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.

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the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part two of two)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

In his Parable of the Sower, Jesus mentions “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth [choking] the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).  We do well to carefully (and prayerfully) consider his words quoted above from his Sermon on the Mount, which follow the words quoted yesterday subtitled in the NIV “Treasures in Heaven,” today’s words subtitled “Do Not Worry.”

What seems to drive people to make money besides the pleasures of this life, is the thought that if they don’t take care of themselves, no one else will. And even Paul says that if anyone fails to provide for their family, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). So there is responsibility. The question becomes just how we face that responsibility.

Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount make it clear that we shouldn’t be driven like the pagans are, in our society to work and work and work to provide the basic necessities of life. That we’re not to worry over whether or not we’ll get those things. That our Father knows we need them, and wants to provide them for us. Instead we’re to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness and justice, knowing that as we do, God will supply all of our needs.

We live in a debtor society, in fact the American economy is based to a significant extent on the precarious foundation of ongoing debt, which in some ways can be remedied, or at least the pressure alleviated, but in itself not only causes problems for the nation: federal, state and local, but also big problems for individuals and families, which can end up tearing the fabric of the family apart. Certainly one of the hardest, if not the hardest problem in marriages.

The problem in our society is at least two-fold: We buy into the American lie of borrowing, thinking it to be the only way to meet our obligations and fulfill our wishes, some wishes perhaps quite legitimate, such as a college education. And we fall into the default of thinking it all depends on us. I know this all too well from my own experience.

Jesus’ words concerning this are both simple and profound. We’re not to worry, but instead we’re to trust the Father to meet our needs. And we’re to be preoccupied with seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, which amounts to God’s will in and through Jesus. That will end up involving how we face the situation we’re in, the troubles that come our way, which Jesus doesn’t deny. What is needed is an interactive relationship with God by the Spirit and the word in the fellowship of the church. And we must not lose sight of the simplicity and directness of Jesus’s words here concerning how we’re to face this basic part of life.

living by faith- in a world of trouble

Life is a full plate, on the one hand. So much to try to take in, and so many decisions to make. And it’s not user friendly, either. There are all kinds of ways the world offers “success,” on plates which can spell doom- and difficulty at best. I think of credit cards and student loans, just to name two.

On the other hand, life can be relatively straightforward and simple, at least in theory if not in reality. Simply refuse to borrow except on mortgages. Refuse debt, save money with some put aside early on in something like a 401-K. Be generous in helping the poor; make that a priority. Certainly give to the church, a tithe is a good place to start, or according to one’s faith. Arrange life around those principles. John Wesley’s axiom: Make all you can, save all you can and give all you can.

What ends up being more realistic is a life committed to trusting the Father and seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness in following Jesus. And not hedging from that when the inevitable troubles and trials of life come. Knowing that there will be circumstances which are quite beyond us. Being much in prayer, trying to take in wisdom especially from scripture and from other places. Making the best decisions one (or preferably spouses together with godly, wise consultation) can make after that, with the knowledge that some of the decisions will actually not be the best. We are not foolproof in this life, and we will make mistakes. And even sound decisions can have worms in them in this present existence.

Keep reading the Proverbs and be in the rest of scripture. Wisdom means embracing simplicity and shunning worldliness, but not the world itself.

So in the end, there are no easy set formulas. The best answers are like leads which you follow, or offers you take in hand. But they are good only as one begins to live through the experience. The crucial factor is to be committed to a life of faith in God in every aspect of life. To be committed to being unwavering in that. And when we stumble, to accept God’s forgiveness and go on.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

the problem of debt

The rich rule over the poor,
and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Proverbs 22:7

As we hear about the financial crisis in Greece and the growing possibility that Greece may default, go bankrupt and slide out of the Eurozone, the reality of the crushing burden of debt hits home for to many of us in the wealthy countries such as here in the United States. The economy of the United States is built largely (and I think, foolishly) on credit which means most people are going into debt to the point that there is little hope that they will escape that shadow at least anytime soon. And as long as people can borrow, they might make some sacrifice (some of that involuntary), but by and large they will keep up a lifestyle that not only meets their needs, but many of their wants, as well.

It does seem unrealistic to avoid debt and even the most conservative anti-debt advocates such as Dave Ramsey, make an exception for a home in what is called a mortgage, but I’m unaware of any other exception he and others like him might make. Unless one gets a scholarship into a full or partial ride through school, it is next to impossible to avoid debt in the form of school loans. And we know that it all depends on the salary one gets as to whether such a tact is a good one or not.

Let’s not forget investment of 401 Ks or the like. One should start in that in their twenties and leave it alone. Even if the United States has years of decline, it is a pretty sure bet that in the end, compound interest alone being a huge factor, there will be plenty of money to see one, or them and their spouse through “retirement” years. In my view just because one is in debt doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be investing toward retirement. One should be working toward paying off their debt and saving for the future at the same time. Don’t make the mistake of paying off the debt first, then saving. One loses out exponentially if one doesn’t start saving as early as possible and lets that saving accumulate over the years.

We must beware in all of this kind of proverbial wisdom thinking that we put our confidence and trust in anything less than God himself and God’s word. By seeking to be wise in these ways, we are trusting in God who in the end is our true Provider.

I for one am not a fan of debt, even if by having it and making payments in time one builds up good credit. That credit is good only to keep on borrowing. What is better by far is to avoid debt altogether insofar as that is possible. To do so in radical ways early on. One way that comes to mind is to trust the Lord for needed finances to avoid debt, and if those finances don’t come to simply refuse to proceed. In other words the radical idea that I won’t go to school unless the Lord provides the funds. That provision may come over time by working and saving. One should be willing to say no to whatever purchase seems necessary (with the exception of a home, I think) if one can’t pay for it upfront without debt. Faith would grow as a result, as one sees God answer prayer and provide for needs.

But for many of us that window of opportunity has come and gone. We’ve simply taken the American way of borrowing and borrowing some more and some more and on and on, so that borrowing is the way we make major purchases, after that taking years with oftentimes signficant interest against us, to pay them off, only to be greeted with more seemingly necessary debt. It can become such a way of life to us that we can easily fail to make the necessary changes to seriously cut into the debt beyond what is required and eventually cut it out altogether. Debt should always be the exception and never the rule, and when we do accrue debt, we should pay it off as soon as possible.

Life is not over though, if one is either head over heels in debt, or seriously enough so, even if later in life. Surely life will take on signficant challenges which those well off can hardly imagine. But the Lord is faithful to provide for his own as they seek first his kingdom and righeousness in their lives. We can do the best we can with what we have learned and the resources we have. And encourage especially younger people to do better, even as I’m trying to do here.

I agree with John Wesley’s counsel on money: Make all you can, save all you can and give all you can. But even if we have little to give (and by the way, I think people should continue to give to the Lord’s work, especially to the church, even when in debt) we can say to anyone: “Silver and gold I do not have. But what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” We who are poor in this world (certainly a relative term given the abject poverty in too many places in the world) can be rich in faith and a blessing even to those who have plenty in material goods but may be wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked (see the Lord’s description of the rich yet empty Laodicean church in Revelation 3). We have to learn to be content with little, generous with what we do have, and dispensers of the true riches in Jesus which last forever.

doing well with money

In the evangelical world in which I inhabit, Dave Ramsey is a kind of folk hero, almost. There is no doubt he has plenty of good wisdom and commonsense to offer when it comes to money, both for the young and old. He does so from a certain kind of biblical perspective, which I think does some justice to parts of the biblical picture, even if it doesn’t sufficiently take in the whole. Others offer counsel among similar lines with some differences. What I do like about Ramsey is how he helps people get out of debt and hopefully avoid it. With the simple yet powerful maxim: Don’t spend more than you take in. And with suggested strategies and practices to implement that. What I don’t agree with is some of his generalizations about debt and the poor. Yes, there generally is an upward mobility for those who come to Christ and seek to live with integrity. But no, not everyone who is in that category is going to avoid serious difficulties. Unfortunately people can take my last statement here and rationalize their way to making bad choices, not making the better, hard choices along the way.

We would have been far better off if I would have listened to the wisdom of my wife. Back during the time when I considered myself the head, I didn’t listen well to her. Most of the time when we’ve disagreed, she has been right, a solid majority of the time in fact. Like for example when I was trying to pay up for seminary, and instead of applying for a grant which somehow I didn’t think I deserved, or trusting the Lord to provide (and going from there) as my wife suggested, no, I had to pay it off with my credit card. And other bad decisions I made along the way, not knowing what I was doing, and the result. Of course it is difficult to climb out of debt.

Unfortunately debt  cannot always be avoided. Sickness, job loss, lack of insurance (in these United States, though that currently is changing, even if not all that well) can push a family over the cliff and into financial difficulty and even ruin. Contrary to what Dave Ramsey seems to suggest (I hope I’m mistaken, and I would think he sees exceptions to the rule. To his credit he always is gracious and has advice for everyone) the poor aren’t always poor for a reason reflecting badly on themselves. Other factors are often at work. True too with those who are in the middle and upper class.

The most important thing I think that can be said in regard to money and everything else is simply this: Follow Jesus. Be in scripture, listen to those who give advice, and above all mark well the words of our Lord. Seek to live life with God’s righteousness and kingdom in view and as the goal in and through Jesus. Let wealth be beside the point of that. Let’s be generous with what we do have. And yes, let’s not incur needless debt. Do trust the Father to provide, and be led by him and grow in faith in that way.

We need to pour our lives into what lasts beyond this life. As we do we find that the good that comes from that is not only good for the life to come, but for life in the present, as well. And we need to remember that we are all in this together. We need to help each other in ways that will help us grow and mature in our life in Christ. And part of that will be how we handle worldly wealth.