Right now, at this very moment, a car parked in a driveway is rusting away after years of driving through Michigan winters, rock salt stored in every metal crevice.
That car is mine, and maybe yours, too.
Meanwhile, a moth is eating through Grandma’s blue sweater with the grey diamonds, chewing through one little moth-sized hole at a time.
That Grandma is mine, and maybe yours, too.
But seriously, even if you’ve rustproofed your car (with the dealer’s special undercoating scam) it will eventually break down and end up in a landfill, or maybe be pushed into a lake to create a coral reef. At least that’s my plan for the rusty car in my driveway. As for the moths, it might not be Grandma’s sweater but your weird Trader Joe’s poncho that smells like granola and coughing. There’s no stopping the relentless consumption of every physical thing we have. This is not unlike the graphic portrayal of consumption by the most underrated villains of 90’s made for tv movies: The Langoliers.
Oh, you live in Florida, you say? Where things don’t rust and moths just spontaneously combust? So your car and your still new afghan are safe from the ravages of natural breakdown? What about the robbers? Someone could steal your stuff. Someone might be stealing your money right now because they bought your credit card number off of their friend from coding camp. And, don’t look now, but I just swiped your latte.
See? Even though you knew it was unlikely, you still checked. Take a swing and listen: the only reason you and I have our stuff is because someone else doesn’t want it more.
Here’s the reality: we are really connected to our stuff, and we are really rich, at least compared to most of the world. This is a problem only for the minority of folks who have a certain amount of resource at their fingertips. It’s not guilt-inducing to think that the food I threw away last week would’ve been enough to save someone from dying of hunger, is it? Yes? Okay. Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought that up.
When my huge binder full of CD’s got stolen from my foolishly unlocked Jeep, I was crestfallen. There were some special disks in that binder, most of which I can snag from any number of music streaming services or replace via a Goodwill crawl. To this day, I look for those eccentric and out there songs that I once had, remembering the .wav file that plays in my head, yet these songs do not seem to exist online. Those CDs were probably listened to with great delight (who doesn’t like Billy Joel, Green Day, and Jars of Clay?) and then used for target practice. It was almost 20 years ago, but I still remember it now. I don’t blame the moths or the rust. I blame the thieves (and myself for leaving the Jeep unlocked).
I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my retirement fund raided by crooks with a scam, as warned against here. Incidentally, I also can’t imagine what it would be like to have a retirement fund, but that’s another post. No matter what kind of safety protocols we have in place, all of us are just a few steps from total financial devastation.
This is why I don’t write greeting cards.
In Matthew 6:19, Jesus said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” In other words, this has been a problem for thousands of years. He goes on in 6:20, telling us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
If I were the creator and sustainer of the world, I would do something about the moths and rust and thieves. Seems like that would fix everything, right? This is the same theodicy behind the existence of mosquitoes, which probably shouldn’t exist.
Jesus doesn’t think like me, which is one of many aspects that set him apart from all of us. When his solution is different from the logical answer, I need to question my logic, not his. The answer isn’t eradication of the bad. Well… actually, yes, it is, but not until the coming Kingdom, where all things are made new and complete.
I try to look at it this way: Jesus doesn’t fix things. Oh, he can and he does. But the way Jesus works is less solution and more process. To better understand this, I think back to Kindergarten, with the harsh but fair Mrs. Downing, presiding over 4 year old me and my orange crayon held to lined paper. It was that tan paper with blue lines that created a good 1″ high row. The lesson that day was in writing our name. Wielding her mighty red pen, she wrote “Adam” in perfect teacher handwriting at the top of the page, followed by three asterisks (*) on three lines where I, too, was to follow suit and write my name. She said “I want you to write your name here (*), here (*), and here (*).
So I did.
And I did it wrong. Mrs. Downing was not pleased. So she made another page with the same rubric, with the perfect handwriting and the three lines where I was to write my name (***) in orange crayon. I wrote all the letters, you could read it, the letters were in the right order, I kissed her ring, etc. Nothing would please this determined teacher with over 208 years of service under her belt, probably made of whatever they had before leather.
Every day… wrong. Other kids were moving on to quadratic equations and iambic pentameter, and I kept getting the name assignment wrong. She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, just that indeed, it was wrong. The page looked like this:
Adam (in perfect teacher handwriting)
I’m guessing that the teachers among us are going “aha” and the handwriting experts are looking for a manuscript copy, while the smart people are going “Mmmmm”. Meanwhile the 4-year old in that kindergarten room — me — was, at the time, thinking up his first swear words. I just didn’t get it. And she wouldn’t explain it to me. Evidently Mrs. Downing didn’t appreciate all caps. If only she’d told me.
Then, one day, I wrote *Adam in normal uppercase/lower case mode three times, and she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. I kid you not, her heart grew three sizes that day — once for each line. Moments later, she solemnly sat down and uttered to herself “my work here is done” as she turned to dust and assumed a new form, probably as a really good accountant.
Mrs. Downing, if you’re reading this, rest assured that my handwriting font is an all-caps draftsman style that has served me well. I think of you often. Signed, ADAM.
In all honesty, Mrs. Downing was a good teacher. She led me to a discovery of my own. Comparatively, Jesus is a great teacher, and, I think, is often taking the same laborious approach with us, showing great grace and holy tenacity that doesn’t fix it but fixes us. In fact, I think that’s exactly what Jesus is trying to get to when it comes to money.
He could’ve said “pray against the moths” or “here’s a solid way to keep thieves out” or “always get the undercoating.” Those might be fixes, but they don’t address the real issue, which has nothing to do with the security of my stuff. It’s the heart. It’s always the heart.
The real issue is the problem I have with trusting money more than I trust God. I have a white-knuckled grip on financial security and a nonchalant grasp on the hand of Christ. I worry way more about things of this earth than I do things of the Kingdom of God. If that’s the real issue, the actual problem, spraying for moths will only ease the symptom.
Jesus is looking to change our hearts, thus the simple truth that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If I generously invest in the Kingdom of God, my heart will be transformed. When I invite Jesus to “take the wheel” of my financial situation, I have a new and wide-open pipeline for the Spirit of God to flow through me and into the world. Aha! Now we’re fixing two problems: my dumb heart and the brokenness of the world.
Here’s my challenge: take five minutes and talk about money with Jesus. “Here’s what I’ve got, here’s what I see… what do you see?” and follow His lead. Start there. And see where he leads.
Think about it: a family might be able to stay afloat in a sinking ship because you gave them money to resolve a crisis. A person on the street might actually use that $5 to actually get a bus ride to their actual job and actually work. No, you don’t know that and you can’t control what they do with the money. Also, so what? Your financial investment in a church ministry that feeds hungry kids might mean a child in another country — or your neighborhood — might become a success. Your faithful tithe might mean a church won’t have to lay off a staff member and thereby disappoint an entire family, wholly committed to ministry (at least up to that point).
That’s why we need to start with prayer and finish with obedience. “Jesus, help me see what you see…” and watch out. To quote his mom, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Until then, keep your door locked, but don’t worry about the undercoating. It’s a scam.