Posts tagged wealth
Kenya 2012 – Day 2
Today was our first real day in Kenya and it was what I like to call a cultural whiplash day – a day in which you encounter such vastly different cultures that your brain struggles to keep up. I remember my first cultural whiplash day. It was my third day on my first trip to Kenya. We had spent the day visiting churches in a very rural, very traditional (and very poor) region where people often have to get by just drinking goats’ milk for weeks. Then returned to Karen (a suburb of Nairobi) and had an exquisite gourmet meal prepared and served by the house staff of a friendly church couple.
Yes, that’s right. I was talking to starving people one moment and the next, I was gorging on an incredible meal. It was cultural whiplash and it is a moment that stays lodged in my memory.
Today, I managed, somewhat unintentionally to orchestrate a little cultural whiplash. The day started off with a nice breakfast at Nairobi Java House, a restaurant and coffee shop that caters to those of us with “western” tastes (“western” here meaning “west of Kenya” – mainly Europe and the U.S.) After our breakfast and a quick shopping trip, we headed off to Tenderfeet Education Center in Riruta.
After a short, but incredibly rough ride, we were greeted with a smile by Margaret, the director of Tenderfeet. Margaret is a teacher and mother who took it upon herself to create a place where the poorest of the poor could receive and education. Today, Tenderfeet is serving well over 100 kids age 2 through 4th grade. There is so much to say about these incredible kids, but I’ll save that for another post. For the sake of time, let’s just say that the work they are doing at Tenderfeet is incredible. We discovered just how incredible when we went to visit the home of one of the families being served by Tenderfeet.
The family lives in Kibera – one of the largest slums in Africa. In their one room home (yes, one room, not one bedroom), live 7 people – Grandma, Aunt, Uncle and 4 kids (1 of whom is also an uncle). In Kenya, their story is all too common. The kids’ mother died from AIDS, their father, too. They are being raised by their grandmother, who is also taking care of their 20-something uncle who has AIDS and recently contracted TB.
All seven people live in a room a little smaller than the size of a typical American dining room – a home that requires a long walk from the street through a maze of shanty houses and open sewers. They cook, do homework, sleep, eat and bathe all on in the same room. However, in spite of their challenges, all of the kids are tops in their class. The oldest girl, Immaculate, is a class monitor and, even in our brief time together, demonstrated her quiet leadership with the other kids.
After visiting briefly with this family, we spent some time with leaders from the Kibera Vineyard. This church, made up of residents of Kibera, is a church that truly understands the value of coming together as a family and pursuing God’s plans. Not long ago, they were given a sum of money by a visitor in order to help buy some food for the members to eat. However, in their desire to see the church flourish, they chose to sacrifice their new-found food money for something greater – a facility that they could not only gather in on Sundays, but also use as a ministry throughout the week.
Our time with the Kibera church was incredible. We concluded with a time of prayer led by my friend, Kelly Hughes. Over the course of the prayer time, several people came forward to receive prayer. The last person we prayed for was a little girl, Mary Ann, who had a stomach condition that the doctors were unable to diagnose. We prayed, then we prayed some more – the kind of specific prayers that you only pray if you think God is actually going to heal someone. And when I asked her how she felt afterward (and it was translated into Swahili), her single word response? “Better.” Then Moses, our Kenyan friend and guide pressed her a little more and then looked up at me and said, “She insists that she is all better. The pain has gone.” From that point until the moment we left, that little girl had a bright smile on her face as if she had just received the greatest gift of her life. I don’t know what God did or is doing with Mary Ann, but something (or someone) made an impact on her life today.
After an exhausting day of driving, meeting people and trying to take it all in, we returned to our hotel. We had started the day conversing over pancakes, french toast, eggs, bacon and lattes and had ended our day praying over people who didn’t know where their next meal was going to come from. The whiplash was complete – a stark reminder of the economic disparity in this country and a horrific reminder of the fact that we can’t help everyone.
And so, having experienced the whiplash, Kelly and Jonathan came back to the hotel, ate dinner and crashed. I haven’t heard a peep from them since. It’s 7:04PM now and I think I’m about to join them in LaLa Land.
Ecclesiastes is a brilliant book. We’re being set up. We’re being strung along. The author here is trying to give us some perspective. Just look at all the “wordly” ways he tries to find happiness.
First, he tries a kind of scientific discovery – trying to discover something new:
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11)
Then, he goes for a more philosophical, knowledge-based approach:
I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:13-14)
Then, in chapter 2, we see hm pursue pleasure (laughter, wine and folly), personal accomplishment (building houses, vineyards and parks) and even amassing and spending great wealth. The end result of trying to find pleasure in these things is the repeated refrain that all is meaningless.
Wisdom, however, keeps creeping in. Wisdom – the kind that comes from God, not the kind learned through study – keeps reminding us that there is something more. As the author seeks to find fulfillment in all of theses earthly things, his wisdom (which he can’t deny or hold back) reminds him of what he already knows.
Indeed, everything that we labor for on this earth is utterly meaningless. I’m reminded of the verse in Psalms that says “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Ah, yes. That is the missing ingredient – the one thus far intentionally left out by the author (remember, we’re being set up). The building of a house will not bring you fulfillment…unless…
Partnering with God throughout our life is the key to finding fulfillment in this life. Laboring, toiling and striving on our own only leads to disappointment. In fact, we can never really be pleased with or about ourselves, at least not in any sort of lasting way. The only true pleasure that lasts is the pleasure that God has for us when we follow him.
And so, today we get set up. We get to see just how futile all of our hard work is. If you’re a pessimist, reading the first chapters of Ecclesiastes might make you think we’re better off dead. If, like me, you prefer optimism, then you will probably keep reading in anticipation of the “but” – the recognition that there actually is a way to find fulfillment in this life.
So, let’s keep reading…
Reading the book of Proverbs is kind of like taking the little slips of paper out of a thousand fortune cookies, putting them in a bowl and then drawing them out and reading them one by one. The proverbs are short and somewhat simple. They are arranged in a haphazard way. And, to be honest, they’re a little overwhelming.
However, there are some themes that we can already observe here. If we take a few steps back and try to see the forest, rather than being overwhelmed by the trees, we find that Solomon is keying in on a few main topics. Topics like:
Choose wisdom over folly.
Choose righteousness over wickedness.
Choose humility over arrogance or seeking honor.
Choose to serve rather than to be served.
There are a few others, but the one that is the most interesting to me is Solomon’s view on wealth. You see, Solomon, being a very rich man, doesn’t condemn wealth. In fact, he gives us advice on how to accrue wealth and what to do with our money. But Solomon also maintains healthy perspective about money. Look at just a couple of his proverbs:
Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil. (Proverbs 15:16)
Better a small serving of vegetables with love
than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17)
The greedy bring ruin to their households,
but the one who hates bribes will live. (Proverbs 15:27)
Solomon seems to be saying, “If you can earn wealth while honoring God, loving others and maintaining integrity, then go for it! But if you have to choose between honoring God and earning wealth, don’t be a fool who chases after money.” It seems simple enough and yet, so many times, we are guilty of chasing after the money.
We may not even realize that we are choosing money over God. We may justify our actions by telling ourselves (and others) all the great God stuff we’re going to do with that money. But, in the end, if we are choosing that money over our God, not only are we being foolish in the moment, we are probably fooling ourselves about our altruistic intentions as well.
In my experience, often the least giving (most selfish) times in a person’s life are when he or she is making more money than they ever have before. The more they have, the more they want to hold onto it or to spend it on themselves. I know I’ve seen this play out in my own life – not in some evil “It’s mine…all mine!” kind of way. It’s just easy to forget what’s important when you’ve got money rolling it.
So take Solomon’s advice. Choose God over money. If you discover that, while choosing God, you can earn a lot of money, go for it. Just remember that God loves a cheerful giver!
Solomon seems like a pretty “black and white” guy. His proverbs – bits of wisdom he has learned throughout the course of his life – seem simplistic at times. Good stuff happens to good people. Bad stuff happens to bad people. Kind people are likeable. Hard work earns you money. Simplistic stuff.
The problem, of course, is that we know it isn’t really that simple. That’s why Solomon’s proverbs, though they are in the Bible, aren’t part of “The Law”. These are fail-proof, fool-proof words. These are wise sayings – things that are generally true in one way or another.
For example, I can say with confidence that those who follow God closely are blessed beyond measure. I can even say that if you stick close to God, he make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to buy a Bentley and hire a butler. God gives his blessing and riches in different ways to different people.
The funny thing is, the closer you are to God, the more easily you will recognize his blessing in your life. You friends may not be able to see it as clearly, but you can see it. God is there and he is blessing you.
I have so many friends who I know are walking closely with God and who are experiencing his blessing. It doesn’t mean that they don’t face the same problems that the rest of us do. It doesn’t mean that their every desire is fulfilled. What it does mean is that when they look at their life, they wouldn’t have it any other way. That may be the true definition of blessing.
I have said this before, but it is worth mentioning again here. David was a wealthy man. But he was also a wise man – one who understood the limits of his wealth. And that is why we read in Psalm 49:
People, despite their wealth, do not endure;
they are like the beasts that perish.
Do not be overawed when others grow rich,
when the splendor of their houses increases;
for they will take nothing with them when they die,
their splendor will not descend with them.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—
and people praise you when you prosper—
they will join those who have gone before them,
who will never again see the light of life. (Psalm 49:12, 16-19)
It’s a sobering thought to think that much of what we work for during our lives will not “descend” with us. We know this, and yet look at the value that we place on things like career, financial planning and even education. After all, most people will say that a good education is important so that you can get a good job and provide financially for yourself and your family. Yet, none of that stuff descends with us.
What if we changed our mentality? What if we looked for something different in our education and our careers? What if I encouraged my daughter to get an education that teaches her about the value of people and the love of God (for her and for others)? What if instead of pushing her toward a financially sound career, I encouraged her to breath deeply of the God who supplies provision for those who follow closely his plans for them?
Now, those plans may mean that she becomes an entrepreneur or world leader, but the motivation is completely different. What if I point her toward things eternal, instead of things which are fleeting? I suspect that the more she embraces the things that last, the more “secure” she will be, no matter how much money she has.