Monday, January 29

A Sharp New Suit

Here's my finances study #10.

Now we're getting to the meat of Paul's application. I love the first lesson here, because it is so practical and helps me see how all these amazing promises of the Kingdom of God really come to us. 

Passage: Eph. 4:22-27
 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 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.

Paul gives us this three-fold pattern:
1. Put off your old self.
2. Be renewed in your minds.
3. Put on the new self.
The image is changing our clothes. 

We need to take off the old clothes of our old self. Our old self is our former way of life. It's hard for me to toss old clothes. Old clothes are familiar. They are comfortable. But our old self is corrupt. My old self is corrupt, and yours is, too. We are deluded, deceived, fooled, living in our old self. What deceives us? Our lusts. As Paul said in chapter 2, we were like zombies enslaved to the way of this world, the devil, and the passions of our flesh. 

The snazzy new outfit we're to put on is our new self. Isn't it great to have new clothes? I bought a new suit last month to officiate a wedding. I loved it! When you wear new clothes you feel like a million bucks. You feel like a changed person. Unfortunately, in that case the change isn't even skin deep. And new clothes quickly become old clothes.

But in this case, the change takes hold all the way to the roots of our person. We are completely changed. They say clothes makes the man. God makes the new man, the new woman. When Paul talks about the new self, he is talking about Christ (ch. 2). We are to put on Christ like we would put on a new suit of clothes. When we look in the mirror, we see Christ. When walk around, people see Jesus himself. Clothes may make the man, but Jesus makes a new person.

But this happens as a process: take off the old, be renewed in your minds, put on the new.

1. What old self do I need to take off in regards to dealing with money?
-Not facing financial problems. If I feel a vague sense something's wrong, I sometimes hope it will go away.
-Avoiding conflict. If I think it will make my wife or someone else unhappy that we don't have enough money to do something, I try to make it work anyway, ignoring consequences.
-Indulgence. I think happiness and a good life come from doing the things we think are good to do, and hope that God will give us the money after the fact, rather than making the tough choice up front.

Tomorrow I will come back to this because this passage requires a lot of good reflection, and answer these questions:
How does my mind need renewing regarding money?
What will my new self look like once I've put on Christ?

Saturday, January 27

Gift-giving and Receiving

Here's my 9th study on financial freedom. I did this study the week before Christmas, but my posting went awry, so I'm posting it now.

Eph. 4:1-16: This section doesn't pertain strongly to money, although there are a few relevant points. 
(1) "Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit": Money and financial matters often create strife and division in the community of believers, and we need to work hard to maintain unity. Money should never divide us. I don't think I've let it do that in any relationships I'm aware of, though I see the potential.
(2) Jesus is the great gift-giver. So again, my use of money should reflect his character of overwhelming generosity.
(3) His goal for us is maturity, "the measure of the full stature of Christ." I want to become mature in my handling of finances and all my resources. I have been giving myself to this for the past 5 months, and I already can see some progress, though I have a long way to go.

Passage: Eph. 4:17-24
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Lessons: Our way of life as disciples who have been brought to life from the dead (Eph. 2) must be remarkably different than those of the people surrounding us, who are alienated from God and hardened in their hearts. How we use our money and possessions (as well as time and relationships) displays our spiritual state--dead or alive. As Christians our ways will seem alien and bizarre to those around us who have not yet been redeemed in this area. 

Principles: We must not be shaped by the standards, practices, and assumptions of those around us. Jesus urges us to learn from the shrewdness of the children of this age in their use of money. So worldly wisdom in terms of investments, interest rates and financial management has a lot to teach us. But fundamentally, their motives are licentiousness, greed, impurity, and so on--alien to the life of the Kingdom.

Application: I guess I feel this press me right now in Christmas shopping. I feel lots of pressure to buy gifts that won't be shameful to give, because they clearly don't cost as much as the gifts family members or friends will certainly for us. But Jesus did nothing to be ostentatious or prove himself. Why should I be ashamed that we have less money? We have budgeted for Christmas but this year is particularly tight, and on our income we've never been able to match them any year. 

I am ashamed because I still care too much for people's approval and respect. Having less, in this world, is shameful, but not in the Kingdom. In the Kingdom being unloving is shameful, and giving sacrificially is admirable and mature. Being ashamed could drive us to spend outside our means and go into debt, clearly serving people rather than God.

So my goal should be to be loving in gift-giving: we can do this by being thoughtful, sacrificial, and personal. Making some gifts; being creative; putting in time and energy--these are sacrifices of love which won't drive us into further debt. 

And I will work hard not to be ruled by shame, but to give those feelings to Jesus as we're at these gatherings over the next few days. Whenever I have turned to him in such moments I find the grace I need to bear it--enough for the present moment.

Friday, January 26

Money, Power and Love

Money and Financial Freedom study #8

This passage has a very exciting message for anyone concerned with money. Paul addresses the very roots of why we need money, what money can do for us, and what it cannot do.

Passage: Ephesians 3:14-21
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Why do we want money? What is its purpose and value? Obviously, no one wants money just to have a pile of fancy bills with watermarks, except a collector. No one needs a bunch of numbers stored on a bank's computer hard drives. We want money because it gives us power. Money gives us power to buy a powerful new laptop computer or a fast new car. With enough money we can hire architects and builders with earth moving machines, raze a building, clear and level land, and build a new house to live in or even a cathedral to worship God in. With money we can establish a school in a poor village in Ghana, hire teachers, and begin to break the cycles of poverty in hundreds of families through a program of education, nutrition, health, and spiritual care (

What can money not do? In the words of the Beatles, "I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love!" You can buy a diamond ring with money, but not a person's heart. You can pay for a wedding ceremony, but not someone who will be committed to you and cherish you for life. You can hire people to clean and cook and drive for you, but not someone to love you with a mother's unconditional love.

We can imagine many things money can do. God, however, has power to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we can ask or imagine.

How will you fulfill your dreams? One path: to amass as much wealth as possible; vision, plan and strategize; and see if you can bring your dreams into reality. The other path differs radically: allow Christ to dwell in your heart through faith. You will be rooted and grounded in God's vast--incomprehensibly vast--love, unconditional acceptance, being treasured, which money could never buy. Your dreams will change. You will be filled with more and more of God until finally you are filled with all God's fullness--a mind-blowing possibility! You will have all power to accomplish all the good works God has prepared beforehand for you to do.

Follow the first path, and I hope you will find contentment, though many have tried and many have failed. I hope you will find meaning. I hope you will find love. But I doubt you will. Follow the second path and you will received unconditional love, contentment, meaning and purpose--all the fullness of God! And all his power will undoubtedly accomplish everything he intends to do.

Principle in a nutshell: God can do anything money can, and far more. Money cannot provide love, security, faith, or meaning.

Applying this to my life practically:
I have been doing better at thinking of Jesus during each transaction: remembering I'm stewarding Kingdom money, checking in with Jesus, paying attention to whether it's offering a true or false consolation. I want to keep doing that. I need to keep meditating on the truth that God can do far more than money can--I think I know that deeply, but it would be good to keep doing that to get it rooted in my heart much, much deeper.

Wednesday, January 24

Overwhelming Wealth

Here's lesson #7 on finances:
Passage: Eph. 3:1-13
1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
At first blush this section looks unrelated to finances, but as I read it I am struck by the vast grace of the gospel and God's commission to Paul. The Kingdom overwhelms anything else which claims to have value--it's like a silver dollar in the Grand Canyon. While the coin has some value and worth, you would never trade it--really, you would not even pay attention to it while standing breathless overlooking the awe-inspiring vista of beauty.
In the same way it strikes me that the news of the boundless riches of Christ and the wisdom of God in its rich variety fill Paul's mind, soul, and imagination to the degree that he forgets all about personal wealth. His concerns about finances and daily need get swallowed up: all his resources, passion, and energy go towards this great commission.
Of course, we know that Paul paid attention to money in at least 4 contexts:
(1) tentmaking, in order to provide the gospel free of charge and not to be a burden on anyone;
(2) collecting money to send to the church in Jerusalem suffering under famine and persecution;
(3) often urging the communities to support various workers financially
(4) teaching people to stop worshipping money, to begin working hard and become liberal givers.
Each of these four underscores the same point: for Paul all monetary thoughts were subsumed completely to the overarching and overwhelming wealth of the Kingdom of God.
Principles: My money should serve the greater wealth of God's Kingdom. Deal with money thoughtfully, but always relate it to the big picture of that mountain of wealth.
How are you going to apply today's lesson to your life practically? Think of every financial transaction in light of the Kingdom of God. I have been doing better in this: today I bought a suit, last week a cell phone charger, and went grocery shopping several times, and each time I did have the thought of how that related to God's Kingdom and if God was pleased with the expenditure, but always after the fact. I think I shop along the lines of principles I set long ago to try to live within a Kingdom framework--no debt, simplicity rather than extravagance and comfort, need vs. want, durability for wise stewardship rather than the cheapest option, and so on. So in a deep sense my spending is already subordinated to the Kingdom of God.
Yet I would like to think consciously, before I make my purchase, about it (1) in light of the great treasure of the Kingdom and (2) submitting it to Jesus for approval. How can I do these practically?
(1) Years of training have inculcated in me a practice of rigorous evaluation and research before I buy any item--from a Palm Pilot or camera to a can of tomato sauce. I do comparison shopping for both price and quality before making my purchases, as well as a serious check of whether we need it or merely want it. I will work to include a third value in that process: price, quality, need, and the Kingdom of God.
(2) Jen and I have an agreement to check any purchase of a certain amount with each other (excepting grocery shopping and general houseware needs, like a Target or Costco run). When I do that I will also try to remember to submit it to Jesus for his approval, too. This is not a new practice for me, but I would like to do it consciously with every purchase so that it becomes a much more relational and interactive habit.

Tuesday, January 23

Being God's Flesh

Here's lesson 6.
Passage(s): Eph. 2:11-22
11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" --a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
   14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money):
I see 2 things in this passage which strike me as applicable to finances. (1) Jesus, through the cross, set aside (made worthless) the law with its commandments and ordinances. The Old Testament laws regarding tithing, giving one tenth of all produce, and the first-fruits of crops and animals as sacrifices to God, to feed the poor and the Levites and priests, are nullified. We have freedom in Christ to give anything. Of course, the law of Christ is "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." So I think tithing may be a good spiritual discipline, but really, as my father-in-law put it, in the New Testament much more than a tithe is required of us: everything. We are to yield our bodies as living sacrifices. Jesus, of course, is our example. So no longer is 90% mine to do with as I please. It is all to be sacrificed to God, and all to be used in loving God and loving my neighbor. Imagine if Jesus had just given 10%!

(2) We are growing together into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God. God lives and dwells in us corporately. Thus every action of ours should become an action of worship. Every act we participate in, God participates in (as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians, if a believer sleeps with a prostitute that person has joined Christ with the prostitute)! This is sobering. A temple is a place people come to meet God, and we, the church, ought to be a place where people meet God, including in our usage of finances.

All our money belongs to God and every nickel is to be used to love God and to love my neighbor. Every action of spending should be an act of worship. God participates in every way that we use our money, whether for good or for bad, because he dwells in us.

How are you going to apply today's lesson to your life practically? This week I will not only see my giving into the offering plate as an act of worship, but every time I take some cash or my debit/ATM card out of my wallet, I will try to remember it is an act of worship, an opportunity to sacrifice and love God and my neighbor, and that God is participating in that transaction.

Lord, give me grace! Holy Spirit, remind me to think of Jesus every time I pull out my wallet. Guide me to sacrificial worship with every financial transaction. Help me to use my money to love you and my neighbors as myself. Help me to stop thinking of 10% as yours and 90% as mine in some sense, though I "know" it's all yours. Help me instead to see every cent that comes through my hands as belonging to you, as holy, as a resource of your holy temple available for loving you and others.

Saturday, January 20

God's Rich

Whoops! I have been posting regularly via email for the past several months, but I just found out they were going to the wrong place (some black hole in cyberspace, I guess). So I will post all my lessons over the next couple weeks until I catch you all up!

Financial Study #5

Eph. 2:4-10
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-- 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Lessons (especially related to God & Money): Four things strike me in this section relating to wealth:

(1) God is rich, and particularly Paul things it's a big deal that he's rich in mercy, and loves us with a great love. This means I have freedom to fail--in one sense an infinite freedom to fail--in dealings with my finances, because God is rich in mercy. This doesn't mean failure in terms of idolatry (although repenting of idolatry always takes me back to a gracious and merciful Father with wide open arms), but any failure in accounting, managing, even foolish choices, can be covered by his mercy--he's rich in it! God's mercy dwarfs my gaffs; errors that feel enormous to me are truly microscopic in the scope of eternity.

Principle: All my dealings with money, to be oriented rightly, should be rooted in the knowledge of God's great love for me. And I need not fear failure or mistakes because there is plenty of mercy to cover them.

(2) God has made me alive with Christ, so that I'm no longer driven by impulses of my flesh, the ways of this world, and the accuser. Instead I am truly free to operate as I want to. Clearly I need to go through a process of transformation so that all of the "old humanity"--the dead flesh--that clings to me can take on the "new humanity's" ways of dealing with money and resources. But this freedom sounds glorious, doesn't it?

Application: If there are ways I don't feel free to do what I really want with money, I need to cry out to God and pursue the process of transformation he has for me in that area, until I am no longer enslaved to death but living as alive with Christ.

Where do I feel enslaved to urges rather than free to do what I truly want to? I do not spend the time managing my finances that I really would like to. Somehow my time is not going where I would really like it to go. I want freedom from whatever keeps me thinking that it's unimportant or distasteful to sit down and balance our checkbook or plan for our financial needs.

(3) God is generous. For me to grow up into maturity as a true child of my heavenly Father means I will become more and more generous with all that I have--mercy, certainly, and material possessions as well.

How am I doing in generosity? I think God did a huge work in me a number of years ago to free me from anxiety that kept me from being open-handed with money and possessions. I would still like to grow in this, being truly free to pass on whatever I have rather than worrying too much about whether I'll ever need a particular possession in the future.

(4) God created us for good works, which he has prepared for us to walk in. My money and possessions are part of what I have access to in order to do good works. Money is not an end in itself: that is idolatry. Money is intended to be used to do good in this world. Eating and being clothed and housed in a way that makes us capable and ready to do those good works requires money. And the supplies and transportation needed to accomplish our sense of calling takes finances as well. Certain good works inherently involve money often--caring for the poor, for example.

Application: As Jen and I get more and more of a sense of what the good works are that we are created for, our resources should be used more and more to finance those good works.