Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kingdom Finances -- Equality and Freedom

Principle #1 EQUALITY

Jesus said,
24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Matthew 6:24

"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

For many years I didn’t see what the Bible taught about money. I was caught in the mindset of working, paying my bills and tithing to my local church. I experienced both success and near bankruptcy during this time. If someone said do you serve money, I always answered no.

When I was working at General Motors as a toolmaker, I had a certain amount of financial success. I gave generously to my church but the scriptures that talked extensively of caring for the oppressed were in most part, ignored and not understood by me. It wasn't that they were difficult to understand but it was like there was a cloud over my thinking to really appreciate them.

I always had small misgivings about where my trust really was, God or GM, but I managed to push those insecurities into the background. I wasn't even aware of Paul's words to the Thessalonians. "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thess. 4:11,12

I even proved that I wasn’t a slave to GM when I quit this well paying, very secure job. I managed to go to Bible College for 3 years, with 3 young children and came out of that experience with no debt. I then went and pastored for 5 years in a small northern community for 5 years, making a third of the wages that I had made at General Motors. We were poor but my kids never knew it. In all of this, I really didn’t understand the basic teachings of finances that I would like to share with you.

One of my favorite studies in the past was the topic of the endtimes. A key passage that is often ignored by endtime teachers is found in Matthew 25,

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Matthew 25:31-45

I am a little shocked by how Jesus separated the sheep from the goats. It was essentially over the issue of the handling worldly wealth. Providing the basic necessities of life: food, water, clothing, and friendship to those who have less than us.

I come from a church tradition where tithes and offerings get dispersed in this order: buildings, salaries, programs, district office, missions and if anything is left over, some form of benevolence.

For some reason, a simple to understand verse that speaks specifically about caring for the poor was used by me to take up an offering for the above priorities.
1Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On 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.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

I often quoted from verse 2 when taking up the offering at church. I know it is often printed on tithing envelopes. But the context of this passage was that it was a collection for the oppressed and likely people the Corinthians would never meet.

As a follow up to this passage Paul writes this about a year later.

8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For 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.

10And 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. 11Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At 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, 15as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."
2 Corinthians 8:8-15

Our first priority in handling money should be the goal of equality. This is equality on a global basis.

When we hear a kingdom word like equality, our immediate response should be joy. And for some it may be. But for those who might be more like me, it may mean a big pang of fear, or a quick dismissal or maybe it feels like a small bone caught in your throat.

Some people have rejected the idea of a good God on the basic premise of “Why would a good God allow innocent children to die needlessly of hunger and malnutrion.” As a Christian, I somehow closed my ears to that argument and yet it has significant merit.

The reality is that God weeps over every person that has been oppressed and He expects His people to do something about it. My heart was closed to this concept for most of my 30+ years as a Christian. It wasn’t that I wasn’t giving away money, it was that I wasn’t fervently seeking EQUALITY in our world.

The more I meditate on this one concept I am astonished at how much of the evil in the world would be eliminated if we simply desired and acted upon this one principle.

How many trillions have been spent on war or how many millions have been spent on toothpaste for whiter teeth or how many billions have been spent buying bricks for beautiful edifices while children drink contaminated water and fill their bellies with dirt.

Equality would get our priorities straight. Surprisingly, I don’t think we would do without anything of value, in fact, we would even prosper more if we established this as a priority. How much of our taxes goes to lining the pockets of those who have the most and building bombs that supposedly have the purpose of bringing freedom? The waste and excess could be RRRRRRolled back considerably if equality became a real goal.

Praying about equality cannot be done passively. It does require a right understanding of giving and receiving. It requires us to take action but it does not allow us to make beggars of others. This simple caution steers us in a much more creative process of things like micro loans and teaching people to fish.

Let’s not confuse the kingdom principle of EQUALITY with forced equality that is advocated by power mongers in order to control the masses.

Principle #2 Freedom

Wealth and freedom should not be confused with being satisfied with gold. The streets of heaven will be paved with gold. Being satisfied with pavement is a very sad state of affairs.

Some have erroneously interpreted Paul’s caution to Timothy about desiring money to mean that money is somehow evil.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:10

But take notice that in this passage Paul isn’t referring to money itself but our desire for it. In other words, when money comes first there is a corruption that inevitably follows.

Principle #1 – Equality is a very nice thing to keep in mind as I write about gold. It is difficult to bring equality to the less fortunate when you have just enough for yourself.

However we shouldn’t fear the effects of money as reflected in this prayer,
God, please don’t let me be so rich that I forget you or so poor that I curse you.

The poorest person can find peace with God and the richest person can be at peace as well. In fact there is no economic situation that can stop someone from knowing and loving God.

My goal is to somehow navigate between the extremes and see what the scriptures teach us about not being consumed by our circumstances, especially in the area of our use of TIME and our willingness to GO.

Abraham is considered the father of our faith. When he was asked to go to a land that he did know, he went. This should be normative for every child of God. When God says go, we go.

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
Genesis 12:1

But here’s what is sometimes forgotten in the equation.
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Genesis 12:4,5

Abraham didn’t go poor. In fact there were a number of people that had to go with him because they were either indentured servants or slaves. (An indentured servant is a person who willingly gives there time to someone else for an agreed upon price.)

So here is Point #1

Only a free person can go where they want.

Slaves go where their master tells them to go. If Abraham had been a slave or an indentured servant he would not have been able to obey God’s voice.

You need to pause and let this one sink in.

We live in a country of opportunity and freedom that is the envy of most of the world. Our Canadian passport is one of the most sought after passports because it opens more doors for travel than any other passport in the world. And yet, how many Canadians feel free to go wherever and whenever God tells them to?

Something happened in the past two centuries that is different than any time in history. We became indentured servants without knowing it and the cost was to give up our personal freedom, especially in the area of time.

Henry Ford was a genius in creating a system of indentured servants. He paid men $5 a day to work on his production line. He also lowered the daily work day to 8 hours. (This was so he could get 3 shifts out of a 24 hour day.)

Families literally flocked to his factories from all over the country to work for Henry. In so doing, they gave up there personal freedom for about $1,500 a year. A large sum in 1910. Henry is known as the father of modern mass production. He also amassed one of the largest workforces of indentured servants that history had ever seen.

When I left my job at General Motors to go to Bible college a number of eyebrows were raised. How could I leave the security of such a good job?

Years later, I ended up being out of the ministry and my wife and I went to Korea to teach English. After a year, I came back and attended a conference from the organization I had pastored in. I was a little dismayed that they were pushing hard for missions funding. On July 31st of 2001, I knew nothing about teaching English as a second language and on August 28 we were making money and teaching there.

Meanwhile the old paradigm of begging for money to do God's work was alive and well when I arrived home. At the same time, the world is willing to pay for people to come and teach them English with the side affect of sharing our lives with them. I wasn't even financially free, in fact I was a month away from personal bankruptcy, but I was able to go without begging.

It was in Korea that my heart began to yearn to understand business from God's perspective. It wasn't until just recently that God opened my heart and mind to the possibilities that can only come through a business model.

Financially free people never have to ask for money to Go where God wants them to go.

This leads us to Point #2

Security does not equal Freedom

Security is a myth that is dangled by the few to control the masses. If I said that just a few months ago many would have mocked me. But with the economic meltdown that is happening right now people are shocked to find out that what they had put so much trust in has let them down. Even those with jobs are sitting on pins and needles praying that they won't be next.

The slave has no control over where he goes or what his master decides. A slave’s only hope is that his master is benevolent and makes good decisions.

It has been suggested that immediately following the abolition of slavery in the United States that the slaves’ new freedom made them worse off economically than they had been as slaves. Without the gold, freedom is simply like floating on a raft in the middle of an ocean with no destination in sight.

So how does God speak to his children regarding being slaves.

Paul said, “I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Cor 6:12)

Paul knew freedom. He travelled where he wanted, when he wanted. He not only provided for himself but others.

32"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. Acts 20:32-34

Paul’s business of tent making allowed him to travel where he wanted and when he wanted. Not only that, but it provided for others. Paul did not only talk or pray about equality, he brought it into existence. He was never diminished by doing so. The more he helped others, the more he gained. He really understood the idea of marketplace Christianity. As he ran his business he was able to mix with people and share his faith.

Jesus himself, put a high value on us increasing in wealth which leads us to Point #3

Wealth Gives Freedom and Authority

This story is often overlooked by many Christians who are caught in the mindset of being an indentured servant. The idea of rewards for those who increased in wealth and using it for kingdom purposes, like bringing equality, is a mystery and/or perplexes many Christians.

Luke 19:11-26 he tells the parable of the Ten Minas. A mina was equal to about 1/3 of a year’s wages. In this story, one man used the opportunity to make a mina into 10. The only way to do that would have been by using some kind of a business model. Another man made his mina into 5.

We need to pause and listen seriously to what Jesus thought of these two men.
17" 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' The one with 5 was put in charge of 5 cities.

There were also 7 slaves who went and spent the money on themselves and it was not a good day for them when the master returned.

And then there was the one who hid his mina in the ground.
20"Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.'
22"His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'

24"Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

25" 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'

26"He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.
Luke 19:20-26

It seems in Jesus’ view of the kingdom, the rich do get richer.

Jesus’ encounter with the man who hid his mina leads us to Point #4

We are not to be afraid.

With the economic meltdown that is currently happening, are the millionaires of this world really afraid? Is the guy or gal that owns Tim Horton’s afraid. They might not get their biggest profits this year but more than likely they will take their trip to Cancun or Banff just likely they always do.

What I am hearing from many people, Christians and non-Christians who are indentured servants is fear? There is an endless list in the Bible for us to not be afraid and yet many Christians are caught in its vice-like grip.

Even churches are feeling the effects of this downturn. Pastors will be laid off and/or salaries will be decreased. Building programs will be scaled back or stalled altogether. The idea that God gave the vision but our economy determines its outcome is very real. The idea is to hang on until the economy goes back to what it was and we can have our sense of security and then we can move forward with God's vision.

Slaves are always stuck with whatever the circumstances are at the moment.

Interestingly enough, I was talking with a businessman this week and he is planning a significant expansion of his business. For him, this downturn simply means there are more people available to work for him and at a lower wage to boot.

Business people think differently. They are creative and expand when others are like deer caught in the headlights. Successful business people are never motivated by fear. Even if failure does befall them, they don’t shrink away in fear but rather they learn the lesson and continue to seek freedom.

Does that mean that everyone that works for someone else is motivated by fear. Of course not. Many have learned that whatsoever state they are in to be content. Nevertheless, without funds channeling through their lives they to will have to cut back on the number of orphans or widows they are currently caring for. They will miss simple opportunities of doing more and equality in our world will be an unrealized dream.

There are many people who only dream of the opportunities that we as Canadians have. They can’t imagine someone thumbing their nose at simple opportunities that they would literally give their right arm to have. They are the ones who will face the harshest realities of this economic collapse, as help from Canada decreases. There are many people who have been hard working employees and were very generous but even they can’t give what they don’t have.

But I also know many Christians who will be caught in the trap of fear and will not explore business opportunities to overcome their financial distress. They are hoping and praying that their place of employment will survive. They never for a moment consider going after financial freedom and still desire the myth of security. The goal of global equality has never seriously touched their imagination.

Even though their place of security has left them in fear, they will not open their minds to the possibility that perhaps financial freedom might have been a better goal.

While many people were thanking Henry Ford for the opportunity of being able to serve him, Henry travelled where he wanted, lived where he wanted and used his time the way he wanted.

The goals of equality and freedom are not exclusive ideas. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin.

Are there business models out there that would allow everyone to enjoy financial freedom and more importantly freedom to go when God says go? Of course there are. Paul had one 2,000 years ago. I’m in one that allows virtually anyone to enjoy personal financial freedom.

We are living in a day when the opportunity to be in business has never been more accessible. The current economic crisis gives us the opportunity to look at the myth of security without the possibility of being equal to the person we work for. Or we can challenge ourselves to step away from the false security of being an indentured servant and become the master of our time and our wealth.

Remarkably, in a time when our governments and corporate leaders are struggling for answers, those who are willing to make a slight adjustment in their goals and aligning themselves with Biblical values of being financially free with the purpose of bringing equality, we can radically impact our world.

If you are free to go when God says GO, you are not an indentured slave. This freedom isn’t even always tied to job security or even having lots of gold but is really tied to a mindset of obedience to God, desiring equality for all and understanding God does not have slaves. We are his children.

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