"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places ..." - Ephesians 1:3
Yesterday afternoon this small band of pilgrims set out for a campsite back in our woods. Earlier in the afternoon, my mother-in-law had gone down into the woods and started a fire out of left-over 2x4 pieces and dry sticks. Then, steadily, she built up the fire - first with small logs then with larger limbs. By the time our small community arrived at the site about two hours after she had started the fire we were greeted with hot red coals ready to roast some hot dogs and marshmallows. It was about as simple an afternoon as you can have, and it reminded me that our Lord wants to help us redefine what it means to be rich.
As I sat underneath a high canopy of trees near the fire and our children rambunctiously played football nearby, I couldn't help but feel blessed. It was impossible not to feel rich. Surrounded by community, a glorious creation, ample food, the blessing of children: all the indications were there.
Of course, none of the worldly indications of richness were there. Our afternoon was not sponsored by large billboards and glossy images. It wasn't graced with celebrities. We didn't look like models. We weren't contributing to our 401(k)'s or making ourselves marketable to employers.
Most of the messages we receive about being rich suggests it does not come easily. Every single day we are told in a thousand ways that living a rich life comes by getting or consuming the right product, having a great experience, or building our financial security and independence. We are just one more purchase away from a happier life, but of course the only way to secure these good things is to earn more money. So naturally we are trained to seek out a more profitable job in order to earn more money. Then, we are told that we will need to make our money work for us. We will need to invest it and watch over it.
I saw a retirement funds commercial on television not too long ago that featured a smartly dressed and handsome looking man with his equally attractive wife. They looked to be in their late fifties to early sixties, and as the commercial evangelized about the benefits of investing, the man and his wife were clearly enjoying the good life. And do you know where they were? Out in the woods, dressed in flannel shirts and jeans. Subtly, the suggestion was that if you want to enjoy a nice afternoon, you needed to work for it. You needed to prepare for it. A relaxing time in the idyllic woods was - just like everything else - an experience to be consumed.
One of the clear messages God wants us to hear is that richness does not come by our own work or our effort. God wants us to hear definitively that true richness comes when we learn to live freely in the knowledge of His own richness to us. This lesson is an unmistakable and critical part of the stories of scripture. God's desire is to bestow upon us good things. Not because we've had the financial foresight to invest well. And not because we've earned it. No, simply because God is the type of God who wants to create beautiful Sunday afternoons in October so we might delight in it. God is the type of God who wants to surprise Abraham and Sarah with heirs beyond measure just for the sake of making them incredulous in their old age.
No where do we see this clearer than in the life of Jesus. He constantly redefined what richness meant for the disciples. He made it clear that the worldly standards of wealth like full barns and big tithing were nothing compared to simple gifts like a few loaves and fish and a few pennies given in complete trust and devotion. He came to show that a rich life begins by being firmly aware of how much the Father loves us, not in how much we've got tucked away for a rainy day.
I am grateful I live and serve in a community where there is space to redefine richness. Sure, we don't always get it. It's not like we're perfect. For every afternoon we spend out in the woods enjoying God and each other's company, there are a hundred other anxious moments when we're thinking about getting the more and the better, and I'm probably the worst of all. But, I celebrate that I pastor a congregation that believes in getting together for cookouts. I celebrate that I get to live in a family of believers here in Greencastle that wants to live a truly rich life - a life that takes delight in the good things God wants to give us. I've learned a lot about the good life through pitch-ins and big ol' bonfires at the Jones' house.
Finally, I think about the mom who was giving out s'mores to the children yesterday. How happy they were to receive such good things. And how delighted she was being able to bestow such blessings upon children.
What a great and perfect image of God's own heart toward us!
So you might ask yourself: Today, are you trying to earn your way to a richer life? Or, are you discovering more and more how rich and loving God the Father is towards you?
Beware, children. You are constantly being told you have to earn the rich life. Meanwhile, your heavenly Father has already given it to you.