Red Monday

The stock market crashed this week.  Granted, it was not as bad as some crashes over the years.  However, it was painful.  Anyone who had money in the market lost.  Experts indicated that this was brewing for some time.  They indicated it was a combination of the market being overinvested, the Chinese market collapsing, and the threat of interest rates increasing that prompted such a downward turn of events.  Most certainly, there are many people going home depressed tonight.  My heart feels for those that lost a bundle this week, especially those approaching retirement that were banking on this income.

Reflecting on this financial roller-coaster, I am reminded of some biblical passages.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

  • The focus of our lives should not be the accumulation of wealth but the pleasure of our Heavenly Father. There is a natural pull for us in this consumeristic world to attach our identity to our bank account, stock portfolio, or the retirement plan.  Granted, we need to prepare for the future.  We need to save and invest.  God gave us a mind to approach the future wisely and responsibly.  However, we are warned against putting our hope in such things.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?  (Matthew 6:25-27)

  • There is a great deal of anxiety as a result of the crash. Immediately, we begin to think about the future.  It is a natural if we lost significant money in the market.  A person would be irrational if they were not concerned.  Yet, our minds should not remain in that place.  God is sovereign.  He controls the future, not Wall-Street.  We should continue to put our trust in Him to provide for our needs.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:10-13)

  • Contentment can only be found in Christ. We can have moments of peace and happiness through our own efforts.  However, a person can only have lasting contentment if their strength is grounded in God.  Paul’s secret is quite simple:  look to God in moments of unrest.  Investors oftentimes rely on their own wit and economic prowess.  It is easy to depend on formulas, investor advice, or sheer luck.  Yet, it is a shaky foundation.  Security can only be found in the One who holds our lives (and the markets) in His hands.

God and Netflix

I sat down on the couch, picked up the remote, and began scrolling through the available TV shows and movies.  There were hundreds to choose from ranging from Karate Kid to Skyfall.  I clicked on an episode of West Wing and begin to immediately watch it.  I don’t have to set my DVR to record at some future time.  There is no need to look at the listing time to see whether or not I am home.  I can watch it right now.  Oh, the beauty of Netflix.  It is TV on my schedule and my preference.

On-demand television is becoming increasingly popular.  In fact, the stock of Netflix recently soared based on dramatically increased subscriptions over the past few months.  Apparently, people are switching from cable to on-demand viewing because it is personal and convenient.  Experts indicated this is the new way of watching TV.  Cable companies will have to adapt otherwise they will see their customer base decrease.  I’ll be the first to admit I get it.  I like being able to watch a program when I want to and how I want to.  Yet, in thinking about this entertainment shift, I wonder what impact this might have on our faith.  I think like this because I believe what happens in one area of our life definitely impacts other areas.

First, I wonder if this shift will only accelerate our spiritual narcissism.  We already live in an age where we expect God to cater to our needs.  We are less quick to trust in God’s sovereign purposes and readily willing to demand that He meet our desires.  It is not uncommon for me to hear someone say during a pastoral conversation, “I have been attending church.  I don’t understand why He is doing this to me (i.e. some hardship).”  I graciously respond by reminding them that God is not a genie but Lord.  This mentality doesn’t surprise me.  We live in service-oriented culture.  Customer is always right.  Good companies handle complaints quickly and favorably.  When we live in such a culture, it should not surprise us that eventually it carries over to God.  And now we have the Netflix phenomenon which pushes us more towards a “me-centered” perspective.

Second, it seems that on-demand viewing can lead to a breakdown in relationships.  Rather than collectively watch a program, everyone can simply enjoy their own personal TV or movie theatre.  You don’t even need a TV.  You can watch your own program on your smart phone or laptop.  We are becoming more privatized, more individualized.  We don’t have to negotiate a program with other people.  We simply watch what we want when we want it.  We have already seen this shift in the church as more people admit to staying at home.  Rather than worship in a community, they seek spiritual teaching through the internet, radio, or TV.  There is no need to worship with people.  We can enjoy God in the private, alone and based on our preference.  In my experience, this works good when life is good.  However, in the difficult moments, we need real people with real hugs and real conversations.

Third, our patience is becoming defined by minutes not months.  There used to be a day where patience was a natural part of living.  We waited for our meals rather than expected immediacy.  A person would schedule their evening around a particular program then wait until it showed once a week.  Now, there is no waiting.  Some new TV series are even released at one time rather than weekly.  A TV executive was asked why they released all six episodes at one time.  They responded, ‘People don’t want to wait for the next program.  They want to watch it now.’  This is the mindset of today.  Patience is defined by minutes not months.  Again, this most certainly will impact our relationship with God as we are quick to say “Lord, please respond to my prayer today.”  I am guilty like everyone else when it comes to spiritual patience which is why I need to be reminded that God is not going to change simply because culture has changed.  He will accomplish His purposes according to His timetable, not ours.

Life is precious

It was a moving experience.  It was one of those vacation highlights that on the one hand you didn’t enjoy while on the other hand you did enjoy it.  It was heart-wrenching to see the images afresh of the twin towers falling as we walked through the 9/11 museum.  Yet, it was necessary to see because it powerfully reminded us of heroism, patriotism, and fragility of life.  After visiting the museum, we stood reflectively near the memorial pools chatting as a family.  Neither of our kids experienced the actual events of that day.  So, we talked about why people would do such a horrific act, the significance of a memorial, and how it has since shaped our country.  As I think about these events in my mind, I am reminded again of some significant truths.

First, it is not simply about sincerity.  We live in a religious pluralistic society.  I oftentimes talk to people about spiritual matters.  Many are believers, some are not.  One of the reoccurring validations for a vibrant spirituality is sincerity.  As long as a person is sincere it must be valid.  Truth is secondary to a person’s experience.  Or, more precisely, truth is associated with a person’s sincerity.  This logic falls apart when you consider 9/11.  The hijackers were incredibly sincere in their religious convictions.  They died for them.  Yet, I know of no one who would state they were justified in their actions.  Sincerity does not equal legitimacy.  What we believe in matters immensely.  This is why Christ appeals to me.  I believe biblical truth to best explain life and reality.

Second, it is important to remember.  It has been a while since I deeply thought about 9/11.  Visiting the memorial triggered numerous emotions and recollections about that day and the days that followed.  Yet, realistically, we move on from it.  We forget.  Reflections dissipate.  Oh, this is so true of tragedies in life.  They are powerful in the moment.  But, then as time passes, our memory fades.  I think it is important to remember historic events so that we can be reminded of what is so precious in America – freedom to worship and speak, a couple of the very things that triggered hatred by the hijackers.  One of the questions my son asked me again and again was why would someone do such a thing?  I explained how some people hate the democratic values we espouse.  The 9/11 memorial reminded me of how precious it is to live in America where freedom is freely granted.  It is a blessing to be a citizen of this country.

Third, life is precious.  We purchased a book to remember this day.  It chronicles the events of 9/11.  We wanted something to show our kids for future remembrance.  It is hard to read certain aspects of the book.  It records conversations by loved ones on the phone prior to the collapse of the twin towers.  One heart-wrenching account was a wife who was chatting with her husband up to the point the phone went dead as the north tower collapsed.  Oh, my heart broke to read these stories.  These are people going about a normal work day.  It was an ordinary Tuesday.  No one expected these events.  Yet, in a moment, life changed for countless families.  For all of them, I imagine they would love to have an ordinary day again with their loved ones.  Life is fragile.  Yet, so oftentimes I think of life as bothersome rather than precious.  I need to survive this day rather than live it graciously and with gratitude.  Yes, life is precious.  Today is precious.  Oh, it is good to be reminded of tragedy as it refocuses our lives on what is important and dear.