While in college, I was introduced to one of the most interesting places on the planet. One weekend a month, a major clothing company would open a supply room of their store, accessed from the back of the building, for a first-come, first-serve shopping experience at highly discounted prices. The first time my friends took me along, we arrived at 5am and there was already a line of people waiting in their camping chairs, rehearsing strategies as if they were on an apache helicopter touching down in an overgrown field somewhere. It turned out I was not prepared for what came next. As the clock struck six, two brown metal doors opened and a company employee handed me a garbage bag. I thought to myself, “Why do I need this? Do we have to clean up first?” Just then the crowd literally pushed me through the door. As my eyes adjusted to the lighting in the room, I found the very purpose for the bag in hand. The room was filled with clothing – coats, vests, shirts, pants, some lined on tables by size and style, others thrown in bins or hanging on poles. Instincts I didn’t even know I possessed kicked in, and I was off like a sprinter at the sound of a starter pistol, grabbing everything in site that I might be remotely interested in and stuffing it in the garbage bag. This is not a place with fitting rooms or benches for the weary. The strategy I would come to learn and pass on to others was the “grab and stash,” in which you grab as many things as you can (throwing elbows if you must), secure a corner of the room, and sort through the pile for the things you actually want to purchase while throwing the rest back to the vultures circling the room for leftovers.
I went back to this place several times during my college years, and each time there was this twisted hope as those brown metal doors began to open. All of this can be mine. This is the voice of materialism. We see something and we just have to have it because we don’t know what we would ever do without it. We say things like “I’ve always wanted one of these” or “I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without one of this.” It will make our life easier. It will cause people to fall in love with us. It will bring world peace to the darkest corners of the globe. There is another voice, very similar to the first, which lurks just below the surface of materialism. I’m pretty sure I heard it that day while I was stuffing clothing in a garbage bag like a bank robber stuffing a canvas sack with a dollar sign on the side. All of this should be mine. This is the voice of entitlement. While materialism breeds a desire for more, entitlement convinces us it is our right.
I remember a few years back, my wife and I had dinner at the home of some newly married friends of ours. We hadn’t been to their house before, and so I was quite surprised to pull into the driveway of a brand new home. Their house was bigger than our house. Their backyard was larger than our yard. Their refrigerator was shinier than our refrigerator. As we pulled up to our house at the end of the night, I noticed our siding looked faded and the driveway had more cracks than when we had left earlier that evening. I felt depressed and found myself thinking, it’s not fair. I’m older. I’ve been married longer. I’ve worked harder. They don’t deserve the better house.
This is the voice of entitlement and it permeates all of society, including our churches. This has not always been the case, however. Just read the accounts of the first Jesus followers in the beginning chapters of the book of Acts. As the message of the resurrected Christ spread throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding region, more and more people came to put their faith in Jesus and joined this new community. Luke gives us this description of those early days of the Jesus movement:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)
When the text says everything, it means everything. Luke continues on to speak of new Jesus followers even bringing the deeds of their homes so that their property could be sold and the money distributed evenly. The thought that they had a home and their new brother or sister didn’t was unacceptable. In our society, this type of action would be considered outrageous, possibly even downright irresponsible. You earned it. You deserve that. Let them get their own.
Thank God our heavenly Father doesn’t deal with us in this way, for we can do nothing to earn his favor. We may come holding out our deeds or thinking our life circumstances certainly should earn us something, but God’s grace is not for sale. It cannot be earned. We cannot do enough to deserve it. But here’s the crazy part – he gives it anyway.
Paul, a former church persecutor turned Jesus follower (who then went on to write most of the New Testament) was quick to remind us how little we have actually done to earn God’s grace.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we were undeserving, God gave. While we were incapable of earning, Jesus bled. God’s grace is truly an unmerited gift, as is our entire life. How much different would your life be if every day began as a gift instead of a right? As the sunlight spills through the blinds and stirs you from your slumber, you become aware that you are indeed alive for a new day. With a voice still heavy with sleep, you whisper to your heavenly Father, “Thank you for the gift. It’s beautiful.” You rise to live in the newness. And as you stumble from the bed to your shaky feet, you take your first steps all over again.