399) Can Money Buy Happiness? (#2)

 

Everyone knows that money cannot buy happiness, but few live as though they believe that.  Therefore, they are unable to be satisfied with what money they do have, no matter how much it may be.  In this, more than in any other area, we see the truth of what Samuel Johnson said when he pointed out that what we need is not so much to be instructed in morality as to be reminded.  Here are a few ‘reminders.’  (The first meditation on this theme can be found at blog #147)

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It is one of the best-known and most studiously avoided platitudes in the world that riches don’t make you happy.  In fact, rich people are by and large less happy than poor people!  The suicide rate is almost inversely proportionate to poverty.  There is more joy among the poor of Haiti or Calcutta than among the rich of Hollywood or Manhattan.  If this seems outrageous to you, check it out.  Visit.  See for yourself.  Or talk to those who have. –Peter Kreeft, Knowing the Truth of God’s Love, page 166.
 
Above all, there is this truly terrible thing which afflicts materialist societies– boredom; an obsessive boredom, which I note on every hand.  Mine is, admittedly, a minority view; a lot of people think that we are just on the verge of a new marvelous way of life.  I see no signs of it at all myself.  I notice that where our way of life is most successful materially it is most disastrous morally and spiritually; that the psychiatric wards are the largest and most crowded, and the suicides most numerous, precisely where material prosperity is greatest, where the most money is spent on education.  –Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered, 1969, page 232.
 
Dr. R. F. Horton, for many years the pastor of one of the wealthiest congregations in London, said, “The greatest lesson life has taught me is that people who set their mind and heart upon riches are equally disappointed whether they get rich or do not get rich.”

 John Steinbeck (1902-1968):  “We are poisoned with things.   Having many things seems to create a desire for more things– more clothes, houses, automobiles.  Think of the pure horror of our Christmases when our children tear open package after package and when the floor is heaped with wrappings and presents, say, “Is that all?”  And two days after, the smashed and abandoned ‘things’ are added to our national trash pile, and the child, perhaps having got into trouble, explains, “I don’t have anything to do.”  And he means exactly that– nothing to do, nowhere to go, no direction, no purpose, and worst of all no needs.  ‘Wants’ he has, yes, but for more bright and breakable ‘things.’  We are trapped and entangled in things.”  In a letter to Adlai Stevenson, Steinbeck wrote:  “We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty.  If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and soon have it on its knees– miserable, greedy, and sick.”

 Luxury is more ruthless than war.  –Juvenal, approx. 100 A. D.

We are stripped bare by the curse of plenty.  –Winston Churchill

Enough is more than much.  –Dutch proverb

 Our lives now revolve around the shopping center, the place where most people spend more of their leisure hours than anywhere else.  –Jeremy Rifkin

 Our possessions weigh life down.  My house has a big front yard, and friends say I am fortunate to have it for the children to play in.  I am not sure.  The grass not being so green as I wanted it, I spent $52.34 on fertilizer.  Now I have the best crop of weeds in the neighborhood and have to buy weed killer.  Once the weeds are dead, I will harrow up the yard, rake, scatter grass seed, and cover everything with straw.  Then watering begins.  During the whole process, the children will not be allowed to play on the lawn.  –Samuel Pickering, Jr., The Right Distance

Someone once asked Mother Teresa, “Why do you include the rich among the oppressed and enslaved?”  She responded, “You in America live in greater poverty than these poorest of the poor in Calcutta because you suffer from poverty of the spirit.”

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Proverbs 30:7-9  —  Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’  Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. 

Revelation 2:8, 9 —  To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions and your poverty– yet you are rich!

Revelation 3:14a… 17  —   To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:  …You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  

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Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

 

147) Can Money Buy Happiness?

    Everyone knows that money cannot buy happiness, but few live as though they believe that.  Therefore, they are unable to be satisfied with what money they do have, no matter how much it may be.  In this, more than in any other area, we see the truth of what Samuel Johnson said when he pointed out that what we need is not so much to be instructed in morality as to be reminded.  Here are a few ‘reminders.’

He is not poor who has little, but who desires much.

Poverty consists not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.  –Plato

I make myself rich by making my wants few…
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it.
–Henry David Thoreau

 You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?   –Steven Wright

 Broadway is a place where people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.   –Walter Winchell

 Alexander the Great cried when there were no more lands to conquer.  The whole world was not enough to satisfy him.

 “I lived the American dream.  I was married to a multimillionaire.  I had immediate status.  I was living in a house worth a million dollars.  I took trips all over the world.  I had servants.  All these things without working for them.  But it was so much work.  For every dollar of affluence, you end up getting two dollars worth of trouble.”    —American Dreams: Lost and Found, Studs Terkel, p. 354

 Everything you own means that much more trouble for you.  –Chinese proverb

Everything I own has a hook in me.  –James Dobson

‘Affluenza’ is a strange malady that can affect the children of well-to-do parents.  Though having everything money can buy, these children sometimes show all of the symptoms of abject poverty– depression, anxiety, loss of meaning, and despair for the future.  Affluenza accounts for an escape into alcohol, drugs, shoplifting, and suicide among children of the wealthy.  It is most often found where parents are absent from the home and try to buy their children’s love.
–David McKenna, Christianity Today, May 15, 1987, p. 28
 
All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of this blind submission to pure consumerism.  In the first place a crass materialism, and at the same time a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns that the more one possesses, the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.  –Pope John Paul II

 There is a burden of care in getting riches, fear in keeping them, temptation in using them, guilt in abusing them, sorrow in losing them, and a burden of account at last to be given concerning them.  –Matthew Henry, English clergyman (1662-1714)

 Where there is too much, something is missing. –Jewish proverb

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Ecclesiastes 5:10,11 —  Whoever loves money never has money enough;  whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless.  As goods increase, so do those who consume them.  And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?

Proverbs 28:6 —  Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse.  

I Timothy 6:6-10 —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 

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    Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  
                                               —Book of Common Prayer

73) Not a Moneymaker

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) was a Dutch Christian who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazis in the early 1940’s.  She worked in her father’s watch-making business in Holland, and they hid Jews in their upstairs apartment until they could get out of the country.  They were betrayed by a neighbor, arrested, and sent to the concentration camps.  Corrie was the only family member who survived.  Her autobiography The Hiding Place (1971) was made into a movie.  This story is from her 1976 book In My Father’s House which was about the years before the war. 

     There were many ups and downs in the watch-making business, but Father seemed to have a keen understanding of the economic situation of our times.  In his weekly paper he wrote information and suggestions for others in the business.  Since he read all other papers about his trade in German, English, and French, he could adequately fill his paper with important news about trade and business.

     However, when it came to making money in his own shop, it wasn’t always so simple.  He loved his work, but he was not a moneymaker.

     Once we were faced with a real financial crisis.  A large bill had to be paid, and there simply wasn’t enough money.  One day a very well-dressed gentleman came into the shop and was looking at some very expensive watches.  I stayed in the workshop and prayed, with one ear tuned to the conversation in the front room.

     “This is a fine watch, Mr. ten Boom,” the customer said, turning a very costly timepiece over in his hands.  “This is just what I’ve been looking for.”

     I held my breath as I saw the affluent customer reach into his inner pocket and pull out a thick wad of bills.  Praise the Lord– cash!  I saw myself paying the overdue bill, and being relieved of the burden I had been carrying for the past few weeks.

     The blessed customer looked at the watch admiringly and commented, “I had a good watchmaker here in Haarlem his name was van Houten.  Perhaps you knew him.”  Father nodded his head.  He knew almost everyone in Haarlem, especially colleagues.

     “Van Houten died and his son took over the business.  However, I bought a watch from him which didn’t run at all.  I sent it back three times, but it was just a lemon.  That’s why I decided to find another watchmaker.”

     “Will you show me that watch, please,” Father said.  The man took a large watch out of his vest and gave it to Father.

     “Now, let me see,” Father said, opening the back of the watch.  He adjusted something and turned it back to the customer.  “There, that was a very little mistake.  It will be fine now.  Sir, I trust the young watchmaker.  He will be just as good as his father.  I think you can encourage him by buying the new watch from him.”

     “But, ten Boom!” the customer objected.

     “This young man has had a difficult time in the trade without his father.  If you have a problem with one of his watches, come to me, I’ll help you out.  Now, I shall give you back your money and you return my watch.”  I was horrified.  I saw Father take back the watch and give the money to the customer.  Then he opened the door for him and bowed deeply in his old-fashioned way.

     My heart was where my feet should be as I emerged from the shelter of the workshop.  I said, “Papa! How could you?”  I was so shocked by the enormity of what I had seen and heard, that I reverted my childhood name for my father.

     “Corrie,” he said, “you know that I brought the Gospel at the burial of Mr. van Houten.”

     Of course I remembered.  It was Father’s job to speak at the burials of the watchmakers in Haarlem.  He was greatly loved by all, and he welcomed the opportunity to talk about the Lord Jesus.  Father often said that people were touched by eternity when they have seen someone dying.  That is an opportunity we should use to tell about Him who is willing to give eternal life.

English: Casper and Cornelia ten Boom, parents...

Casper and Cornelia ten Boom, parents of Corrie ten Boom

     “Corrie, what do you think that young man would have said when he heard that one of his good customers had gone to Mr. ten Boom?  Do you think that the name of the Lord would be honored?  There is blessed money and cursed money.  Trust the Lord.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He will take care of us.”

     I felt ashamed and knew that Father was right.  I wondered if I could ever have that kind of trust.  I… had been unwilling to go the direction God wanted, only to follow my own stubborn path.  Could I really trust Him with an unpaid bill?

     “Yes, Father” I answered quietly.  Who was I answering?  My earthly father or my Father in heaven?

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Psalm 50:10 — …Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 

Matthew 7:12 — (Jesus said), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

I Peter 2:12 — Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 

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Lord, I am a countryman coming from my country to yours. 
Teach me the laws of your country, its way of life and its spirit,
so that I may feel at home there.   –William of St. Thierry

O Lord God, grant us always, whatever the world may say, to content ourselves with what you say, and to care only for your approval, which will outweigh all worlds; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.   –General Charles Gordon

54) The Wealth of St. Marcella

     St. Marcella (325-410 A. D.) was born into a wealthy family of considerable influence in ancient Rome.  Then, she married a man of wealth and influence.  Marcella was primed for a life of pleasure, recreation, and relaxation in the very upper levels of Roman society.  Less than a year after she was married, her husband died and she became a widow– but a widow who could live very comfortably thanks to the wealth she had inherited from both her husband and her parents.

     Marcella was born into a Christian home, and after her husband’s early death she became convinced that God was directing her to a life of poverty and service.  She shocked her social circle when she left behind her fashionable dresses for a coarse brown garment, along with abandoning her usual extravagant hair styling and makeup.  Appearing as a low-class woman, she unintentionally started a trend, and soon other young women joined her.  They formed a community known as the brown dress society, spending their time praying, singing, reading the Bible, and serving the needy.  She kept her huge home, but turned it into a refuge for weary pilgrims, for the sick, and for the poor.  Marcella also started a school for women to study scripture and pray.  It was successful and soon she was spiritual mother to many younger women who sought to follow after the same Christ who had so captivated Marcella.

     Marcella lived to see the end of the Roman empire in 410 A. D.   In that year the Goths, led by Alaric, defeated the Roman army, invaded Rome, and plundered the riches of that once great city.  They soon found their way to Marcella’s mansion.  They forced their way into her home, now filled with all sorts of needy people, and demanded all of her money and valuables.  She calmly responded that she had no riches and nothing to offer them, as she had spent her life giving herself and all she had to the those in need.  Her wealth, she declared, was in the stomachs of the poor people in the city, saying she preferred to invest her money there rather than hide it in a purse.

     Though she was an elderly woman, the Goths tortured her to force her to reveal her hidden stores of valuables, but they were not successful.  She truly had nothing but her clothes and a few meager possessions to offer them.  The soldiers seized one of her students named Principia and informed Marcella that they would rape and kill the woman if Marcella did not give them what they wanted. Marcella dropped to her hands and knees and begged for mercy from Alaric, insisting that she had nothing to give and begging them to leave the young woman alone.

     Seeing the once wealthy and powerful old woman on her knees in tears, begging for the welfare of another, her attackers were shamed by such purity of spirit, and she was released.  A short time later, Marcella died from her wounds.

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THOUGHTS ON GENEROSITY:

I do not think I exaggerate when I say that some of us put our offering in the plate with a kind of triumphant bounce as much as to say:  “There– now God will feel better!”…  I am obliged to tell you that God does not need anything you have.  He does not need a dime of your money.  It is your own spiritual welfare at stake in such matters as these…  You have a right to keep what you have all to yourself– but it will rust and decay, and ultimately ruin you.  — A. W. Tozer

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When we let go of our money we are letting go of part of ourselves and part of our security.  But this is precisely why it is important to do it.  It is one way to obey Jesus’ command to deny ourselves.  — Richard Foster, The Challenge of a Disciplined Life

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It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness.  Poverty and wealth have both failed.    –Ken Hubbard

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II Corinthians 9:7  —  You should each give what you have decided in your heart to give.  You shouldn’t give if you don’t want to.  You shouldn’t give because you are forced to.  God loves a cheerful giver.

 Acts 20:35  —  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

I Timothy 6:17-19  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

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     Dearest God, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and to not count the cost.  Amen.   –Ignatius of Loyola

35) The Root of All Evil

      In Luke 12:13-15 there is the story of man who believed that Jesus would be the right person to settle a family dispute.  “Teacher,” the man says, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  The man is so sure he is right that he doesn’t even ask Jesus’ opinion.  He just tells Jesus to tell his brother to do the right thing.  If Jesus had wanted to get involved, he could have began by asking a few questions, such as  ‘did your father have a will?, what did it say?, are there any other brothers and sisters?, why do you suppose you were you excluded?,’ and so forth.  But Jesus does not get involved, making it very clear that he is not interested in such matters, saying, “Who appointed me to be the judge between you two?”  And then Jesus gave that man and the whole crowd a warning.  “Watch out!” Jesus said, “and be on your guard against all kinds of greed, because a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

     Jesus’ answer is typical of the Bible’s approach to matters of money and property.  There is a balance here between concern and lack of concern about such matters.  Jesus does not tell the man to forget the whole thing, he just said that he did not want to get involved.  These kinds of things take a lot of time, and that is not what Jesus came for.  He had more important things to do– a whole world to save, and he was not about to get bogged down in an individual legal dispute that could take days or weeks to unravel and settle.  So Jesus makes it clear he will not be the one to serve as judge in the matter; but he doesn’t say that a judge is not needed.  He does not condemn such concern about money and property, but he does go on to do what he always does.  He cautions against too much concern.  He says “Watch out!  Be careful of greed because money and possessions are not the most important things in life.”

     Jesus then told a story (verses 16-21) of a rich man who built bigger and bigger barns for his abundant crops, thinking that he had now built up for himself a solid and lasting security.  The rich man said to himself, “Now I have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  All I have to do now is take life easy and eat, drink, and be merry.”  But then God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded of you.”  And in Jesus’ final comment, he again displays his balanced view toward money and possessions.  This rich man is not criticized for working hard, or for providing for himself, or for planning ahead, or being successful.  Jesus does not criticize him for any of that.  But Jesus does say, “That is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God.”  The man’s problem was not that he was concerned about being a good farmer and provider.  The man’s problem was that he was concerned only about that.  So too with the man who wanted Jesus to settle the dispute between him and his brother.  Here is Jesus, the greatest spiritual teacher that the people have ever seen, proclaiming a message of eternal life– and all that man can think about is getting Jesus to tell his brother to give him some money.  There is in Jesus, and in all of the Bible, a concern, and a lack of concern, about money and wealth.  Yes, we do need to be responsible; but the Bible’s primary message and direction is to move us toward a having broader perspective.

   The 2003 movie “House of Sand and Fog,” is about a dispute concerning the ownership of a house.  A young woman is the rightful owner, but the county has made an error concerning delinquent back taxes.  She goes in to take care of the matter, and believes it is settled.  She then foolishly ignores subsequent mailings and warnings that inform her that there is more that she needs to do.  She is forcibly evicted the day before the house is sold at a Sheriff’s auction. She is desperate to get her house back, but now the house has been sold, and the new owner is just as desperate to fix it up and sell it to make money for his own urgent financial needs.  Both are in complex situations, and both need possession of that house, and both fight very hard.  The viewer comes to have a great deal of sympathy for both of the characters, as both do have a certain right to the property.

   The legal fight becomes personal and intensifies, until it unintentionally becomes a matter of life and death.  All involved are pretty good folks, and none of them wanted it to get to that point; and when it does, they are all willing to back off, even though it might, by then, be too late.  When the fight was only about ownership of the house and the money that one or the other would gain or lose, getting that house became for each of them the most important thing in life.  But when it really did become truly a matter of life and death, their whole perspective changed.  They realized right away that there were more important things in life than getting that house.  The movie skillfully draws you into the battle, so that in the middle of the film you are convinced of the great importance of that house for each of them, but by the end, you see how silly it is to be so concerned about simple material possessions.

   That is what Jesus was trying to tell the man in the text, both in his reply to the request to settle the inheritance battle, and in the parable of the rich man who kept building bigger barns.  Money and property must be a matter of some attention and concern in this world, but those things must never be the objects of our greatest attention or concern.

      I Timothy 6:10 reflects this same balance:  “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith, and have pierced themselves with many pains.”  Again, we need to look at what it does not say.  It does not say that money itself is evil.  Money is simply a tool to simplify the exchanges of goods and labor between people.  But, says Paul, it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  Earn money, save money, spend money, give money away,– there are all kinds of good and necessary things you can do with money.  But, says Paul and Jesus, do not LOVE money.  Do not love money more than you love God.  That, they say, will get you into all kinds of trouble.  You will pierce yourself with many pains, says Paul.  And Jesus says, do not forget that someday your soul will be required of you, just like the man in the story, and then all your money will be left behind.  Be prepared for that day and do not, like the rich man in the story, find yourself poor in your relationship with God.  When that time comes, all that will matter will be your relationship with God.

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I Timothy 6:10  —  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith, and have pierced themselves with many pains.

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Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.    —Lutheran Book of Worship