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!

How to Raise a Missions Support Partnership Team

It’s a welcome trend in churches. People of all ages are following a vision for ministry and are spending their savings, vacations, and sometimes more, to meet critical needs outside the church.

The ministries that spark these visions vary widely. Some are in the inner city, some are overseas. Some require special skills, others just willing hearts and hands. Some require a few weeks, others could take a lifetime. The ministries differ, and so do the workers. But there is one thing common to these situations—the workers need prayer and financial support from those who stay home.

Occasionally someone, from grandchildren to fellow missionaries, ask me if I have any ideas on how to raise the support team they need. I usually tell them that in the same way God prepared them to get involved in this ministry, He has also prepared people to support them through prayer and gifts.

“Ask God to lead you to meet these prepared people.” I say, “Then be ready to share your vision with them.” So how do you share your vision?

A pastor’s wife used to kiss her husband as he was about mount the platform to preach, and whisper in his ear, “K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Sweetie.”

Excellent advice for anyone who wants to communicate something important. A simple outline, and one clear, plain story to paint a picture. Nothing complicated that might confuse, or distract the hearer’s attention. I usually advise the worker to simply answer the following questions and illustrate with a little story:

  1. Need: What is the deepest need wherever it is that you are going to work?
  2. Vision: What makes you the perfect person to help meet this need?
  3. Obstacles: What are the obstacles that stand in your way of meeting the need?
  4. Action: What do you want your hearer to do?

Here’s an example that can be adapted to any other support-raising scenario:

The Need.

Country X has very few Christians and almost none of the women can read, write, or do simple arithmetic. Some of those that can read, run small businesses from their homes, making things and selling them. Their families prosper in comparison to the families of women who are illiterate.

(I heard of Lita, mother of four who tried to run a small store from her home. The business failed within months because the merchants who sold her the goods cheated her, she couldn’t read the simple instructions that came with some of the items to be sold, and she had no way of keeping records except in her head.)

There is a deep need, therefore, for a teaching ministry among illiterate women, coupled with evangelism through the Word of God.

My Vision

I am an experienced schoolteacher and, through an outreach ministry of my home church, have worked for years with women who dropped out of school but want to go back and graduate. I loved coaching and teaching them, and led many women to Jesus. I enjoyed a good salary and pleasant working conditions. My life was great, but as I prayed, I felt I could do more to advance God’s Kingdom if I worked in an area of greater need. So I quit my job, sold my furniture, gave up my apartment lease, and am now ready to leave. I will be working under the direction of mission agency X which will keep me accountable, orient me to the local culture, and guide me as I improve my language skills.

The Obstacles

Satan opposes Christ’s Kingdom and is certain to counterattack. Just as David had 30 mighty men in his army, so I need 30 men, women and children in my prayer protection team to pray for me daily informed by my regular emailed updates. I also need $X to cover travel, as well as financial partners who will commit to send enough money each month to cover my personal and ministry expenses, which will be about $X.

I long to go right now and help hundreds of women like Lita learn the skills she needs to provide for her family. Unfortunately neither the prayer protection team, nor the financial partnerships are yet complete. These are the only obstacles to my going.

The Action

Please consider joining me in this critical, Kingdom-building ministry by becoming part of my prayer protection team, or one of my financial partners, or both. (In the rack in front of you is a small envelope, please take it out and look at it now. Please check the appropriate boxes on the envelope, fill in your contact information and drop it into the offering plate. Or, better yet, hand it to me sometime later. I’m ready to answer any other questions privately at any time.)

counselA simple four-minute speech like this, covers everything a potential partner needs to know. The example was in the setting of a speech to a group, but can, of course, be used in a one-on-one conversation as well.

By dropping the story about Lita and the references to the envelope, (in parentheses) the whole presentation is only two minutes long. It is what writer’s call an “elevator pitch” where the writer presents the idea for an article to an editor while riding in an elevator.

You may not need this advice personally, but I’m pretty sure you know someone who does. Feel free to forward it to them.

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!

 

 

Jesus and the Flight Attendant

“Josh! Share your toys!”

“Ashley! Don’t grab all the cookies for yourself!”

Why do parents have to hassle their children like that? Because babies are born selfish, and it takes years of parental examples of selflessness, and lots of reminding, to get them to stop thinking only of themselves, and learn to empathize with the needs of others. It doesn’t come naturally.

I sometimes wonder what little kids think when they hear a flight attendant tell their mommy to be selfish. You’ve heard them. After the seat belt demonstration come the instructions for the oxygen mask. “If you are traveling with a small child, put on your own mask first, only then put the mask on your child.”

How rude and selfish! How unloving! What a terrible example to the little kid!

No, not really! When mommy makes sure she stays conscious herself she is acting in practical love to her poor, gasping little daughter beside her. It’s a basic principle of life. We must look after our own basic needs first, only then can we meet the needs of others.
Jesus, like the flight attendant, taught the same thing.

“Love God . . . and love your neighbour as you love yourself” was the preface to Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the naked, bleeding victim of a vicious mugging. He not only had compassion, he had wine and oil and cloth for bandages to treat the sufferer’s wounds. He had extra clothing for the victim to wear, and a donkey for him to sit on. And when they got to the inn, he had money to pay the innkeeper for food and rent. (Luke 10:25-37)

Before he started his journey, the Good Samaritan had made sure he had everything he needed for his journey. He was also ready to share what he had to meet the needs of others. He got ready to act in love to others by loving himself first.

The Bible teaches clearly that our human instinct to love ourselves and take care of our own needs is normal and natural. Yes, this natural instinct can be perverted just as other instincts can be, but unless we love ourselves enough to care for our own basic needs, we won’t be able to love others in any practical way.

Our world abounds in opportunities to show love to others. Newscasts are litanies of evil that decent people need to fight against: corruption in politics, destruction of marriages, unethical practices in business, and the heartless murder of the not-yet-born, etc. We hear of enormous physical and spiritual needs on mission fields around the world.

But what if we neglect our own physical, mental, and spiritual health? What if we don’t take care of our family and business responsibilities? What if we have only a cursory relationship with God? How can we possibly make an impact for good on these world needs?

We would be like a mommy who disobeys the flight attendant’s orders and tries to help her little girl first, but both end up slumped unconscious in their seats.