Tag Archives: Money

When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

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Why your Bible teaching is not enough

This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back.  And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own.  At times I suspect radically different.  (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences)  Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different.  But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive.  Something I wanted…

For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?

The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether.  Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving.  It is my heart!

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Doctrine matters!  Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life.  Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.

If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?

I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know.  We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge.  Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush.  And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.

What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive?  Faith.  They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation.  So much so that they actually act on it.  They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus.  Faith.

It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living.  It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you!  Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet?  Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources?  Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?

Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth.  I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.

Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel.  Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us.  We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.

A Prayer of Abundance

A Prayer of Abundance

We know we are cared for by an abundant Provider Let us choose to be grateful and trusting.
We know that we have enough and that what we need will always be provided.
Let us choose to be content and generous.
We know that our choices matter for ourselves, for others and future generations
Help us to live consciously and creatively, celebrating the signs of your New Creation that is present and coming.
Creator, who made us to seek the greater good of your kingdom,
Guide us to spend our time, talents and resources on what matters most.
Teach us to be free,
to live without worry, fear or greed in the freedom of your abundance.
Give us our daily bread, as we share ours with the hungry.
We give thanks for the precious gift of life!

Taken from Free by Mark Scandrette (227)

“The Gospel invites us into a life of radical contentment, generosity, gratitude, trust and simplicity.  We can re-imagine our assumptions about time, money and material possessions to pursue a life of greater freedom, leveraging our time and resources towards what matters most.” (17)

What if money was no object?

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If money was no object what would you do with your life?  Great diagnostic question to get you thinking and evaluating your life right?  But not really a practical question at all… we all need money and money for most of us is always an object.  So is this the type of question that makes Oprah a cupboard full of cash and leaves the rest of us chasing the wind?

But what if money really was no object?  What if when it came to the Kingdom of God, money really was no object.  What was it again that Jesus said to his disciples again when they were worrying about clothes and food?

“I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

“Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I spend a lot of time in the week working to supplement our income the bulk of which comes from “missionary support”. The supplementary work is good, honest, hard work.  I even think we are rather good at it.  I think it could even develop into a mainline source of income if we wanted it to.  As a sideline business, though there are some aspects of it (namely the ones that bring in most of the cash) that stink as a sideline.  As a sideline it struggles to know its place.  Like a cameo actor always trying to squeeze into the limelight, and upstage the main actors.  Or like details in a verbose novel that distracts from the main story.

But money is an object.  I have bills to pay.  Kids to feed and clothe.  Medical aid, pension, car payments…

But what if this ministry really was not my ministry… not in an abstract, read it in a textbook kind of way.  But what if it really is God’s work, his ministry, his Spirit changing lives, opening hearts… What if money was no object for Him?  What if following Him meant giving up my right to a self-perceived security?  What if it made sense in every other sense except in the money sense to give up a sure stream of income to follow a reliable God into an unsure future?  I don’t simply believe in a closed, rationalistic universe  but most days you would not know that.  Too much of my life can be planned, organised, drawn on a graph, explained, reasoned out or reasoned away.  Most days my life could be quite easily explained as if there were no God.

But start acting like I believed all that Jesus talk about feeding the birds and clothing the flowers and I can almost guarantee you that I would have any number of Christians eager to remind me to be “a good steward” and not do anything rash.  Quite frankly I don’t think most of us would know a rash if it broke out all over our body.  When I read the gospels I cannot help but think that if we did half of what Jesus did we would certainly we would not be considered for the church council or invited to run the youth group.

What does it mean to live by faith?  Sure faith says that God has given me work so work at in gratitude and worship to Him.  But what if it just felt wrong to follow the money stream?  What if my reasonable, non-Charismatic, evangelical theology feels like it is a burden wrestling me to the ground when all I want to do is love people, trust God and forget about the money!  Sounds so simple when I write it like that… but we all it’s just not that simple.  Is faith reasonable or is it crazy? What if both ways sound like they are trusting God?  Do I go with my feeling, my gut?  What if the people I trust agree both ways?

Just thinking out loud I guess… what if?

Photo credit: nycandre via photopin.com

I am the 319 576 092 richest person in the world!

That puts me in the top 5.2% of the world’s population according to the Global Rich List website.

Consider your answer to the following question: how many taps do you have in your house providing clean water -hot and cold?  Remember to include the washing machine if you have one and any outside taps for the garden.

If your answer is one or more, then you are among the richest seventh of the world’s population in economic terms.

1.3 Billion people live on less than one US dollar a day.  2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation, while 1.2  billion do not have adequate housing.

Over 20 ooo children die every day of diseases we could prevent.

US Christians spend $8 billion dollars on dieting – that is on curing over-consumption – and only $2 billion on mission.

Yet most of us have become morally numb to these facts.  Something is not right.  How you handle your money is important for your spiritual well-being.  “No one can serve two masters,” said Jesus.  “Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money, ” (Matthew 6:24)

Every time we spend money, we are making an ethical decision.  We are deciding not to spend it on helping the poor or furthering the gospel.

There is a sense in which instead of a thousand dilemmas about how we should use our money, we have to make one fundamental choice: do we live for God or for money?  It is because we waver about this decision that we replicate it day by day.

(taken from Porterbrook Training: Gospel Living module; Unit 9: Living Now: Possessions)

Ed Stetzer has a good post on Ways to Engage Global Poverty

Related: Good News to our City: Economic Inequality