The Judge, the Gangster, and the Editor: Who Owns What?
“Sir, East Lake Courts is not your hood. It’s the citizens of the United States who own that because they work and they pay taxes. You don’t own that.” Try out your best southern drawl and read that aloud. You’ll be echoing Judge Lila Statom as she cordially and calmly clobbered a gangbanger, who stood before her bench charged with attempted murder a few years ago.
The gang member in Judge Statom’s courtroom had said he shot a rival gang member because the rival was “in my hood.” That’s what prompted the good judge’s strong reprimand of the young man’s attitude. I watched it over and over with no small degree of amusement. And self-righteousness: Good for Judge Statom – guess she told him! That guy doesn’t own the housing development; I do!
Not long after I heard Judge Statom’s remarks on a radio commentary, I read an editorial by my friend Justin Nash, editor of Advent Christian Witness magazine. Nash was building a case for the fact that the church does not belong to its members. Sure, we built it with capital fund drives, suppers, and bond issues; we finance it with our tithes; we run it with our time and our talents. I do “own” my church.
Then my friend, the editor, brought my arrogant attitude crumbling to its knees. How? “The church belongs to Jesus,” he said. It was in print, yet it seemed quiet as a whisper as it spoke to my heart.
The church belongs to Jesus!
So, the judge says the gangster doesn’t own his “hood.” Neither do I, really, and I don’t want to. But…I don’t own my church? What do I own? Together, this judge, this gangster, and this editor backed me into a corner, forcing me to take a more careful look at the stuff I think of as my own.
I’m having to come to grips with the fact that I’m not worth nearly as much as I thought. Yes, I’ve spent decades of working and preparing for life as a productive and solvent senior citizen. I’ve lived modestly (for the most part), and I have fed an IRA and a 401K pretty much to the maximum allowed by law. So when I get my quarterly reports I think, “I’ve done pretty well; that’s an impressive little nest egg.”
I’m thinking, “I’ll be OK. I’ll travel. Do what I want to do. Hope I’ve stashed away enough to see me through.” But now, the judge, the gangster, and the editor have sent me back to Scriptures to reevaluate my take on how much my wealth is worth, and, more importantly, to whom it truly belongs.
The principles I’m rediscovering are unbending. And my recent attitudes are grossly incriminating.
Attitude #1: I’ve earned and saved all this money all by myself.
Principle #1: God – my loving, generous, heavenly Father – is the One who made possible every dollar I’ve ever earned. James 1:17 reminds me,
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (NASB).
Attitude #2: So far, I have managed my life and my money pretty well.
Principle #2: I am a mere steward of the money and material things with which God has blessed my life. Stewardship is no small matter in Scripture. Among the many teachings about a steward’s role is this warning in Luke 16:2:
So he summoned him and said, “What’s this I hear about you? Give me an account of your stewardship – you’re not fit to manage my household any longer” (Phillips).
Attitude #3: I can depend on my wisdom and preparation for my future.
Principle #3: My hope is ever in God, never in anything I have done.
In 1 Timothy 6:17 Paul says,
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (NASB).
If charges of harboring wrong attitudes were brought in Judge Lila Statom’s courtroom, I’m afraid I’d be found guilty on all three counts. It’s a humbling lesson made more humbling because it’s not the first time I’ve learned it. Maybe this time it will stick: All I have, God gave me. All I am is a steward of His gifts. All my hope is in Him alone.