Based on Ephesians 3:16-19
Jennifer Lopez is in the news again. Nevada odds makers are calculating how many weeks- months her marriage to Marc Anthony will last. There is something profoundly tragic about this pattern.
Thirty years ago it was Ali McGraw. In the story of her life she remembers one of the longer romances she had was a five year affair with Steve McQueen. They neither one were "faithful." She blames part of the problem on her "male addiction." She says it caused her to cheat on every man she was ever with.
In the autobiography, she expresses a kind of disgust with herself. In her own words, "This thing about male addiction- I hate all this...but I believe a lot of us feel a kind of hole in our heart. An unfortunate ache that is fixed for some by eating too much. For others with pot. In my case, I'm a romance junkie." I was very interested in her phrase diagnosing her problem as a "hole in our heart."
In terms of human resources, Ali McGraw had every available remedy for a chronic unsatisfied longing. She was attractive, popular, wealthy, influential, and powerful; she did not restrain herself from available pleasures, and they were numerous. Perhaps the only ingredient missing in abundance- was intelligence. But she was not stupid.
And she threw all her many resources at this chronic ache...this hole. Yet she still complained of an ongoing, unsatisfied longing for healing and wholeness. The Bible suggests that each of us have a deep yearning for contact with God. We have a hunger for connection with the authentic supernatural life of God.
The Psalmist expressed it this way, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God (Psalm 42:1)."For him it was a thirst. The prophet wrote, "My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you (Isaiah 26:9)." For the prophet it is a deep desire. They seem to be expressing some kind of heart hunger.
This is the first issue Jesus faced after His baptism and ordination for ministry. Matthew tells us that the Holy Spirit (with strategic purpose) leads Jesus to a place of solitude. The objective for this retreat is to fortify Jesus' soul for the world saving mission. By the way, this tells us that when done properly, fasting and solitude are a channel God uses to pour grace into our lives. Jesus was here to find resources- not loose them.
After 40 days the devil comes with a test, hoping of course, that Jesus would fail. "Since you are The Son Of God, turn these stones to bread." We can speculate on the right and wrong use of miracles, but the suggestion sounds like, "Enough of God's grace...Now it's time to take care of your stomach!"
Jesus' response speaks to Ali McGraw's unsatisfied longing, her chronic ache, "Man does not live on Bread (or popularity, wealth, beauty, intelligence, pleasure, or romance) alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
Jesus was making soul satisfaction the priority of His life. Otherwise, physical satisfaction would've been the bigger god. Food has its place, as does money, beauty, and intelligence...but not as "god." They make lousy supreme beings.
The naked truth of the matter is- when any of these qualities become god/idol, that chronic unsatisfied longing becomes a terminal problem. When these issues become god, a healthy relationship with the eternal, authentic God is forsaken. The God-shaped part of our lives, the part He would live in, becomes a vacuum.
This may not be true for your goldfish, parakeet, or collie, but human beings want a reference point that gives shape and hope...and can warn about disaster! We want a value above ourselves that offers healing, and power for living in an uncertain world.
Our culture is currently more aware of spiritual hunger than it has been for decades. We are surrounded with material blessings unimagined a generation or two ago. Yet we are unsatisfied. We are learning that physical necessities are not enough. Many people today are like a person trying to live on three square meals of sawdust, seasoned with whatever spice makes it the most appetizing.
Jesus knew what He was saying when He said, "man does not live on bread alone." False gods are like a filling meal of sawdust. let's look at just one example. A case study of a modern day idol. Paul exhorts the Christians in Colossae, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5)."
Remember, Paul is not talking about money as a god- rather the lust for it! I have in my files story after story of men and women who hit it big playing the lottery- and then life turned sour. I also have many more stories of people who ruined their lives because of addiction to gambling, yet they rarely won anything worth writing home about. But what has my interest -and the interest of others- is the number of winners who have seen their lives take a horrible nose dive seemingly as a result of winning. These people got a stomach full of what they wanted, and in many instances, it ruined them. Sociologists are gathering research that is more than anecdotal concerning the devastating consequences of winning a large amount of money. Apparently there is no promise of spiritual nourishment here. Large amounts of money is no more satisfying than a lot of romances.
It is interesting how often totally godless men are more careful with their greed than people who name Jesus as their Lord. For example: why is it illegal for managers of your 401k portfolio or the mangers of your current mutual fund to take even a very small percentage and gamble with it? Let me be clear, I'm asking why is it they can not gamble with it as an investment option for you? Take one percent each year and ask a professional gambler to multiply it for you.
The Biblical argument for or against gambling is not based on a verse or ten. Some people are "uncomplicated enough" that they need to see it in a straight forward, "Thou shalt not..." If they see it like that they may not like it, but they claim they'll try. Of course that is why some cults don't believe in the trinity- because the word "trinity" is not found in the Bible. Never mind the fact the idea is saturated through the pages of scripture.
Christian thinking on lust for money and gambling is based on the same kind of principled thinking that creates laws for trust fund managers. Jesus enlists each of us to be trust fund managers of the life and the possessions entrusted to us by God. That is why money itself is not a problem. The problem is our lust for it. When the throne room of our life is occupied by Jesus, money or popularity won't drain the life out of us.
The point is I am a trustee, a custodian for God and there are principles to follow so that I don't forget who the real God is...so that I don't return to life with a "hole."
This message is not a tirade against gambling, I hope. It is a case study of idolatry- finding nourishment in sawdust. I thought you may be getting tired of the usual case studies of fornication and adultery. Lusting for the power of money is one way people try to fill that chronic ache, without going to God.
This is like an MD lecturing on healthy lifestyles. She might spend a significant portion of the hour warning about tobacco related disease. She could just as profitably lecture about excessive use of alcohol, food, (or lack of exercise, or the fact that 1 out of 5 adults in America has an STD), or the health problems that come from wearing a red shirt in a Crips neighborhood.
Greed is just one example of a false god failing to heal that unsatisfied longing for kinship with the real God. Otherwise the evidence of lottery "winners" would be overwhelmingly the opposite of what it is. Our message as Christians is that Jesus has filled us with his own nourishing spirit- so the chronic ache is healed. The burden of feeding our starving soul with sawdust is relieved.
It is not our job as a church to create a demand in the world for Jesus. It is our call to be so satisfied with His presence that the false gods are exposed as the sawdust that they are. The hunger for what Jesus provides is all around us. People are looking for Jesus- they just don't know that He is the one they've been starving for.
The Bible does not say that following Jesus is the secret to health and wealth- it is not the way to avoid trials and tribulations. But it is the way to overcome them. In the early church and ever since, people have come to Jesus because they saw their friends and neighbors discover satisfaction for the same hunger they had. They saw the healed lives of people just like them. They met people who were living lives in answer to Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:16-19.