A Letter to Rich, the Young Ruler


Dear Rich,

What a pleasant surprise to receive a letter from you! Your previous letter said you’d been working 60 hours a week to get the promotion you wanted, and now I read that you’ve received it. Looks like your hard work has paid off. You certainly are living the American Dream!

Congratulations, too, on your new five-bedroom home and your new Porsche Cayenne. I’m sure your wife and kids are deliriously happy with both. Thanks also for the pictures from your recent vacation to St. Kitts. My, the twins sure have grown.

I read the printout you enclosed of the blog article written by the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. You agree with his contention that there’s no compelling reason to buy an Apple iPhone. That’s probably a wise decision.

In reading that article, though, I find his reasons for not buying an iPhone intriguing. Most of the reasons he cited were technological. I, for one, think a far better reason to avoid it exists.

In our previous correspondence, we’ve gone back and forth on Jesus and what it means to be a Christian. I know you are quite a spiritual person, a “seeker” as you say, but I believe being spiritual and religious doesn’t go far enough.

So, Rich, I’d like to consider a word you don’t hear much today: profligate. That’s a word I would have liked to have seen mentioned in the article from the Thomas Nelson CEO, but even companies that deal with words shy away from some of the less popular ones. Profligate is one of those words.

Here’s how the dictionary defines the term:


1. utterly and shamelessly immoral or dissipated; thoroughly dissolute.
2. recklessly prodigal or extravagant.

3. a profligate person.

I can’t help but think, Rich, that since perfectly good cell phones can be had for $50, the desire for one that costs ten times that much seems…well, profligate. No doubt, the iPhone reeks of style and trendiness, and no doubt, many people who claim to follow Jesus will buy one. I’m not sure, though, that those buyers understand the word profligate.

Let me tell you about some people I know. I know a couple who bought a small home in one of the worst neighborhoods in our city. He has a good job and could afford a much larger home, but he and his wife elected to use their extra money to meet the desperate needs of their poorer neighbors. I know a man who forgos the expensive medication he needs to feel better so he can help a woman who has no health insurance pay for the even more expensive cancer medication she needs. I know a family who sent $1000 of their hard-earned money to help an unemployed couple they had never met in person make a house payment so they could keep their home. I know a man who gave every cent he owned in the world to fund a missionary couple who would have been recalled. Those missionaries were in the middle of their translation of the Bible into a new language. They would’ve had to come home unless they raised enough money to complete the translation.

Funny thing is, those people I just mentioned don’t know the common, negative understanding of the word profligate either—but for a far different reason. They live a different way: the way of Christ. If they have any profligacy in their lives, it’s profligacy in giving, not taking.

You mentioned in your last letter that I sounded out of step with the rest of the world. Indeed, I fear I am. You see, for me, it’s not so much about accumulating the hip trinkets of this life, things that break, become obsolete, and ultimately do not satisfy the longings of the heart. That’s because I believe in a world far more real than this one, a world where hip trinkets pale in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, as you said, it’s a risky belief. It means not keeping up with the social standing of the rest of the world. I would probably never be voted into the wonderful country club you and Mrs. Ruler just got accepted to. But that’s okay, Rich. It really is.

Some Christians believe this world is not their home. They won’t be understood by the rest of the world, nor by some other people who say they believe in Jesus. They’ve said no to many of the things the world offers and that’s an exceedingly hard thing to do.

You see, Rich, it’s one thing to say you believe something. It’s another thing altogether to believe something so much that your life looks radically different from the rest of the crowd. The crowd says so many things and believes so many things, doesn’t it? But who is willing to die to the voice of majority and give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose? In a way then, the true profligate may be the one who appears to have every thing deemed good by the world’s standard, but will one day wind up losing it all in tears and flames. He has gained the world, but lost his soul.

I know my letter may not make sense to you. I’ll keep praying, though, that for all your seeking, God in His grace will make Himself known to you.

But I must caution you, Rich. If He does, and you take that revelation seriously, it may mean an end to one dream and the beginning of another. That new dream won’t look much like the old one, though. It may mean not only forgoing an iPhone, but giving up cell phones altogether. You may end up thinking it better to share those extra bedrooms in your new home with orphans or widows even if it means you could no longer afford that home theater system you said you might be purchasing. Don’t expect to be popular for electing not to keep up with the Joneses so you can minister life to others. The folks you run with probably won’t approve of your new dream. You may lose your standing at the country club. You may even be kicked out because you’re no longer one of the right kind of people.

But then again, that new dream’s the only dream that counts, the only one that ends in the Eternal Golden City. I pray I see you there.

For the Kingdom,

B. A. Disciple

The Tension


I feel the tension constantly. As I mature in Christ, I feel it growing. Yet, I know even less how to live in that tension than I believe I once did. Or perhaps I never truly knew how to live in it at all.

There is a tension that exists between this world and the next. The World has its ways and Heaven has its own. Our age today is one in which the overlaps are disappearing, making it harder to navigate a practical Christian life in an impractical world.

An example might help.

A couple months ago in my church, the speaker talked about our need to cast off the World’s views on image. Our appearance does not define who we are, nor does God look at the external but what is within us, unseen by others. Plastic surgery, laser peels, liposuction, hair restoration—they are all symptoms of a dying world; Christians must move beyond them.

Now this is a fine message for people who are obsessed with their appearance. For the woman who thinks that no one can love her because of the way she looks, this is manna. For the teenager struggling with a body that suddenly seems to no longer be the body once known, this is life-giving. It is God’s truth. We cannot ignore it.

But there is a big “however” with this that brings the tension.

The World does care about image, and it cares in ways that have gone far beyond plastic surgery to merely look nice. Suddenly, your image, the way you look, may be the only thing separating you from working and being unemployed. It may mean the difference between the medicine that keeps your sick child alive and not having that medicine due to lack of health insurance benefits provided by an employer.

Newsweek ran a special issue detailing the “Office of the Future.” The center of the magazine had the largest gatefold I had ever seen in a magazine. This six page spread revealed all the gadgets, all the ergonomic devices, all the new concepts that will drive businesses in the near future.

Contained within that gatefold, however, was a statement that went far beyond mere gadgetry and futuristic technology. Instead the message reflected a societal change that was inescapable: none of the two dozen people shown working in the “Office of the Future” were over the age of thirty-five. There was not a gray hair or wrinkle in sight.

Almost prophetically, the very next issue of the magazine had a cover story on Botox. Inside, there were interviews with men and women who often told the same story: “I got Botox injections so that I would not lose my job solely because I was the oldest-looking person in the department.”

The sadness of this is profound and asks us in the Church if we are truly able to help people find the intersection of this world and the next. In this case, the Church can say all it wants about not letting how you look control your life, yet the World is giving a different response that has profound influence in our daily existence.

It’s the tension. And not only do we Christians in the 21st Century not address it well, we often mouth platitudes we don’t believe ourselves as a reassurance that nothing is wrong. But something is overwhelmingly wrong.

It would be easy to point fingers at the sales rep who dyes her hair, gets a face peel, and semi-annual Botox injections. Christians easily point their fingers and yell, “Vanity!” Yet how many of them are willing to go the second mile to prevent the loss of that woman’s job due to age discrimination or to hire her when her boss thinks he wants someone more youthful and hip-looking to represent the company?

The rules of the World’s game are monstrously complex and changing every day. We have to live in this world, though. If the Church is to be the agent of God this side of heaven, then we need better ways to play by the World’s rules while never forsaking the righteousness of Christ.

I don’t have the answers on many of these tension issues, but I know that we must find them. The practical realities of day-to-day living do not give us the option of quitting the game. As Christians in this time and place in history, we have to not only challenge the World, but beat it at its own game.

We need people to step up in order to help us live in this tension—and we need them today.