Sunday, September 30, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #9: Give the Firstfruits

Now, like me, you live in America where wealth is a premium value – or at least acting like you have it is. Comfort is king. We are expected to pursue wealth and spend money. Our culture wars against the thought that wealth isn’t king. How do we stem the tidal wave of our culture’s values? How do we put wealth in its place? How do we find that middle ground of “neither poverty nor riches”?

Start by doing something really difficult. Give the firstfruits of your wealth. We’ve looked at the attitudes, particularly humility, and the need to put wealth in its place. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Thankfully God gives us tools to help us do it. Namely, the tithe.

Proverbs 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Give a portion to Him … your first portion. It isn’t that He needs it – Scripture tells us He owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. It isn’t His need, I need to give, you need to give. We’ll be blessed when you do. In Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz, Donald, after a humorous run-in with an unlikely tithing friend, tells of his confession to his pastor, Rick, that he didn’t tithe:

Rick had come over to the house, and we were lying about how much we could bench-press, and then I just blurted it out, “I am not giving any money to the church, Rick. Not a dime.”
“Okay,” he said. “Interesting way to change the conversation. Why?” he asked. “Why aren’t you giving any money to the church?”
“Because I don’t have any money. Everything goes to rent and groceries.”
“That sounds like a tough situation,” he said, very compassionately.
“So am I exempt?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “We want your cash.”
“How much? I asked.
“How much do you make?”
“I don’t know. About a thousand a month, maybe”
“Then we want a hundred.
And you should also know how much you make. Part of the benefit of giving a portion of your money is it makes you think about where your money goes. God does not want us to be sloppy with our finances, Don.”
“But I need money for rent.”
“You also need to trust God.”
“I know. I just think it would be easier to trust God if I had extra money to trust Him with.”
“That would not be faith, then, would it?”
“Well, bud, I just want you to know I hate this part of the job, ‘cause it sounds like I am asking for your money. I don’t care whether or not we have your money. Our needs are met. I want to tell you that you are missing out on so much, Don.”
“So much what?”
“The fruit of obedience,” he said, looking very pastoral. “When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy. God wants us to give a portion of our money to His work on earth. By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide. He wants you to get over that fear – that fear of trusting Him. It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ. There are times when my wife and I don’t have enough money to cover bills, but we know the first bill, the first payment we make, is to the church. That is most important. If the other bills get neglected, then we need to watch how we are spending money. And there are times when we have found ourselves in that situation. But it works out. We are getting good at trusting God, and we are getting good at managing money.”
The next week I emptied my checking account, which had about eight dollars in it,
and I gave it to the church. Another check came a few days later, and I gave 10 percent of that to the church, then I got another writing gig with a magazine in Atlanta, and as I deposited that check into my account I wrote a check to the church. One after another, I started getting called to speak at retreats and conferences that usually pay pretty well, and each time I would write a check to the church. Since then, since that conversation with Rick, I have given at least 10 percent of every dollar I make, just like Curt. And I have never not had rent. For more than a year my checking account had hovered or dipped just over or just under zero, and suddenly I had money to spare. I decided I would open a savings account in case some day I would get married and have a family, and with each bit of money that came in I would give 10 percent to the church and 10 percent to the savings account. I was actually budgeting money. I had never done that before. But that is not the best part. The best part is what tithing has done for my relationship with God. Before, I felt like I was always going to God with my fingers crossed, the way a child feels around his father when he knows he has told terrible lies. God knew where I was, He didn’t love me any different when I was holding out on Him, it’s just that I didn’t feel clean around Him, and you know how that can affect things. (And he goes on a bit from there…)

This isn’t just a proverbs thing, either. Malachi 3:10 is pretty clear: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

This is a discipline in knowing that it isn’t your money, it’s God’s, and we need to learn to trust Him with His money. Because it is ultimately His, not ours. It isn’t your wealth, it is God’s that He’s given you as a steward. I like what Miller’s pastor said. Our needs are taken care of.

At our church we have a big budget for this coming year, big plans, that depend on giving, faithful tithing. God will provide for what He wants done. But there’s bigger things than meeting budget. The thing about 400-500 people tithing that would make Satan tremble is not the church budget. It is 400-500 people who are willing to trust God in one of the areas we’re often last to be obedient in. It is the symbol of an army of people who are mobilizing to stomp Satan because it reveals our obedience to God – even in the tough stuff, even if we would rather buy some flashy new technology or a new outfit.

Tithing is as much a gift to us as it is to God. Probably more. It shows us whose money it is. It teaches us how to trust. It teaches us who or what to place our trust in.

What are the challenges you face in tithing? What are the joys you experience in it?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #8: Put Wealth in its Place … It’s Unreliable

This screed might be getting old, but my inability to post with any consistency likely makes it seem less monotonous. Anyway, what’s the next reason we should “put wealth in its place?” It is unreliable. It isn’t worthy of our trust. We might work tirelessly for it, and there’s still no guarantee that we’ll get it.

Proverbs 23:4-5 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
On top of the fact that it might be gone regardless of your diligence, the desire to get rich can destroy our souls. Paul pulls no punches on this very real fear, particularly in our culture that loves money and materialism.

1 Timothy 6:6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
Wealth can only offer so much, and it isn’t as much as we often think (see Prov. 18.11). More importantly, it can easily play the idol in our lives, dulling our hunger for God. You may think I mean those who are driven to accumulate more and more, seeking satisfaction in material things rather than God. You’re right. But I also mean more than that, or maybe less than that.

There’s another, more subtle idolatry with wealth. Trusting it more than God to be your security. Ps. 20.7 says some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. In our world, some trust in their IRA, some trust in bank accounts, but do we trust in the name of the Lord our God?

Now we all want financial security, don’t we? There are passages about planning to take care of your family in Proverbs, but we need to be careful. Are you placing your trust in a who, or a what? God or money?

Wealth is nice. It is a blessing to the righteous, a curse to the wicked (and through the wicked), but it has its place. Proverbs speaks of wealth highly, but of other things more highly. A good capper to this point is Proverbs 15.16.

Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.

So who are you trusting? Next we’ll get to how we can start actually putting wealth in its place.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #7: Put Your Wealth in Its Place … After Wisdom

The last post on money, which was too long ago (my apologies to the throng who reads this blog) was something we knew the right answer to, even if we don’t live it well. Our family is more valuable than wealth. This one might be a bit more controversial. Proverbs also tells us that wisdom is better than wealth.

Proverbs 8:10 Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, 11 for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
The story of King Solomon himself illustrates this principle. God asked Solomon what he wanted and Solomon was smart enough to know he wasn’t smart enough to govern God’s people so he asked for the wisdom to know the difference between good and evil. Conspicuously absent from his request is wealth and honor. God was so pleased with the request that he gave him wealth and honor on top of wisdom. (Want the whole story … or don’t believe me? Read 1 Kings 3).

It is doubtful that anyone reading this is governing a great people, but we’ve each been given great responsibility in our areas of influence and nothing is more important than wisdom that comes from God if we want to influence others for good and for God. Wealth is, in many cases, a blessing, according to Proverbs, but it is likewise clear that there are plenty of better things. Specifically, living well, which is what wisdom helps us do.

We’re encouraged not to give wealth pride of place because there are so many other things that are better – character, family, and wisdom to name a few. There are probably more, but these are enough to chew on for a bit … and this last one might be the most difficult.

How do you see wisdom as really being better than riches?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Changing of the Seasons

Since baseball season is effectively over for me, time for football. Great start - Huskies 2-0 and the 'Hawks...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #6: Put Wealth In Its Place … After Family

Character is important when it comes to dealing with our wealth. The next aspect of living well with “Our Money and Our Life” is putting money in its place, which isn’t first place, despite what our culture would tell us. We’ve already seen that character is more important than money. The next is well illustrated by a joke I found in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart by Charles Swindoll (a book of sermon illustrations):

Two women met at a cocktail party after a separation of many years. After the initial delighted exchange of greetings, the first woman noticed that her friend was wearing an extraordinary diamond. She couldn’t help commenting, “That’s the most beautiful and enormous diamond I’ve ever seen!” “Yes, it’s an unusual diamond,” was the reply. “It’s the Calahan Diamond. And it comes complete with the Calahan curse.”

“What’s the Calahan curse?”

“Mr. Calahan!” she said.

It may be a bad joke, but Proverbs agrees…

Proverbs 19:13-14 A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD.
If any ladies are offended, I’m sure the sentiment works for husbands and wives … and nobody is honored like the Proverbs 31 woman in the book of Proverbs.

Work hard to provide for your family, but don’t sacrifice your family on the golden altar of wealth. They are more important than wealth.

How do you maintain balance in this? I know it can be particularly challenging for men, but it can be for anyone career-oriented, man or woman. This is one of those things we know in our heads, but our actions, our drive to succeed (or to not fail), and external forces making demands on us can push us.

How do you keep your family first (after God, of course)?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Are you sure?: The Faith Continuum

One of Smith’s critiques of McLaren was his assertion that modernism is built on “Cartesian foundationalism. McLaren thinks there’s no room for doubt as a Christian in the modern model, that we must have “indubitable beliefs.” But Smith asserts this is too high a bar for faith. There’s actually a faith continuum (“degrees of justification”) that was helpful for me in the sense that it puts me at ease that I can still believe something and not defend against any and every weird possibility that a skeptic may throw at me. Here’s the key paragraph on this issue in Smith (116-117):

“So beliefs can have degrees of justification, and the amount of
justification a belief may enjoy may vary over time, due to a variety of
influences on our assessment of the evidence (such as more cognitive material to
process, or very painful circumstances from our past). Roderick Chisholm
has classified a scale of these degrees of justfiiction:
6. Certain
5. Obvious
4. Evident
3. Beyond reasonable doubt
2. Epistemically in the clear
1. Probable
0. Counterbalanced (the evidence for and against offset each other)
-1. Probably false
-2. In the clear to disbelieve
-3. Reasonable to disbelieve
-4. Evidently false
-5. Obviously false
-6. Certainly false
I don’t know where all my beliefs fit on this, but it is liberating for me to some degree. I also admit I’m not necessarily philosophically astute, so I’d love some gentle rebuke if this is bunk. Like I say at the top of the blog, I read a bunch, but I’m not the greatest thinker all the time. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Truth & the New Kind of Christian

I want to take a brief hiatus from the money series and touch on a book I've recently read. I’ve really enjoyed the emergent books I’ve read over the last year or so. The latest is Truth & The New Kind of Christian by R. Scott Smith. I thought it was great. It was helpful on a bunch of levels. In terms of the emerging church, it was highly complimentary in areas that I’ve also felt are strengths of the movement in general – approaching our culture as missionaries, matching life with doctrine, and others. He definitely doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, in my opinion. It was nice to think that I’m not crazy to think the movement isn’t all bad, but there are some things not worth buying.

Against the emerging church, Smith gives an insightful critique of McLaren (and Jones, who I haven’t read) and shows some of his conclusions to be issues of sinful arrogance rather than modernism (specifically referring to pastors with “bombproof” answers and faith with no room for doubt). There will be another post on “certainty” in faith because I found it pretty helpful.

Much of the book was a critique of postmodernism as a philosophy, particularly the issue of truth and language. It was bit over my head at times, but the reality of objective truth seems painfully obvious – even if we can’t always agree on what it is. The necessity of it seems iron-clad.

This was a helpful read for philosophical novices like me that shows practical implications for the life of the church moving forward in our culture. It is a critique of emerging churches, but a friendly one. Even Tony Jones (a leader in the emergent church and victim of Smith’s critiques) gives a kind recommendation of the book, noting Smith is a “friendly critic and a brother in Christ.”

Monday, September 3, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #5: The Character Foundation, Work Fair

The last post laid open the question of why getting rich quick can be troubling. I think this next one is a pretty important reason why getting rich quick is a dangerous temptation. We may be tempted to hurt others, oppressing others to get ahead.

Proverbs 13:23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.
Proverbs is hard on the lazy, and rightfully so. The wisdom writers let them know that the lazy deserve their poverty. But texts like the one above show this is not exclusively the case. Some are poor because they have been treated unjustly by people in positions of power. The wicked are wealthy in Proverbs at times, and it is dangerous. Here’s likely why … the wicked are more prone to oppress than the righteous.

Whatever fortune you’re building, make sure you work fairly. You may not run a sweatshop, but how do you treat your employees? Do you lead with humility, and more important to this sub-point, do you treat your employees well, with respect and fairness?

God has stern warnings for those who oppress. Work fair.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #4: The Character Foundation, Work Hard

The last post dealt with humility. God gives us the ability to earn what we earn. We owe God much when it comes to our wealth. It is very much a gift from Him. Now we look at the flip-side of the coin when it comes to the character that can bear wealth well. We need to work hard.

Proverbs 10:4 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
This is a good time to note the nature of Proverbs. They aren’t iron-clad, true-in-every-circumstance promises. They are general truths to live by which means there could be some overlap and tension at time between proverbs. It isn’t that they are contradictory, but that they are general wisdom to applied differently in different situations.

In this case, Proverbs is generally clear. Hard workers are generally rich; the lazy are generally poor. We get in a “get-rich-quick” society. Think lottery and frivolous lawsuits. But that can be a problem. It is admittedly anecdotal, but I’ve heard the lottery destroys lives in many cases. This, too, aligns with Proverbs…

Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
Why is this? Why is hastily gained wealth sometimes problematic? I think there are a couple reasons. First, I think part of it is that personal character isn’t built to carry the wealth well. The humility, righteousness, and hard work are not in place to carry the burden of wealth well. The next post will have another reason why getting rich quick is a dangerous temptation.

But for now, why do you think getting rich quick can be dangerous?