Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Be a Rich Christian (To Remind Myself)

I. Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of god.  So if you can avoid it, do.

II. If you can’t avoid it, accept it. Don't buy the nonsense that we're "'middle class." It is the global economy that has made us rich, so it is by global standards that we must compare ourselves.

III. When you make your budget, do it with a picture of a poor child propped up next to your spreadsheet. Keep that picture in your wallet. Make every big, out-of-the-ordinary purchase after you look at her desperate eyes.

IV. Give, give, give. Understand that it's not your money. The Old Testament is full of reminders that all that is is God's. Jesus told one rich man to give everything he had, just to enter into Jesus' kingdom. The early Christians, who were ready to be martyred, gave all they had. We, too, should be known by our giving. Give far beyond the traditional 10 percent, and to multiple recipients. Offer to God even the money in your savings or retirement accounts. If you don't have cash, give your time, give your space, give your thoughts.

V. Know the names and stories of many poor people. Always be owed something. When someone you forgot you knew comes up and tells you they'll be paying back that money you forgot you lent, you're on to something. 

VI. Do not compare yourself to other rich people. Keep in mind that anyone who appeals to the "standard of living" is trying to assuage their own discontentment with riches, which runs directly against the teaching of Christ and Paul.

VII. Remember: In our country, rich and poor used to live together. Sometimes on neighboring farms, other times within the same small town, other times on the same plantation. It was impossible for the rich to forget the poor existed. Now, it requires significant effort for us to remember them. Living isolated from the poor, a man forgets what it's like have a hungry family next door, to his own peril.

VIII. Read yourself into the parables as villain, or the warned. Watch how Jesus describes the hearts of the rich. Don't beat yourself up, just be warned and live accordingly.

IX. Understand this: The human mind is fickle. We can only think about what's in front of us. If the poor are not in front of us regularly, we will forget about them. After we've forgotten about them, after years surrounded by so much wealth, we as a people will forget how loving our neighbors and loving the poor were often one and the same. Reverse this trend in your own life wherever you can.

X. Read books and stories written by the poor. Read about their lives. Pick up news magazines and watch documentaries.

XI. If a news source offers easy answers to poverty, doubt their motives. If a news story lets you feel smug or justified in your wealth, know that they are vying for your vote or your money.

XII. Remember that to suffer is to be human. Reject all thoughts that suggest that comforts produce the abatement of suffering. It is by comforting ourselves that we can most assuredly insulate ourselves from our need for God. Accepting discomfort is an act of trust, and enables us to walk in faith. Consider that in the Bible, our spiritual ancestors, elected by God to do his work, always suffered. In the Bible, we always suffered. Like it says in Hebrews,

(The people of faith)...were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while sill others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them."

XIII. See monetary gain as just as likely to harm one's soul as to help it, and beware un-Christian uses of the word, "blessing." The account of the blessings Isaac offered to Jacob and Esau show an understanding of "blessing" that is common throughout the Old Testament. To Jacob, "... May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness - an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you..." And to Esau, "Your dwelling will be away from the earth's richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck." This passage is typical of the Old Testament's and America's usage of the word. Those who are blessed are the rich, and those who are not are poor. Material gain and moves towards wealth are blessings.

Jesus turns this idea on its head, by saying that in His Kingdom, the blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the poor, those who hunger now, those who weep now. These “blessed are the…”statements, are not instructions, but instruction. Jesus is not saying, "try to be poor in spirit, or hungry," or even calling the rich to serve the poor. He is teaching us about the way things are. He is teaching us that in the Kingdom of God, those who suffer are in fact, blessed. He is showing us that sufferers are already close to His heart in ways we who are rich do not know. In the Beatitudes and elsewhere He is telling the Jewish people that they missed the boat on what blessing is all about. We who are rich Christians have mostly missed it, too. Know that the fulfillment of the simple wish, "God bless you," may require the loss of much that you hold dear.

XIV. Trust the Lord.  Jesus never told the rich to solve poverty. He did warn us again and again what will happen to our souls when we ignore it and wrap our lives around ourselves. Your job is to be faithful to Him. If He asks you to sell all you have and give it to the poor, trust that He loves you and don't worry about the consequences. If you take any of these steps outside of a relationship of trust in God, you will have done something good, but not as a Christian. Do whatever good you do with Christ, and find His peace as just one of the fruits.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this prophetic invitation and challenge. Yet, I have to say that reading this post produces much internal conflict in me. I guess it wouldn't be prophetic if it didn't.

To begin to grasp what you wrote, I will try to sum it up in 5 points: 1. There is real danger in being rich, and I'm rich 2. The social structure in the U.S. geographically segregates rich and poor, which is problematic for both and should be especially concerning for Christians 3. Know the poor, i.e. a poor mother, a poor child, a poor family 4. Be mindful of the "great reversal" of expectations at the heart of Christianity, which Jesus' teachings on blessing, suffering, and social hierarchy illustrate 5. Trust God as you pursue the kind of radical generosity and commitment to the poor to which the Church is called, even if it diminishes your own "security."

If I'm honest, my daughters complicate matters for me. Concrete choices must be made. Competing priorities must be sorted out (e.g. private school tuition vs. no cost less adequate public school, savings for college vs. helping families in need right now, etc.). Part of the problem is that this issue of prioritization defies any clear cut generalization. At times, choosing my daughters' (or my wife's) welfare over others is justified and at other times it is a means of letting myself off the hook from the life of radical generosity I'm called to pursue. But rightly sorting out which is which will never happen if I don't see the distinction in the first place. Your post reminds me of how much I don't want to let myself off the hook, that I must thoughtfully and prayerfully make the distinction referenced above, and that when an answer is unclear I need to be suspicious of my "richness" and where it can so easily lure me.

Thank you again for this post.


Anonymous said...

I also wanted to add that this post requires more consideration than a single sitting. It deserves to be wrestled with and "lived into" over time. My post above did not communicate this as clearly as it should have.


Brian Stipp said...


I know it’s been a really long time since you wrote, but I couldn’t attempt a quick response, and writing took a back seat once the school year started. Now I’m on break, so I’m trying to schedule in a little more writing/thinking.

I really appreciate you reading my essay carefully. It was every bit as stinging for me as it was for you or anyone else caught trying to take seriously the teachings of Christ while living in the middle of more wealth than has ever been known. It has certainly taken me more than a single sitting to wrestle with, and I’m not done.

The summary you wrote was terrific. I told Beth after I read it that I that I could have just posted your summary.

I’d like to talk about the issue your daughters raise: that it’s not just giving of yourself, but giving of someone else who God has entrusted to you, that is set at odds with giving to the poor. I am there, too. We aren’t wrestling as much with school decision as you, but in other ways, I’m right there with you.

But the poor aren’t. They aren’t like us. They don’t have the decisions we have, they don’t have to make themselves remember the poor. They just look across the room or the refugee camp. They see intense needs, including their own kids' and their neighbors kids', and their decisions are always made with these needs at the forefront.

I am thankful for choice that comes with wealth. I think it is a gift from God, albeit a weighty one. But I wonder if clarity of priorities and dependence on God that the poor experience is part of the blessedness that Jesus spoke about. I don't know that you and I will ever know life on the unredeemed earth with such blessedness. I pray that we do, but I pray it with fear and trembling.