She screamed past in the right hand lane, looking, I guess, to buck the system and move to the head of the merge lane. That I found this annoying will come as no surprise to people who know me—what with me pitching my tent among the vehicular moralists, always prepared to be irritated at the inconsiderateness of other people’s driving habits.
Anyway, her driving misdeeds aggravated me less than something else (actually two something elses—one an aesthetic transgression, the other a more deeply disturbing transgression on a theological level). First, she drove a pink Jaguar—which struck me as an offense against propriety, because … you know … a pink Jaguar. Enough said.
Second, and more importantly, she sported a bumper sticker (another aesthetic face plant, in my estimation, but whatever). No, my big complaint had to do with what was on the bumper sticker. On her pink Jaguar, driving 75 mph, trying to jump queue, was emblazoned the phrase: “My real treasure is in heaven”—which, taken together, is a veritable crazy-making bonanza.
Initially, I thought: “Um, thanks for making the job of trying to explain Jesus to a skeptical world that much harder. We hadn’t heard from Pat Robertson for a while, so thanks for making things interesting again.”
After that first wave of irritation, though, I started thinking about the whole “wherever-your-treasure-is-there-shall-your-heart-also-be” thing (Matt. 6:21).
Now, I always took Jesus to be talking about money, which undoubtedly he was. But I’ve also been considering how not all of my treasure is something you can see by looking at my bank statement. You might be able to tell what I consider worth treasuring by noticing not only how I spend my money, but also how I spend my time and attention. I think many of us would be depressed to discover that though we maintain our family or our faith is what we care about most, a cursory survey of our habits might reveal that what we care about most is our job, or Facebook, or golf, or ESPN.
For most of us, that kind of life inventory would be a difficult exercise.
Then, it occurred to me to wonder just what such soul searching might reveal if done by congregations. I mean, if it’s true that an individual’s values are revealed by observing how money, time, and attention are spent, it’s probably also true of communities made up of individuals.
It’s almost New Years, so this kind of stock taking seems appropriate. Where is your treasure?
Does the way you live your congregational life match up with what you say in your mission statement? Because judging by what I know about how many congregations spend their money, time, and attention, the mission statement ought to read: “First Church: Where the carpet is new, the toilets are unplugged, and the lights get turned off when everyone leaves the building.”
Here’s the tell: On balance, do you spend more time at board meetings talking about taking care of what you own than trying to figure out how to give what you own away?
Do you expend more energy polishing your stuff than using it for ministry?
What causes the most anxiety in your congregation—the thought that “this building is too much to take care of with our limited resources” or that “there are people out there suffering, starving, grieving, dying—and we only have limited resources with which to respond?”
The author of 1 John puts it this way:
“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (3:17-18).
The way we spend our money, our time, our attention is a big flashing billboard declaring to the world what we value, just where our treasure is located.
Well, if not a billboard—then at least a bumper sticker. A skeptical world is watching.