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.

Monday, February 12

Being True

Here's a lesson that was very powerful for me tonight. I really love the word of God!

These lessons take us to where Paul gets into the nitty gritty of life now: what specifically to put off, what to put on in its place, and the renewed spirit of mind we should seek. I think he's listing examples, not an exhaustive list, but they are highly important examples. I plan to take these slowly, at least those that relate closely to finances, its use and abuse.

 Eph. 4:25
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

We see the pattern clearly here:
Put off: Falsehood.
Put on: Speaking the truth to our neighbors.
Renewed spirit of mind: we are members of one another.

Some translators put "lying" here instead of "falsehood." But really, I understand that the Greek meaning is being false. This certainly includes lying, but being false is a much larger problem than just the words that come out of my mouth.

What's the logic for our new mindset here? Well, if your eyes are false to your feet, you'll trip over things or run into walls--and clearly your eyes get hurt as much as feet. If your hands are false while, say, handling a chain saw or power drill, you can bet the whole body will be wounded pretty quick.

So put off being false! Put on speaking truth. Because we're all connected organically, intimately, in the body of Christ.

Application: This applies to how I handle my finances in several ways:
1. Am I false or true to myself about where we stand? If I don't know how much we have currently and what expenses we expect, then I can't live with integrity in the area of money. I am bound to live falsely. I may be intentionally ignoring where we really stand because I'm anxious or afraid to find out, or I may simply be too lazy or even too busy to figure it out. But then I can't live completely honestly in this area. The first step is to be honest with myself, and to know where we stand.

2. Am I false to my wife about what we have and can afford? I often don't want to be honest, because maybe we can't afford something that I really want us to get or do together. Or I am afraid that she will be disappointed, so I am not completely forthcoming. The Lord has been helping me be more honest over the past month. It's hard, because I have to overcome that gut feeling that I'm going to regret it. But I never have. It has actually been freeing to live more responsibly, like walking in the light, with our eyes open, financially.

3. Am I false or speaking truth to my friends about what we have and can afford? This again is hard. My pride gets in the way of saying, "I'm sorry, but I (or we) can't do that right now. It wouldn't be responsible." Sometimes I go along and spend the money we don't have. Other times I bow out quietly trying to avoid the issue. Now I'm not saying living truthfully means I have to broadcast our budget and bank balance all the time, but rather, not being false about this area. The shame and embarrassment I feel do not strike me as rooted in the reality of the Kingdom. As a child of the King I should be free to be honest about what we have or don't have, without fear of what others may think. Lord, give us that freedom!

4. As workers in the Kingdom who raise funds from others, am I false or speaking the truth to our community of donors and supporters, and others who care about our work? This is similar to number 3 above, but more specific. I asked a couple men, two of my mentors at church, to pray for me last week. I shared three financial needs, one being our funding status. They urged me to trust the Lord, and not to try to take matters into my own hands, but to let our friends and supporters know our situation! I have been loathe to do this for many years. It feels like begging to me. Or like it's a lack of faith that God will provide. 

But the message of Ephesians is that we ARE the body of Christ, members of one another. We are to grow up into maturity together, and to maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace. Ideally, all the members of the body are open and honest with each other. When one part hurts, we all hurt. When one part rejoices, we all rejoice together. So when we have a need, as one part of the body, we should be open without shame with the rest of the body. When we have surplus, we should also be honest, without self-protection or hesitation. In both cases we know Jesus will take care of us. Usually he does so through the body--so if we make our need known, the body can respond. If we make our surplus known, the body can let us know where those resources are most needed. 

Lord, this takes great faith! Shape and change me so that I can live much more this way. This sounds incredibly freeing and life-giving. And scary, unless you change me. Purify me from whatever self-protection and fears lie in the way of me living freely as a member of your body, as one who has a share in the inheritance of the glorious riches you have lavished upon us freely. 

Saturday, February 3

A Divine Life

Today's lesson, (#13 on finances) is from Eph. 4:22-27, one of the most exciting passages I know. I had started on this before my excursion into Psalm 37, and I left some important application questions unanswered, which I'll work on today.

A refresher: 
Passage: Eph. 4:20-24
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. 

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.

This excites me so much because Paul tells us how to put on the divine nature, practically,  here and now! The apostles of Jesus literally did do greater works than he did, like he promised (John 14:12). They enfleshed the invisible God so he could be seen here on earth, like Jesus did. But I have been hopeless that God worked in this way anymore, because frankly, I just haven't seen it. I have heard of a few people who seemed to be this God-filled, such as John Wimber or historical saints, but the norm seems to be that most of us bumble along, trying to think and live as Christians, but honestly we only live slightly differently than those around us. Not very inspiring.

This passage (and similar ones I now see throughout the New Testament), along with my experience doing the Setting Captives Free courses have opened my eyes and given me explosive new hope! The problem is not:
(1) God doesn't work this way anymore;
(2) Because we won't reach perfection this side of heaven, we're doomed to mediocrity; or
(3) We struggle with worse sins and faults than people did 2000 years ago.

The problem is: We have not learned Christ (Eph. 4:20). We have not been taught, as he says in verse 21--"surely  you have heard about him and were taught in him . . ." No, I wasn't. Not much at least. 

I was taught to put on Christ in a few, select areas of my life, but those who taught me had not learned this pattern themselves! They didn't know any better. So for generations we have struggled and toiled to be obedient to all that Jesus commanded us, through will power or whatever means we could find. We were trapped in legalism or plagued with despair that we would ever walk as Jesus walked, as John taught (1 John 2:6), living without sinning (1 John 2:1). We thought we would always stumble our way through this life, contrary to what Peter believed--that we could find a way of divine life in which we would never stumble (2 Peter 1:3-10).

Paul, Peter, John--they all believed we could live without sin! (Not perfect, but without being in constant bondage and habitual sin.) I didn't, and neither did any of my teachers or forebears in the faith.

Paul tells us how here: put on Christ by putting off our old self and being renewed in the spirit of our minds. I say Christ, but Paul says the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. That sounds like Jesus to me.

So I've seen God do that for me, as I've given myself to putting off a specific sin and putting on Christ, for a 4-6 month period. God's applied the power of Jesus cross, which broke the power of sin, directly to my life. And now I am seeking that in this area of money.

I have already listed out many ways I need to put off the old self in regards to money. I still need to grapple with the renewing of my mind and what the new self (Christ) will look like.

How does my mind need renewing regarding money?
I need to study and soak in the teaching of Jesus and the scriptures regarding money and material possessions, such as:
-be on your guard against all forms of greed, for life does not consist in the abundance of possessions
-it is more blessed to give than to receive
-a wise person counts the cost of building a tower before starting
 . . . and many more. After completing this Ephesians study I plan to continue in this way with many of those passages.

What will my new self look like once I've put on Christ?
Well, that's what I'm trying to understand and imagine. Can I imagine myself:
-Honestly assessing what I have currently
-Completely content and thankful with that
-Freely giving to everyone who has need, submitting to the wisdom the Father gives
-Peaceful and relaxed about our needs and where our sustenance will come from
-Working hard, happy to have work and not shirking it

I'm sure there's much more that characterized Jesus which I will come to see as I continue this study, but that sounds pretty appealing to me! Lord, make it so according to your will. Amen.

Friday, February 2

Permanent Property (Real Estate part 2)

Yesterday I talked about real estate, real property, and gave some reasons why Jen and I would like to own a house. I have more reasons:

1) We would be located permanently until we decided to move--we couldn't be kicked out by a landlord. Jen's parents have lived in one house since she was little, and there's something about stability that's good for our souls, I think.
2) Our kids would be locked in for their school district. Again, the stability of their social worlds and education would be great.
3) We wouldn't be dependent upon a landlord to act. We waited a whole year for this present landlord to install a damper in our chimney, so we covered the fireplace with blankets to slow down the constant draft in cold weather. We could make repairs and changes in our home without needing permission. 

Yesterday I started looking at Psalm 37, where God promises us real estate--the meek and righteous shall live in the land and inherit it. The psalmist draws a sharp contrast between the righteous and the wicked. God gives the righteous many glorious promises, which we'll delve into in a minute, and warns the wicked of terrible disasters which will befall them.

In light of that, let's list the characteristics of the wicked and of the righteous in Psalm 37, and we'll start by picking up where I left off in verse 21. 
   21 The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving; 22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. 23 Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way; 24 though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand. 25 I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. 26 They are ever giving liberally and lending, and their children become a blessing. 27 Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. 28 For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. 29 The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever. 30 The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. 31 The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip. 32 The wicked watch for the righteous, and seek to kill them. 33 The LORD will not abandon them to their power, or let them be condemned when they are brought to trial.

We sure don't want to be caught in the situation of the wicked! So how do we know if we are wicked or righteous? The Psalm helps us by listing many characteristics.

Starting in verse 12, the wicked:
-Plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them (v. 12)
-Use their resources as weapons to bring down the poor and needy ("Claw your way to the top!") (v. 14)
-May be very rich (v. 16)
-Borrow and don't pay back (v. 21)
-Watch for the righteous and aim to kill them (v. 32)
-Have power and bring the righteous to trial (v. 33)

But the righteous:
-May have little (v. 16)
-Are generous and keep giving (v. 21)
-May stumble (v. 24)
-Always give liberally (v. 26)
-Lend (v. 26)
-Even their children are a blessing (v. 26)
-Depart from evil (v. 27)
-Do good (v. 27)
-Utter wisdom (v. 30)
-Speak justice (v. 30)
-Have the law of God in their hearts (v. 31)
-Wait for the Lord (vv. 7, 9, 34, 40)

In a moment we'll have to list out all the results for both the wicked and righteous, but we need to read the end of the Psalm. The poet keeps giving us more of this glorious picture.
   34 Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked. 35 I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon. 36 Again I passed by, and they were no more; though I sought them, they could not be found. 37 Mark the blameless, and behold the upright, for there is posterity for the peaceable. 38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked shall be cut off. 39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

The results for the wicked? They will:
1. fade and wither like grass and herbs
2. be cut off (i.e., get no inheritance)
3. be no more--they will be gone, perish, vanish like smoke
5. the Lord will laugh at them
4. be killed by their own sword entering their heart
5. have their weapons smashed and their arms broken
6. be cursed by the Lord
7. will be altogether destroyed
8. their children and their posterity will be cut off (from any inheritance)

This gives us the way to be meek. If we really knew that was coming, we would either laugh at them or maybe have compassion on them in their ignorance and lost state, instead of fretting over them, plotting against them, and gnashing our teeth at them. Many times I gnash my teeth at them--Lord, help me apply today's study by seeing them through your eyes, through remembering their sure end if they don't repent.

On the other hand, the righteous will:
1. live in the land
2. enjoy security
3. receive the desires of their hearts from the Lord
4. have God act on their behalf
5. be vindicated so the justice of their cause is as bright as the sun at noon
6. inherit the land
7. not see the wicked or be troubled by them anymore
8. delight themselves in abundant prosperity 
9. be upheld by the Lord
10. be known by the Lord
11. have their heritage last eternally
12. not be put to shame
13. have abundance even in times of famine
14. have their steps made firm by God and have him hold their hand so they won't fall headlong when they stumble
15. not be forsaken
16. not need their children to beg for food
17. be kept safe forever
18. not be abandoned to the power of the wicked or condemned
19. be exalted by God
20. have posterity
21. be saved, rescued, and helped by the Lord

Wow! That is an incredible list. Clearly, I want to be righteous and not wicked--that's the way to own real property, eternal real estate.

For the ancient Jews, the land was not only a home as I think of when I desire to own land, but it was a family business, a farm, a source of livelihood and income, of good work, of self-determination and self-sufficiency for the family, a source of food and nourishment, a homestead. It was a center of hospitality and of well-being. That's what God is promising us when he promises us eternal land. 

And Jesus took this language quite seriously. I don't believe it's symbolic for some vague, ethereal niceness in heaven. Jesus said he went to prepare dwellings or mansions for us, if we were shrewd with our possessions we would be welcomed into eternal habitations, if we gave up families and homes and lands and our own lives we would receive 100 times as many including houses and lands, in the age to come. 

The next age includes not only a new heaven but also a new earth! And the righteous will be inheritors, landowners, and have eternal property. Now that sounds good!

So that's why the psalmist can make this stunning comment: "Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked."

Will I be content with little? Will I pour my best efforts, make my on-going investment strategy, to wait on the Lord? To trust in him and delight in him? To do good? To turn from evil? To be generous and to lend?

Ahh, there's the rub. It does involve my money and possessions here and now. I can invest my wealth in a home--either here, one that could burn and be gone in thirty minutes, or in an eternal piece of property. 

Lord, help me become shrewd and aggressively generous. Help me not hedge my bets but put it all on the one sure thing, the kind of property that will last forever.

Real Estate

Jen and I have thought and talked a lot about buying a house. I don't really have a deep desire to own one, and I'm not eager for the hassles that come along with it, but many people have urged us to do so because it makes so much financial sense. And it really does:

1) In renting, we're "throwing our money away," whereas by owning we would build up equity. 
2) The house would be very likely to appreciate in value. So the money we're now giving someone else would be working for us, earning us a high rate of return. 
3) Of course the tax savings would help us a great deal, and in our case we could qualify for the clergy housing allowance which would save us all the money we now pay as tax on our rent.
4) We would own something tangible, permanent and sure to be of value in the future--land. Real property. (Thus it's called "real estate.") Gold may be an extremely secure asset but I think the future value of land is even more secure.
5) It would leave our children with an inheritance in the future, and could also help put them through college and so on.

So the only reason we haven't bought is . . . we haven't had the money, either down payment or income.

But what does God think about real estate? Today I'm deviating from Ephesians because I am excited by a Psalm I was praying a while ago. It excited me because I saw the Psalmist talking about these issues: real property, land ownership, inheritance, future security, and so on.

Passage: Psalm 37
37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, 2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. 4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

God promises that those who trust in him will live in the land and enjoy security. A secure future should motivate us. God holds it out as a reward, and specifically living in the land. Everyone should want this. 

The question is, How do we get this security in the land? We are taught the obvious way: "Save up your money and invest wisely in a choice piece of property." But God teaches: "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act."

What does this trusting look like, and in what kinds of situations?
   7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. 8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret--it leads only to evil. 9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. 10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. 11 But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. 

So this is where Jesus got his beatitude. He literally believes this is true: the meek will inherit the land. I always heard his teaching as "the earth" meaning some nebulous kind of part in the new heaven and the new earth. But in the context of this whole passage, which Jesus quotes, I think it's more tangible: real land. A real inheritance. Any Jewish person praying this Psalm would have thought of their family's land. So the new heaven and the new earth are that real--in fact more real, since this earth is destined to be destroyed by fire. Talk about Real Estate! That's Real property with a capital R.

Of course land always brings with it prosperity, and God promises that. We fear the traps of the prosperity gospel, which seems to grow more popular every day. And rightly so. This passage is set in the future, when the wicked have passed away. You will not find them or their place, no matter how hard you look. They may have a multi-million dollar mansion in Malibu today, but soon they will be gone. (The Malibu fires as I write this remind us of how temporary this "real" estate is.)

In that day, the meek will have land and abundant prosperity--and they will delight in it! My fear of the lies of the prosperity gospel cause me to downplay or completely miss this truth. God wants me to delight in prosperity! He promises it to us.

Now again, we ask, "How do we get land and abundant prosperity from the Lord?"

Well, it's the meek who will inherit it. Meek. That's a misunderstood word--it sounds like you have to be a milquetoast doormat. But this passage paints a clear picture of the "meek":

Verse 7: "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their [evil] way . . . Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret . . . those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land." 

So meek parallels "those who wait for the Lord." Those who don't get angry. Who don't fret. In fact, not fretting is so important he repeats it twice, along with waiting. We are meek if we see injustice--the evil getting the goods--and we don't fret, we don't let our anger overtake us, but we wait patiently for the end that God has promised. That's meekness. Leaving the consequences in God's hands.

That is hard for me! I hate injustice. It galls me and riles me up. It seems so unfair that people who oppress others live it up in luxury at the expense of the poor, exploiting the weak for their own pleasure.

Aren't you glad to see the psalmist and God himself care about that, too? Look:
12 The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them; 13 but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that their day is coming. 14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to kill those who walk uprightly; 15 their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. 16 Better is a little that the righteous person has than the abundance of many wicked. 17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. 18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will abide forever; 19 they are not put to shame in evil times, in the days of famine they have abundance. 20 But the wicked perish, and the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish--like smoke they vanish away.

Wow. Let's pray and work hard not to be wicked! 

Tomorrow I'll keep working on this Psalm--there's so much here. But for today, here's my 

1. I'm going to meditate on the goodness of owning land, having future security, enjoying abundant prosperity. And then remember that God promises all of that to us, in the future.
2. To be thankful for what I've already received in those ways, since those are blessings from God.
3. Those who get land, security and abundance are the meek and righteous. How can I ask God to make me more meek and righteous? Waiting on the Lord. Not fretting. Not being angry or full of wrath. Delighting in the Lord. Trusting myself to God. Doing good.

This is a great picture. Lord, with my finances, help me to do good. Help me not to get impatient and try to get things for myself or my family, but to wait on you. Help me to delight in you with my money and possessions: to delight in what you've already blessed us with, and to see that as from you. And to use it in ways that really put my trust in you, not in the power of the dollars I have. Amen.