Friday, November 17

Promises, Promises

Here's my financial study #4.
Passage: Eph. 2:1-3
2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money): Death is characterized by following three sets of impulses--we're zombies without actual power to act as we choose. We follow:
(a) the standard operating procedure of the world in which we live
(b) the ruler of the power of disobedience
(c) the passions and desires of our flesh and senses
I take "follow" to mean that these both guide us (determine our path) and energize us. We are like monorail trains, which are limited to a few tracks and dependent upon the power of the electricity carried in those tracks.

This is tough news! Without Christ, all sense of freedom is actually illusion and vapor. And I have experienced this myself--acting on impulse, unable to resist the pull and energy of food, lustful impulses, avoidance, and so on. I felt trapped and unable to do what I really wanted, what I really intended to do--like my body was a zombie inhabited by a power and energy other than my own.

In this state we were children of wrath. Chapter 1 says we have been adopted so that we have become children of God. The term "children" refers to our nature, as Paul says explicitly here in v. 3. Being children of God means we will (a) live holy and blameless and (b) share in the inheritance as God's heirs. So I wonder if being children of wrath must mean that we live by anger and share the consequences of living angry, bitter, contemptuous lives. Hmm. What do you think?

Now this would also apply to money. What impulses and energies about money guide and energize our lives in this world?
-love of comfort and luxury
-desire to do whatever we want whenever we want
-the "fix" of the new purchase
-the thrill of having new toys and gadgets
-the power money gives over people and circumstances

Principles: Money promises us a lot if we will be obedient and follow it. It promises power, freedom, comfort, joy and pleasure, energy and vitality. It also threatens us with punishments for disobeying: poverty, need, pain, limitation, and many dark scenarios.

But all those promises are "false consolations" because they are death--living only a zombie's existence. And the threats are "false desolations" because they don't acknowledge the existence, care, and blessings of God.

Do you want to live as a child of wrath or a child of God in regards to money? Oh, yes. Obviously I want to live as one who is alive to God and all his blessings.

How are you currently following the world, the devil, and the flesh in this area? In other words, what are the false consolations and false desolations money holds over you? Currently I often feel overwhelmed when I look at my finances. I think I believe that if I don't manage every penny I will reap doom and destruction, and my wife and kids will suffer horrible consequences. So I escape the pain by not dealing with them. I also have used an overdraft protection card to cushion myself from the consequences of overspending. The false desolations are that if we don't have a nice meal on a date night or don't buy something for the house that my marriage will suffer because my wife won't be happy . . . or that I won't be happy.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically? I am going to pay attention to the false promises and threats of money that I obey by impulse. When I'm working on my finances and when I am spending money I am going to ask myself why, and whether I am doing that following the way of this world, the devil or the desires of my flesh, or whether I am moving at the impulse of God's love.

Sunday, November 5

Pecuniary Perspective

Here's my Study #3 on God and Money:

Passage: Eph. 1:8-21
With all wisdom and insight
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money): Paul continues to use money language to describe reality: inheritance, will, pledge (or downpayment), riches of his glorious inheritance. Somehow we can grasp our life with God better by contemplating it in financial terms.

Principle: Money is a symbol, a sign to point us to the greater reality which is unseen.

How can I use money as a way to point me towards God and his goodness?
First, of course, seeing the money itself as a blessing and gift from God reminds me of the giver, and I could practice consciously being thankful every time I take a bill out of my wallet or run my debit card through the machine.

Second, I suppose many or all of us think about future security, happiness, and provision in financial terms. Every time I think about how much money I have in our bank accounts, or whether we should save, or look at the (meager) amount we're investing towards retirement, I should think about where my true future provision, security and happiness lies--in the one who has lavished every spiritual blessing upon us.

Lesson: The cosmic, universal purpose of God, planned out in God's counsel and set forth in his "will and testament" is to bring all things together in Christ, both heavenly and earthly things. That necessarily includes money and all material possessions. Jesus is head over all things, including money, for the church.

I don't get this yet. In general terms, of course it's true. But specifically, how are money and resources brought together in Christ? I suppose that like I have various kinds of cells and particles in my body, so Jesus contains all money, bank accounts, ATM and credit cards, banks, budgets, accounting software, debts and loans, and so on. What does this mean, practically, though?

I know I want my entire body to be ordered so that it functions well. My quality of life and particularly my ability to accomplish things and work well in this world depend on it. Jesus (unlike me) has the power to control and order everything within his body. All these things I named are extremely small to him, and have no life or vitality outside of him.

The other part of this is that God has placed all things under Christ's feet--including every rule, authority, power and dominion. This includes CitiBank, First USA, my credit union, the IRS, every share traded on the stock market, the Fed which sets the interest rates, the housing market with its home prices and rental costs, the utilities companies, the governments that set our taxes, and so on.

Principle: No financial institution or government has power over us or our money outside of the sovereignty of Christ. No matter how much power they seem to have over us, it's only an illusion. Jesus has all the power and though they may not know it now, they will one day. No matter how immense and fearsome they seem to me, they are miniscule to Jesus and their life is as the life of a gnat to him.

What should this mean to me? Any fears or anxieties I have related to money or any of these institutions, from financial to governmental, should prompt me to step back and look at the perspective of true reality: how small and relatively powerless they are, and where they are--under Christ's power.

Investment Strategy

Lesson 2 of my study on Money and God.

Passage: Eph. 1:3-8 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
Spiritual blessings are much more real, weightier, valuable, dependable, and solid than tangible assets, though the opposite feels true. It only makes sense to invest first in treasure in heaven, to seek first God's kingdom, and know that everything else (food, clothing, housing) will be given to me also. (Matt. 6). In reality I already possess every spiritual blessing, our inheritance, though much of it I can't access now, much like a trust a minor will have access to when they reach a certain age. Their financial decisions (such as education, wedding, etc.) can be made on the basis of what is in the trust because it is really there and really theirs.

-We should invest first in treasure in heaven, seeking first God's kingdom, and trust all our physical needs will be provided for us.
-We should make our major financial and life decisions on the basis of the spiritual blessings in trust for us. Those blessings are more solid, reliable and dependable--more real--than money in a trust fund or retirement savings account.

Are you investing first in treasure in heaven, accessing the spiritual blessings which are yours in Christ? How?
My practices of feasting on the word and abiding have been greatly strengthened over the last year. I have clarified that this week into a commitment that when I have a focused half hour or more to do work, that my first half hour will be on doing a Bible Study lesson (like this or SCF), unless I have a clear sense from God to do email, Fund Development, or other ministry tasks.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
The inheritance is "our inheritance"--a corporate inheritance of blessings for God's children, in which I have a share.

All the spiritual resources we have access to--including physical assets--are not only for our own personal benefit but actually belong to all God's adopted children, and we should use them accordingly.

How are you doing this?
I'm using teaching and pastoring for the sake of others and the body, within IVCF, with partners, and within my church body. I am using my body and energy for my family and those I'm serving in those arenas. I have been using my finances primarily for my family and for those we support in a regular or one-time way, rather than spending them on myself. I have continued to discipline myself not to buy items to indulge my own desires, such as electronic gadgetry, etc. Actually, I also struggle spending money on items such as clothing which are legitimate needs, as much as food is, because it feels like I'm spending it on myself. But if God has blessed me to bless others, that includes being dressed appropriate to the occasion for those I serve.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically?
I am going to meditate on the reality that the spiritual blessings I have are more real, solid, and trustworthy than a trust fund or retirement investment. And I am going to work to be less burdened by using the blessings Christ has made available to his children, particularly in being willing to buy clothing or other needs as I have need, as long as I'm clear how they are for the benefit of the whole body and not just satisfying a whim of my own.

Wednesday, November 1

Financial Freedom

It's funny how feasting on the Word increases my appetite for it. I have been so fed, challenged and shaped by the 2 online Bible studies over the past year that my hunger and delight in the Scriptures must have grown ten times a strong! And I thought I already loved the Word.

So I am embarking on a new daily Bible Study course in a different area of discipleship--Finances. I will go through the book of Ephesians first, and probably will do Luke after that, mining the text for lessons about money, God, and my finances. I will post my lessons here for a week or so, and if I get some positive comments I will continue to post them here. I don't need to fill up cyberspace (e.g. clog my blog) if they aren't useful to anyone.

Here's Lesson 1:

Passage: Eph. 1:1-2
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

v. 2 Both grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of a father’s roles are to provide and protect. Grace means God abundantly provides for me, so I will have all that I need, which produces peace. Peace also springs from being deeply rooted in a sense of God’s protection: no evil circumstances can befall me, no evil person can harm me, in a way that will jeopardize my life and take me out of God’s protection.

All my dealings with money need to be rooted in a deep knowledge that God is gracious—extravagantly generous. Peace comes from being rooted in that reality.

Are you peaceful as you deal with money? Specifically, where do you experience a lack of peace, and why?
-Primarily that I am going to make a mistake tracking the money and we’ll get into debt.
-That I’ll “get in trouble.” This comes from growing up and getting in trouble for things I didn’t know I was doing wrong, or for escaping from what I knew I should be doing (such as cleaning up my room). A friend told me “Procrastination can be a form of rebellion.” As a child I developed habits of procrastination as a way to rebel against my parents. Now to become humble and submissive I need to stay on top of my finances and not procrastinate with how I deal with them. So I think that my lack of peace is first sin, a fear of God not providing, but second a warning of my conscience that I am not living responsibly and being fully submitted to God in this area.

How are you going to apply today’s lesson to your life practically?
I have been resisting buying Quicken or some other financial tracking program, because of the cost and negative experiences in the past. However, it’s a powerful tool to help me and would probably help my tracking be more efficient and effective. I will probably buy one this week.

I will also check my heart for peace and a sense of God’s extravagant graciousness every time I look at my finances.