the [good] news 2.0

If you’re anything like me, and I think a lot of you probably are, the way you receive the news has changed drastically over the past two or three years. Ever since the internet evolved into something called “Web 2.0” (which is just a cute-techy way of saying the web is in it’s second generation) the way we receive and consume newsworthy information has quickly moved away from the old standards of opening a newspaper or magazine / turning on the radio or tv and being told what’s happening in the world (news in a structured, edited and rehearsed fashion), and it’s quickly moved toward things like blogs, message boards and perhaps the most influential of all the immediate news sources – status updates on social networks like facebook and twitter.

I’ll be honest, I get a lot of my updates on what’s happening in the world by reading what others tell me is going on, and rarely are the people telling me what’s going on doing their job (in other words, they’re not paid to report the news). While I don’t “tweet” very often, I do visit twitter a few times a day to see what’s trending (list of most commonly discussed things, updated in real time). I also find myself frequently scouring my facebook news feed (collection of updates on the activity and updates of my 600+ “friends”) as if it were the front page of the paper…and in many ways, it is. Think about it. If you looked at any major event that happened in the past several years – from Obama being elected president, Michael Jackson’s death, swine flu, the economic recession and federal bailouts, and who could forget one of the worst events in recent memory, Brett Favre becoming a Viking – all of these events were well-documented by the media, but perhaps more than anywhere else they were discussed on facebook and twitter (to the point where both sites were nearly shut down on June 25, 2009 because so many people were trying to share their reactions to Michael Jackson’s death, at the same time).

Why do I share all this?

This morning while eating breakfast – a time of the day when previous generations would have probably been sitting at their kitchen table reading the newspaper – I was sitting at my computer desk skimming through people’s status updates on facebook. Like most people, I’m not all that close with all of my facebook friends (although I do have a few rules about this: 1) I know them in real life, 2) they are at least 18 years old and out of high school).  Due to this new reality of what it means to be “friends” with someone, I often find myself reading very personal statements written by people I don’t know very well (which is a whole different topic for another day), but I also find out about all sorts of interesting events, organizations and causes because people are constantly sharing links or inviting me to join their groups and attend events for things they are involved with. And sure, sometimes people share funny videos, express frustrations about their job, coworkers, boss, etc., or my least favorite use – shamelessly plug the stuff they sell (realtors are the worst at this), but this morning, as I was finishing my oatmeal (I know you don’t care what I ate for breakfast, but this is a blog and by it’s nature that means sometimes you get more info than you care about); so like I was saying, this morning I was checking my facebook news feed while getting ready for work and eating my Quaker Apples & Cinnamon oatmeal (which by the way is delicious!). Similar to how a friend in the 1980s might have suggested a movie to watch or a book to read, one of my facebook friends posted a link in their status to a magazine article that I otherwise never would have known about. It’s an open letter from Shane Claiborne to his “nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends” and it was published by Esquire magazine. (In case that’s not an unexpected combination to you, read Shane’s wikipedia page and then visit the Esquire website.)

Shane writes a great letter full of confession and proclamation. I’m thankful to have read it, but I’m even more thankful that so many others will read it (and to have been “told” about it by a very credible news source; a guy named Charlie who I went to seminary with, and who I apparently share 40 friends in common with).

Anyway, since I wrote all this to share the letter and link with you, possibly making me a news source for you and others, I’ll now post a portion of the letter (please check out the full article on Esquire).

What if Jesus meant all that Stuff?
by Shane Claiborne (Esquire, Nov. 18, 2009)

It starts out simple and engaging, with an apology on behalf of all people who would categorize themselves as “Christians.”

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

That was the confession part. He then moves into story/observation mode, pointing out that he (as a person of faith) has experienced the same negative reaction to the behavior of a lot of “Christians” that others seem to have.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

This is where he starts to proclaim a bit of the Gospel (aka “the good news”), but it’s also where he points out the harsh reality of how Christians are perceived in society (the bad news).

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Although it may not be clear, Claiborne is actually a very positive dude with a deeply rooted faith and hope in God’s love, as seen in these thoughts…

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

Amen, Shane. I was in a meeting at the seminary where I work last week and we were talking to several staff members from a graduate social work program we partner with to offer a joint degree. Near the end of the meeting we were talking about the reality of working for social justice as a person of faith, and how often times that means working against the perceived understandings people have about Christianity, which is a sad situation. One of my colleagues from the seminary patiently waited as others shared their thoughts, then made the profoundly true statement that “the Christianity you see in the media is the not what Jesus lived and preached.”

Claiborne’s closing comments get at the basics of the belief conversation; namely, what does it finally mean to be a Christian, or not? And how does the distinguishing, self-selecting or labeling of “Christian” vs. “non-Christian” effect how we interact with each other, since God created us all in love and we have no choice but to live together on this earth (so we might as well get along)?

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,

Shane

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wondering and wandering

My friend Heather (aka “HJ”) wrote a great post on her blog today titled “I wonder as I wander.” (Named after the Christmas hymn with the same title.) I don’t usually recycle another bloggers content, but I think a few excerpts should be shared.

The heading of the post was “Christmasy things I wonder about” and here are two examples of her wittiness and wonder…

“When did ugly sweaters (of the ugly sweater party variety) become ugly? Like, what year did they turn from cool to ugly?”

“Where is mistletoe? You know…when you’re out hiking people always say, “oh there’s poison ivy” or “that’s a pretty fern.” No one has ever pointed out mistletoe to me.”

If you have a minute and you “wonder” what else made Heather’s list of Christmas confusion, just “wander” over to hjshaunt.

OLD school hip-hop

When I started a website exploring the intersections between faith and pop-culture I did not have this in mind, yet while visiting the COLLIDE Magazine blog this morning I found this video and just knew it had to be shared. I mean, isn’t a church choir singing rap songs pretty much the epicenter of the intersection between faith and pop-culture?

I don’t want to ruin any of the surprising humor of the video, but if you’d like to know titles and artists of the choir’s selections, read the rest of this entry.

Continue reading

Up | the new Pixar movie

If you’re anything like me, you’re a big fan of Pixar movies. (Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo are among my all-time favs.) There’s just something incredible about how they develop characters and tell stories, and they always include touching moments of friendship (with forgiveness often being a major theme). Seriously, how amazing and unexpected is it that we’ve learned life lessons from toys, bugs, monsters, fish, super heroes, cars and rats. (I intentionally left “robots” off that list because I still haven’t seen Wall-E.)

pixar-friends

The newest sure-to-become-an-instant-classic from Pixar is called Up, and it’s scheduled to come out at the beginning of this summer (May 29, 2009). So far, it looks, well…different. But honestly, didn’t talking cars, gentle monsters and a family of clumsy super heroes all seem a bit different at first too?

According to Pixar’s website, Up is about a man named Carl Fredricksen who “spent his entire life dreaming of exploring the globe. But at age 78, life seems to have passed him by, until a twist of fate (and a persistent 8-year old Wilderness Explorer named Russell) gives him a new lease on life.” The movie promises to “take audiences on a thrilling journey where the unlikely pair encounter wild terrain, unexpected villains and jungle creatures.”

Just like with all the other Pixar movies, I have no idea what to expect, but I think it’s safe to assume Carl and Russell are the next unlikely duo whose friendship will teach me lessons I never realized I needed to learn, and after getting to know them and learning from them, I’ll know that I’m somehow better for it.

Here’s the trailer:

Feel free to share your thoughts on all-things Pixar, explain why one of their movies in particualr is your favorite, and if you’ve never heard about the lunch meeting where the ideas for all the current Pixar movies were born – from Toy Story (1995) to Wall-E (2008) – do a google search for “pixar’s legendary lunch meeting.” It’s an amazing story of creativity and collaboration.

Update: I went to see Wall-E tonight and really liked it.

shadows of virtue : living generously

I spoke at Journey again tonight. This time about living generously and sacrificially. We’re in the last few weeks of a church-wide series called 40 Days of Community, and for the last six weeks we have been discovering how much better we are together (through small groups, service projects, community events and worship). It has been a great fall, and tonight’s theme offered us thoughts, inspiration and a challenge to respond to God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for us by living generously, as individuals and as a community, with God’s love as our guide.

I will include portions of the message text below, but the reason I’m writing about it here is because much of the message was delivered through select scenes of a documentary that I want people to know about. It’s called The Shadows of Virtue, and it was made a Minnesotan named Chad Amour. Released a few years ago now, the film takes a close look at how God’s love compels us to respond to issues in the world and to the needs of God’s people.

Here’s the trailer:

To learn more about The Shadows of Virtue, visit humdingerpictures.com.

Here is an excerpt of the message (listen here).

“Living Generously” by Andy Jolivette | Journey, 11/2/08

What does it mean to be sacrificial?
What does it mean to be generous with our lives?

We can’t be sacrificial all the time, can we?

What do we have to give?
What can we give up?

Does God want us to be sacrificial and generous?
Absolutely, but how much?

These are all very relevant questions, but they all come from the same route questions, “what do I have to do?” and “how much is enough?” They also severely miss the point of what we read in the Gospel of Matthew last week.

In Matthew 22, Jesus talks about one of the greatest commandments being to “love our neighbor as ourself,” and it’s probably safe to assume that this kind of love toward others includes being generous, and at times even sacrificing a bit of ourselves and what we have, for others.

So while the questions “what does it mean to live sacrificially?” and “how generous should we be?” are very honest questions, they are also very difficult to answer. (The honest ones usually are.) But seriously, can anyone tell us when our generosity is generous enough? or when we’ve sacrificed an acceptable amount?

The short answer to these difficult questions is this: there’s no way of knowing, so it doesn’t even make sense to respond with specifics, but we can trust that every day we will be faced with opportunities to be generous, greedy or something in between, and all we can do is try to be as generous as possible – as often as possible.

Many will point to Jesus as the example or standard, but we all know that is not really fair. Sure, we want to “be like,” “give like” and “love like” Jesus, but who of us is capable of living up to this standard? I’m not saying don’t try (if “WWJD” bracelets works for you, keep wearing them the rest of your life!), but we also need to be realistic.

Remember that even Jesus only gave his life for us once – it’s not something he did everyday – on other days he went for long walks, met new people and listened to their problems, went on fishing trips, and just hung out with his friends. At times he even separated himself from others because apparently even Jesus needed to be alone and get away from other people sometime.

Not to minimize Christ’s life and ministry, but if we’re truly going to look to the Gospel’s revelation of Jesus as our guide for living generously and sacrificially, we need to look at the whole story and recognize that even Jesus’ life included days when he wasn’t so obviously “sacrificial” or “generous” (at least not in ways that would inspire people to write worship songs about him) – but overall, no one could deny that Jesus was a generous man whose life was sacrificially given for others, for you and for me, for all of us.

I contend to you that Christ’s example for us is not just that we be blindly, or even constantly sacrificial, but that we become more consistently and even strategically generous and sacrificial.

In short, we need to live on purpose…with a purpose. We need to live out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: Loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

That might mean freely giving away our time, our skills, our possessions or our money, or it could just mean not buying so many clothes and lattes so we can afford to be more generous in other ways. It could even mean calling a friend who we know needs to talk, but who drains our energy every time we talk to them. Regardless of how we choose to live generously and what we choose to sacrifice, we can be assured of one thing…living like this will always require living in opposition of our own desires to do what is best/easiest for us.

Living generously and sacrificially will always require love, not just any love, but the love of Christ – God’s perfect and unfailing love that has been given to us as a free gift – the love we’ve been called to share with the world. Love is a difficult thing to understand no matter how you look at it, and it’s an even more difficult thing to accept and share with others.

So here’s the challenge for all of us…

  1. Take time this week (more than 10 minutes) to think about how you could sacrifice a bit of what you have (time and energy, not just money) and be generous in a way that will truly benefit others.
  2. Make a plan for how you can make it happen (be strategic, purposeful).
  3. Do it (don’t just talk about it, be about it…the longer you wait, the less likely you are to actually do it).
  4. Don’t tell anyone what you did. (This is probably the hardest step, but remember it’s not about looking good to others, or even feeling good about yourself, it’s about loving someone else for no other reason than to remind them that they have “unsurpassable worth”).

Religulous in Next-Wave

My pre-review of Bill Maher’s documentary Religulous was published in this month’s issue of Next-Wave Church & Culture E-zine. Next-Wave is a cool publication I discovered when one of my former seminary professors wrote an article on the theology of the TV show Lost for their June issue, and my theological review of the new Coldplay album was published in the August issue. The editor’s at Next-Wave titled my most recent article “I Might Go See Religulous” and ran it next to another article about the same film, that one titled “I Did Go See Religulous.” I really like the juxtaposition between the two articles; one written by a person (me) thinking about seeing the film, the other by someone who has just seen it. And perhaps the coolest part is who that other person is… Dan Kimball (pastor, speaker, and author of The Emerging Church, Emerging Worship, and most recently, They Like Jesus but Not the Church).

Here are links if you want to check them out,

If you like the articles, please leave a comment (or vote for them) on the Next-Wave website.

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By the way, I saw Religulous last week and although it was quite predictable in format and content (especially the people Maher chose to interview), I thought it offered a humorous look at an otherwise serious topic (especially because of the people Maher chose to interview). I actually really enjoyed it, with the exception of the last 5 minutes when Maher shares his belief that “all religions must die” and religious leaders are basically brainwashing people. As someone who is part of a religion and is somewhat of a “religous leader,” I took offense to those comments. Regardless of how much I agreed/disagreed with, I would definitely recommend that people of all faiths (especially pastors and ministry leaders!) see this film, because although it offers a rather harsh critique of the current state of our religion, churches and fellow believers…it is often right on! Which should scare us but also inspire us…to honestly and humbly think about what we believe and how we express those beliefs to others (both in organized and unorganized settings). But that’s just my two cents. You should see it for yourself and then share your thoughts if you’d like.

cheapo memories

“I like money.”

This obvious statement is uttered by one of the many stupid characters in last year’s wildly unsuccessful movie Idiocracy. While saying “I like money” is obviously obvious – everyone likes money – I think that’s why it’s funny. Idiocracy got terrible reviews (like, almost straight-to-DVD bad), so there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it, but I actually thought it was pretty good; so allow me to give a quick summary that will put the quote about money in context. Luke Wilson stars as an Army librarian who is considered to be the most average person in the entire military, and because of this distinction he is selected to participate in a top-secret experiment (he is frozen for a year). Through a series of unforseen events, he remains frozen for a bit longer (500 years) and when he finally thaws out (in the year 2505) he discovers that humans have become exponentially dumber and he is now the smartest person in the world. When he is forced to interact with the idiots who now make up the world’s population, he resorts to the most basic of all human motivators, bribery. He offers a man named Frito (yes, like the corn chips) several billions of dollars to help him (remember that with inflation this isn’t much money). It’s at this point that Frito utters the obvious response, “I like money.”

To me, this is funny, but maybe you have to see the movie to see the humor (view the trailer here). Regardless of whether or not you like stupid comedies, I’m quite sure you like money. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of our life trying to find ways to make, save or somehow obtain enough money for an endless list of reasons.

I have been a full-time grad student for the last two years, and I’ve been only “partially-employed” during this time. As you might expect, taking loans and stealing money from my savings to pay for tuition, rent, gas, food and insurance kind of forces a person to develop an attitude about money that is much different than at other “fully-employed” stages of life. I have been living a very simple/no-frills lifestyle for the last two years. I graduated last spring and am now closing in on full-time employment (with benefits, hopefully), so I’m already getting excited about a life with a little extra coin to throw around, you know, stimulate the economy a little bit. I’ve been carefully determining how to put money aside for my next big purchase; a new computer (I’m waiting for the new macbooks to be released, which is rumored to be Oct. 14).

I saved some of the money I made teaching at the seminary this summer, I’ll hide the money I get for coaching at basketball tryouts recently, and since I already paid the deposit for my new apartment I’m going to save the money I get back from the deposit at my old apartment. I’m even considering going back to my old “job” of donating plasma twice a week (don’t laugh, it pays well and it’s really easy). Making big purchases is never an easy decision, especially when you’re just barely making enough to pay your monthly expenses, but having a good and trustworthy computer is about as important a possession as there is in my daily life (second probably only to my car). I would probably consider my computer a necessity (when I’m away from my computer, or somewhere without wireless, I feel like something is missing. I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way about their computers) – so of all the things I could buy that cost more than a pair of jeans, I can justify buying a new computer more than anything else. I actually think the reason Apple has become so popular and successful is because they help create/inspire feelings of dependence and euphoria within their customers, about their products. So you could actually argue that in buying a mac I’m actually joining a cult (for more on this argument, read Douglas Atkin’s book The Culting of Brands).

Sorry for all the tangents, I promise there’s a point to this, stick with me if you can.

I was hanging out with my sister at her house yesterday (by the way, her health is continuing to improve…thanks for all the comments and emails in response to what I shared last week). While at her house, I decided to look through some of the boxes of my stuff that have been stored in her basement ever since I lived there a few years ago. While looking for something else, I found a large collection of my old CDs, some of them from when I had my first CD player as a little guy in 6th grade. I was overwhelmed with memories looking through albums by some of my favorite artists from my earlier years. I found albums by Boyz II Men, Blind Melon and even Coolio. It was a lot of fun thinking back on the memories represented by all this music. I mean seriously, who doesn’t smile thinking about middle school and the ackward slow dances while “On Bended Knee” was playing, or watching that little girl running around dressed like a bumble bee in the video for “No Rain”, and how awesome was “Fantastic Voyage”?

For a while now I’ve been thinking about going through my old CDs and taking them to a store that buys used discs, if for no other reason, just to see how much I could get for them. Yesterday that idea came to life. I am usually a packrat. Nearly everything I’ve ever touched has sentimental meaning, which makes moving every year a real treat, but somehow yesterday I overcame my nostalgic nature and sorted through hundreds of CDs that included the songs that made up the soundtrack of my life as a teenager. It was quite an accomplishment for me, all things considered, and as I drove to the Cheapo Records near my sister’s house with a box full of CDs in the back seat of my car, my heart was filled with memories and in the back of my mind were plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t get rid of the discs that had brought all those memories back. You see, for me, getting rid of the source of a memory feels like losing the memory all together. I know this isn’t how it is in reality, but that’s still how it feels to me. I overcame these previews of regret by reminding myself that I haven’t listened to any of those CDs for years and, until that morning, hadn’t even known where they were stored. Plus I was going to get a fair amount of money for them that would go toward my new computer, so I drove on and dropped off the box, being told that it would take about 30 minutes to determine how much they could give me for my precious collection of classics.

During the time between dropping off the CDs and waiting to go back to hear the verdict, I tried to determine a dollar amount that would be enough to make me feel okay about selling them – as if you can place a value on memories – but my online research on how much to expect to get paid for used CDs was fairly inconclusive (every site said the same thing, “the price we pay is dependent on condition and demand”). I knew I probably paid between ten and fifteen bucks for each of the 125 CDs I brought in, they were all still in good condition and since I’m the one who bought them in the first place, I thought they were all pretty good, so I figured there should be other people who would pay for them. I drove back to Cheapo a few hours later to collect a small fortune for recycling my music. The guy working there fit the stereotype of a used record store employee to the T, complete with thick-black plastic frame glasses, floppy hair, old jeans and a ratty t-shirt that definitely could have been purchased at a local thrift store. I couldn’t see his shoes because he was standing behind a counter the whole time, but I’d bet he was wearing an old pair of New Balance. (Side note: I guarantee this guy reads Chuck Klosterman, or at least claims he does, and my internal jury is still out on whether he enjoys or is offended by Stuff White People Like.) Yep, this hipster found the perfect job to fit his lifestyle and personality, and now he was guy who would define the value of a large portion of my music collection. When I walked back into the store I saw my CDs on the counter in three stacks of nearly equal height. The previously described hipster recognized me as the guy who had brought in a box of old hip-hop and R&B CDs (I’m guessing he wasn’t impressed, although I guarantee that dude listened to Coolio back in the day), and without saying much, he unpeeled a post-it note from atop one of the stacks and explained that my discs fit into three different categories; some value, little value and nearly no value. He could give me $78 for the CDs in one of the stacks, $0.25 each for the CDs in another stack, and only $0.10 for each in the final stack. All together, my collection of musical memories was only worth $88.  <insert curse words here>  I froze for a minute as he let me think about what I wanted to do. It’s not that I thought I would get rich from this exchange, but the reality that my collection of Janet Jackson CDs for instance, were worth less than a dollar (combined) was a lot to take in all at once. So as it went, deflated, I walked back out to my car with an empty box in my hand and 88 bucks in my pocket.

Things had not played out as I had hoped, but as I’ve been reminded time and time again lately, such is life. I don’t mean to be cynical or cliche, but honestly, this is just how life is sometimes. I never thought I’d quit working in my mid-20s to pursue a master’s degree in theology, spending over half my savings in the process and taking on more school loans. My sister and her husband never thought they’d wait so long to get pregnant, and when they did finally conceive they never imagined it would result in so much pain and confusion (and no child). As a little boy, the guy working at Cheapo probably didn’t think he’d be stocking racks and making stacks of used CDs when he grew up, and Luke Wilson and the other people involved in Idiocracy could have never predicted it would do as poorly as it did, but they are still moving forward and trying to put it behind them. As one of the most influential poets of my generation (2Pac) shares on one of the CDs I no longer own, “life goes on.”

Life goes on even though our lives may not always result in memories that end up being worth as much as we had hoped or imagined, but there is still hope that things will one day get better. As a person of faith, I put my hope in Christ as the sign that God will fulfill the promise found in Revelation 21:5, “behold I make all things new.” I like new stuff, but it only takes one bad experience to realize that even new things can disappoint and fail to meet our expectations, but the “new” that God promises to bring will be better than anything we’ve ever imagined (even better than HDTV and new macbooks). This new creation will be the fulfillment of God’s ultimate will for the world, transforming things to be how they were always intended; perfect. In the meanwhile, Matthew 6:19-20 reminds us not to care so much about stuff.

“Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust will destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust will not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”