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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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.

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.

Orbus non sufficit

The verse for today has been used over and over again, so unfortunately it’s become something of a cliche. But that doesn’t make it any less true — or any less convicting if you actually sit and think about it.

Mark 8:36

36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

It’s a good question. Jesus said this when He was telling the disciples about His upcoming execution (the disciples either didn’t believe Him or they didn’t undertand what He was saying, which is pretty much par for the course for them). And when He called the crowd to join them, Jesus explained to them that if any of them wanted to be His followers, they had to leave everything behind to do it.

True Christianity is such a paradox. The more you fight to hang on to your life, your possessions, your selfish desires, the faster you will lose them. But if you give all of that over to God (without worrying if it will be restored or not), you’ll find more joy and more happiness than anything you could have attained on your own.

So what purpose is there to gaining the whole world? What purpose is there to gaining wealth and power and status on this crazy, broken-down planet we live on?

Well, okay, let me back up before I start sounding like I’m an advocate of living like a monk. I’m sure living that way has its perks. I’m sure having no earthly attachments must make it easier to focus on God. Does it? I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m not called to sell everything I own and wander around. At least not yet. Though if God ever told me to do that, I would do it. After all, He gave me everything I have, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly through parents and friends.

I have nothing by my own merit. Every good thing in my life has come from God. And the same is true for everyone.

You may feel like you have worked to earn the things in your life, but who gave you the strength to work? Who gave you the intelligence to think? Who has orchestrated every moment of your life to bring you to where you are right now? Do you really think that life is full of coincidences? Do you really believe that you just happened to learn the things you needed to learn so that you could get the job you just happened to get so that you could impress the people you needed to impress to allow you to get where you are right now?

I’m not old. But I’ve lived long enough and have experienced enough to know that there are no coincidences in life.

I’m thankful for everything that God has given me. I have a house and a car and a job. I have food to eat and hobbies to pursue. And I have ambition to improve myself, to make myself better today than I was yesterday. And I am not saying that’s bad. I think it’s good to want to better yourself. I think it’s the right thing to do, actually. The Bible tells us that we need to live excellent lives and to do every task as though we were doing it for Him. With that sort of a work ethic, you can’t help but do well, especially in the lazy workforce we have now.

So what happens if we end up with wealth and status and power without seeking it? Do we throw it away?

No. But we do have a choice as to what we do with it.

You have to also think about the examples in Scripture about wealthy people who were used for God’s glory. Like Job. He was the wealthiest man in the world but he was also the godliest man at the same time, and he became the object of Satan’s attacks for that reason. And when it was all over and He had never been unfaithful to God, God gave him more than He’d had before Satan struck Him down.

It’s not a sin to be wealthy. It’s not a sin to be powerful or to have status above other people.

It’s a sin to think you got it all on your own. And it’s a sin to make those things the center of your life.

If we aren’t careful, wealth and power can become idols in our lives. This is especially relevant in America where we seek both of those things with all the strength we have. But let’s be honest, guys, we can’t take either one of those things with us when we die. And what good will earthly wealth do us in heaven? In heaven, the streets are paved with gold. That should tell you what God thinks of earthly wealth. It’s so common in heaven, He’s used it to pave the streets. And what power can you possibly attain on earth that will translate to heaven? The only power and authority we have comes from God anyway. It won’t be any different in heaven.

Wealth and power are illusions. Living for them is a waste of time because when you finally obtain them, you realize that they were never real.

Living for Christ is a completely different matter. If you’re one of the people who God has specially positioned to have both earthly wealth and authority, you have a unique role to play. Just because you have wealth and status doesn’t mean you have to be selfish. As much as Christians don’t like to talk about it, this world runs on money. And everyone needs money to survive — to buy food, to get from point A to point B, to do ministry. Ministry is expensive, not just in time and effort but in dollars.

So you wealthy Christians out there, have you ever thought about what God might be calling you to do with your money?

Want to prove that money doesn’t matter to you? Give it to God. Find a church that is doing God’s work (real, biblical work and not just some religious cause) and invest there. Invest in ministry. Invest in missionaries. You may think you won’t get a return on that investment, but you will be truly surprised what God can do with a couple of dollars.

Want to prove that status isn’t your god? Be humble before your subordinates. Lead by following. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.

You can gain the world if you want, but the world won’t ever be enough for you because it isn’t real. Living for wealth is a waste of time, just like living for power. But if you live for Christ and live the way the Bible teaches, God fills up the emptiness in your heart. And not just full — overflowing. And pretty soon you’ll have so many blessings you don’t know what to do with them all.

The only thing that matters

It’s so easy to get caught up in the craziness of life that oftentimes I forget the things that really matter. The pesky little problems in life are small and insignificant but they can seem to big and so troublesome that they’re all I can focus on.

I don’t think I say this enough, but I love the Bible. If you haven’t read it, you really should. And I don’t mean from cover to cover. Just pick a book. Read Philippians. It’s short and full of joy. Read the Gospels and learn about Jesus. Read Ruth. It’s a beautiful love story that is a symbol of God’s love for us. And if you’re sad or depressed or have forgotten what’s really important in life? Read Psalms.

Psalms is uplifting and encouraging. Whenever I read the Psalms, I always find something that encourages me.

I know recently that I have been really stressed out. More stressed out than I have ever been in my life. The issue mostly revolves around work and me not knowing how to deal with the amount of work I have. But let’s be honest here. It’s just a job, and I don’t want to view my job as my purpose for living. It’s not, and it shouldn’t be. Not ever. Because there are more important things. I have never wanted wealth or recognition or fame (although having enough money to buy groceries now is nice), but Psalm 73:25-26 reminded me of something this morning:

 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
      I desire you more than anything on earth.
 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
      but God remains the strength of my heart;
      he is mine forever.

God is all that matters. He’s the most important person in my life. Our relationship is the priority in my life — or it should be. I need to want closeness with Him more than anything else, more than finances, more than comfort, more than my family . . . . more than publication. More than the realization of my dreams. More than anything means more than anything. And I know I haven’t been there.

In every step of my life, God has never left me. No matter where I was physically or spiritually or emotionally, no matter how many times I failed Him, He has never failed me, and He has promised to keep strengthening me and to always be with me.

Everything else in my life pales in comparison to Him. There’s no one like Him. My best friend. My ally. My eternal supporter who knew my gifts and dreams before He gave them to me. And at the end of everything, when it’s just Him and me, I want Him to tell me that I did a good job. That I kept my perspective right. That I lived the way I was supposed to.

That’s more important than anything else. So maybe I need to start living like it.