On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

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You can’t take two roads at the same time

Everything about our 21st Century culture revolves around getting our own way. We like our food prepared a certain way. We like particular options on our cars. We like specific types of music or movies or books. In the last 30 or so years, we’ve grown up expecting that people will cater to our whims. That’s customer service. If I want a skinny decaf no foam latte, I order one, and that’s what I expect to get. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Well, there’s nothing wrong it until what we want contradicts what God says is right. Then, we have a choice. Because in the choice between two paths, you can only choose one. You can’t walk down the middle.

CI1HWTBJL1_1372x913Today’s verse is Matthew 6:24.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This is one verse out of a much larger passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-34), and if you’ve got time I really recommend reading the whole thing. This is one of those concepts in Scripture that gets really twisted around, I think. There are some who look at wealth and money as though it’s something evil, and that’s just not the case. Money becomes evil when it becomes more important in your life than God.

When you place the acquisition of food or clothing or status higher than your desire to walk with God, you have a problem, because you’re walking down the road that will take you away from God. You can walk with God and have money and resources, but you can’t walk with God and love money and resources more than you love Him. That doesn’t work out so well.

Jesus was devoted to one path. It was the same road He started walking when He learned how to walk, and it was the same road that led Him to the cross to die to pay for our entry into heaven.

Staying on one path is hard, especially when there is so much of the world to see, but once you step off that narrow road, there aren’t always guideposts to get you back to it. It’s like taking a poorly planned detour. In some parts of the country, a detour winds through pretty residential areas, but most of the ones I’ve been on are desert-like and time-consuming and irritating. That’s what stepping off the path gets you–confused and frustrated. And you only have yourself to blame.

It’s tempting to want to live our lives the way we want to live them, but if you are a Christ-follower, your life doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to Jesus. And you simply can’t follow Jesus when you’re only focusing on doing whatever it will take to get more money. And, believe me, I know how important money is. You can sit and be as holy and spiritual as you want, but if you don’t have money, you can’t eat. This has become even more obvious to me since I started working for myself. Money is hard to get.

What’s even harder is trusting that God will provide. But that’s what this entire passage is about. You can serve money and scrimp and save and fret and stress out for your entire life to scrape a few pennies together that might last a few years. Or you can just chill and do what God says to do today and trust that when you need something, God will provide it for you.

Maybe that sounds naive. But I’m not the one asking the questions. Jesus is staring back at me in this passage asking me why I have so little faith.

So stop fretting. Stop chasing dollar bills. Instead, put God’s priorities first in your life and trust that He’ll provide when you need it.

Jesus walked one path. That’s the direction He went. And if we say we’re His followers, we probably ought to follow. Don’t you think?

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.

Peace of mind in a piggy bank

What would you do for God if money wasn’t an option? How would your life change if you lived for God’s Word instead of your paycheck?

The Bible is full of stories about people who took great risks following God. All throughout the Old Testament, men and women who trusted God did impossible things, crazy things, reckless things. If you talked to them while they were doing those impossible, crazy, reckless things, they probably would have agreed with you.

I’m sure Abraham was terrified when he packed up his wife and left everything he knew for a land he didn’t even know existed. Noah built an ark when no one had ever seen a real rainstorm, let alone a flood. Gideon in the time of the Judges had to think it was nuts to attack a massive army of professional soldiers with a measly few hundred men armed only with clay pots, torches, and trumpets.

On and on and on the stories go, building a heritage of crazy faith so it’s not exactly a surprise when 12 unlearned, ignorant men drop what they’re doing and follow after a carpenter from Nazareth. And from there? Men and women gladly gave up their lives in the name of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to today. The same impossible, crazy, reckless things still happen in today’s world, but we don’t hear about them as much. Does that mean they aren’t happening as often? No, I don’t think that’s the case. I just don’t think they’re happening as often in the United States.

Men and women give up everything to do what God has called them to do. They leave their lives. They leave their families and their comfort zones. They risk poverty and destitution and slavery and death. And I’m willing to bet it happens much more frequently than anyone knows.

Why doesn’t it happen as often in America? I have a theory.

Piggy-BankToday’s verse is Matthew 6:24.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

This is a touchy subject. Money always is. People get defensive about it. And no one ever seems to be able to get it right. Either people talk about it too much or they don’t talk about it enough, but generally speaking whenever money is the topic of conversation, you’re going to have a fight break out.

But the inescapable truth about money is that America has a lot of it. Is it a coincidence that as an overall culture we struggle with doing what God has called us to do?

See, money is deceptive. And it doesn’t have to just be money. It can be possessions. It can be stuff. Whatever you live for that isn’t God. When you have those things, you can get into the habit of thinking you’ll always have them. You can calm your anxieties by reminding yourself you have money in the bank. It’s what you can use to control your life, your problems, etc.

And don’t misunderstand. Having money is wonderful. It’s a blessing. It’s such a gift. If God has given you financial stability and wealth, you have been given a tremendous responsibility to use that gift in a way that honors God.

But if you’re like the rest of lower middle class America, you make it from paycheck to paycheck. You have just enough to be comfortable but not enough to buy whatever you want whenever you want it. And there are days when you can’t help but think, “If I just made a little more money, I wouldn’t have to worry.”

I’ve been to poor countries. And I mean poor. The poorest person in America is still wealthy in comparison. But the poor people I met in the interior of Mexico or the untraveled jungles of Guatemala weren’t consumed with anxiety over what they had or didn’t have. Their lives are simple. Their needs are simple.

American culture serves the dollar. That’s just a fact. Watch television for a few minutes, and you’ll see the truth of it. Money and sex. That’s what we’re about. Our culture is all about creating discontentment, convincing yourself that you need money and stuff to be happy.

That’s what it means to serve money instead of God. Serving money is finding your contentment and your security and your happiness in what you own or how much you have. It’s trying to find peace of mind in a piggy bank when peace of mind only comes from a right relationship with God.

What would you do for God if money wasn’t an option?

It’s a lesson I’m trying to learn, but if you’re a Christ-follower, money should never be an option. Yes, you should be a good steward of what God has given you, but if God has directly indicated that you should do something, you should do it. Money has no say.

Want to do great things for God? Want to be a part of that impossible, crazy, reckless for Jesus club? Throw away your piggy bank. Sure, it has its uses, but it isn’t money that will help you achieve the impossible. That’s God’s job. And you can’t hold on to Him when you’re clutching pennies in your hands.

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Investing

Why does the Church always talk about giving? Have you ever wondered about that? Granted, some churches talk about it more than others. My church doesn’t talk about it very often, but my pastor doesn’t hesitate to stand in front of the congregation and ask, especially if there’s a need. But I know of a church in Wichita that absolutely refuses to talk about money. Ever. So which approach is right? Is it right to talk about money in church?

Well, what did Jesus do? Jesus talked about money frequently, whether it was paying taxes or giving to the poor. Money and finances have always been a point of contention with people, and I don’t think it’s necessarily because people are selfish when it comes to giving. More likely, it’s that people aren’t sure that their money is going to be used well. Or that they just feel like they don’t have it to give. After all, in this current economic climate, who has spare change to give the church?

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 6:38.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. Money itself is just a tool that we can use to help bring people to Christ. That’s how we should look at our finances. And some people have more of it than others, but just because you have a lot of money (or just because you don’t have much money) doesn’t determine your effectiveness for God.

Actually, many times, the less you have the more effective you can be because you aren’t trusting your money to help you through. You have no other choice but to trust God to help you.

But I’m not going to focus on whether or not you should give. If you are a believer, it’s your responsibility to give, whether it’s to an established church where you attend or if it’s to a personal fund you use to bless others with when God tells you to. Ten percent of your total income belongs to God. That’s a principle that Abraham started, I believe (I need to check for sure, though, but I’m pretty positive).

What people don’t really think about is that the entire concept of giving stems from trust.

Can you trust God with your finances? Think about it. Do you trust Him enough to give Him ten percent of what you earn?

When I was just starting out working, this was a difficult question. When I made minimum wage (back when it was $5.15 an hour) and worked part time, it was difficult to agree to giving ten percent of my hard-earned money to God (through the church that I trusted to use it wisely). And even as a college student, when I had gotten a marvelous $.25 raise, it was still difficult. Ten percent doesn’t sound like a lot until you don’t have money to buy groceries.

But I made a decision back then to give God what He asked for. He’s given me so much, how can I back up and tell Him no with this? And if He really is who He says He is, He can afford me. If I give Him what I’ve earned (that He gave me the strength and opportunity to earn in the first place), that just means that I have to trust Him to take care of me if I don’t have enough to take care of myself. And He’d never let me down in any other situation. Why would He start now?

I can tell you that this isn’t a difficult question anymore. I have always given to God, and He has always given back — more than I bargained for actually and not just in money. In friends. In family. In time. In the intangible blessings that are too priceless to put a monetary value on.

If you don’t think you can do ten percent, do what you can. Just do something. Just trust Him a little and let Him prove to you that it’s not about money. Giving isn’t about money at all; it’s about trusting Him with your resources. And if you want to give but don’t think you can, ask Him. Ask Him to give you something extra so you can.

God’s a better bet than the stock market. If you’re going to invest in something, put your money behind God’s initiatives because they have eternal payoffs. What’s better? Using your money to stockpile possessions down here that you’ll eventually have to leave behind? Or investing in a church that will help people come to Christ, who you will get to spend eternity with together?

Think about it.