Thursday, November 22

Double Your Joy

Happy Thanksgiving!

My brother pointed out to me yesterday that we don't really enjoy something unless we're able to pause and express our enjoyment, to ourselves or to someone else. In a very real way, pausing to be thankful enables us to experience fully the joy to be had. 

On the other hand, failing to thank God for all he's created and done starts the downward spiral of a society (Romans 1).

On the first hand, a shared joy is a doubled joy. I heard that my neice, Lydia, opened her birthday presents and carried each one around the room, showing it to each person in turn until they smiled. Telling someone else of a great experience or gift we've been given increases our joy. Lydia squeezed a great deal of joy out of opening those presents!

I'm thankful to Dan for telling me that story, and to God for giving us such a quick and relatively easy way to tap into joy in any circumstance.

I hope you're able to tap into more joy today, whatever your circumstances. I know I'm going to try!

Friday, October 19

Good Reads

A friend, Chris, introduced me to this website that I've been loving the last couple months. It's a place to find out what my friends are reading, to make recommendations, write reviews, and keep track of good books I need to get or read!

Check it out--there's a link here on my blog homepage along with a list of what I'm currently reading . . .

And if you join, add me as a friend. I'd love to know what good stuff you're reading!

Tuesday, September 25

The False-Modest Shepherd

True confessions: I've struggled a lot wondering if I should write. At a recent conference I was convicted that I'm not supposed to judge the gifts I've been entrusted to steward, but should steward them. I wrote a few parables to capture my felt conviction. I'll take the risk of posting two here:

A wealthy landowner hired a shepherd and left barns full of food and large pastures, saying, "Feed and tend my sheep." Some time later, he returned to see his flocks. When he came, he found the sheep weak and dying of hunger. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. The shepherd replied, "I was afraid I would do something wrong, because I am not an expert at feeding sheep." "You wicked servant," said the master. "I gave you everything you needed for the task. All you needed to do was to give them what I gave you." The master took the flock away and assigned that person to hard labor until restitution was made.

Once a king appointed a governor over a city, and left him to see that the people fared well. When the king returned, he found the  people weak and starving. Barns and factories were full of food, but the people had the meagerest portions. "What does this mean?" he demanded indignantly. "The people thought the food came from me," stuttered the governor. "I didn't want to grow proud by getting credit for your generosity. I was afraid you would see me as a usurper."
"You wicked servant," replied the king. "If you knew I was so generous with you, you should have passed that generosity on. What kind of king do you think I am, that I would care more about proper credit than my people's lives?" Then he stripped the governor of all responsibility and set him to shovel manure, and gave authority for the city to someone he could trust.

Saturday, September 22

Real Estate Futures

My friend Jeff is a fantastic real estate agent, and a great guy.
Recently I polled several friend, "How about real estate? I know
Michelangelo will have a lot to contribute to the new creation, but
what about Jeff?" They all had similar responses: Jeff and April are
incredibly generous and have invested a lot in the Kingdom of God
through their giving. They're amazingly hospitable, and many people
have experienced Jesus' love through being welcomed into their home.

I agree that all these are part of storing up treasure in heaven
which will be available to them in the new creation--all those
relationships, for example. But what about real estate? Will Jeff
need a career counselor to help him find a new job in the age that is
to come?

I don't think so. Again, humor me on a walk down speculation lane.
Let's say the Lord assigns me to work in the Kingdom around the Los
Angeles area. (Although I'd bet all our geography will be different--
so maybe we'll have New Los Angeles, New Mexico City, and New New

In any case, let's say after a few hundred years the Lord changes my
assignment and wants me to move to, say, New Newfoundland for my next
stint. Certainly it would be very helpful to have someone with big
networks, who knows people who know of vacant places to live in New
Newfoundland. Someone like Jeff.

Actually, it would be great if, in the new world, there weren't a lot
of empty buildings and wasted space. So it would be great to have
people who could orchestrate all the different people moving around
the planet to accommodate their various needs, to maximize the
benefit to the world and contribute to the well-being of the
environment as well.

So it seems to me that my friend Jeff will still be in business, if
he wants to be, along with my friends Keith and Alexei and Mischelle,
whose various jobs here contribute to the well-being of this present
planet. Certainly things will be different: no money, no
manipulation, no deceptive to negotiate through: but the basic good
skills of real estate agents, chemists, and environmental engineers
will help us "exercise dominion and subdue the earth" in the best
possible way, under the lordship of Jesus, just as God intends.

Thursday, September 20

Me? A Sculptor?

When I was ten years old, I got to see Michelangelo's marvelous sculpture David in person. What an amazing statue! Stunning in it's size and beauty, and unlike anything else I've ever seen. Except all the replicas running around this planet. Come to think of it, those are nothing like the real thing, either.

N. T. Wright says an implication of Paul's resurrection theology is that in the new creation--the new heavens and the new earth--nothing good that we've done in this age will be wasted. Everything just, righteous, and beautiful will somehow get included. Still trying to wrap my mind around that.

If you care to join me on a speculative adventure, think about this with me. Evangelism makes sense: everyone introduced to the glory of our good, servant King Jesus, who chooses into his Kingdom, will be there.

Relationships make sense, too. If you and I will both live forever on the new planet, any reconciling and trust-building we do here would naturally carry over in our relationship, right? Anything we don't reconcile will have to be worked through somehow, I imagine.

But what about everything else? Works of art, for example? A great worship song makes sense to me. Why wouldn't we sing the great pieces from Handel's Messiah for all eternity? I never grow weary of it here ,and I can't imagine I would in a couple thousand years. The contemporary hymn In Christ Alone strikes me as similar. Maybe you'll write a great worship song that will stand the test of the ages.

But Michelangelo's David and his Pieta, which I think I could also gaze at frequently for millions of years, surely won't make it through the great fire, will they? Does that mean Matt Redman's art will last, but Michelangelo's won't? Something about that struck me funny . . . 

Recently a new idea dawned in my head. The statues won't be on the new earth, but Michelangelo himself will be there! I doubt he'll recreate David, but can you imagine the glory of the planet after Michelangelo's been sculpting and painting for a thousand years? I'm sure he can bring not only his talent but also all the experience that came out of creating the great pieces we have in this present age into the ages to come.

The new world is starting to sound better and better to me. (I may even see if I can sign up for a master class with him . . . after I take a hundred years to get down the basics of sculpture! :-)

Wednesday, September 19

Leading Without a Crowbar

Jen and I just watched The Devil Wears Prada. To say I'm not really into fashion would be an understatement, but I enjoyed it. Clever. Thought-provoking. Meryl Streep plays a great character, Miranda--such a formidable boss, she's widely known as The Dragon Lady. Miranda reigns the empire of Runway magazine with brass knuckles. She doesn't hesitate to make the tough calls, no matter whose life she destroys. 

That's always the way of this world's empires. To her credit, Miranda doesn't do it just for herself. She sincerely believes she's serving the best interests of the magazine, and all to make the world a better, more beautiful place.

Every leader has run into this tension: how do you make the world a better place? Always we face difficult choices, and at some point it seems inevitable that you have to choose a difficult means, justified by the good ends you'll accomplish.

But not Jesus. He was the first human leader to establish an empire on freewill. He never threatened his followers or used a crowbar to get them to do things his way. He patiently loved and served, teaching and showing the way of the Kingdom, the way of sacrificial love.

He frequently sent away potential followers which most leaders would have embraced: the rich, the influential, the large crowds. Why? Jesus only wanted people who really wanted to follow him of their own free will.

Today Jesus' reign is growing in this world, and he hasn't used force, manipulation, or threats yet. His reign is growing  through people who willingly say of their own accord, "Your will be done." Today, his will is being done in this world, as a billion people or so choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus' directions. The more I listen to his voice and obey, the more his reign is actualized on this planet. The more people who listen and follow, the more fully his will is done--the more fully his Kingdom comes.

One day the new earth will be created, filled only with people who want to do his will with all their heart and strength. On that day, his Kingdom will have come fully on earth, as it is in heaven. Love will have conquered all, without a single stroke of force. Maybe that's the meaning of "perfect love casts out fear."

Lord, bring your good rule into this desperate world even more fully, today, through me.

Tuesday, September 18

Forever Human

I know it's crazy to think Jesus is still limited to a human body. That's not the picture I've ever had of him. But it's starting to make more sense of the New Testament writings. 

Doesn't that mean Jesus is not omnipresent, and therefore, how can he live in us?

One way I make sense of this: Paul said things like, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." (Rom. 8:11).

Jesus said it was better for him to go away to the Father so that he could send his Spirit to us. (John 14-15). Hmm. So he really is here, now, by his Spirit . . . 

Another way I make sense of his presence though we don't see him: one day, he said, he'd come back--which is known as the "apocalypse." I know we think of destruction and catastrophe, as in "Apocalypse Now", but that's not really what it means. :-) "Apocalypse" means literally, "unveiling" or "revealing." It's like Jesus has been here all along, for the last 2000 years, but hiding behind a curtain. He's "in heaven"--which is right here, but unseen to us.

That day, the curtain will be lifted, which Paul calls "the day of his appearing." I always pictured that as a descent from far away and high above, like he ascended up into the sky. But Tom Wright says the word "ascended" in the Greek has more of a connotation of "going through" than "going up." When Jesus "ascended," he went through the curtain, into the invisible realm of heaven.

But he's still a fully human being, still flesh and blood, albeit resurrected flesh (not like flesh that we have any experience with). 

That gives me a whole new respect for being human (because in a very real sense, God is). It also gives me a whole new hope of how good being human can be!

Monday, September 17

Jesus Limited?

I've recently been stunned by the idea that Jesus took on a human body. No--I'm very familiar with the concept of the incarnation, almost to the point of taking it for granted that God became flesh. It still blows my mind when I take the time to ponder it, but that's not what I'm talking about.

What shocked me was realizing this--the Bible never says that Jesus stopped being limited to a human body. Yes, he was resurrected into a new body, a fantastic body, but still a physical, graspable, fish-ingesting body. Somehow I had the idea that when Philippians 2 describes his great descent, emptying himself, pouring himself out, letting go of all the omnipotence and omnipresence and all the other omni's he had as God--that somehow he got that all back at the end. But it doesn't really say that.

It does say God has highly exalted him and given him the name above every other name. That he shares the glory with the Father that he had before the creation of the world (John 17). That he's seated on the throne with all the powers under his feet (Eph. 1). 

But it doesn't say that when he ascended he ceased to be human. Quite the opposite--"he will return in the same way." He's the "first-fruits of all creation." That means Jesus is still human today. 

The 5th century church council that wrestled with Jesus' human and divine natures declared that both natures are fully present--he's fully God and fully human--and (catch this) that both natures are never-ceasing.

Whoa. That means Jesus thought physical creation was such a good idea that he was willing to become a human being, limited to a physical body . . . not just for 33 years or so; but for ever! Including today.

That means the Greeks missed it badly in rejecting the physical as lesser or inherently evil (though most of us still have that worldview). Jesus created the physical world as good, good enough to become a fully physical being (not to the exclusion of the spiritual) for all eternity.

Is this right?

I'm still reeling. More thoughts to come.

Friday, August 24

Horrible Prayers

A friend of mine sent me a post by Mark Galli. Here are some excerpts and my response.

Last week, Wiley S. Drake, an California pastor and a former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, asked his followers to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS).

He did so because the group urged the IRS to investigate his church's nonprofit status. Drake had endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president, doing so on church letterhead and during a church-affiliated internet radio show; the AUSCS was naturally concerned.

Drake said he was "simply doing what God told me to do." He believes AUSCS officials are "enemies of God" and that "God says to pray imprecatory prayer against people who attack God's church."

Leaving little to the imagination, Drake offered some samples that, I presume, were to be answered before God killed the officials: "Let his days be few, and let another take his office," his suggested prayer reads. "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Galli makes some interesting remarks:

"But when we Christians hear about a character like Drake, we flinch because we know that such prayers litter the Bible—everything from King David's "Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!" (Ps. 139:19) to Paul's "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed" (1 Cor. 16:22)."

"As silly and archaic as the Rev. Drake sounds, he's in good company.
So why are we so uncomfortable with him—and with Jesus, David, and Paul? Well, for one, we no longer have much confidence in the truth of the gospel. We've all been infected by the relativistic air we breathe in this polluted century, at least when it comes to religion."

"The difference between the Rev. Drake's prayer and those of desperate parents or even an angry Jesus is this: The Rev. Drake appears to have no love for his enemies but merely wishes them cursed. But is there not a way to pray for consequences, for pain—for judgment! —that leads to redemption?"

"I do not mean to suggest that all the curses and imprecatory prayers of the Bible (like Psalm 109, which goes on and on with curses) are models for us. Love and redemption do not often seem to be the driving motive!"

"At the same time, we are a na├»ve and sentimental people if we equate love with mere social grace and think that niceness will successfully confront the massive and intransient evils of our day, individual and corporate. Redemption—personal, social, and cosmic—comes only through suffering. The paradox is that while we should not wish pain on anyone, it seems to be a perfectly loving and realistic act to pray for it."
My response:
That's pretty interesting! I think I agree pretty much with everything Mark says. There's a lot about Biblical prayers that we're uncomfortable with--being angry with God and with other people, for example. But that means that a large portion of our inner life gets excluded from prayer. Better to pray all kinds of horrible things and trust God to deal with them wisely and well, than to try to deal with them in our own wisdom and strength, and keep our act "clean" with God.

Of course, for a Christian leader to call their followers to pray for anyone's death is another thing altogether . . . 

Sunday, April 22

Grace through finances

Hey, friends and readers!

This is the last lesson from Ephesians. It has been a powerful study. I still feel I have a way to go in this area, so I may keep going with my study, probably working through teachings of Jesus. 

But this is the end of the Ephesians road on this topic, for now. I'm just going to draw a couple quick things from this.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak. 21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts. 23 Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first and last lines are the most gripping to me. How on earth (for that is where I find myself) do I pray without ceasing, unless I stop whatever else I'm doing? The only way I can think of is to relate to Jesus in whatever activity I'm doing.

Application to money: I need to learn to pray while I spend, pray while I save, pray while I do my banking and pray when I balance my checkbook. I have been learning to do that while I spend, save and to some degree when I look at my bank account online. However, I do not look forward to balancing my check book. 

Something tells me that if I were relating to Jesus, I would enjoy it more. I really look forward to date nights with my wife, because I know I'll get some focused time with her. I really look forward to Bible study, because I know I'll be learning something new from Jesus. But I don't have that attraction to managing my finances. Well, Jesus' finances. Because I'm just a steward of his stuff.

This is where I come to the last line, about grace. I have found much grace in spending as I've focused on relating to Jesus as I make buying choices. I don't experience balancing and tracking finances as a grace-filled activity yet.

So I shirk them. Or I do them with a sense of drivenness or anxiety. They have not yet become a place of grace for me.

Lord, teach me to pray and interact with you as your steward while I manage your funds. Transform me into the kind of person who experiences much grace in all my financial accounting activities. I long to look forward to banking with you as much as to my date night or prayer times.

Friday, April 6

Rescue Heroes!

Here's my 26th study on financial applications from Ephesians.

The last lesson intrigued me because Paul implied that God has faith. This verse has the same kind of strangeness; remember, as you read it, that Paul's talking about the armor God puts on.

Eph. 6:17  
Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

God wears a helmet of salvation. Why? 

I'm used to hearing this applied to an individual: Put on the helmet of your salvation. You are saved by the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, and that's your mind's protection. Well, that's certainly true. But Paul isn't saying that. At the risk of sounding irreverent, God is not protected by the blood of Jesus!

What is salvation? To save means to rescue, to reclaim, to salvage, to free, to deliver, to liberate, or to protect or preserve.

God's mindset is deliverance, liberation, and rescue. My children have action figures called Rescue Heroes--Billy Blazes puts out fires, Ariel Flyer pilots a rescue chopper into emergency areas, Cliff Hanger goes after hikers and climbers in peril. They're great heroes--people willing to risk their life and make huge sacrifices to rescue people who are trapped in rockslides, avalanches, fires, or who are badly wounded. 

The helmet represents God's mindset. God, the ultimate rescue hero, will go any distance to save people's lives, people who are trapped, who are wounded, lost, broken, on the verge of losing their lives. God will pay any cost to liberate those in desperate situations.

Paul's exhortation to us is: People of God, you are the body of Christ. You are God in the flesh on earth (corporately). The world's bursting with desperate people who need to be rescued. Put on the mindset of God! Be rescue heroes.

The church should find no sacrifice too big and no cost too expensive to rescue people in dire straits.

Application to Money:
What cost is too high? If someone could be rescued, but it would take the last cent in my wallet, will I give it? If it will take my busy day, when I desperately need to fundraise or do other work, will I give that up? What if someone needed the last dollar in our bank account? Would we drain it for them? How about the last dollar in our retirement savings? 

I don't mean to sound naive. Dollars won't save anyone. And there is so much need out there that we could all empty our bank accounts and retirement funds today, and though we'd do some good, it would be a drop in the ocean. 

But the real question is, what cost is too high? God did not spare his own son. God did not disdain descending to the depths of this earth from the heights of heaven. He did not squirm away from putting his own body and life at risk--in fact, they were brutally taken from him. 

Will I cling to my money, then, when he gave up his very life for me? Or will we, the body of Christ, act like it? Will we give all that we have to rescue the needy and desperate?

Wednesday, April 4

Funding Peace

Here's my lesson 25 in going through Ephesians for financial lessons.

We've been working our way through God's own armor as Paul describes it, which equips us for battle against evil and particularly injustice in this world. We didn't talk about the breastplate of righteousness, but since that term is synonymous with justice in the New Testament (and in the Old), we really did cover that with the Isaiah reference.

Next up, protection for an essential part--our feet:

Ephesians 6:15
As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

The Good News of peace. Peace must be a part of justice to God; he rights evil in this world through the proclamation of the Good News of Shalom, of restoring everything to harmonious inter-dependent relationships.

I think peace has two components, from Eph. 2: reconciling us to one another as human enemies, and reconciling us  to God; horizontal peace, and vertical peace, so to speak.

Application to Money: Again, are we using our money in ways that will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace? 

(1) The easiest application I can think of is, "Do we give to people and ministries who are reconciling people to one another and to God?"

(2) A little more complex is asking, "What makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace?" I think there are probably many good answers to this. Here are a few I can think of, which could be helped using money wisely:
-hospitality and welcome
-care for the poor

I think this would be an interesting discussion to have with my wife: how could we use money to make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace? I can get input from friends on this, as well. I'm wondering if you have any creative thoughts you'd want to share with me?

Lord, give us creativity. I long to see your kingdom come and your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Will you help us think of ways to put money to use more and more in service of your gospel of peace?

Tuesday, April 3

Tied Together

Lesson 24 as I apply the teachings of Ephesians to money:

Paul's been teaching us about spiritual warfare: that God is angry about injustice and oppression in this world, and has put on his armor to fight it. Now that we are the body of Christ, we are to put on that same armor, for we enflesh God in this world.

It's important to point out that Paul's writing to us corporately as the church. It would be dangerous to say we individually enflesh God--Jesus did that, and maybe in a sense we do, but Ephesians is all written in the plural. We together are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.

Paul reemphasizes this communal sense in his armor imagery. For example, in verse 14 the word "belt" and "breastplate" are singular, but the words "you" and "your" are plural in Greek. Read this again and try to picture it in your mind:

Eph. 6:13-14
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

The picture has to be something like this: a group of people standing together, with one belt around them. That's a funny image. Somehow, truth ties us together. 

Indeed, it's easy to see how lying divides us. On the other hand, I can deeply trust people who whose word I know is good, who have integrity.

The Roman armor Paul refers to also emphasizes the communal nature of spiritual battle: the armor was designed to work for a battalion together, but not for an individual soldier alone. For example, your shield would be almost body-length and would interlock with those of the soldiers on either side of you. If you held it alone it would protect half your body, and the other half would be sticking out on your left. 

But joined together the battalion was able to form a "human tank"--with a wall of shields around the outside and a roof of shields interlocking over the heads of all the soldiers not on the ends of the ranks. They were virtually impenetrable in that way.

Application to finances: 
I am convicted by how crucial community life and oneness in the body is--it is really both our protection (defense) and gives us the ability to stand and hold the enemy under seige (offense).

How does the belt of truth tie us together? I can apply this in a couple ways. Financially, is my life interlinked with my brothers and sisters? 

(1) Jen and I have been working recently to open our finances up to a couple friends who will be able to look at our resources and help us be wise stewards of the wealth of the Kingdom we control. This is hard--it flies in the face of both my own flesh and the ways of the world! But I am more convicted about how important that is.

(2) Being a person of integrity with finances seems deeply critical to unity. Can people trust my word about money? For example, if I owe money to anyone, do I pay it promptly? Or if I won't be able to do so, do I tell them and work out an arrangement?

(3) Being interlinked financially implies that my resources are available for your needs and my needs are open so that you can help me with your resources. Ouch. I don't like either--it feels safer to protect my resources so they'll be here when I and my family need them. And I really struggle with making my needs known to others--I have to swallow my pride. The Lord has been challenging me to do this more with our ministry needs . . . and our personal needs. I really need to choke down my ego's protests and obey my Lord!

Master, help me to be a person of truth and integrity. Help me to be honorable and trustworthy with my finances--and for me, most of all, that's hardest with those who I'm closest to--my wife and close friends. Help me also to die to myself, and to be willing to give open-handedly for today's needs even when I don't see my own provision for tomorrow. And help me to make my own needs known. Lord, I really don't like this. I desperately need your help.

Tuesday, March 20

God wears armor?

Here's what I'm learning in lesson 23 on finances in Ephesians. In chapter 6, Paul's been urging us that we're in spiritual battle, so we need to put on the full armor of God.

Eph. 6:13 
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 

Paul got this image straight out of the prophet Isaiah. Look at the original  whole armor of God passage, and especially note the context:

Isaiah 59:14-17
 14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. 15 Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle. 

Wow! The whole armor of God is not merely the armor from God, but actually the armor that God wears. The breastplate of righteousness protects God's body and the helmet of salvation is on his head.

How can we put on God's armor? Isn't this going to be like young David putting on the armor of King Saul, who stood head and shoulders taller than everyone else? Far from helping him fight, the armor immobilized him! Isn't God's armor a little much for us?

Aha! Ephesians has been drumming into us that we are the body of Christ. Christ, God in the flesh. So we are God's flesh on earth, and therefore God's own armor is very fitting for us. Any other clothing would be inappropriate!

And God puts on his armor to fight what? Injustice. The injustice that God has been decrying in Isaiah 58: serving your own interest, oppressing workers, fighting, and ignoring the hungry and homeless poor.

Application: Are we using our money to fight injustice? Or to the contrary, do we gain money through injustice?

A few years ago some friends' parents told me about socially-screened investment funds. Jen and I don't have much in the stock market, but we do put a little away in a retirement savings plan. We moved our investments to a socially screened index fund, but over the years it has not performed as strongly as the standard indexed funds--about 12% vs. 18%.

Last year a free service re-invested our funds to diversify and strengthen our investments.

Financially it makes most sense to invest in those higher performers. But we realized our money, though just a few thousand, has been bankrolling many companies, many which exploit workers or the environment to make all kinds of products the consumers want, and to make a profit for themselves and their shareholders. 

Serving your own interests. Oppressing your workers. Oooh. That sounds ugly.

So tempting though the higher returns are, we're going to move our money back to the socially screened stocks.

Lord, help me be absolutely clear. When I profit, help me do all within my power and knowledge not to participate in oppression but in fair labor practices. And help us to use our money for fighting injustice and promoting justice in your world.

Thursday, March 8

High Stakes

The last lesson covered Ephesians 5:19-6:9, so I'm picking up here with about my 22nd lesson.

How high are the stakes for how we use our money, time, and the rest of our resources? So far we have said that, of course, the consequences are eternal. I can invest in current wealth and luxury and work to please people, or store up treasure and buy real estate in heaven.

But Paul gives a new twist on the stakes:

Eph. 6:10-13 
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

We are in a battle! Every choice and every action either allows the spiritual forces of evil to prevail or not.

Paul's using an image from the devastating forces of the Roman Empire. In A.D. 70, for example, the general Titus led a Roman cohort against Jerusalem. They put the city under siege, meaning that they closed off all traffic in and out of the city, cutting off their supply lines for commerce and food. After about 6 months the starving people, in desperation, gave in to the Romans and it was demolished.

"Stand firm" sounds like a defensive posture in battle, because our modern militaries move in to attack. But the Romans dominated the known world by conquering city after city through "standing firm."

Paul says that since Jesus has come, bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of God into this world, our enemies, the spiritual forces of evil are under siege. They are desperate and are fighting in every possible way to keep from losing ground. 

Will we stand firm in our use of money, using it for the purposes of the Kingdom? Money is powerful, and subverting the current powers that be is neither popular nor safe. But the end is sure: God's Kingdom will prevail. 

And I believe we can put our money to good use to ferret out forces of spiritual evil in our world, by using it in Kingdom ways: generosity, fighting poverty, fighting injustice and oppression, bringing truth and fighting deception, bringing the good news of hope and life to people in bondage everywhere. 

That is appealing! I want to continue to dream about how Jen and I can give more and more money, time, and resources to this kind of work in our world. 

For we are in a battle.

Monday, February 26

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Today (continuing my study on Financial Freedom) we'll just take one verse, which Paul fills out for us in 3 different relationships in the next 19 verses:  Wives and Husbands, Children and Fathers, Slaves and Masters. Obviously, this is a pretty potent verse, which can teach us about even the most difficult or most initimate relationships:

Eph. 5:2 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What does this mean, and what does it have to do with money?

Paul applies this to 3 relationships with a great power differential in that culture: the paterfamilias, the head of the household,  had complete control and authority over their wives, children, and slaves. Money is power. So this verse may have a lot to say to those with money.

It's pretty radical: serve your wife! Jen and I just watched a documentary on a Palestinian woman, an extremely successful athlete who won practically every competition. Once she married, her husband banned her from activities outside the house because her first responsibility was to "cook for me, clean for me, and do anything else I might want." And this is a pretty "liberated" context. Serve your wife?

"Husbands, serve wives. Don't anger your children, but teach them. Render service to your slaves with enthusiasm, and stop threatening them." Unheard of! Preposterous.

Why live this way? Because of Jesus. 

What did Jesus do with his power? He descended, until he was subject even to the human beings he had created. He died in order to make us holy, and adopt us into the Royal Family, so we could have all his own riches lavished on us.

Money is powerful. The Haves wield a great deal of power, in this world, over the Have-nots. Though we don't own a home, Jen and I own or have access to resources easily in the top 20% of the world, probably nearer to the top 1%. That makes us people of power.

How do we use our power, specifically the power of our resources? Do we make ourselves subject to those with less? Do we serve them? Are we willing to give everything to make their situation better, as Jesus did for us?

Uh-oh. I'm getting uncomfortable now. These questions are too searching, too deep, hit too close to home. 

Lord, only you living in me can help me to do these things. Please help me submit every part of my life--my resources--to your sovereignty, your direction. Help me, for your sake and for mine! Thank you for giving all your power and resources for our sake; help me trust you to have my back, so that I can give all my power and resources for the sake of others.

Saturday, February 24

How to Get A Quick Fix

Here's my study on financial freedom, #19.

We easily fall into a major psychological trap: thinking money can make us happy. Our paychecks were deposited this money, so we have a full bank account with thousands in it right now, and my day looks brighter as a result. 

But how many times have you gotten a paycheck or bought something new, and the initial excitement is much shorter than you expected? I've experienced this so many times. Paul addresses the desire for a quick fix of happiness in this text:
Passage: Eph. 5:18-20 
18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

He's talking about getting a buzz by drinking, but money can promise the same kind of relief from the hard realities of our lives. Right now I need a new cell phone, and I can already hear all the promises: a new phone will make my life so much better; I'll be able to do more; it will be more convenient; and so on. I can feel the "joy" promised by it. 

But I've been around the block a few times, as I know you have, and I know that those promises are going to be short-lived. The realities of the hard conversations I need to have, the people who irritate me, the painful sacrifices God is calling me to make, will still all be there and soon the joy promised by the new marvelous gadget will be dashed.

That doesn't mean I should not get a new phone: but I shouldn't be enamored, fooled by the false promises.

Here's a much better way, says Paul. Be filled with the Spirit! The Spirit will help me, not avoid the hard conversations and irritating people, but to handle them with grace and love. Ask for grace to handle these. Pray and sing praise songs to God. Be thankful! 

What's the power in that? I love the insight of the VeggieTale's song: "A thankful heart is a happy heart; I'm glad for what I have, that's an easy place to start!" 

Thankfulness and being in constant conversation with the Spirit will keep me from being drunk on consumerism, or possessing money, or anything else.

I have been a little stressed this week, and a couple times I've found myself researching the new cell phone options or wanting to go buy a nice coffee drink to make myself feel better. Lord, help me turn to you and to pray; to feast on the Scripture; and to be thankful for what I have already, each time those temptations come my way. Help me to feed my heart on thankfulness so that it grows into the maturity of constant gratefulness--giving thanks to God the Father at all time and for everything!

Friday, February 23

Every $1 Counts

Here's lesson 18 in my study on Financial Freedom. Today Paul gives us an application which is simple to understand, oh-so-difficult to do, and tectonic-plate-shifting in its ability to change our lives.

Passage: Eph. 5:15-17
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Of course I want to live as a wise person, Paul! How do I do that? 

Paul gives us several keys. First, a wise person makes the most of the time. They say time is money. A wise person pointed out that actually, that saying demeans time. My time can be used for so many things which money cannot! I've experienced 2 or 3 hours with a close friend, which created something thousands of dollars could never buy. 

Some people (me, often!) complain about how little time we have. Actually, we all have the same amount of time. Check out Charles Hummel's fantastic little booklet, Tyranny of the Urgent. It changed my life in dealing with my time. 

The Gift of Time
My time is a gift, a blessing from God. It is my life. But in God's wisdom, he lets us choose with a great deal of freedom what we'll do with our time. We can  use it to "fool about with sex, drink and ambition" if we want. Or just watch TV and play video games.

Whenever I do, I look back in regret. Unless it was significant time with family and friends, socializing and bonding over the TV show or games, and building relationships that way.

Paul's comment is "because the days are evil." How so? That's strong language! I take him to mean our times are evil, not that our time is evil. Look at the daily news. Or ask someone how their day's been. Clearly, we live in evil days. Lots of evil is afoot, wreaking destruction in the lives of people all around us, let alone across the globe. 

But our time has something to do with that. Clearly, if we use our time wisely, we can make a difference. As people brought to life, we can accomplish a great deal of good. As people who don't have to live under the powers, we can change the systems and this world, with lots of effort and lots of grace.

"The Son does only what the Father tells him" (John 5:19)
The other part of wisdom is not just understanding time: it's a gift to be used wisely, because our times are evil. It's understanding the will of God.

Everything outside God's will is foolishness. But if I understand his will, I can make the most of the time. 

God knows what will be the best use of my time. His general will revealed in Scripture can guide the general flow of my life, and I know I will be making the most of my time. 

I have thought through my usage of time throughout my average week, and now I'm at a point where almost all of my time is being used in ways I do not regret; wise, not foolish ways. Sabbath, sleep, feasting on God's word, loving people, working hard, playing with my kids and having lots of fun with them, deepening relationships with God's people, doing ministry. Wow! I love it! What a great life God has given me. 

That's when I follow his general will. But in specific, if I will listen to him and trust him with this day, or this next two hours, or even this 10 minutes, then I won't regret the use of my time, and I won't live foolishly. 

I don't know how many times I have worked to prepare something, with a sense from God of "Don't worry about it." But in order to be a "good leader" or "responsible" I have spent hours of toil and anxiety getting it just right. Then the event was cancelled, or our plans changed because of some emergency. My work was wasted time. If only I had not been arrogant, or more concerned about my own reputation, and submitted to the will of the Lord in trust! I could have gotten 2 more hours of sleep or done something fruitful with that time. 

Wise Living and Money
My friend Steve Barker recently preached that much of our discipleship can be tested by how we use two books: our pocket book and our appointment book. 

Making the most of the time sometimes requires money. If I have submitted my $10 to God's will, as well as my ten minutes, then I will have the money available for making the most of the time. If I have spent it on myself or on others without consulting with the Lord, I may misappropriate money he intended me to use for great good.

John Wesley once bought a beautiful new painting and hung it in his study. Then the cleaning lady came in, wearing only a thin dress, though it was cold and rainy outside. He had nothing to give her, and was convicted--"The money I had to buy her a coat is hanging on my wall! Her blood and the blood of her children is on my hands!" He vowed never again to make a purchase without consulting the Lord. 

Practical Application
I believe that if I'm to live wisely and make the most of the time, I must check every minute and every dime with Jesus. That's a habit I can't develop overnight, nor by sheer will power. But as I have been paying attention to Jesus with every transaction I have made, over the past two months, I have become more and more aware of Jesus' presence. 

I am going to start tracking every penny we spend for a couple months, starting next week, so that we have a better sense of where it is all going, and how much we are really submitting it to God's will and God's priorities.

Lord, I want you to keep teaching me to submit all of my resources--my time, my money, my energy, my thoughts--to you and your wonderful, brilliant and gracious will. 

Sunday, February 18

How Not To Love

Study #17 on Money

Paul has been giving a list of old self lifestyles that need to be put off, and the corresponding new self and new mind to put on. Now the pattern breaks, and it appears he's pausing to summarize. Or maybe he's just spending a lot of time on this particular item in the list. Whatever the case, Paul thinks this is worth significant energy and focus. What deserves so much attention?

Eph. 5:1-14
5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be associated with them. 8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-- 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 

Fornication, impurity, and greed. Paul mentions this trio twice here, and again a few lines later. They're not only worth repeating three times (a poetic device for strong emphasis) but says things like: "they must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints," and "Be sure of this, that no fornicator, or impure person, or one who is greedy . . . has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of Gods," and "Do not even be associated with [those people]." Strong language!

What's the big, fat, hairy deal to Paul? Let's try to get under his reasoning.

The bookends on this passage are "be imitators of God and live in love" and "find out what is pleasing to the Lord . . . Christ will shine on you." 

The goal of anyone in the Kingdom is to be like the King--like God; living in love; living in the light. 

So these three things--fornication, impurity and greed--must be opposed to love and to light.

Well, clearly greed is opposed to love. I can't love my neighbor and pursue my own greedy desires. As one church father said, greed makes you hoard up the blessings God has given for the sake of the whole body. Same goes for fornication: all kinds of sexual activity, outside marriage, exploit others for my own desires to be met. 

How does impurity (uncleanness) fit in? Paul gives a clue when he says "no fornicator, or impure, or greedy person--that is, an idolator--has any inheritance . . ." Only someone who worships God has any inheritance in God's Kingdom, naturally. I take it that idolator fits all three categories: the fornicator worships sex or the lifestyle which includes broken sexuality; the greedy person worships money or material possessions; the impure person must also worship something other than God. The pure in heart are those who focus completely on God; the impure have divided hearts, they are double-minded, they are not focused on God alone.

Applying this to Money
Pretty clearly, greed connects to money. I need to watch out for all kinds of greediness. In fact, I need to root out any idolatry--any thing that I'm tempted to make a god in place of Jesus and his Father.

Personally, where is there idolatry related to money in my life?
Retirement--no, Jen and I have a minimal retirement savings, but we expect that could get swept away by the stock market at any time. By investing in socially screened companies, we are getting lower returns. But we won't take higher returns by investing in companies that exploit people and the environment (relatively overtly).

Conspicuous consumption--no, I think Jen and I have been content with cars, clothes and houses that don't impress most of the people we're around.

Luxury--no, though we occasionally enjoy very nice things (usually as gifts: someone gave us a very nice bottle of port the other day), we don't spend our money on luxury items other than for hospitality (taking people out to Starbucks or buying a CD for each other for Christmas).

Property--no, though we'd like to own a home, we clearly haven't made this a god!

Technology--well, this one is a struggle for me. That's why I've committed myself to obsolete technology. If I need a new computer or phone, I first check with several people to make sure I'm not just indulging myself. Kevin Blue gave me the category of "tool for the Kingdom." If I'm sure it will serve, I will save up money; I refuse to buy technology on credit. Then I buy the best I can get in order to maximize the life of the product. I don't upgrade unless absolutely necessary. I have needed much grace from God to stay content with items that are not cutting edge, so we can give or use our money elsewhere.

Fashion--no, Jen and I both go pretty simply in the clothing category. We do need some nice clothes for certain events, but go as economical as possible rather than with the stylish and faddish.

I think the main idolatry would be in caring what Jen and others think about me, in terms of responsibility. Am I a good financial manager? I want to be, but not for the sake of others' approval. 

Lord, help me manage resources as your steward, not caring what others think of me, and not taking them as my god in some false way.

Friday, February 16

Family, Friends and Money

Here's my study #16 on finances.

Paul continues in Ephesians, giving areas that need to be put off and put on. Some of these relate directly to money, most indirectly. 

Passage: Eph. 4:29-32
29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Relationships and Money: It's a well-known maxim not to do business with friends or family because it will ruin your relationships. I've found that to be wise advice, but this passage makes me wonder if it is the money and business that ruins the relationships, or if it's that what is in our hearts comes out and hurts one another especially over money. These apply to every part of relationships, but they are excellent areas for us to pay attention to when dealing with money:

1) Words: When I'm doing business or talking about matters related to our budget or possessions, do I work hard to make sure my speech builds up my wife, my children, my friends, my business associates? Ellul has said money is opposed to grace. Do my words give grace, and thus attack the spirit of money?

2) Attitudes and emotions: Behind my words are the unseen--my heart. Again, in my dealings with money I need to check myself carefully for anger, malice, bitterness or wrangling. Instead, I need to ask God to fill me with his own heart: kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Money and possessions used with these attitudes can do great good for building up my family, friends, and indeed anyone I meet. Zacchaeus and the good Samaritan are great examples to me of using money with these attitudes.

Again, the new mind is to be "as God in Christ has . . ." This is a fantastic rubric or rule of thumb. I can keep asking myself, "How has God in Christ dealt with me?" That will help me know if I'm dealing with others in a godly way. And of course, I need to cry out to God for the help I need to live above the powers and even my own flesh and the way of this world. Praise the Lord that we are the Temple of God, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us: otherwise none of this would be possible. 

Lord, make me a person who builds up with my words relating to money and possessions. Make me someone full of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness rather than anger, bitterness, competition and malice, particularly in how I deal with finances and possessions.

Wednesday, February 14

A Potent Force For Good In This World

I'm on Lesson 16 or so, learning about finances.

Today Paul gets practical about the very topic of money itself. He continues listing areas which require transformation to put on Christ. As you read the next two, you'll see the same pattern of three elements--what to put off, what to put on, and the new mind of Christ we're to adopt.

 Eph. 4:26-28
26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

We must put off anger, in contrast to some of the popular teaching of today, which often says it's most healthy to vent our anger. Certainly we will be hurt if we deny our anger, but Paul says that giving our anger its way makes room for the devil. Do you want to provide a place for the devil in your life? I certainly don't, so this mindset gives me powerful motivation not to stay angry. 

Paul doesn't say, "Don't be angry." He says, "Be angry but don't sin." The old self sins in anger. I easily justify myself when I am angry, because anger leads to righteous indignation.

How does this apply to money? Well, indirectly, I suppose. But just like we say "Don't drive under the influence of alcohol" we could say "Don't spend under the influence of anger." Anger clouds our judgment and could lead us to ungodly decisions about our money.

Paul's next item: put off stealing. Clearly, if we are in Christ, we cannot steal. Now, I have never robbed anyone or even taken something that belonged to someone else knowingly, as far as I am aware. But John Wesley had higher standards for those in Christ. He said that if we do not repay debts as quickly as possible, we are robbing our lenders of the interest. 

I think there have been a few times in my life when someone has given me some money to pass on, which I forgot and neglected to give it to the person it was intended for. Honestly, I was not seeking to steal it; I was sloppy in my management of details and forgetful. This will never do. I repented of that years ago, and Paul here gives me a good reminder to be vigilant against any form of taking what belongs to another.

Now I would have thought the opposite of stealing would be contentment with what I have. Paul surprises me here by exposing my poverty of thought in my natural flesh, and the extravagance of Jesus (which we saw in chapters 1-2). The new self to put on is not mere contentment, but working hard. Stealing is a short cut to avoid work.

And the new mindset goes a step further: Paul assumes that we will want to give to those who are needy, if we're in Christ. Why? Well, when we think about Jesus for a minute we realize he was always about the business of giving to the needy. He came preaching good news to the poor, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, binding the wounds of the brokenhearted, and setting captives free. I have been the recipient of his generosity myself! This past year alone Jesus set me free from at least three ways I had been a captive to sin and death.

Why wouldn't I want to participate in that myself? If Jesus truly dwells in me, and if I am his loyal and obedient subject, then of course I will be involved in the business of my king. Of course I will be generous, compassionate, working to set captives free, and giving to the needy!

This mindset is new for me. My wife and I have given to ministries ever since we got married, investing in people who are preaching the Gospel in word and deed to the lost and serving the poor, and in our church. We give a minimum of ten percent because that seems like a good baseline standard. But there is no such rule in the New Testament. The standard is to be a cheerful giver, to give as much as possible, even out of our poverty, and in this passage, to work hard in order to be able to give.

I have worked hard for two reasons: because I love my job, and to support my family. Supporting our church and other ministries has almost been incidental--a conviction and commitment we live out. But it has not driven me to work to make more money.

This attacks me in my sloth: will I put out more effort than strictly needed, in order to give more generously? My organization would like to pay me more money that I feel I really need. Because we're a non-profit, I fundraise all those dollars. My attitude has been that if I need less, I can just fundraise less and be content with that. But Paul presses me: will I fundraise what my supervisors would like me to make, in order to have much more to give away?

Perhaps my wife and I should dream a little about giving. Where could we give to? Actually, we know lots of people with significant needs that we would love to invest more in. So we could dream about the kinds of good works we could make possible and how we could be good news to the poor, if we had more to give.

I am inspired. Are you?

Lord, help me to work hard. I want to become a more potent force for good in this world. Strengthen my hands for the work of fundraising and earning money so that I can give much more to the needy.