Sunday, January 25, 2009

Money Matters

Religion and politics are not the only taboo topics. Talking about money is now considered off limits. It’s the white elephant in the living room that we’re supposed to ignore. We can still ask, “What do you do?” in order to size someone up. But in our economy that might lead to a rather awkward silence. What do you say to someone when they have lost their job and have no prospects for another one? “Aren't you glad you have Jesus? Go home and be blessed."

There are some groups like the aboriginal people of Australia where talking about money is a non issue. The have managed to live for thousands of years off of the land. Their lifestyle is that of hunters and gatherers. They have none of our lifestyle diseases like cancer or heart problems. Ironically, they tend to live well into their nineties and then simply die. No lingering sickness, no medical bills, no nursing homes. Unless we want to change our lifestyle to be like them our reality is that money matters.

I failed my children in the area of understanding money from God’s perspective. I didn’t do this on purpose, it was just that I didn’t know much about it. I only knew a few principles like work hard, pay your bills and don’t talk about money. I even taught them one principle that was actually in contradiction to God’s word. I taught them tithing. A common enough mistake amongst Christians that pits one idea against another one.

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
2 Corinthians 9:7

Those that teach tithing and I was one of them, ignored the above passage and said the minimum is 10% and if you don’t you are under a curse. For Christians to teach a principle that includes a curse is a violation of our freedom from the Law.

Enough of my little rant. Let’s get on with what I think will simply be some primer thoughts on money.

I think the issue of money is sadly more neglected than people think. Some people think that a person’s economic situation determines why we should treat them with love and respect. James cautions us against elevating someone because they have fine clothes and lots of money.

"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?"
James 2:1-4

Others say it’s only the poor that we are to go out of our way for since the rich can take care of themselves. Gag me on both accounts. A person’s economic position should in no way control my love or respect for anyone. To do so elevates money above the person. I know that’s how our world often operates but for Christians that should be taboo.

So how should we talk about this white elephant of ours? It seems we have missed some important kindergarten classes about money. Jesus said our use and understanding of money is one of the first baby steps of maturing as a Christian.

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"
Luke 16:10-11

I remember having this thought when I was quitting my job as a toolmaker at General Motors. “If I lose all of my finances in order to serve God as a pastor I am willing.” That sounds noble and certainly demonstrates a certain measure of naive freedom but it also created in me a lack of due diligence regarding the care of my family. I remember thinking for many years as a Christian and as a pastor that money was a closed topic for me when studying the Bible.

I had enough understanding just to make me miserable ie. tithing. I remember going to family gatherings at Christmas and being very cheap about the gifts we brought. We didn’t have extra money was my excuse. Meanwhile, I was giving thousands to church to pay for salaries and buildings. I remember countless times leaving those gatherings feeling ashamed and yet didn’t know what I could do differently. I didn’t know I was to use worldy wealth to gain friends and that this is a kingdom principle.

"I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
Luke 16:9

It wasn’t that I hadn’t read this passage, I simply didn’t apply it. Why I chose tithing over this is a bit of a mystery to me. It likely has to do with my fear of being cursed and wanting to please my pastor.

I read stories about the ten minas, Luke 19:11-27, and the doubling of money (talents) in Matthew 25, but I couldn’t understand that God was in favour of me working diligently to increase my personal wealth. I was even guilty of distorting God’s word in Matthew 25, teaching that talents can be our gifts and abilities. When Jesus used the word talent it only had one meaning at that time, money.

A good friend of mine says it this way about money. “Money will make a good man better and a bad man worse.” It doesn’t define us but it does reveal us.

I’m actually quite surprised by some discussions I’m having these days regarding the care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan. This isn’t just one person saying this to me. “I have no strong feelings about their care. When you tell me that 17,280 children will die needlessly today because of lack of hunger and malnutrition that doesn’t move me.” When I ask them if they know the scriptures about caring for them, they are well aware.

How can something that is so near to God’s heart not impact Christians? I was there for many years myself. Ironically, that was during my tithing days. Malachi 3 has been used over and over to teach tithing, while the principle of this passage is really about the care of the widow and the orphan.

The kingdom of God is about everyone having enough. It's about fairness and equality. In the Old Testament we can't miss the teaching that came from the provision of manna.

"The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed."
Exodus 16:17-18

Paul petitioned the Corinthians to follow through on what they began in regards to giving. It's strange that this passage is now used as a proof text for giving to the local church.

"Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem."
1 Corinthians 16:1-3

It seems the Corinthians started well but had not finished with the plan of equality within God's kingdom so Paul, very passionately reminded them of this. This is a great little passage where Paul uses what some might even call manipulation to get the Corinthians in alignment with God's heart.

"I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."
2 Corinthians 8:8-13

Capitalism nor socialism truly reflect the kingdom of God and reveal to us a right approach towards equality. Capitalism can lead to greed and socialism can create unhealthy dependence. Both can lead to apathy towards others. In no way can we make a law that will guarantee a healthy caring for others. It's up to us, period.

Most North Americans are in the top 10% of the wealth in the world with many in the top 1% and yet the fear and anxiety over money issues permeates throughout our society. This simply proves that money doesn't solve the big issue of why we trust God. However, in the kingdom of God we are to go out of our way to work towards an equality that neither makes beggars nor promotes selfishness.

That said, if it is in our power to make more in order to put our money in alignment with our prayers, we should. This will help us understand that faith is really an action rather than a belief system. Putting ourselves in a financial position to help those who can't help themselves is well pleasing to God.

Because I am talking about understanding money please don’t misunderstand that I think it is more important than other topics. Forgiveness is a significant topic and much more important than money. Mind you giving money to an enemy is probably a good first step in dealing with forgiveness.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Luke 6:35-38

Rarely have I heard someone declaring the promise of “give and it will be given to you,” in the context of giving to your enemy. Why is that?

This is why money should be a beginner level class. It's very practical and tangible. "If someone is cold, give them a coat." Jesus said if we're not faithful with money we won't be found faithful with the really significant stuff. We don't start with calculus, we start with the basics. Surprisingly, money is the simplest of topics and yet for many it is overlooked, a place of fear or wrongly applied. The whole point of "teaching someone to fish" is to give them financial freedom and not make them dependent on us.

We tend to stay away from practical thinking. Money is a very tangible commodity that can be easily evaluated. Do we love others? How we spend our money on them is certainly a first step and easily evaluated. Since I've been praying and trying to spur others unto good deeds, Hebrews 10:24, I'm intrigued by the number of people that say they are praying for the widows and orphans. But when asked, what are they practically doing, they look at me with a puzzled look on their face and say they don't have any money left over to help them. They are sometimes even offended that someone asks for specifics. How do we apply Hebrews 10:24 without getting specific?

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Hebrews 10:24

Why is part of Hebrews 10:25 so often parotted, "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" but the practical context is so commonly ignored?

The greatest deception that seems to have invaded my circle of Christianity, charismatics, is that we have spiritualized away many practical teachings about money. We have relegated the gospel to getting people to say the sinner’s prayer, building lovely buildings and teaching people to care enough to say they miss you when you haven't been there for awhile. That's if they even noticed.

Meanwhile, the fullness of the gospel, which is meant to be more than words, is for all intents and purposes, ignored. Some even say to me, "Why are you into this social gospel thing? Leave the dying children to the liberals to look after." As if caring for others is a bad thing and not what we are about. The practical aspects of caring must include the use and making of money, so we need to get our hearts aligned to what God has revealed on this topic.

I don't intend to make money more important than other topics. The emphasis in this writing is simply because it has been so neglected and/or misunderstood as a part of living in the kingdom of God.

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Hebrews 10:24

The reality is that money matters, at least a little. Likely more to a mother whose children are dying due to a lack of food. 17,280 children will die today for that reason alone.

No comments: