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.