Christians’ Right Thinking About Money

The last blog post, Christians’ Weird Thinking About Wealth, provoked many interesting comments. One of the most interesting was a friend who shared a testimony with me different from any other remark I had received.

Other friends have told me eye-popping stories of how they could fund major mission projects through the amazing wealth God helped them produce. This time, however, the amazing story came from an unexpected source. He is an ordinary guy, just like you and me, not gifted with the ability to produce great wealth, but with the ability to act increasingly as the manager of God’s money.

The Pseudonym
He was happy for me to share his story with you in this column but wanted to remain anonymous since staying unknown brings a special pleasure and joy to him. So I’ll call him Mac, a fitting name since it reminds Bible readers of the apostle Paul’s description of the Mac-edonians in 2 Cor. 8, MSG.

Fierce troubles came down on the people of those Macedonian churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colours: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.”

Mac’s Story
Here’s what Mac wrote, “For years I have been proving the Lord’s faithfulness in providing money for me to give away, even though my income isn’t excessive. One passage of Scripture that has encouraged me is Psalm 81:10 where I saw myself as a money manager, rather than as a consumer.”

In this passage God reminds Israel he brought them out of Egypt and was prepared to bless them abundantly. “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it,” God promised. When your mouth has been filled, the next thing to do is to chew and swallow, consuming what you have been given. But Mac read it as a manager; when God gave him money, he did not consume it all. Instead, he shared it with other people.

Mac went on to write, “Twenty years ago the Lord gave me a thought I continue to pursue: ‘Why don’t you pray and ask Me for money so you can use it to help build My Kingdom?’

“It has been quite a journey, limited, I’m sure, only by my lack of faith. As I have fearfully stepped forward each year, increasing my commitment to financial stewardship, I now see how the Lord is ‘rebuking the devourer’ {a reference to Mal. 3:11 in which God promises His people that pests will not devour their crops, and in Mac’s case probably keeps his roof from leaking and his car from falling apart} so I can give half my income to Kingdom ministry (home church, summer camps, Bible colleges, missionaries, and the poor.)

“This has become a significant source of joy, particularly during this time of economic challenge. Twenty years ago, I didn’t believe it to be possible, but God’s economics continue to defy human explanation. All Praise to Him alone.”

What About Us?
Since people like Mac tend to obey Jesus’ command to do all their giving in secret, we don’t hear challenging and encouraging stories like this in church, unless they are second hand, like this one.

May God help us all to “open our mouths wide” to his provisions so that we can be outrageously generous to people and ministries in need.

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!

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!