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.