and the power of the Holy Spirit to change it all. And this stirring and this reading and this praying and seeking has left me with a solemn conclusion.

I cannot fully reconcile my life to what Jesus taught because I have spent my life picking and choosing what of it I want to follow. It's just easier that way.

Ugh. I hate putting that out there because it solidifies, confesses, acknowledges the nudging that the Spirit has been doing at my heart.

Yes, I hear you. I just didn’t want to hear you. Because the cost of discipleship so very high, and I. AM. SCARED.

But You, in all of Your unpredictable moves and unreasonable requests, You are good. You do not make sense, as Your ways are not my ways, and You are not safe by the standards I know. But You are good. 

And so when You told the rich young ruler, this master who owned everything he could possible need, that he lacked one thing, You didn’t mean that just for him. And Your early church, full of the Holy Spirit, with Your words still ringing in their ears, they knew that. You told him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” There was no payment plan, no easing into it, no baby steps. This rich man, this religious leader, knew all the commands and boasted in keeping them, even approached Jesus in boldness to let Him know that all the commands had been kept. So now the next act of obedience, the next step in discipleship.


And Your bride, in the zeal of her youth, did just that.