Archive for Whose Money Is It Anyway?

Overcoming the World: Part 7–Up There

Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, because your old life is dead and gone.  (Colossians 3:2-3a VOICE)

 

Why is it that we dwell on things that we know aren’t good for us?

 

How many times have you caught yourself starting a sentence with “I really need to” or “I really ought to,” but then you don’t actually do what it is you really need to do?  It’s as though we think we’ll at least get partial credit for simply acknowledging that we have fallen short of what is necessary.  I really need to eat a salad, but I’m going to have pizza instead.  I really need to go to the gym, but I seem to have grown butt roots here on the couch.

 

Or how about these.  I really ought to pray more.  I really ought to read my Bible more.  I really ought to get off the Internet and pay attention to my kids.  I really ought to put my phone down and talk to my wife.  Can you relate to any of this?

 

You could say that acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it, and it is, but one step does not a journey make.  You have to take the next one.

 

The thing is, the next step is usually not anything difficult.  We just. . .don’t. . .do it.  How hard is it to make simple choices like ordering something different at the restaurant, standing from a seated position, or simply TALKING to someone?  So why do we make it so much harder than it is?

 

I would chalk it up to a combination of habit and fear of change.  We do what we do because we have always done it, or if not always, at least for long enough that it has become automatic.  Habits are comfort zones; therefore, breaking them makes us uncomfortable.  And we will always gravitate toward comfort if left to ourselves, no matter how obvious it is to us that a change would do us good.

 

Christians do not have this luxury though.  When we turned our eyes toward Christ, we also turned them toward heaven, where He is.  Once you have seen a glimpse of the eternal, the things down here lose their luster a bit.

 

The problem is that the things down here are the things we are used to and that we continue to be surrounded with every day of our lives.  We love our stuff.  We love being in control of our own schedules.  We love our dreams and ambitions.  Even if they no longer satisfy us as they once did, we have claimed them as our own, and we defend them.

 

We can not forget this simple truth though.  When we made Jesus the Lord of our lives, we signed a spiritual quit claim deed for all of that stuff.  Our possessions are not ours, because the earth and everything in it belong to the Lord.  We are not in control of our lives, because we have no idea what the next day, or even the next hour, may bring.  And all of our dreams and ambitions die with us when we die.  From a spiritual standpoint, they have already died, because we surrendered them when we surrendered to Christ.

 

When we talk about “overcoming the world,” we are usually focused on all the evil bad things that we wish we didn’t have to deal with down here, and that we know won’t exist up there.  However, if we are serious about overcoming the world, then we also must focus on overcoming the pleasures down here along with the pains.  This is much more difficult, because while pain usually catches us by surprise, pleasure is something we continuously seek.  We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

 

Now is it bad to do things that feel good?  Not necessarily.  The point of this is that we need to realize that eternal life with Christ will feel, and indeed be, better than anything we have going on down here.

 

The thing we have to learn then is to be patient for the reward that is coming for us up there instead of being consumed with rewarding ourselves down here.

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway?: Part 3–Tithing

The Lord All-Powerful says, “Try this test.  Bring one-tenth of your things to me.  Put them in the treasury.  Bring food to my house.  Test me!  If you do these things, I will surely bless you.  Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.  You will have more than enough of everything.  Mal 3:10 (ERV)

 

 

The Bible has many examples of people testing God.  Most of them occur when Israel was wandering in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them out of Egypt.  The New Testament frequently refers back to those instances as warnings of what not to do in a relationship with God.

 

Yet here, near the very end of the Old Testament, God is straight up inviting us to test Him.

 

In 2003, right after I became a Christian, my pastor preached a sermon on the verse above, emphasizing that in this instance alone, God wants us to test Him.  I had never thought of tithing that way before.  In my mind, tithing was like a church tax, or else something that only extra-credit Christians did.

 

Besides, I had very little money at the time.  I was living on my own and trying to pay down debts from my recently failed first marriage.  What did I have to offer God that could win His favor?

 

Did your red light buzzer go off just then?  It should have.  For one thing, God’s favor is just a part of who He is.  There isn’t anything we can do to earn it.

 

And for another . . . does God really need MY money?  He’s God.  I don’t think He’s short of funds.

 

What I have come to learn is that it really isn’t about the money itself.  It’s about trust.

 

God entrusts us with His wealth according to our ability to handle it.  Jesus illustrates this principle in the Parable of the Talents, which can be found in Matthew 25:14-30.

 

But trust goes both ways with God.  He wants us to trust Him not just concerning the money, but also with our general well-being.

 

I chose the translation of the verse at the beginning of this post specifically for the phrase “Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.”  To the people hearing this prophecy from Malachi firsthand, in the middle of the fourth century B.C., this would have been a literal message.  They weren’t concerned with having new Cadillacs; they were concerned with their crops, as there was a great drought going on at that time.

 

So in context, what God was saying to Israel at that specific time was, “You want me to stop holding back the rain?  Fine.  Stop holding back your tithes.  I DARE you to give me back the first 10% of what you only have because I gave it to you in the first place.  Do that, and watch what happens.”

 

Now today, many folks who are not proponents of tithing argue that this was a specific message for a specific people in a specific time; therefore, it does not apply to us today.

 

But for me, I just couldn’t get past those words, “Test me!”  God is always testing me to prove my faith; now He wants me to test Him?

 

So that’s exactly what I did.  Here’s how it worked out.

 

The first thing that I had to wrap my brain around is that tithing is not something you do when you can afford it.  It’s 10% of what you have, even if that’s very little.  It’s not about the amount you’re putting into the collection plate.  It’s about trusting that God will bless the 90% you have left.

 

Once I got over my guilt about the tiny little checks I was writing each Sunday and just went with it, I started to notice things happening in my budget.  Like how I never ran out of money at the end of the month, regardless of how bleak things appeared at the beginning.

 

Over the years since then, I have noted many other instances where the math just didn’t add up at first, but things worked out better than I could ever have planned it.

 

The most recent example is this.  After our honeymoon, my wife told me that her dream vacation would be an Alaskan cruise.  Those aren’t cheap, but I told her then that if we started saving, we could set a goal to do that for our 10-year anniversary.

 

So we saved for nine years, at which point, I said, “Honey, we can do this, but it will wipe out our savings.”  We went forward with the plans.

 

Long story short, we went on that cruise and land tour in Alaska.  We just got back a couple of weeks ago.  Counting the flights out and back, it was a two-week adventure.  In my life, I have owned several cars that did not cost as much as this trip.

 

And we still have over three fourths of our savings intact.

 

Not only that, but we had beautiful weather the entire trip (which just does not happen in Alaska).  At nearly every stop, the guides on our excursions were amazed at all of the “rare” things we got to see, such as orcas, humpback whales bubble net feeding, the Hubbard Glacier calving, and the peak of Denali in clear sunshine, just to name a few.

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.

 

Indeed, God poured out his blessings on my family during this trip, but really, it was just a very obvious and visible manifestation of how He has blessed us, and our finances, all along.

 

Even during the extended periods of unemployment that I have had, I have never felt like we were “in need,” because God doesn’t respond to need.

 

He responds to faith.

 

And that is what tithing is really all about.  It is a tangible expression of the faith that God will meet your needs and then some.  And he blesses it every single time.

 

Do any of you have stories of God’s faithfulness regarding your finances?  I’d love to hear them!

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 2–Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)

The wealthy rule over the poor,
and anyone who borrows is a slave to the lender.
(Proverbs 22:7 ISV)

 

Back in 2013, we talked about the Greek word doulos, which is a voluntary bondservant, or someone who has chosen to place himself under the authority of another.

 

However, as we also discussed in Part 1 of this series, no one can serve two masters at once.  You can’t serve God and be a slave to money at the same time.

 

So how do we become a slave to money?  In a word—debt.  When we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to satisfy our cravings and desires, we are worshipping creations rather than the Creator.

 

If we are trusting God to provide us with what we truly need, then why would we leave His service to worship at the altar of prosperity?  How prosperous are we really, if we have a big fancy house with no furniture in it or a shiny new sports car that we can’t make the payments on?

 

It’s bad enough that our nation has promoted a consumer-driven culture where people are conditioned to believe that they need. . .no, that they DESERVE shiny, fancy, new, expensive things.  However, as if people going into debt for unnecessary playthings weren’t enough, now they are being encouraged to further mismanage the wealth that has been entrusted to them by turning to legalized gambling to provide a solution to this debt problem.

 

In my tiny little town of 4,952 people, we have five locations that have slot machines.  (I refuse to call them “video gaming facilities.”  Aladdin’s Castle is a video gaming facility.  People aren’t going to our bars to play Pac Man.)

 

In the month of January 2015 ALONE, a total of $100,136 was wagered at these five locations.  Let’s do the math.

 

First, you have to be 21 to play the slots, so that eliminates about 2,300 residents.  But not all of the adults in town play the slots either.  Indeed, most don’t even frequent the places that have them.

 

In the absence of an exact statistic, let’s assume that one in five adults in town plays the slots.  This estimate is probably on the generous side.

 

Now we’re looking at an average of $190 a month that each person is contributing to the one-armed bandits.  For some, it’s probably higher than that.

 

So what’s the problem?  Well, do YOU have upwards of $200 of disposable income each month that you can flush down the toilet?  Some folks do, but these are not the folks that typically go to bars in small towns to play slot machines.

 

Over half of the households in our town have a combined income of less than $5,000 a month.  A family with that level of income, IF they manage their money well, should have about $100 or so per month in discretionary income at best after the bills are paid.  But again, people that manage their money well are usually not found around slot machines.  And remember, the actual amount being deposited here is double that much.

 

So if people can’t afford to be blowing this kind of cash, why do they do it?  Well, duh, because they’re trying to make more.  They are under the illusion that they’re going to hit some kind of jackpot and be rich.  The reality is that they will have even less money to pay the bills they were having trouble paying in the first place.

 

But lest you think that I’m going off on a self-righteous jag about gambling, there are other ways to fall into the same trap of money mismanagement.  I learned my lesson the hard way with multi-level marketing.

 

Now I admire people in this country who go into business for themselves and make a lot of money.  But it never comes without hard work.  If anyone ever tries to show you how you can be rich beyond your wildest dreams and not have to suffer for it, RUN!  Anyone who gets involved in a scheme like this hoping to “get rich quick” will find themselves getting broke even quicker.

 

Generally speaking, God has a plan for us each day, and we are expected simply to be available, receive it, and obey it, carrying it out to its completion.  This method ALWAYS leads to success, though sometimes it takes a long, long time, and we may not even see the big-picture results directly.  Trying to get rich quick takes our eye off the plan Jesus has for us, which consequently robs us of the potential blessing attached to that plan.

 

Fortunately, God’s plan for blessing us in our finances begins with a very simple test of obedience.

 

(Which we will learn about in Part 3—Tithing)

 

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 1–Stewardship)

Whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things.  Whoever is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in big things too.  If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, you will not be trusted with the true riches.  And if you cannot be trusted with the things that belong to someone else, you will not be given anything of your own.  Luke 16:10-12 (ERV)

 

Take a moment to consider this question:  What do you have that wasn’t given to you?

 

We use words like “earn” and “create” to maintain the illusion that we alone are responsible for everything that we have.  However, if these things were really ours, then we couldn’t lose them, could we?

 

Sure, we work for our money, but then someone else has to give it to us.  Then either we give it away to someone else by spending it, or we hold onto it forever and die, at which point we don’t take it with us.  There’s a reason you don’t see hearses towing U-hauls!

 

So if it’s not really “our” money, then whose is it?  King David answered that question emphatically after taking the offering to build the temple in Jerusalem:

 

To you, Lord, belong greatness and power,
honor, splendor, and majesty,
because everything in heaven and on earth belongs to you.
Yours, Lord, is the kingship,
and you are honored as head of all.
  You are the source of wealth and honor,
and you rule over all.
In your hand are strength and might,
and it is in your power to magnify and strengthen all.

  (1 Chronicles 29:11-12 CEB)

 

Everything in heaven and earth (yes, even the money) belong to God.  Therefore, we don’t really “own” anything.  Rather, we are stewards of everything currently in our possession.

 

Simply put, a steward is someone who is placed in charge of someone else’s stuff.  The principle at work here is that at some point, the steward will have to give account of how he or she has managed the property belonging to the Master.  A steward that proves faithful is rewarded, but those who aren’t . . . not so much.

 

You see, how we handle money is an indicator of how we will steward all of the other blessings in our life.  Money is just the easiest one to track.  So how do you track this in your own life?

 

The best way to gauge that for yourself is to figure out who it is that you really serve.  Are you putting your trust in the provider or the provision?   As Jesus said in the verse that comes right after the passage at the top of this post:

 

You cannot serve two masters at the same time.  You will hate one master and love the other.  Or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other.  You cannot serve God and Money at the same time.  (Luke 16:13 ERV)

 

If you are primarily interested in serving God by stewarding HIS wealth, then your needs will always be met.

 

However, if your hope is in the money itself, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

 

(Come back for Part 2—Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)