When We Steal and The New Life of Helping Others

There is a great collection of stupid criminal stories at a legal forms site.
Investigating a purse snatching, detectives picked up  a man who fit the thief's description and drove him back to the scene. He  was told to exit the car and face the victim for an I.D. The suspect carefully eyed the victim, and blurted, "Yeah, that's the woman I robbed."
When we steal, what do we steal for?  Yes, I didn’t slip.  I meant “When we steal.”

Typically, we narrowly define the term "stealing" into one that we can legalistically adhere to.  We know that stealing is going into a store, taking a good, and leaving without paying for it.  We know it is breaking into someone’s house, stealing their computer, and not paying for it.  None of us struggle with stealing when we define it so narrowly.  But unfortunately, we live in and participate in a culture that has become very creative with stealing and has brought to a whole, new global level.  We're not like that dumb thief handed over his I.D.  We, as a group of people, send our military into nations so that we can buy oil cheaper.  We pilfer a poor nation’s natural resources, albeit in collaboration with their corrupt leadership, and use it to prosper and have more material goods.  We consume goods that were manufactured by people who were not paid a fair wag; people who live under a dictatorship that we support because they provide us with inexpensive goods.  It's almost like we don't think it is stealing if enough of us do it.  We are all thieves, living in a culture of thieves.  We’re the thieves of the world!

Paul wrote, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).  This is delivered in the midst of the old self, new self analogy.  Paul states that the old self is the life of a thief.  The new self is a life of working hard so that we can share with anyone in need.

If we're honest with ourselves, deep down we think that we steal for a good reason.  You see, we have an idol to worship, and that idol is ourselves.  Our self’s temple, also known as a house, is a necessary idolic accessory in America.  And we will do nearly anything for our idol and its temple.  We save for homes, spend so much money on homes, work days off of from our job on our homes, and we don’t think a second thought about our indulgence in our homes.  It’s normal.  It’s the great American temple for our great self idol.  We tell ourselves that it is okay to invest our time and money in our home while those around us are in need.  We might even deceive ourselves even more and say that we are indulging in our home for others.

We spend so much time dreaming, acquiring money, and expending energy maintaining our dream house.  But I want to propose an alternative to overindulgence in our personal temples.  What if we spent the excess money we spend on our houses on furthering God’s kingdom?  What if we chose to live simpler and less extravagantly, maybe even live together, to save our resources to bring about God’s will in our community and around the world.  Are we willing to make changes in our lives in order to bring about the kingdom of God here on earth? 

The 1928 issue of The Rotarian shared a fascinating story.  William James was a professor of psychology and philosophy at the university of Harvard in the late part of the 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s.  He proposed, that “if a group of Eskimos were brought from the far north to New York harbor, they wouldn’t, in all probability, notice the many startling things that would be altogether new to them.  The students - especially the freshmen - failed to be convinced.  Years late the experiment was tried, and the Eskimos were oblivious of the magnificent bridges and towering skyscrapers.  Their attention was caught by, and their eyes riveted upon, a little boat, somewhat similar to the ones that they use during part of the year.”

The Eskimos were not interested in the amazing New York cityscape because they had no framework from which to compare it to.  We are similar to those Eskimos, but instead of being Eskimos in New York we are Christians in the Kingdom of God.  We fail to see what God really wants us to take notice of because it is difficult to look outside of our American cultural lenses that we have been raised with.  We fail to see the radical life he has called us to.  We justify our extravagant use of our money because we are more generous than those around us, but God doesn't want us to compare ourselves to the fellow imperfect people around us.  He wants us to compare ourselves to Jesus and His perfection.  We shouldn't pat ourselves on our back because we live slightly different and a little more loving than the people around us when God has actually called us to live completely different than the world. 

We are part of  a long line of people who have come before us that have made the same mistake.  The Jews, God's chosen people, committed it when they returned from exile in Babylon in 538 B.C.  You would think after spending nearly fifty years in exile, they would have figured out to put God first, but they returned from exile and immediately went back to their old ways of putting themselves above God.  It wasn't until 516, after Haggai rebuked them, that they eventually restored the temple.

Here's what Haggai said,
"Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD." Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.

 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the LORD of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors" (Haggai 1:2-11).
I think we would do well to heed that warning.  Let's learn to see the world the way God wants us to see the world, and learn to use our resource to love the people in need around us.  That's the new life we are called to.