“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”—Acts 17:26
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.—Psalm 139:16
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.—Psalm 16:6
I had the privilege of spending much of the last week with Pastor Gus Peters from Kolkata, India. After hearing him speak on several conversations, and enjoying several private conversations with him, I came away amazed at the things we have in common, and equally amazed at the things we don’t.
Any time you meet a believer in Jesus from another culture, it is refreshing and reassuring to discover that Jesus is the same no matter where you go. Our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit of God we are, so we usually discover that we can pray together, worship together, and talk about spiritual things as if we have known each other for years. Because Gus is a brother, and a pastor, we got along like old friends.
But at the same time, the contexts in which we serve Jesus are dramatically different. Gus pastors in a city of 18 million people; I live in Susanville. When people come to faith in Jesus where Gus lives, they face the possibility of real persecution; here we proclaim our loyalty to Christ on t-shirts and social media. No one in my church shares a house smaller than my living room with 10 other people. In Gus’ church situations like that are common. I don’t know anyone who makes their living by scavenging at the city dump; Gus knows dozens of people who have done it for years.
Listening to the statistics and stories of poverty in India, it’s easy to start to feel guilty. I found myself tempted to wear the same jacket and pair of shoes every day so Gus wouldn’t judge me for having too many. When we hear that our brothers and sisters around the world would see our homes as mansions and our lifestyles as extravagant, we wonder: “Am I doing something wrong? Am I too materialistic? Is God displeased? Should I sell everything I own and write Gus a big check?”
Well, first of all, let me say…maybe! It’s never a bad thing to take stock of whether material things have become too important to us. And Jesus did once tell a young man to sell everything he had and give his money to the poor, because money had become an idol for him. We live in a country that has 6% of the world’s population and 40% of its wealth, and of course we are influenced by the materialism of the culture around us. Asking ourselves the hard questions is healthy, and not something we should shy away from.
But I think it’s possible to ask those questions from a place of security and humility, without beating ourselves up or forgetting the incredible grace of the God who treasures us and accepts us just as we are. We may need to make some changes in our lives, but we don’t make those changes in order to earn God’s love. He loves us before we change, and we change because He loves us. There is such a thing as the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but there is also such a thing as false guilt from the enemy of our souls. God wants to help us grow, and Satan just wants us to feel like unlovable trash. If your sense of conviction moves you to action and gives you hope for a better future, that’s God talking. If you just feel like a loser who keeps getting it wrong, that comes from somewhere else.
For me, one important thing to keep in mind when I feel guilty for being a rich American is that making me a rich American was God’s decision, not mine. The Bible says that God has ordained my days. It says that He is the one who spread the nations out over the earth and determined when and where we should live. I could have been born in North Korea, or with severe physical or mental limitations, or in the Middle Ages, but in the sovereign plan of God I was born healthy to hard-working parents in northern California in the year 1975. I had no say in the matter, and nothing in the Bible indicates that it’s a sin to be born into a favorable situation.
What the Bible does say is that those of us who find ourselves in positions of privilege have a responsibility to use our gifts to the fullest for the good of others and the glory of God. As Jesus said:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”—Luke 12:48
This coming Sunday we’ll hear from another speaker who was born into a situation vastly different from ours. He’ll tell his incredible personal story of redemption, and talk about what this verse means to him, and to us. As he does so, the goal isn’t to make us feel guilty for things that were God’s decision and not ours. You and I don’t have to apologize for being Americans or for having plenty. But we do have to praise God for our blessings, and let Him use them to bless others. If you have an abundance, that’s not a sin to be confessed, it’s a tool to be used. Wherever we happen to live, God can do a lot with people who know that He loves them, who are humble and open to His leading.