Christians’ Weird Thinking About Wealth

My Skilled Friend and I
“Jack, I can come over this morning and solve that garage door problem that’s got you licked.” I was delighted with our handyman friend’s offer after I had I told him of my useless struggles. When he arrived, he looked over the problem and said, “I got this.” That afternoon, I sat at my computer, and my fingers rattled my keyboard. As the sentences of my current Work in Progress scrolled up my screen, I thought, “I got this.”

God’s Gifts to His People
During my evening  walk, I meditated on how every human being is exceptional, with at least one of several skills—things that they can potentially do better than other people. Every Christian also has at least one unique ability, given by God, that he or she can develop in His service. An accountant looks at a sheet of numbers that look like gibberish to me, and smiling says, “These figures sing to me.” My wife can flip open a cookbook, glance at a recipe and intuitively know what it will taste like.

So, what should we do with these abilities and ministry gifts from God? 1 Peter 4:10 has the answer: “Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” The apostle Paul lists God-given skills like teaching, serving, encouragement and giving, among others. (Romans 12:6-8)

The Gift of Creating Wealth
What bothers me is that some Christians do not appreciate one amazing gift that God has given certain ones of His people. I’m talking about the ability to recognize and capitalize on profitable business opportunities, with the result that those who work hard with this God-given skill become wealthy and are outrageously generous.

A Negative Attitude
What makes Christians so critical of rich Christians—people who have been gifted by God to make a lot of money? Well, the Bible uses some extraordinarily strong language in judging rich people. In Chapter 5, the apostle James rants against the rich, telling them to weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on them. He refers to rotted wealth, corroded silver and gold that will corrode their flesh like fire.

After reading some of this chapter, we might come away with the idea that being rich is sinful. Not so. God cursed these people, not because they were rich, but because they had disobeyed God’s command concerning gaining wealth:

  1. They had exploited the poor, paying unfair wages, and had dealt dishonestly with customers, employees, and the government.
  2. They trusted in their wealth, abandoning faith in “God who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Deut. 8:18
  3. They spent their money on themselves and did not care for the poor, nor did they further God’s work on earth.

It is not money itself that is evil, but the love of money and the sinful, selfish ways some people become rich.

A Positive Attitude
We will think positively about rich people when we note God’s blessing on people who become rich by using their God-given wealth-producing talents while also obeying all His commands concerning wealth.

Some of our financial supporters have been gifted by God to produce a lot of wealth in business. They earn it legally and honestly, performing a constructive service to humanity. Their morals and business ethics are beyond reproach. They understand that all the money they earn belongs to God and that they are merely managers. They prove this by giving away a significant proportion of their income to meet human physical and spiritual needs.

And yet, sometimes I hear negative comments about Christians who live in large, well-furnished homes and drive newest model vehicles. That bothers me, especially when I happen to know that the wealthy persons they referred to earned their money honestly, continue to trust God, and are generous to the point of extravagance in their giving.

A Biblical Attitude
So, what about driving that new car, or living in a lovely house? God said it this way, “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads out the grain!” I’m sure that our handyman friend’s home has not only a functioning garage door opener; all his machines and appliances work at full efficiency.

In the same way, we Christians need to be glad for the special income-generating abilities our Father gives to some of our brothers and sisters when we see them enjoying a beautiful home, even one large enough to house celebrations for plenty of friends and overnight guests, and an vehicle that we might consider luxurious. We need to be glad for them and praise God for giving them this wealth producing ability.

And not just because they passed on some of that wealth to meet our needs!

You Don’t Have to Own It to Enjoy It

All but two of our family in the lap of luxury

All but two of our family in the lap of luxury

This summer a family friend gave us the use of a huge luxury penthouse apartment on a Mexican beach so we could celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with almost the whole family. It was fabulous! Five bedrooms and six bathrooms were more than enough for all our families! How we enjoyed our weeks together there!

A Brazilian Example of Sharing
This experience reminded me of the sign in a small shed behind our simple wooden house on the Brazilian missions centre where we lived for two decades. The shed sheltered some miscellaneous tools and odd bits of equipment. The sign said, “You Don’t Have to Own It to Enjoy It

None of our twenty or so neighbours on the missions centre had a sign like that, but we all lived by that philosophy. We borrowed each other’s tools freely. Jo & I owned well over a thousand books, but at any one time, one-third of them stood on other people’s bookshelves or lay on their bedside stands. One neighbor had an extra long ladder; everyone used it when he needed to climb a roof. Two or three lawnmowers were enough for several dozen lawns. Some people owned vehicles; the rest of us borrowed them, reimbursing the owner for the fuel used. When missionaries left for a year’s furlough, others used their house and everything in it.

God Wants Us to Share Our Stuff With Others
Holding things loosely and freely sharing material things with those in need is a basic biblical way of life. The apostle Paul reminds his readers that all material things ultimately come from God, “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” We are to “do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” 1 Timothy 6:18-19.

God Himself is our example in freely giving us things we don’t need to own to enjoy. We don’t own the earth with its fabulous mountain scenery, its relaxing sandy beaches, and its vast expanse of forests. Warm sunshine, life-giving rain, and fresh breezes: we enjoy them all without owning any of them. God’s greatest Gift, of course, was of His own Son, Jesus, who came to show us how to live, then died and rose again to empower us to live God’s way.

What the Canelas Taught Us About Sharing
When the Canela people started reading the Bible we translated into their language, they learned a whole new way of life. But when it came to generously sharing material things, we Christians could have learned from them! They knew all about sharing long before they learned about it in the Bible. Sharing is so much a part of Canela culture; it is even reflected in the language.

A linguistic marker attaches to every noun that indicates if the thing is shareable or not. Things like basket, knife, and cloth are all shareable, held loosely by one person. These nouns have markers meaning “my/your/his shareable possession.” They can be given away or loaned out.

On the other hand, body parts such as eye, hand, and skin, and kinship relationships like child, mother, and father are not shareable. These nouns have linguistic markers meaning “mine/yours/his own specific possession.”

We can learn from the Canela. Their word for “Bible book” has a shareable marker. Their Bible is to be shared, not kept as their own specific possession. Worldwide, the Bible has for many generations been shared through translation with people of all the major language groups.  And now, with vast amounts of linguistic know how and translation experience more readily available on line to translators anywhere in the world, even the smaller language groups are beginning to receive God’s Word in their own language.

The Real Reason God Blesses His People
We often pray variations of David’s prayer in Psalm 67, “May God be gracious to us and bless us. . .” It is good to ask for God’s blessing.

But we should not forget about the rest of that passage. “. . . so that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. . . . God will bless us, and (as a result) all the ends of the earth will fear Him.”

The whole point of God giving us health and wealth is so that we will share it to bring His life giving Word to a dying world so they too can learn to know Him and His salvation.

We enjoy salvation from the penalty and power of sin. Our saving relationship with Jesus has a shareable marker. It’s not our specific possession to own, but ours to enjoy, and to share with others.

What are you doing with the spiritual life, your physical health and material wealth God has given you?

How are you sharing these with a needy world?

Whose Money is it Anyway?

“Hey, Max, before we start this five-hour drive,” I said, “let’s get some good coffees.”

“Okay,” my partner on the speaking tour said, “get me a Mocha Venti. You have the card, right?”

Ten minutes later, I climbed back into the van with his Mocha, my Cappuccino (with an extra shot of espresso) and an iced Mocha Frappe.

mocha-coco-frappuccino“Who is the Frappe for?” Max asked?

“Oh, I thought we’d drop it off at the breakfast place on the way out of town for that waitress who told us how to get to Starbucks. Remember she said she loved iced Mocha Frappes?”

“Right, good idea.”

After pleasantly surprising the waitress with her favorite iced coffee, we drove on down the road, and, as I sipped my Cappuccino, I thought how easy it was for me to spend those few dollars to make someone feel appreciated.

What made it even easier was that I had used the Starbucks card provided by Wycliffe Associates, not my own money.

It’s easy to be generous with someone else’s money, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t vote for better office chairs at work, or faster snow removal in our community, or a clearer sound system in church? It’s easy to promote good projects when we don’t have to pay for them from our own bank account.

Now for a theological reality check. Nothing we own is ours. There is not one shiny nickel in our bank accounts that Jesus can’t put his finger on and say, “This is mine!” In fact, every nickel in the world is His. As is every dollar, yen, peso, yuan, real, guilder, schilling, franc, pound, ruble, euro, mark, rand, rupee, etc. “All creation and its bounty are mine” Psalm 50:12 (MSG).

You and I are merely God’s money managers. Most of earth’s seven billion people don’t understand this concept. They labour under the delusion that the money is theirs, not realizing it was God who gave them the power to earn it. “If you start thinking to yourselves, ‘I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!’—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth . . .” Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (MSG).

Unfortunately many Christians, who ought to know better, also hold fuzzy ideas about God owning everything. Some believers give 10% of their income to God’s work and then act as if the rest is their own which they can spend without having to account to Him for it. Not so. We give the tithe simply as a token amount to remind us that everything we have belongs to God.

It goes against the grain of our greed to pray, “Thank you for helping me to earn this money. Now guide me to make wise decisions and give generously to those in need.”

Once we understand that the money in our wallets, purses and accounts is not our own, God merely needs to nudge us and we’ll quickly use some of it to meet needs around us.

We’ll respond to His inner voice as easily as it was for me to use Wycliffe money to buy a Frappe for a hardworking waitress.

PS: I have never been sick on any of the many speaking tours I have been on, until this week. Severe diarrhea and weakness, likely the result of food poisoning, , according to the doctor, probably from a Chinese buffet dinner last Sunday night. Thus far I have continued to speak, with no “accidents”. Starting tomorrow night I am speaking three more times before Sunday day off. You know what to pray for!