Sunday, June 30, 2013

Holding Money Lightly

I started writing this last month, but have been so busy I never finished it!  I was trying to get at least one post up there, and here it finally is.  I have much to say, but this was something practical that was on my mind, and a lesson I think I'm supposed to be learning right now so I'll throw it out there...
The title may not seem very wise, nor will anyone who is a miser think too kindly of this post.  If you hold your money lightly, doesn't that mean there is the possibility of losing it?  Actually...yes...yes, it does.  What I want to zero in on though is our attitude about money.  (This post is a bit of a departure for me, because this isn't something I generally talk about a lot, but it's something we all have to deal with, so here goes!)
I just had a very frustrating experience as I was driving home a few weeks ago, but let me set the stage for you.
Having just finished college, money is a bit tight.  Looming over my head was the knowledge that I have some school loans and things to pay off, and that I need to begin working soon to get it paid off as soon as possible so that the interest doesn't accumulate to ungodly amounts.  I also had one more test to take, which cost about one hundred dollars, and graduation and transcript fees.  I generally have enough to cover things, but my bank account was pretty low...very low, in fact, and being home meant of course that there would be additional expenses.  Gas prices ain't gettin' cheaper overall, and a lot of the things I was planning on doing, such as Bible studies, picking people up for different activities, and even getting to places where I can work all requires a lot of gas, since I traditionally drive all over Northern Colorado to do those things.  Then there are other expenses like food and such that I usually pay for.
I thankfully got an opportunity to work temporarily for a local restoration company, and drove up to Denver to put in a day, planning, of course, to use the money to go towards college expenses.  On the way back, I had to fill up with gas, which cost a painful $55.  As I left the gas station, and was finding my way back to the highway, I apparently ran a stop sign. (I say 'apparently' because I didn't see it...but the cop sure did.)  Yes, as luck would have it, a cop was there waiting for someone to slip up, and he pulled me over and gave me a $180 ticket!
Sitting in my car by the side of the road, I looked at the amount in shock.  Was it normally so much money for such a seemingly small offense?   I didn't even have $180 in my bank account right now...I didn't even have enough to fill up with gas again!  That meant that any money I'd make for the few days I'd be able to work would go straight to covering this fine.
As I drove home thinking about it, I got more and more frustrated. This was such an unnecessary expense, and it was coming at such an inopportune time!  It made all the work I had just done for 7 hours completely worthless!  (I started to reason with myself that if I hadn't worked I definitely wouldn't have had enough to cover the ticket, but then I immediately shot back that if I hadn't worked, I wouldn't have even been in Denver to get the ticket in the first place.)  Like a mature adult, I called my mom and vented my frustration onto her.  She kindly reminded me that this meant my insurance would go up...which didn't exactly help my mood.
As I drove home, stewing, and being frustrated, I knew I needed to reign in and get a hold of myself.  Things like this are always bound to happen.  That's just life, and I know I can't lose my temper every time I'm struggling financially.  And as I thought about this, somehow the thought came to me to hold my money loosely.
Jesus actually talked quite a bit about money and worry in the gospels.  There's a few places that really stand out to me in the gospel of Luke though, because He seems to be approaching the subject of money from opposite directions.  They are long passages so bear with me but they contain important truths.
Luke 12:13-34 KJV
(13)  And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
(14)  And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
(15)  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
(16)  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
(17)  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
(18)  And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
(19)  And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
(20)  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
(21)  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
(22)  And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
(23)  The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.
(24)  Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
(25)  And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?
(26)  If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?
(27)  Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
(28)  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
(29)  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.
(30)  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
(31)  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.
(32)  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
(33)  Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.
(34)  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
We are familiar with these verses and these concepts from Scripture.  And when I first read some of these verses it almost looks like Jesus is telling us not to plan ahead.  Don't worry about food or clothes or money because God will take care of you.  But then a few chapters later we have this story:
Luke 16:1-14 KJV
(1)  And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
(2)  And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
(3)  Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
(4)  I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
(5)  So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
(6)  And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
(7)  Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
(8)  And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
(9)  And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
(10)  He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
(11)  If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
(12)  And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
(13)  No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
(14)  And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
Now we see one of the strangest parables Jesus tells--the parable of the unjust steward its called.  Why in the world does Jesus tell a story about a man who essentially stole from his former master, using authority he didn't have, and use him as a commendable example, even though he calls him unjust?  He follows up to the story by saying we should make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, and if we're faithful in little we'll be faithful in much, because if we can't be faithful in unrighteous mammon how will we be faithful in true riches?  Wait, but wasn't He telling us just a few chapters ago not to worry about how we handle money?  And why then does he follow up the story with the statement that no man can serve two masters, implying you can't serve both money and God, after just telling a story about a shrewd guy who used money to set himself up financially in a better position?  I think part of the key to understanding this is in the phrase: "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light."  We all know Christians who can't handle money very well.  I know of a guy who would brag about his time being homeless when he trusted God to take care of him.  I also knew his pastor who was the means God used to take care of him, because the guy couldn't hold a job and wouldn't use his money wisely when he would get it.  Jesus tells the story about the unjust steward as an example to be shrewd with how we handle money, and is in no way inconsistent with his earlier statements about not trusting in money.
It's easy to see how rich people can make money their god.  They become focused and consumed on their temporary riches.  However, if you're poor, money can also become your god.  I realized this a few years ago, when I was teaching Bible studies and driving all over the place, and going to school, but wasn't working, so money was very tight.  It hit me one day that I had actually developed a stingy attitude.  I would never pay for anyone else, or give generously to anything because I was so worried about not having enough money.  The point Jesus is making in both chapters is that money can't be our focus.  Hoarding it can distract us from Him, and not using it wisely and never having enough can distract us from Him.  Agur makes a good statement that sums up this concept in Proverbs 30:7-9 KJV
(7)  Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
(8)  Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
(9)  Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
Paul knew both how to abound and to suffer need, but was content in every situation. (Phil. 4:11-12)  It's why Proverbs can speak of hard, diligent work, but also remind us that riches do not profit in the day of wrath, and warns us against hasting to be rich.  It's why God uses rich men like Abraham and Job as shining examples of faith, but also uses poor people like Lazarus in Jesus' parable later on in Luke 16, or the widow of Zarepath.  It's why Joseph of Arimathea is commended, but the rich young ruler is sent away sorrowful.  The point is that we can't let our focus and our thoughts become so consumed with money that we miss out on working for the kingdom of God.  Our primary focus with money has to be how we can be faithful with what God has entrusted us, so that we can be free to serve the kingdom of God in the best way possible.  I'll finish up with a few verses from Proverbs that may seem at first to be disconnected but actually speak very loudly to this principle.  God calls us to be stewards of His money and to be willing to let it go if He asks us to, willing to give to others sacrificially and trust in Him.  That's what these verses are about, and they are good to keep in mind as we work and live our daily lives.  The point is that God wants us to be generous, and He will take care of the rest.
Pro 11:24-28 KJV
(24)  There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
(25)  The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
(26)  He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.
(27)  He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.
(28)  He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.
By the way, after I began thinking about how I needed to let things roll off my back and not become so stressed about money, it hit me again how things always work out.  I received some money as graduation gifts, I was working and made money that way, and even got a check from an inheritance.  I continually received enough so that all my expenses were paid for, and was still able to invest in others by buying them meals or spending it on gas to pick them up or spend time with them.  Even though it was frustrating at the time, the ticket didn't end up being that big of a deal, as I look back on it...there was no reason to stress.  God doesn't want our focus to be taken away from Him because of our money.  Our money is just one of the means we have to serve Him, and if we look at it that way, doing what is necessary to get the money we need, but not worrying about, it removes so much stress and empowers us to be used of God in extraordinary ways.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Wasted Life for God

Now before you get mad at my strange-sounding title, and yell that nothing done for God is wasted, hear me out, because this post is really about drink offerings.  Confused?  Let me explain.

Admittedly, at first glance, you wouldn't think the Old Testament practice of pouring out two quarts of wine on the altar at the Temple would have a whole lot of relevance to our lives today.  However, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of a drink offering, and it actually has everything to do with every bit of our lives today!

Paul mentions the concept of a drink offering in Philippians 2:17.  The ESV says, "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all."

I had never studied anything about a drink offering until recently, when a friend mentioned it and the concept is a really cool one!  In the Old Testament, a lot of the sacrifices would be used by the priests as well.  For example, there were certain portions of the meat offerings that were set apart for the priests to eat.  The drink offering, however, is different.  They would pour two whole quarts of wine out on the altar.  I can imagine that to an outside observer that would look like a huge waste.  Why are you just dumping out all this wine?!  And this is what Paul compares his life to in 2 Timothy 4:16.

One story in the Bible that always confused me comes from 2 Samuel 23, when David and his mighty men are fighting the Philistines, and are holed up somewhere else, while the Philistines have a hold on David's hometown of Bethlehem.  At some point, probably right after an exhausting battle, a parched David says something to the effect of, "If only I could have a drink from the well at Bethlehem!"  Three of his mighty men overhear this and actually fight through the entire garrison of the Philistines, risking their lives, get him a cup of water, and fight back through without spilling it!  That is an amazing feat!  The loyalty of these guys to their commander is astounding and inspiring!  

The crazy thing about this story, though, is that when David gets it, he won't drink it, and pours it all out on the ground!  If I was there, I would have been like, "Whaaaaaat?!  Don't waste that!!  We just risked our lives to get that for you!  Where's the gratitude!  Here, I'll drink it!"  This is David's reason though: "He poured it out unto the LORD.  And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it."  He poured it out as a drink offering before the Lord, because that kind of loyalty was only due to One.  I bring this story up to demonstrate a drink offering that seemed like a total waste.

So what does this have to do with us?

Well, we know that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord, holy and acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1).  The part that jumps out at me is that Paul refers to himself as a drink offering, which could seem like a waste to someone on the outside.  The implication is that even if people think that pouring out our entire lives for the Lord in the way described in Philippians 2, of being humble, meek, waving our rights, preferring others before ourselves in love, the way that Jesus did, who was poured out all the day long for us--even if everyone else thinks that's a waste, we're willing to do that as a drink offering unto the Lord.  

There are examples in history of people who have done this very thing that inspire me to no end.  Telemachus is one who's life seemed like a waste...but accomplished great good.  (You can read his story on an earlier blog post: Counter Culture) As a relatively recent example, Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Roger Youderian and Ed McCully were 5 missionaries who gave up everything to reach the savage Auca tribe in Ecuador who killed everyone who attempted to come in.  They established contact by flying over them in a plane dropping gifts and shouting friendly phrases.  Finally, they landed on a beach in Auca territory, hoping to establish contact.  They met an older woman, a teenage girl, and a young man, and thought everything was going well.  But several days later, their bodies were found floating in the river, shot through with spears, then plane stripped.  Five men, all with wives and young children, and missionary work to do—all dead.  What a seeming waste.  But the doors opened to reach the tribe with this gospel.  Nate Saint’s sister went to live and work with them for many years.  The families forgave the people and won many to Christ.  Jim Elliot is famous for saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Steve Saint was 5 years old when his father was murdered by the Aucas (or Waorani), and he made this statement, which I love: "Most think that it's OK to go with God's program as long as it fits their program, but I finally decided that I wanted God to write the story, because I know that it will come out best in the end that way."

If we have this mentality, it doesn’t matter what God asks us to do, or if other people think it’s a waste.  This is our reasonable service, to be poured out as a drink offering before Him!

Its a change of mentality that causes me to stop thinking about my own plans and what others think, and makes me want to pour out everything to God.

The perfect example of this, of course, is the lady with the alabaster box who poured the expensive spikenard on Jesus' feet.  The disciples thought it was a waste, but Jesus rebuked them and said, "Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her." (Matthew 26:13). Why was this story to be shared with the entire world, as opposed to other stories like Noah's Ark, David and Goliath, or even Jesus walking on water or feeding the 5,000?  Why was what this woman did so important that it is to be shared wherever the essentials of the gospel are preached?  I believe it's because this is the essence of our response to the gospel.  We have to be willing to pour out our entire lives for Jesus, even if others think it's a waste.  That shows true love, and that's what He loves.