More life than money can buy

It’s strange to think that two weeks ago I had already been in England for a few days. It doesn’t feel like I stayed that long, but I can tell you that I’m glad to be home. I’m sure if a British person came to vacation in the US, they’d be glad to get back to England. A lot of it is what you’re used to. But something really struck me this time around. It was something I knew already, but I hadn’t really made the connection in my own life.

Regardless of what they believe, Americans are raised in a culture of generosity. Most of us are, anyway. And that’s just not something you find in other cultures around the world. But it’s a characteristic that may be waning in the US, and I believe it’s up to the Christ-followers to keep it alive because it’s something that distinguishes us more than we know.

money-e1301854514533Today’s verses are 1 Timothy 6:17-19.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

Being generous with either time or money isn’t easy, especially if you have limited amounts of both. But something every Christ-follower should remember is that we are all wealthy. Even if we don’t have loads of money, we are far wealthier than those who came before us.

Think about it. Even if you don’t drink expensive coffee, you can go sit in a Starbucks somewhere and use their free internet. Even if you can’t afford expensive foods, there are places where you can buy things to eat that don’t cost much. And on a really bad day, you can go to the store and buy a big tub of ice cream for a few bucks. Not even King Solomon could do that!

We’re wealthy, but not just in financial opportunity. We’re wealthy in Christ because He’s given us so much. We have His peace. We have His salvation. We have His hope and access to His power and resources. I mean, what more can you even ask for?

Yet it’s still tempting to live a closed life, grappling and clinging to the things we think we’ve earned for ourselves. But that’s a lie. Every good thing you have in your life was given to you, whether you believe that or not. Maybe you’ve earned your money, but God gave you the ability to earn it.

Can you really be stingy with a gift? I mean, sure, if someone has given you a gift it’s yours. They don’t want it back. But can you really claim to have earned it if you actually didn’t? And by that token, can you really cling to it if someone else truly needs it?

There’s nothing wrong with having money. God doesn’t punish the wealthy, and He doesn’t despise those who are financially successful. It’s the opposite really. Those who have money and wealth have a responsibility to use their finances for Christ–to trust more in Him than in their own pocketbooks.

But for the rest of us, those of us who aren’t independently wealthy and have to scrape and save for everything, should we cling to our meager possessions when there are always others around us who have less than we do? If God has given us everything we have, why is it so hard to let it go to help others?

It’s fear. Plain and simple. And I struggle with it every day. Because what if God doesn’t replace what I give away? What if I don’t have enough to pay my bills or feed myself? What if there’s something horrible that happens and I need my finances to get myself out of it?

In all my life, there’s never been a time when God didn’t provide for me. He isn’t going to stop now.

So don’t be afraid to be generous. Don’t fear to share what God has given you with others. God will always take care of you, in more ways than you can imagine, and not just financially but emotionally and spiritually. And you can’t put a price on those things.

Be generous. Give your gifts away for free, whether it’s time or money or love. They were given to you, so don’t cling to them like they’re all that can save you. Because they can’t. Instead, cling to the One who gave them to you. You’ll be surprised how much freedom you gain, and you’ll become a light in a dark world that only has as much hope as money can buy.

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Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

You can afford generosity in God’s name

Stingy people aren’t much fun to hang around. If you don’t know any stingy people, count yourself fortunate. They’re exhausting.

I am fortunate to know many, many generous people, but that doesn’t mean I’m surrounded by wealthy folks. Whether you are stingy or generous, it has nothing to do with how much money you have.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 25:37-40.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Some of the most generous people I’ve ever known haven’t been wealthy, at least by what the world would call wealthy. I’ve known some who invited me over for dinner, when they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. I’ve known others who relied on God’s provision from paycheck to paycheck in order to feed their families, but they never hesitate to offer what they have to help someone else.

Generous people humble me, and more than anything they make me want to be generous too. And I’ve learned something about generous people. Because I’ve known a lot of them. They all have something in common.

None of them have anything.

If you ask them about their house, they’ll tell you they don’t own a house. God owns a house and let them use it in His name. If you ask them about their possessions, they’ll tell you they don’t have possessions. God has blessed them with the things that make life easier, and they get to make use of them to help others in His name. The same is true of their finances. Everything they have is God’s, including their money. God is just trusting them to manage it in His name.

Have you ever tried to live that way? Looking at your house, your car, your money, your everything as though it truly belongs to God and He’s just letting you borrow it? Would that change your perspective on the things you call your things? Would that lead you to take better care of the things God has given you? Or would you worry less about them?

If nothing else, it should make us second guess how we use our things.

But what happens if you open your house to strangers and they tear it up? What happens if you give money to someone and they let you down? Believe me, I feel those questions. I come from a school of thought that you’re supposed to be responsible with the things you have, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

But what’s more important? Doing what God says or taking care of things that don’t even belong to you?

God has given us everything we have, and as Americans, we have a lot. I don’t think we really understand how much we have until we leave the country. The areas of Mexico and Guatemala that I’ve been in have been among the poorest I’ve ever seen—and also the kindest and most generous.

Does it make sense for Americans to cling to what doesn’t even belong to them?

Before you decide to favor your things over the people around you, take a moment and really talk to God about it. Yes, we’re supposed to be wise, and I do believe God gave us brains for a reason. But don’t ever let concern for things get between you and doing what God says is right.

No house or car or paycheck is worth that.

When you open your doors and your home and your heart to others, God is able to reach others with His love through you. You get to be an extension of God, welcoming people and loving people and helping people.

Don’t worry about the expense. Remember, God gave you the means to obtain what you have in the first place. If He wants you to have it again, He’ll give it to you.

Don’t lose the opportunity to be Jesus to someone because you’re afraid to lose something you don’t even own.

Cutie - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Know who you’re talking to

In business and in life, it’s a good idea to know who you’re talking to before you start a conversation, especially if you have a request. I learned that by submitting manuscripts for publication. I didn’t really read literary magazines previously, but I kept submitting stories to magazines where they didn’t fit. And the stories, even though they were good, would be rejected, not because of bad grammar or poor writing but simply because they didn’t work with the context and the design of the magazine itself.

Something similar happened to me yesterday. I work for a medium-sized plumbing, heating and pipe joining manufacturing company, and we have a large warehouse in McPherson, KS. Since I’m the company’s press contact, I get all the random emails from our website. And this one had me giggling for about an hour.

Basically some charity that supports cats and cat-related groups is having a charity fireworks booth in July and wanted to know if we had a company newsletter we would be willing to allow them to advertise in. Now, apparently this group is in McPherson, but that’s the only thing we have in common with them. We make pipes. We design plumbing systems. We have nothing to do with cats (most people I work with don’t even like them), and we can’t have fireworks in any of our facilities. And while it’s a very nice thought, I just don’t think this person did their research before asking. And, on top of that, do cats even like fireworks? Mine don’t. The whole thing just made me smile.

Cutie - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cutie – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Jeremiah 9:23-24.

This is what the Lord says:
“Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom,
    or the powerful boast in their power,
    or the rich boast in their riches.
But those who wish to boast
    should boast in this alone:
that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord
    who demonstrates unfailing love
    and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth,
and that I delight in these things.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!

I think this set of verses is fascinating because it’s one of the only times where the Bible gives us permission to brag about something. There are other times where Scripture says we are allowed to brag, but it’s always about what God has done or what He’s doing. But this is permission to brag about how well you know God (note it says if you wish to boast, so I get the feeling it’s probably not the best idea to boast anyway, but if you simply must, this is the topic God says is okay).

So … we can boast about how well we know God. But the question is, do you really know Him? I mean, it’s hard enough to know people you work with on a daily basis. So is it even possible to really know God?

Well, I think so. Mainly because God has nothing to hide and He’s laid everything about Himself out in the open for us to find in the Bible; we just have to look for it. Everything we need to know about God is in Scripture, so if we read Scripture, we’ll know God. But I think there’s another level of knowledge too beyond just reading Scripture. You have to read Scripture and apply it to your life. You have to take the things God says to do and do them. And that’s what really makes the difference. That’s like meeting a pen pal you’ve only exchanged letters with. Because when you do the things God has told you to do, that’s when you really meet Him. That’s when you really experience what it means to be a Christ follower.

How many times do we request things from people we don’t know? I’ve got to call my electric company because I’m pretty sure they have my meter set wrong, but whoever I speak to at the company is going to be someone I don’t know. So I don’t know what they will be capable of doing. I don’t know if they can help me or not, and I’m going to have to dig to be transferred to the person who can. It’s the same as asking a plumbing company to promote a fireworks stand for the benefit of Kansas cats.

But I know God. So when I ask Him for things, I know what He can do. I know the power He has, and I have seen Him work in my life before. So I don’t hesitate to ask Him for things that I know will please Him. So when I ask Him for something, I know He can do it, and if He doesn’t do it, I know He has a reason.

So before you ask God for something, make sure you know who He is. Make sure you know who You’re talking to. It will make all the difference in the world, not only to you but also to Him.