faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

the gospel from us evangelicals

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:13-18

I frequently have seen critiques of evangelicals which to some extent ring true. One of the most common is the charge against us that we focus too much on individual piety, and on a personal relationship with Christ, and how our view of the gospel’s impact in the world doesn’t go much further than that. Unfortunately I think there’s all too much truth in that. But at the same time, in spite of it, I see evangelical concern for justice and for the poor made evident both within churches, and through organizations like World Vision and Compassion International.

The gospel is about reconciliation, and while certainly in terms of individuals to God through Christ, also about all of humankind being reconciled and ultimately brought together as one family under Christ. And this reconciliation, while breaking down the basic barrier between Jew and Gentile, also breaks down all other barriers as well, we might say all other dividing marks which put one party over or against another: slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).

So I think it’s not a matter so much at all about what we evangelicals have taught, but more of a matter of what we either fail to teach, or more likely are simply lax in. So that when we consider one’s personal relationship with God and walk through Christ, we need to think of it in terms of community as well as their own personal experience. So that such is always factored in as part of the whole.

I no longer look for a church which has it altogether. I have lived long enough to doubt the existence of such a church. We all have our flaws, weak points, and at times, even blind spots. I realize too that I’m prone along the same lines as everyone else. I too have probably emphasized personal piety in my reading, meditation and teaching of scripture to the exclusion at times of the bigger picture. There’s always the possibility of gradually improving as one sees that picture in scripture.

So we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead we need to be thankful for the strong points, which are valid and helpful in their place. To thank God for that, and make the most of it. Even as we continue to work on understanding the expansiveness of the impact of the gospel, how it’s meant to bring in no less than a new creation of the old, making all things new only in and through Jesus.

doing the hard thing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

John 6:60

There are some things I want to put off, and other things that are just plain hard to do. I don’t think we have to look long in scripture at all to find the latter. The hard sayings of Jesus is not an empty slogan. And even in and through grace, it’s not always easy to put to death the insistent flesh which wants to have its way. We certainly cannot do that in our own strength, but only in God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit. And this is not just something that happens at salvation. So that from then on, if it’s grace, it’s the easy and natural thing for us to do. It can become more and more that, but to even take that step of faith and do what we’re called to do can be oh so hard. It’s so much easier to stay in our comfort zone, better yet, stay in bed, so to speak, and not get up to face the music that is playing. Not to say that some bad stuff we’re not to pay attention to doesn’t come, because it surely does. Guilt trips and condemnation have nothing to do with doing the hard thing in grace. In fact the hard thing then will be to reject all such because of God’s loving provision for us in Jesus. And accept God’s love and acceptance in Jesus.

I am a procrastinator on hard things which have no deadline. If it’s part of my work for the day, then I won’t hesitate to do it, but if it’s just something which needs to be done with no deadline, chances are it won’t get done anytime soon. They say for some who are that way, there’s the fear of failure, or sense that they won’t do well. Sometimes it’s just out and out dread of what has to be done, preferring to delay that as long as possible. This nearly gets us into another subject away from something like keeping the hard teachings of Jesus, maybe into the wisdom genre like we find in Proverbs. And I’m sure we could draw some wisdom from there to help us in this.

Grace calls us to go on in Jesus, to believe and do what doesn’t come naturally for us to do, what we really can’t do, left on our own. We can through Christ. And we do well to prayerfully attend to the difficult tasks put in front of us. Along with the difficult things, we would rather put off. Of course we know the difference between what we could let go for another year, and for whatever reason, what we need to address now. May God help us to know the difference, and by grace do it, as imperfectly as we will. In and through Jesus.

 

doing the word (not just hearing it)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

It has been dawning on me recently, the idol I had made out of certainty in my life, and how I often am not at rest until I would have it for brief periods of time. Like so often, the realization of truth comes with some relief. “I can see it,” and “wow!” But it won’t be long before we will lapse into pretty much where we were before if we don’t begin to put it into practice.

In my case, I had been thinking about that just recently, and posted on it on Saturday morning, only to be besieged Saturday evening with new revelations which put me back into a kind of panic mode and desire to overcome my uncertainty. The Lord helped me to have the strength the next morning to be able to put that aside, and simply to attempt to act on the truth which I had posted the previous morning. But this reminded me of the necessity of putting into practice what we hear from God’s word.

For people like me who have been in all of the Bible for years, and who teach it on a regular basis as well, this can be challenging. And really all of us as Christians should be in the word on a regular basis, weekly at our church gatherings as we hear it proclaimed and taught, and during our own times throughout the week, hopefully daily, as well as in our small groups. We all need to be in the word, so that we can “hear” God speak to us through that word. And with that, it is critical that we begin to act on what God has said, and keep working at it, not letting it go, but letting it become part of the fabric of our lives.

I am thankful for the church we’ve been taking our grandchildren to, that they make this a big deal: both being in the word, and putting it into practice. This is what I want to major on the rest of my life, both reading for understanding, and putting into practice what God is telling me, is telling us, in and through Jesus.

prayer for Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the idolatry of certainty

In recognizing and dismantling the idols of my life (and lifetime), one particularly subtle one which has come starkly into the light lately has been the idol of certainty. I’m not referring to the assurance we have by faith through the gospel. But the idea that we can be certain about this or that apart from God. In more practical terms where I live, it’s the idea that somehow I can rest secure because I have all the ducks in line in a row, everything done right and well.

In the first place in this life, we can only do the best we can. By nature, existence and all that goes into it has too many variables to be assured that all is or will be well. And we humans are marked by our limitations every bit as much as our abilities. It is hit and miss with us, and we might as well accept that, and again, just do the best we can.

But central to all of this for me is to know and acknowledge God as God. The God who made all things, and is making all things new in and through Jesus. I do the best I can which in part can be struggling to arrive to some decision, but all of this in prayer, because I don’t want to rest in certainty, but in God.

In God we do have certainty about the outcome of everything in the end, and of God’s goodness to the end. If all was well in this life, we would surely too easily lapse into a lack of dependence on God like the Laodiceans of old (Revelation 3). Not that we can’t worship God when things are going well. Of course in this life under the sun, not all is well in the human community at large, and sooner than later in our own households and families, either. Even with ourselves.

But a breakthrough I’m experiencing is to recognize my own inclination to want certainty above anything else. When what I really need is God, and God’s promise to us in and through Jesus.

learning to live in weakness

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Just an opening thought on my blogging: it might be and to some extent surely is a telling critique to suggest that blogging everyday does not allow the blogger or whatever reader audience may be present to really process and digest what is written. I have been blogging for more than ten years now and it was suggested in the early days when blogging was hot that to have the most effective blog, one should blog daily. So I soon adopted that, which has long been a habit. I enjoy writing, so that’s part of it. But if you look at my blog, you’ll notice that some of the same themes come up again and again. And more than less, nearly every posting is a continuation of the thought, or likely more like a variation of it, which has been hashed through a number of posts previously. That could be in part because I tend to always process thoughts over time.

Weakness is one of the major themes I keep coming to time and time again. That’s probably because I’m a slow learner on it, but it’s also because it’s not an easy lesson to learn, at least not for me. Who wants to live in weakness?

I’m not referring to a weakness in giving into sin, but weakness in the midst of resisting sin. Not to say we can be sinless, either. But I am referring to the kind of overcoming by faith which lives in the midst of weakness.

For me, one aspect of this is my struggle against anxiety, which can be a sin in not trusting God. And what I’m coming to find is that my quest for certainty often leads to a gnawing and then choking anxiety, which by the time I get to that, I can easily see the enemy at work, so that I can give the lie to that thought, and accept only God’s work and the peace which accompanies that.

Of course there’s no real certainty in this world (except, as they say, of death and taxes). Nothing seems totally foolproof here, or as if there’s an arrival to some kind of eureka in which all is well, try and try again, as we all do, and as certain projects have. We do well to accept that, and even embrace it. At the same time doing the best we can, but recognizing that at times, that too will not be enough. And in a certain sense never is since God’s hand must accompany or hold, and most accurately even be what is behind the work in the first place.

I think I might be coming to a new place in learning to live with weakness, which has been incremental with seeming breakthroughs along the way, only to be tested time and time again. I hope by God’s grace to continue to grow in this. Along with others. In and through Jesus.

giving thanks no matter what

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A special day traditionally set apart to give thanks, spend time with family, and eat.

But giving thanks is to be a habit that we learn to practice day after day. Of course we’re giving thanks to God. But I admit to my chagrin that I don’t always feel thankful. Oftentimes I feel more like the prophet Habakkuk must have felt. There is so much injustice in the world, and then there are problems not only right at my doorstep, but everywhere around me. One doesn’t have to look long or try to imagine. The challenge and brokenness of life and existence too often stares us right in the face.

But we give thanks no matter what. It is something we do regardless. Yes, because of God, who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do. No matter what we see in front of us, or how we are processing that. And even with song. Just as Habakkuk did. Not a bad book to read today, by the way. With this celebratory ending. All in and through Jesus.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

prayer for Thanksgiving

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

looking toward the love of Christ

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

If there’s one passage of scripture I would like to get hold of me, this probably would be it. We need all of scripture, for sure. But this passage could help us to learn to live in a love that is present here and now, no matter what else we might be facing and experiencing. So that this love can both inform and form us.

Note that it’s Paul’s prayer for the believers who will receive this letter, and we could say by extension to all of us who receive this letter as part of our Bibles, God’s written word to us, to this present day.

This is a prayer which is frankly beyond me. We can parse out the words, and that’s good. I think it’s also good to acknowledge that by grace we have had at least a glimpse and taste of this. And in a certain sense we live with it all the time. But somehow too often it’s too far removed from our thoughts and experience.

What we need is a sort of makeover, do over, from God, of course. We are definitely involved in both an active, as well as passive sense in our faith. But in this prayer, especially in the posture of receiving God’s working by grace and the Spirit. Yes, in our individual lives, but together as well. The words translated “you” are plural in the Greek. And Ephesians as a letter stresses community, the church. So this is not some kind of solitary desert project, as I myself left on my own would tend to think. It is surely both communal and individual. We all experience it together from God. And certainly it is to shape our lives as individuals. In and through Jesus.