Greed.

I'm reading through Peter Kreeft's book Back to Virtue. When writing about greed, Kreeft made a point that I thought was hilarious, provocative, and damning of our capitalistic culture:

“I think Jesus would find The Price Is Right as obscene as Deep Throat.” 

Greed is almost impossible to detect in our lives because it is the very air that we breathe. Our entire economic system is built on the belief that humans are never fully satisfied and always want to acquire more. To be fair, greed is not a problem that is exclusive to a capitalistic society. Even in his day, Jesus spoke out against greed more than any other sin.

Of the seven deadly sins, greed is often ranked second behind only pride. Like pride, the other deadly sins often flow out of a greedy heart. It's not hard to see how of envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and wrath can connect to greed. Paul warned us, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Greed is the immoderate desire for possessions or wealth. Seneca wrote: “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Being greedy and being wealthy are not the same thing. It is not a sin to have material wealth. It is a sin when you are obsessed about acquiring more and make that a chief aim in life.

Being greedy is not the same thing as being wise with your resources, but the lines can definitely get blurry. We often justify our greed under the pretense of being shrewd. I see this most commonly in myself and others I know by disguising greed as providing for our family. We should certainly take care of those around us, but we shouldn't use them as a scapegoat for our own ambition.

Greed plays itself out in two ways- an unquenchable desire to get more and an unreasonable fixation on trying to protect and preserve what you already have. Both Jesus (Luke 12:15-33) and Solomon warn about the futility of hoarding wealth.

Greed is, at its core, connected to fear and control. When we are greedy, it shows us that we are lacking trust in God to provide or to be enough. In our posture of

Solomon, one of the wealthiest men in human history, knew of the futility of greed. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10-12:

“Those who love money will never be satisfied with money, and those who love riches will never be happy with what they have. This, too, is fleeting. The more goods there are, the more people there are to consume them. How does any of this really benefit the owners except they can gaze proudly on their possessions? Sweet sleep comes to those who work hard, regardless of how much or how little they’ve eaten. But the abundance of the rich keeps them awake at night.”

Jesus warned us not to obsess over things that 'moth and rust can corrode and destroy', knowing that doing so also corrodes and destroys our souls. It's no coincidence that miser and misery come from the same root word.

When Jesus called out the rich young ruler and told him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, he was asking that for the sake of the rich young ruler, not just the poor around him. In essence, Jesus was telling him, "You cannot bring a greedy heart into the kingdom of God, you've got to leave that behind." Being greedy disconnects you from God and from others.

CONTENTMENT AND GENEROSITY

The counter virtue(s) to greed are contentment and generosity. Contentment means having your desires fulfilled by what you already have. Often, in our pursuit or obsession for more, we are actually missing out on the joy of the blessings that are right there in front of us staring us in the face. Once we've acquired what we are pursuing, we toss it to the side and move on the next acquisition. It's never enough.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from jail. He thought for sure he was going to die. And this is what he wrote to them:

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances. I know how to survive in tight situations, and I know how to enjoy having plenty. In fact, I have learned how to face any circumstances: fed or hungry, with or without. I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength.” 

How much joy are we missing out on with what we already have because we have target fixation on what we don't have. For Paul, his relationship with Christ brought so much joy to him that he was able to be content regardless of whatever the other circumstances of his life were.

In his letter to the Philippians, he also expressed tremendous, specific gratitude for the people that were in his life. Even though, at that moment, he didn't have material wealth or comfort, his heart was full. This is a strong lesson for us during this holiday season.

Alongside contentment, Jesus and Paul constantly push us towards generosity. Where as greed creates disconnection with others, generosity connects us with others while at the same time breaking the grip of greed on our hearts.

Once again, wealth is not a sin. Greed is. Plenty of people in the Bible were wealthy. For some, it became a crutch that eventually ruined their relationships. For others, it was a platform from which to bless others. Seneca wrote:

“Wealth is the slave of the wise man but the master of a fool.” 

Which are you? 

What are you often preoccupied with?

What is the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing on your mind at night?

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be..." 

"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions..."

Book List- 2017

My wife has become a voracious reader over the past few years and the habit is starting to rub off on me. I've developed a new appreciation over the power of reading. A book is the best investment of $15 you'll ever make. With resources out there like Hoopla, Overdrive, etc., there's really no valid excuse to not keep reading and growing.

"As long as you are living, keep learning how to live." -Seneca

Here are some of the books I've read this past year, and a quote or main thought from each one. I hope you see some that pique your interest and that you pick them up and read them yourself! My top recommendations from this list are: Man's Search for Meaning, The Divine Conspiracy, The War of Art, Meditations, and Boundaries.

 

NON-FICTION

Emotional Agility by Susan David
KEY THOUGHT: Emotions give us data about what's going on inside, but they don't give us directions on what to do. We can act differently than we feel.

Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
KEY QUOTE: "We have reduced all virtues to one: being nice. And, we measure Jesus by our standard instead of measuring our standard by him."

The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
KEY TAKEAWAY: The various authors of Scripture were writing about their past in order to speak to their present. We have to learn to translate their past and their present to our present.

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson
KEY THOUGHT: Reading the Bible is about formation, not information. Feast, ruminate, meditate, absorb.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
NOTE: I would place this as a must-read for anyone. So many great quotes and thoughts. "Our life is what our thoughts make it."

On The Shortness of Life by Seneca
IDEA: Me and some other guys read through this and Ecclesiastes at the same time. Great parallels, great wisdom, great discussion. Live with the end in mind.  "It is not that we have so little time, but that we waste so much of it."

The Enchiridion by Epictetus
KEY QUOTE: "Learn to distinguish what you can and can’t control. Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires and the things that repel us. They are directly subject to our influence." (This book is another must-read!)

Letters From a Stoic by Seneca
Definitely one of the denser of the Stoic readings, but still a treasure trove of wisdom. “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” 

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
"The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better." Ryan Holiday's books are great.

Groundwork by Scott Larson and Dan Tocchini
This is a book I read through at least once a year with groups of guys. A great book on transformation and person growth.  "Our beliefs are revealed by the results produced by our lives."

The Kaballah of Envy by Rabbi Milton Bonder
KEY QUOTE: "Many people believe that humility is the opposite of pride, when in fact it is a point of equilibrium. The opposite of pride is actually a lack of self-esteem. A humble person is totally different from a person who cannot recognize and appreciate himself as a part of this world's marvels. His attitude is this different from someone for pride, totally centered on himself. Pride induces the belief that we are "right", hindering the ability to compare and contrast situations from different perspectives than one's own preformed opinions or judgments."

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson
This book was a funny read with lots of solid advice on building a good life.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
One of the best unpackings of the Sermon on the Mount that I've ever seen. A must-read!

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Crohn
I've read three books on the Enneagram in this past season and this one was by far the most accessible and easy to understand. If you're interested in the Ennegram, start with this book and the RHETI Institute's website.

The Enneagram by Richard Rohr
Much denser than The Road Back To You, but I like Rohr's unpacking of each Type a little better.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A must-read book for anyone trying to accomplish anything creative. (Aka all of us)

Man's Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
KEY QUOTE: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” Incredible book and perspective from Frankl who shares what he learned as he endured the hardships of Auschwitz.

Barbell Buddha by Chris Moore
Life lessons from a powerlifter that is hilarious and one heck of a writer.

The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus
KEY QUOTE: "I wonder how many times in my own life I thought I failed but actually the only thing that happened was that I quit."  Great book!

The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni
SUMMARY: Quick leadership read on the three attributes Lencioni think are essential for being a good employee/leader/etc. Highly recommend!

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley
SUMMARY: I know I keep saying these books are "must-read", but if you are in ministry, this book is essential. A quick overview of how Andy and the leaders at North Point operate their church.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzaro
SUMMARY:  Scazzaro has a lot of content in his Emotionally Healthy series, and if you are interested in learning more about developing empathy while also maintaining your own health, dive in.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
KEY QUOTE: “The optimist believes that bad events have specific causes, while good events will enhance everything he does; the pessimist believes that bad events have universal causes and that good events are caused by specific factors.

Boundaries by Henry Cloud
SUMMARY: A very popular book on how to set proper boundaries and have healthy relationships at work, in marriage, with friendships, etc.  Like Scazzaro, Cloud has a lot of different books in this series.

 


FICTION

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The Circle by Dave Eggars

Your Fathers Where Are They by Dave Eggars

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

 

BOOKS UP ON DECK

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Open to Suggestions!

Wrath.

Anger is natural. Expected. Often appropriate. If you haven't been angry lately, you haven't been paying attention.

Paul Tripp notes: “One of the necessary components of our broken world is anger. Because if this world is broken, if it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, then it’s right at points to be motivated by anger. Anger is not just a bad thing; anger is also a very good thing, and we better know the difference. God’s grace is not supposed to make us unangry. God’s grace is supposed to make us good and angry, at the same time.”

When Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that "everyone that is angry with someone else is in danger of judgment," he is not talking about having the emotion of anger. He is talking about harboring it. The Greek word, orgizomenos, means to harbor and contemplate deliberate hostile vengeance. Holding on to your anger is not a healthy way to live.

Paul gives great advice on anger in Ephesians 4:26-27:

"In your anger, do not sin. But at the same time, don't let the sun go down on your anger."

Paul says two things here. First, don't be a hot head. Your emotions provide you information, but they don't control what you do. "Fools give full vent to their rage." (Proverbs 29:11) Don't say or do things in the moment that will cost you big time down the road. When you do that, you are being weak. You are lacking self-control. You're probably allowing someone else to control you. Epictetus wrote, "Any person capable of angering you becomes your master."

Marcus Aurelius added, "It isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”

Second, Paul says "don't let the sun go down on your anger." Don't bury your anger deep inside. Jesus says doing that is on the same level as murdering someone. Even if you aren't outwardly retaliating against the offender (which is highly unlikely), you are murdering yourself. "Your soul is dyed with the color of your thoughts." (MA)  Holding onto anger over a long period of time shrivels up your soul. You become a small, weak person.

So according to Paul, two unhealthy responses to anger are to constantly give into your knee-jerk reactions or to go to the other extreme and just bury it deep down inside. There is a better path forward.

Fighting Anger- Patience, Forgiveness, and Justice

PATIENCE

In context of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Counter Virtue to Anger is Patience. The word patience has it’s root in the word pathos where we also get our word passion from. It means “to suffer.” 

The opposite of wrath is not apathy. Toughness isn't numbness. You aren't supposed to be a corpse. The opposite of wrath is patience. Patience is the ability to endure hardship, not avoid it or not feel it. 

The Crucifixion of Jesus is often called "The Passion of the Christ." Or the Suffering. Jesus was able to endure the suffering of the cross because he knew what he was suffering for. When we know who we want to be, and what we want our life to count for, we can endure.

The key to patience, or the ability to endure hardship, is to have something worth suffering for. The goal of our life should not be to avoid hardship, because that is impossible. Instead, we should find things that are worth enduring pain for. For followers of Jesus, that cause is ultimately Christ and His kingdom. But it might also be things like your family, your friends, your country, or your own character.

FORGIVENESS

This is probably obvious, but another cure for wrath is forgiveness. The ability to let go of the offense and the wound and move on. Bitterness ultimately only hurts the person that holds on to it. Marcus wisely wrote:

"How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them."

To seek vengeance is to only further damage your soul. I love the Stoic thought that when you inflict harm on others you inflict harm on yourself. "To harm is to do yourself harm, to do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice- it degrades your." (MA) Learn to move on and assure the other person, with sincerity, "No, no, my friend. That isn't what we're here for. It isn't me who's harmed by that. It's you." (MA)

JUSTICE

It seemed like Jesus got angry. Often. When Jesus got angry, he used that anger as fuel to pursue justice, healing, and reconciliation. In his anger, he methodically went into the Temple Courts and cleared out the corruption and made room for the marginalized to worship. Another time, his anger towards the self-righteous religious leaders fueled his compassion for the broken and he healed a cripple.

Anger is fuel. Fuel that can be used to pursue justice and healing or fuel that can be used to burn the whole mother down. 

When you get disappointed, frustrated, and just flat out furious- be aware of it.  Slow down anf figure out what it's really about and if you're even reading it right. And if you are, and your anger is justified, then use that anger wisely. Be a peacemaker.

 

The Most Popular Sin.

While lust might not be the deadliest of the deadly sins, it certainly seems to be one of the most popular. Paul writes about sexual immorality in nearly every one of his letters in the New Testament. It seemed to be one of the most common problems in the early church, which makes sense because almost every culture since the beginning of time has obsessed about sex.

Our culture is no different. 25% of search engine requests are pornography related. One look at this infographic will reveal how much pornography has permeated our world. Spend some time exploring Fight the New Drug's website and you'll begin to see the damage that porn is having in our world. It's not good.

Jesus doesn't speak that much about sex, but what he does say about it in the Sermon on the Mount really gets to the root of it. I've written about it before, and it bears repeating again.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at another person with lustful intent has already committed adultery with that person in their heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

It might be helpful to unpack a few of the words that the Bible uses to describe sex. Adultery is consensual sex between a married person and someone that is not their spouse. Fornication is consensual sex between people not married to each other. (Therefore, all adultery is fornication, but not all fornication is adultery.) Most of the Bible speaks against adultery and fornication, focusing primarily on our actions. Jesus takes it a level deeper.

When Jesus uses the word lust, he is not just talking about our actions. He is speaking into our thoughts and desires. The Greek word here for lust is epithumeo, which is the equivalent to the Hebrew word for covet. To covet something means to yearn and long for something that you don’t have and doesn't belong to you. When you lust after someone, it means you crave them for your own pleasure. It's more than a recognition of beauty or attraction, it's fantasizing about them. 

It seems wild that Jesus would say thinking about something is the same thing as doing it, but he is exactly right.

Solomon noted that "As a man thinks, so he is." Jesus said it like this- "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"  Buddha said it like this: "All that we are is dependent on our thoughts. It begins with our thoughts, it continues with our thoughts, it ends with our thoughts." Heraclitus said it like this:

“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny - it is the light that guides your way.”

If your thought life is consumed with lust, what does your soul look like? Lust impacts the heart, mind, and soul of the person that is lusting in the same way that adultery or fornication might. It is toxic to your thought life and relational health because it violates one of the key foundations of faith- to love others as yourself.  It creates a distorted sense of ego and entitlement. It takes up bandwidth in your head and clouds your judgment. Robs you of sleep and energy and drive.

God gave us the gift of sex as a way of connecting with another in the most intimate and vulnerable way. The two become one. (Genesis 2:24)  When we lust after someone, it prevents connection. They become an object for our pleasure, not a peer. One of the (many) reasons pornography is so dangerous is that it trains the viewers to view other people as just bodies with one purpose- physical pleasure. It misses out on all of the other beautiful aspects of a relationship.

Lust is a cheap substitute for the real depth, beauty, complexity, pain, and joy of a committed relationship. While it seems like an easier, safer route, it actually leaves the consumer feeling even more hollow and discontent than before.

Augustine wrote:

"Man cannot live without joy; therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures."

Bruce Marshall wrote, "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God." A modern version of this quote might say, "The person clicking endlessly on porn sites is searching for God." Or as Augustine famously wrote in his book Confessions, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God."

It's important to be aware of when our minds are wandering and hovering on lustful thoughts. Take note of when it happens. Take note on what it is costing you relationally and internally. Take note on when you find yourself more prone to wander. (Is their a trigger or environment or time when it happens?) What am I running from when I'm running towards this? What void am I trying to fill?

Remind yourself constantly that all of us are made in the image of God. We are all image-bearers. There is depth and beauty and complexity in all of us. There is more than just physical beauty. Don't reduce others (or yourself) to just that. If you struggle with porn addiction, get help. Find a support community.  Take it seriously.

As I'm studying and working through the deadly sins, I'm realizing that all of them disconnect us from God, others, and ourselves. Lust is no different. God created us to be in community with each other. Don't settle for a cheap substitute.
 

 

 

Learning How To Fight For Your Life. (Sloth)

My wife and I got married YOUNG. Now in our early thirties, we've been together for a decade and are getting ready to have our fourth daughter. (GULP) We survived the first half of our marriage simply because we were pretty nice, laid back people that didn't fight much. I think we got lucky in that regards.

That said, a big part of us not fighting was due to the fact that I was a master at avoiding conflict. Usually, if the scrape was a minor one, one of us would just give in to the other's preferences. But when it got a little more serious, I would just shut down. Stop reacting. Stonewall her. Sometimes I'd literally fall asleep mid-argument.  That never went well. Don't do that.

From an early age, I had mastered the deadly sin of sloth. Sloth is the sin of not showing up for your own life. While many might associate it with laziness, it's not really that. A person can be busy and still be slothful. Sloth is the avoidance of pain. The problem is that all good things in life are painful from time to time. The Stoic thinker Musonius Rufus said it like this:

"Because we humans acquire all good things by pain, the person who is himself unwilling to endure pain all but condemns himself to being worthy of nothing good.”

This is why sloth is lethal. In our avoidance of pain, we avoid our lives altogether. Mark Twain said it like this, "Most men die at 27, we just bury them at 72." Sloth prevents growth in all other areas of life. Change takes hard work and is often painful. The slothful are not interested. So if a person struggles with lust but also struggles with apathy, the lust will never get challenged until the apathy is overcome.

The Hebrew word for sloth paints the picture of a bow that is unstrung or without an arrow. In other words, something not fulfilling its purpose. A solider avoiding war. A person not doing what needs to be done. What’s within their power to do. What God created them to do.

The early church fathers used the word acedia to describe sloth. Acedia means to not care. We are probably more familiar with the term apathy, which means to have no passion. A person with sloth/acedia/apathy is disengaging and disconnecting, refusing to put skin in the game. Refusing to try. A slothful person is haunted by the nagging question, “Why bother?”

Sloth is a mask for fear. Fear of failure, or making a mistake, of succeeding, of not being enough. Fear of what will have to change if you start paying attention. Fear can paralyze or overwhelm us into inaction. What we fail to realize is that if we fail to pay attention and fail to act courageously, the thing that we are afraid of will most certainly come to pass.

Sloth is not the same as laziness. In fact, in our day and age of being ultra-connected and having infinite, instant distractions on hand, sloth more often shows up as busyness.  We fill our lives up with the wrong things and never get around to the things essential to our life.

Think of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus at their house. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus while Martha busied herself in the kitchen. Flustered that Mary wasn’t carrying her own weight, Martha approached Jesus and complained that she was left alone to do the work. Jesus cut right to the heart of it-

“Martha, it is clear that you are troubled and anxious about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that.” (Luke 10:41-42)

This is a great summary of sloth and busyness. We fill our lives with many things at the expense of the necessary thing.

Slothful people are great at making excuses for why they haven’t gotten around to the important things in their lives. Consider Martha, the Son of God was sitting in her living room, ten feet from her. When asked why she wasn’t front row, soaking it all in, she could give the convenient excuse, “Someone had to prepare the food! Someone had to do the dishes!” When you have an opportunity to get that close to Jesus, you order pizza.

What was Martha avoiding or hiding from?

Sloth can be avoidance of two things-  Avoiding the things in your life that bring health and joy (rest, exercise, work/vocation, spiritual disciplines, relationships, etc.) or avoiding dealing with the things that are currently bringing you harm (unhealthy relationships, being over-worked, addictions, past wounds, physical health issues.) In either scenario- avoidance is costing you your life.

OVERCOMING SLOTH

So if sloth is about avoidance and disconnection, it goes to follow that the opposite of sloth is intentionally engaging and connecting. The corresponding virtue to the vice of sloth is diligence. Diligence simply means “to pay close attention to.” To notice. Rather than sleep-walking through life, to be fully alert, accountable, and responsible for your life.

Perhaps ironically, one key to overcoming sloth is to slow down. Notice what is going on in your life. Ask yourself- what conversation am I avoiding? What bad habit do I keep running back to and failing to overcome? Where am I feeling overwhelmed or inadequate? Why?

When feeling overwhelmed in an area of life, seek out advice from those that seem to have a healthier approach to that area. Break it down into bite sized chunks. Pay attention to the little details.

Physical activity is a good remedy for sloth. Get up and get moving. Do something. The early church father Cassian viewed manual labor as a cure for sloth. Evagrius noted that our physical inactivity is often a reflection of our inner condition.

We become slothful because we want to avoid the pain of changing or failure. We want to avoid the tension of life. But as most weight-lifters know, time under tension is where real growth takes place. Don’t avoid tension, pain, or risk.

Understand the true nature of grace. Many of us implode and shut down by the daunting impossible ask of perfection. We don’t even try because failure is certainty. This is a misunderstanding of grace. Dallas Willard once wrote,

“Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning.”

Realize that you are needed. You. Are. Needed. God created you in His image with tremendous potential and limited time. The world needs you to show up to your life. Edmund Burke wrote, “All that’s necessary for evil to prevail is that good men do nothing.” James said it centuries earlier in another way. “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Unlike other sins that we commit, sloth is a sin of omission.

Stop being a slave to the urgent at the expense of the essential.