May 2017 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

Thank you for your letter.  I was glad to hear how God has blessed you.  I pray that your time goes quickly and that before you know it, you’ll be home.  How goes the exercise routine?  I’ve settled into 5 days a week on an exercise bike (easier on the knees) and some free weight toning; low weight, high reps.   And lots of physical labor.  I moved a pile of dirt from the driveway to the back yard that was as big as a Volkswagen Beetle to try and fill in some spots that weren’t able to grow anything. I also put in some new flower beds.  With the weather turning warmer I’m trying to spend more time outside working in the yard.

I can’t spend the hours like we used to, walking the track in the big yard, and using all the exercise equipment.  I certainly wish I had access to a weight room.  My work out routine is more like Rocky when he fought the Russian.  He used what was available while his opponent used the latest high-tech workout equipment.  While we were dedicated to spending time nearly every day getting in whatever we could, we certainly weren’t as hardcore as some of the other guys.  If helped us manage stress and diet but certainly didn’t turn us into Greek gods.

I was reading in II Kings and was struck by the words in chapter 17 verse 15, “They followed worthless idols and they themselves became worthless.” You become what you worship.  If your worship money you become an ungiving tightwad without charity. If you worship beauty you become fixated on beautiful people, choosing to discriminate based on outward appearance rather than the heart; a rather shallow perspective on life. If you worship pleasure, you seek out only pleasurable activities, avoiding pain for yourself; instead causing great pain to others.  If you worship yourself, you become selfish, self-centered, and self-serving; unmoved and uncaring about the needs of others.

In Matthew 6:21 it says, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Things are worthless because they have no lasting value.  And they have no lasting value because they have no worth to anyone but the person who possesses it.  Idols are false gods because they are not real.  They can’t do anything for you because they don’t have any real power except what you invest in them.  So, when we worship money, beauty, pleasure, or self, you are putting your treasure where your heart is and will end up morally bankrupt.  Instead put your treasure where moths and rust will not destroy it (Matt 6:1).  Invest it in other people, in charity, in faith; and you will have rewards both in this life and the next.

I’ve been reading “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a man who clearly understood this principle.  In 1930s Germany he saw what was happening and tried very hard to warn the church that worshiping nationalism was not compatible with Christian ideals. When the mainline denominations acquiesced to Hitler, he joined a small group of others to resist.  He wrote, “Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order to save Christian civilization or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization.”

In the book Bonhoeffer draws on the Sermon on the Mount as the model for the Christian life.  In chapter 17 The Simplicity of the Carefree Life he wrote, “The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves”  All the things that could potentially become idols must be put away.  Further he wrote, “Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus.”  In prison where you don’t have many possessions it is easier to stay focused on Christ.  I have seen firsthand how many people who call themselves Christians out in the world are like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22, when called to give up their possessions in order to be a disciple they just can’t do it, and remain only a casual follower instead of a committed believer.

Bonhoeffer said, “Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected.”  It is not true ‘that he who dies with the most toys wins.’  Jesus didn’t say it was impossible for a rich person to enter heaven, only that it was very difficult because it is so easy for people to put their treasure in the wrong place.  We need to have the right perspective on “stuff.”  We need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s blessings rather than claiming ownership over the things that come to us.

When we claim ownership, we become anxious over the status and condition of our stuff.  When this happens, we take our eyes off Christ.  It is like those guys who liked to spend all day in the weight pit lifting weights to make their muscles not just big, but huge.  They hated to take days off in the winter when it was so cold or in the summer when it was so hot that the officers closed the weight pit because of life threatening conditions.  They were willing to put their health at risk just so that they didn’t miss a day.  They obsessed over mastering every piece of gym equipment to see what effect it would have on their physique.  My bunkie once crab-walked around the half mile track just to prove that he was in better shape than the other guys who were out crab-walking, as if he was claiming the title of world’s greatest athlete.

So, as you prepare to go home, get a job, and resume your life think carefully about your goals.  Having found the “pearl of great price” my prayer for you is that you keep faithfully to your commitment to be a disciple of Christ.  Put him first in all of your decision making and trust the Lord to provide you with what you need.

Your Brother in Christ.

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