I am writing from a Hilton Hotel patio appointed with the finest in outdoor furniture. It overlooks an enormous pool with its own lazy river. Beyond that there is a golf course appearing in the early morning light. The scripture for today?
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Psalm 73:2-12
I owe some thanks as well to another friend who faithfully sends me wake-up-from-your-materialistic-dream articles. Today’s just happened to reference Neil Postman’s prophetic “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” And what do I see just beyond the golf course? Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, of course. God’s timing is impeccable.
I am at the National Asphalt Paving Association’s (NAPA’s) annual conference in Orlando, which is the ultimate reminder that we are a nation governed by interest groups—not just people. This association and a thousand others are encamped at the D.C. gates of our nation to incentivize our leaders to create policy that is favorable toward their industry. I wonder where the National Association of Arms Dealers is having their annual conference?
By being here in Orlando—the Mecca of amusement parks—have my feet come close to stumbling? I could go down this road of self-reproach and condemnation; I know it pretty well, but I believe I will avoid stumbling better by entering into the sanctuary of God and casting my troubled thoughts upon him. From this place I gain perspective by simply reminding myself of things I know to be true about God. He does not discriminate against race, religion, gender, or even trade associations. This might be entirely self-serving, but I don’t believe God has written off every person or family here who has attained a degree of prosperity, as some schools of religious thought (and even this psalm) might propose. I know there are exceptions. I’m sure the imaginations of some in this crowd are running riot with ambition and pride, but there is something else going on here as well.
One gentleman received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the asphalt paving industry. In his humble and gracious acceptance remarks, he expressed heart-felt gratitude for God’s agape love—the indestructible and unmerited love that God had shown him in Jesus Christ. Then, as if it were an extension of the same, he acknowledged the people of this industry who had shown him a lifetime of phileo love—fraternal good will in the context of his chosen vocation.
This is not just a convention of prosperous people who are asking, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” This group (if their applause for this man’s words means anything) seems to be keenly aware that God does in fact know and is due thanks for his blessings. I don’t believe these road builders can be classed in a wholesale fashion as “wicked people, always at ease, insulated from pain or death by their increasing wealth, setting their mouths against the heavens, with their tongues parading their glory through the earth.”
What is going on here then? I suppose the same thing that is going on all over the earth. God is endeavoring to grow his kingdom, one heart at a time. His kingdom and the affairs of earth strategically overlap where he deems fit and often where his children are leaning into this reality. I’m trying to lean in.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works. Psalm 73:28
I had the opportunity to speak to an associate about Islam—the primary religion of his native country. From his childhood, he recalled coups regularly taking place and not-so peaceful transitions of government occurring overnight. While he doffs his cap to religion (as if there might be something going on with a higher power), he sees a grand conspiracy being underway with the religious (from whatever faith) as pawns in a huge game that is driven exclusively by man’s lust for power. We were interrupted by the event’s MC, who was calling us to attention for the Awards Assembly. Power… Is power the end game on earth?
The first wave of awards were given to those people and organizations who funded NAPA’s political action committee, which exists unapologetically to incentivize our nation’s leaders to share our vision of a well funded black (as in asphalt) infrastructure versus a white (as in concrete) one, or worse yet—an underfunded one altogether. One award recipient after another was paraded across the stage, receiving applause and plaques of proportional size for their level of contribution. Plaques and applause as incentives? I don’t sense that heaven is overlapping the earth too much here. In fact I think someone’s imagination may have run at least mildly riot in planning this part of the ceremony. Ugh… that was gross. Due to my flesh, which seems to regularly flirt with stumbling and failure, rarely does an hour pass that I must fall back onto my primary reality:
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:23-26
Father, I pray that neither my flesh, nor the flesh of any man, might prosper too long without your loving correction, lest we all run riot, more than we already have, in our imaginations. Before we are utterly swept away in some moment of terror like senseless and arrogant beasts, awaken us from our dream that you might become our end as well as our beginning. Amen.