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.

hard work in earning a living

Most everyone has to work for a living and most of the work we have to do has some degree of toil and difficulty. A motto nowadays which can be considered a maxim holding some wisdom is “Don’t work hard, but work smart.” Literally I wouldn’t agree with it, since no matter how smart you work, you should work hard at it, as well. But we should make our work as efficient as possible. That stands to reason for both maximum productivity in terms of output and quality.

For some of us for one reason or another, or likely a number of reasons, we find that life hasn’t fallen out the way we (or anyone) would want it. Some of that can be our own doing, and some of it purely circumstantial, of course figuring God’s working and providential care into that equation. We find that we’re up against it, that unless some break comes (short of winning the lottery, which people like me have no possibility of winning) we may have to work in earning money as long as we are able. In America this is a problem to some degree for many baby boomers as they/we begin to reach the set retirement age (65-67).

One might think of Paul as a man certainly devoted to the gospel and the proclamation of it, an apostle sent to evangelize in preaching that gospel and oversee the churches taking root and growing especially among the Gentiles (Paul considered the apostle to the Gentiles, even as Peter was considered the apostle to the Jews- Galatians 2:7-8) and therefore a man who surely did not have to work for a living, not that faithfulness in preaching the gospel and overseeing the churches isn’t hard work, because most certainly it is. That is not to say that the Lord’s yoke is heavy (Matthew 11:28-30), it is only to say that in God’s grace one can work hard, a different subject and tack altogether (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Paul does indeed say that those who preach the gospel ought to get their living from that work, in other words be supported by believers (1 Corinthians 9:11-14). Interestingly Paul knew what it was to live well by God’s grace in either scarcity or plenty. None of this nullifies God’s promise to meet our needs as we remain devoted to the cause of the gospel (Philippians 4:12-13, click to see the entire passage, verses 10-20).

Of course we want to live honorably and die honorably. And how we live in regard to material wealth, our giving, our saving so we can give more as well as support the needs of our loved ones- is not to be underestimated in its importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8).

So baby boomers like myself can take some comfort and refuge as well as instruction in Paul’s outlook and what he did (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). And what he expected of the churches (for example 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). In the equation it should go without saying that one shouldn’t spend and give (move out) more than they earn (move in). That can be tricky in that we may not be aware of all the expenses either present or possible in the unknown future (even just over the horizon). And so it is important to plan well so that one can live as honorably as possible in love for the Lord and for our neighbor both present and future. And in whatever place one lives, whether rich or poor, we can and should be generous in the grace of giving (see 2 Corinthians 8:1-15), as we continue in the work God provides for us as well as our calling in the mission of Christ.

the true riches

Money is called Mammon, an idol representing wealth, and indeed has a pull and attraction that according to scripture and verified in life easily becomes idolatrous. Some people give everything in the pursuit of wealth with what in the end? (See Ecclesiastes). Others live with an uneasy devotion to it, hoping to get enough so that they can finally devote themselves in service to God. The only problem with that is that Money is a hard taskmaster. They don’t get free of its service so easily as they might imagine, just because they become “financially independent.”

Materialism is the culprit, not the material world, or matter. That is when we live for things, whatever they may be. The dream house, luxurious cars, extravagant vacations, toys and more toys to fill the empty void of our lives. Not that it’s wrong to enjoy something which might incur some significant expense at the time. Not that money itself is evil. It is simply when we live from day to day intent on living it up and have a devoted love to money that we become people who more and more might be characterized by greed which scripture calls idolatry.

It is not that the wealthy can’t be good and do good. One does not necessarily have to get rid of their excessive wealth to be faithful to God. There are some who are gifted when it comes to accruing wealth, and this is a gift that can be well used for good. They are managers and stewards of riches. Such a place requires grace, but ideally they should live as humbly as possible, needs met, but giving as much as they can to God’s work, especially for the service of the gospel.

Those struggling with poverty are likewise prone to temptation along these lines. Their minds can be occupied with the desire for wealth and they need grace to accept their situation while seeking to do well with what gifts God gives them, be it in terms of a job, an education or whatever. Oftentimes their lot in life, perhaps especially so in the beginning is challenging. There tends to be an upward mobility for those who come to faith in Christ, but some for this or that reason may experience dire poverty much of their lives. Jesus did say that it is hard and impossible in human terms for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. He did not say the same for the poor, in fact the poor seem to have more of a readiness for faith since there condition is inherently dependent. With that come unique temptations, one of them often called entitlement. The world is an unequal place, no friend of the poor quite in contrast to scripture where God’s priority for the poor rings out again and again.

In the end Jesus calls his followers to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness with the promise that all of their material needs, the need for food, clothing and shelter will be met. We are called not to store up wealth for ourselves, but to be rich toward God. That may mean for some that they handle large amounts of wealth. All relative, since most of us Americans do so compared to the rest of the world, and indeed it is expensive to live in any established normal way in America. But those wealthy by first world standards can still be rich toward God, not imagining that the money is their own.

The rest of us want to do well with the material wealth we have, avoid excessive debt and get out of debt. Give regularly as an act of devotion and faith to God’s work. And live as those whose lives are caught up in “the true riches” in and through Christ.

what the rich young ruler missed

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

This is an interesting story, told in the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. A ruler falls on his knees before Jesus and asks what good thing he should do to inherit eternal life. I take the words of Jesus as well as that of the ruler here at face value. I don’t import on them my understanding of what an evangelistic gospel presentation should look like. The summons here is to a king and a kingdom come in him. A completely different kingdom than those of the world or what Israel anticipated. Of course more needed to take place, namely Jesus’ death and resurrection followed by his ascension and the pouring out of the Spirit along with the promise of his return. But what is in the gospels is essential to understanding the agenda which is set. Which has been all but lost by the church at large through the centuries. Evident in that the creeds make no passing mention of it.

Yes, Jesus’ call was costly. Sell everything, all his vast wealth and give to the poor. The giving to the poor is not at all surprising, but as we gather from Jesus’ own disciples from what they said afterward and Jesus’ follow up to that, the idea that a rich person should give up their wealth, or at least the idea that it is hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven because they are so tied to their wealth, as if material prosperity could be antithetical to the kingdom of God did not ring true to the disciples themselves.

The young man’s face fell. He went away deeply sad, since he had great possessions. Doing what Jesus said for him was not an option. Impossible. An illustration of Jesus’ words that it is indeed hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus intimates, impossible apart from God.

But think of what this ruler missed: Besides the treasure in heaven, actually being a follower on the ground of Jesus himself. Becoming one who could learn what it means to live in the new way in him, the way of the cross, the way of resurrection life. Above all to know Jesus, and to know God through Jesus which amounts to eternal life (John 17). He missed so much. And for what? What ends up being a mess of pottage when it’s all said and done. Maybe worldly glory which comes and goes. But not the glory which comes from God. We don’t want glory to ourselves, indeed that is not fitting. What is meant here is to live in God’s favor by his grace, completely a gift in and through Jesus.

May we have ears to hear the call and a heart to follow.

 

 

single-mindedness

If you work hard enough at it and apply some good wisdom and common sense you just might rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions. You likely will live something of the American dream. Unless too many misfortunes occur. This is surely a temptation to the follower of Jesus.

What is important for us who are followers of Jesus is to have a single mindedness in following him. That everything in our lives ought to be concerned with and reflect that. Too often we can actually end up centered on secondary matters, goals out of line with the single minded devotion to which we are called as followers of Jesus.

One of the worst, most subtle, and I might think most common traps for us may be when the end we are seeking seems to help us to live out devotion to Christ. But we don’t get to that by doing something else.  One common example: the drive to “financial independence,” which actually is a fiction. One becomes entangled in the affairs of this life in ways one likely could never have anticipated.

We must pay careful attention and put into practice Jesus’ words. After warning his disciples and all who listened about the impossibility of serving two masters, God and Money along with implying the necessity of being generous to the poor, Jesus tells his followers to trust in the Father and his provision for what they actually need. The context is following Jesus. And then perhaps the key line in that passage and for this post:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If I could talk to myself some three decades back, this is what I’d say in regard to this: Live as simply as possible. Don’t get caught up into the system. Particularly avoid debt wherever possible, except for a modest house mortgage or student loan. Better to seek to trust the Lord for cash, or as much cash as possible. When you’re in debt you end up living like a slave to that debt. Start a modest savings, especially early on (in your twenties into your thirties) in a safe, modest and conservative investment. What I’m getting at here is seeking to be responsible. Keep reading Proverbs, the wisdom found in it. This has its place in this life. And along with this, above all, seek to walk closer to the Lord and become more like him, in fellowship with others and in mission. What we do matters, but even more important is the character out of which we do it. And give generously both to your church and to worthy causes, particularly helping the poor. Seek to grow in the grace of giving.

Even for us who did not do so well along the way, there’s still the opportunity, no matter where we find ourselves to live with this single mindedness. To do the best we can where we’re at and in dependence on God. To settle for nothing less than that.

To be single-minded is to set our hearts and minds and lives on following Jesus come what may to the very end.

trusting the Lord, or ourselves? (money)

I have had a lifelong struggle with money. It is not like we’re rich or poor, relative to the world we’re quite wealthy. I could have done much better with finances, avoiding going into debt for school, accruing compound interest, etc. I do have a wife who is good with our finances, keeps the credit up and has been an important part of helping me grow in the grace of giving.

What I am faced with again and again from time to time is the question: Am I trusting the Lord to provide our needs, or am I depending on myself, thinking the buck stops with me? Of course we do want to handle money wisely. We want to not only live well within our means, but be generous in systematic giving. Money is not an evil in and of itself, the love of money is. I like the Franciscan way of giving the money for the benefit of the poor and living a simple lifestyle on what’s left. But one gets caught up into the system and once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.

What I need to ask the Lord again and again is simply am I trusting in him, or myself? Do I consider not only my physical life and existence a gift, but all the rest that accompanies that? And don’t I want to be sure that all the glory goes to God both in our receiving as well as giving? It isn’t like we’re not allowed to have some “toys” along the way. But essentially we’re not living for ourselves, but for the Lord and for the good of others. We are blessed to be a blessing.

And so today once more, I want to renew my commitment of faith to trust in the Father’s good provision for us. So that we can be a part of God’s ongoing kingdom work in and through Jesus. Being responsible, while seeking to grow in our faith and rest in God.

Matthew 6:19-34

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. 23 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!

24 “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.

25 “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? 26 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 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? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Footnotes:

Matthew 6:22 The Greek for healthy here implies generous.
Matthew 6:23 The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.
Matthew 6:27 Or single cubit to your height