Archives For Money

Money ShowerDoes God want us to prosper? Absolutely. And yet, proponents of the so-called prosperity gospel have been vigorously attacked by evangelical leaders. Why?

Should we overlook the fact that Jesus tells us to “provide yourselves with moneybags” and to pursue “treasure”? If that’s not prosperity talk, I don’t know what is. Clearly, God wants us to be prosperous.

What we have to keep in mind, however, is that God’s definition of “prosperity” differs greatly from that of our culture. The context of Luke 12:33, from which I pulled the statements of Jesus above, makes this abundantly clear.

Jesus’ teaching turns to money when someone calls out from the crowd, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” That’s a weird thing to ask of Jesus, and Jesus says as much, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” But Jesus uses it as an opportunity to each them about money. Fill your moneybags full of treasure, Jesus will say, but be careful about what kind of treasure you’re seeking.

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The prosperity preachers are off to a bad start here. Don’t covet, and don’t think for a minute that true riches have anything to do with possessions. God’s kind of prosperity differs sharply from that of our culture.

Jesus tells two parables to illustrate this point.

Parable #1: Once upon a time, a rich man found himself with a plentiful crop. So he tore down his barns, built larger ones, and stored up massive amounts of grain. Then he said to himself, “You have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” It’s the American dream. A hardworking man earns a huge reward on his labor. He’s able to retire early. Well done, rich man. But Jesus doesn’t quite see it like that. His response? “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” His wealth had everything to do with materiality and nothing to do with God and his kingdom. What a waste.

Parable #2: The ravens make for a poor business model. They don’t take the time to sow, nor do they invest the labor to reap. Even if they tried these things, they don’t have any barns to store their goods in. These silly birds should be bankrupt. They should starve to death. Yet they don’t. Why not? Because God feeds them! And then there are the lilies. What lazy creatures! They’ve never done an honest day’s work in their lives. Plus they don’t last long. They stand for a few days in a field, then they’re gone. Worthless and fleeting things, really. And yet, they’re beautiful! Why? Because God clothes them! Jesus makes his point clear: You’re more valuable than birds. God cares about you. He’ll feed you. He’ll clothe you. God knows that you need to eat, drink, and be clothed. Don’t stress out. Pursue God and his kingdom and these things will be added to you.

And then we arrive at Jesus’ statements about prosperity:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32–34)

Be rich, Jesus says. But how? By giving everything away. Secure your investments. How? By storing up “treasure in heaven,” by grabbing “moneybags that do not grow old.” Every financial advisor will tell you to invest your money. But only one investment has an eternal guarantee. Every other investment will fall apart and be dispersed to others in the long run.

Jesus’ kind of prosperity gospel is all about pursuing the kingdom. It’s about giving instead of hoarding. It’s about faithful reliance rather than anxious management. In the end, it’s less about prosperity and more about perspective. If what we value most is God and his kingdom, then we will be ready for his return (see the rest of Luke 12), and we will find ourselves truly prosperous, by God’s definition.

 

Reflections on Nepal

Preston Sprinkle —  January 16, 2013 — 5 Comments

I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and personal reflections in my last few blogs about my trip to Nepal. If you’re just now jumping in, it would be best to go back and read through my previous posts to get some context for what I’m going to say here.

jumping

Me acting like an idiot

Naturally, I’m filled with many different thoughts and emotions as I reflect on my trip. I really don’t want to be that obnoxious American who just came back from a short-term missions trip and now wants to bark at all his American friends who just don’t get it. Nor do I want to come home and forget about the amazing work that God is doing here in Nepal. Mark put it best when he compared reentry to tuning a guitar string. Pull it too tight, and it’s way out of key (the obnoxious short-termer). Don’t pull it tight enough, and it sounds flat (the unchanged short-termer). So don’t hide your $5 Latte’s when you see me around town. I’m not going to judge you. I’m sure I’ll fall back into my own Latte-slamming routine before long. But I don’t want to forget about the many needs in the church of Nepal. I simply can’t forget. They’re now a part of me.

So here are two thoughts that have percolated in my mind this week. First, the priority of indigenous ministry. As I’ve thought and written about missions over the past few years, I keep coming back to this idea. And my trip to Nepal confirmed much of what I’ve thought. In short, local pastors and leaders are much more effective in the “on the ground” ministry than foreigners. We don’t know the language. We don’t know the culture. We can hardly breathe the air! And even when we do spend a few years and become as “Nepalese” as we can, we will always be Westerners. Beki and I had a lot of good discussions about this. “Some missionaries,” Beki said, “come in and take over our churches. After they minister in a church for a while, they say it belongs to them.” Friends: these things cannot be.

Now, please hear me out. I’m not saying that being a missionary to Nepal is worthless. I’m not even saying that taking a short-term trip to Nepal doesn’t do anything. But what I am saying is that whether you come full-time or part-time, you must come underneath and alongside the indigenous leaders—the Beki’s and Babu’s of Nepal. They know the work. They know the people. They know the needs. Let’s join them in their ministry and let them tell us what to do.

The second thought that keeps gnawing at me is money. Nearly every ministry I experienced here in Nepal was to some extent hindered by money. And yet never did any of the leaders or believers here ask for money, nor did they advertise their needs. I’m well aware that in many countries, becoming a Christian is the first step out of poverty, and becoming a pastor is the gateway to western wealth and power. So my eyes were peeled; I was on the lookout for such unhealthy attraction to the west. But there was none of that here. Or at least, I didn’t encounter it with the leaders I met. I practically had to drag their financial needs out of them, and even then they didn’t flash their Puss-n-Boots puppy dog eyes so I would dig into my wallet. But when I did get them to put their needs in concrete terms, I was shocked at how little they need and how far it would go. (I’m well aware, too, of the long-term danger of creating a never-ending system of dependency, where the Nepalese church is always dependent upon the west to survive. If western churches get excited about giving, then this discussion will need to happen.)

I’ve already mentioned some of these needs in the previous blogs, so I can just summarize them here.

  • We saw at least 2 churches the size of a mid-sized American bedroom that were packed with dozens of recent converts (there are many more we didn’t see). Both of these congregations pooled enough money together to lay the foundation for a church building, but don’t have enough to complete it. The cost to finish? $3,000-$5,000, depending on whether they put build a tin or concrete roof.
  • Babu helps support 14 different pastors at $50-60/month. They need about $100/month each to be freed up to pastor their congregations.
  • Babu’s orphanage can only afford to care for 50 orphans, even though he could physically take on 100. He’s turning away kids almost daily for lack of funds.
  • Beki oversees 10 different fellowships and many of them need pastors. Local pastors are being trained. They have the manpower. But lack of money prevents these pastors from going into full-time ministry. (BTW, being an unpaid lay-pastor is not a real option for most leaders here. Ministry is way too time-consuming, sometimes requiring pastors to drive 2-3 hours a day to meet with believers in the church. They couldn’t do this and hold down a full-time job.)

Again, I don’t want to be that abrasive short-term-reentry-guy who glorifies third world churches and looks down upon the American church. Believers have issues wherever they are, and there are no perfect Christians—not even in Nepal. But let me vent just a little. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the American church generally speaking spends many thousands of dollars a year (a conservative estimate) just to pull off a polished service every Sunday. It’s hard to tell if all the money invested into services and programs is actually fueling the Great Commission, or whether it is merely luring sheep from the other church down the street. Either way, we can trim. We can do with less. We don’t need all the costly bells and expensive whistles we think we do. And again, I wonder if all the costly clutter actually prevents us from valuing Jesus. I don’t mean to be snarky, but please convince me that I’m wrong. I love it that at one point Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley resisted the mega-church dream and gave away 50% of its yearly revenue to outside ministries. I love it that Anthem church in Ventura county (where I attend) every year gives away a huge sum of money on “generosity Sunday.” (I think we gave away more than $30k dollars last time.)

Let’s keep going! Let’s push harder! Let’s hold off on updating that 5 year-old sound system so that 50 kids can find God at Babu’s orphanage, rather than becoming sex-slaves. Let’s keep striving for simplicity in our churches so that pastors in Kathmandu can be freed up for ministry, and so that the much needed (not just wanted) church buildings can be built. Every church should be striving to be ridiculously generous toward other more needy ministries in impoverished areas. The apostle Paul spent more time in his letters talking about the redistribution of wealth within the global body than he did on justification by faith.

Someone once visited Mother Teresa and asked her, “What can I do?” She answered, “Find your Calcutta.” I think we might have found our Calcutta just north of the Indian border. Pray, and look for yours.

KathmanduIt’s 3:00am in Kathmandu, Nepal. Jet lag has forced me awake. I’ve been here for less than 24 hours and already I’m trying to process everything I’ve seen.

First, a bit of background. My good friends Adam, Mark, and Dathan and I are visiting some Nepalese pastor-friends and seeing the various ministries they are involved in. We’ll be in Nepal for just over a week, and then I’ll head on to Zambia (Africa), where I’ll meet up with Matt, my pastor, and explore potential ministry opportunities. Nepal is a beautiful country snuggled up to the commanding peaks of the Himalayas. The country is roughly the size and shape of California, and a good chunk of the population lives in the Kathmandu area. Already, I’m falling in love with this city.

We landed on Jan 5th and, after dropping our things of at our hotel, we were taken to a church service. The drive through the city was an adventure in itself. Jostling through streets jammed with motorcycles, tiny cars, pedestrians, and dogs; no traffic lines, no lights, and apparently no rules. I can’t believe no one got ran over! Though I can’t say for sure that no one did. Some streets are paved, others are dirt. Some can fit 2 vehicles, though they’re occupied by 4. Shacks, shrines, and old men drinking tea all line the grimy streets. And the smell of curry meshed with exhaust wafts through the air. I haven’t felt so alive in years. Although I love Southern California, I find the rat race to financial prosperity and endless consumerism quite dull.

The church we visited was a congregation of about 25 people. They all have two things in common: they all love Jesus, and they are all blind, including the pastor. We arrived a few minutes late so we heard their voices singing out to Jesus as we walked up the dark stairwell. When we entered the sanctuary, we saw a beautiful sight: a small room filled with Nepalese men and women unable to see, yet they see Jesus. No stage, no band, no chairs, no heat, no eyes, but they have everything because they have been chosen, loved, and bleed for by the King of the universe. And they know it.

Several thoughts filled my mind. The first one was, “what time is dinner?” There were a couple women over in the kitchen stewing up a killer curry for after the service, and the smell of the broth kept dancing through my nose. After 2 days of airplane food and protein bars, I could hardly take it!

The next thought was “hope.” I say I have hope, but sometimes it feels forced. I make more money in a day than these people make all year. I have a house, 2 cars, a computer, a job, a wife and four kids—all with eyes that work. Why long for something more when I have it all? Sometimes Christians get so frantic about economic downturns and national security. I wonder if a little less money, and a little less safety, could be a gift from God to cultivate more hope.

Another thought was “church.” I’ve visited several impoverished churches around the world and I always find their simplicity so soothing. They gather, they sing, they talk about their next evangelistic outreach. They pray (out loud, all at the same time), they sing some more, they pray some more, they talk some more, they listen to the word, they pray some more, and then they eat. I wonder if it’s easier to see Jesus without all the clutter. Or without eyes.

Tomorrow, we’re going to visit people without limbs. We’re going to deliver rice to a colony of lepers outside the city.

Selling Jesus

Mark Beuving —  December 3, 2012 — 4 Comments

GodtheFather ShirtChristian bookstores give me the creeps. A lot of that stems from the fact that they contain very few books. Some of it also comes from the decorative knickknacks that cover every shelf and display table.

I have to be fair. I know people who love their local Christian bookstore and are genuinely cheered and encouraged by Christian décor. And the Christian bookstore isn’t the only knickknack heavy outlet I try to avoid. Hallmark stores are equally silly (to me) in that they have all types of quaint figurines and decorative pieces. It’s not my style, but that shouldn’t be a strike against either place.

Here’s my problem. The Christian bookstore tends to be like the Hallmark store but with one major difference: everything is plastered with Bible verses or Christianeze phrases.

On the one hand, you have cheesy Christianeze paraphernalia. T-shirts made to look like The Godfather that read “GodtheFather.” Shirts made to look like Goodyear that read “God’s-here: Acts 2:17.” Twilight-esque handbags that read “InTheLight.” Apparel that proclaims “GodIsKing” rather than Burger King. Keep the font, baptize the slogan. That seems to be the modus operandi.

Upon This Rock ShirtAnd then you have Scriptures ripped from their context and emblazed on every item imaginable. I’ve seen t-shirts featuring electric guitars with the slogan “Upon this ROCK I will build my church (Matt. 16:18).” Flashlights that boast about being “the light of the world.” Mini-sound systems emblazoned with Psalm 96:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” In every case the use of a Bible verse is cheesy, and in every case the verse cited is taken out of context, its meaning is reversed or severely distorted, and its application is comical at best.

The most shocking item I’ve seen is a multi-tool engraved with Job 1:10, “You have blessed the work of his hands.” It sounds like a fine verse for a multi-tool, but apparently the people who created this fine product didn’t consider that Job 1:10 is a quotation from Satan. They could market it like this: “This holiday season, get that special man in your life this handy tool adorned with the words of the devil.”

It’s no stretch to say that faithfulness to the truth of Scripture is not the primary goal here. It’s almost as if these people are using the Bible to make a buck. But would people really use Jesus’ name as a marketing gimmick?

Devil Quote Multi-ToolBefore we answer that, let’s take a quick look at the “Christian technology” sector. Yes, it exists. You no longer need to mess around with secular companies like Apple or Windows. Now you can buy a Christian “edifi tablet.” It’s essentially an iPad, but they are marketing it using Romans 15:2. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Okay, Paul is talking about edification there, but is that any reason to buy an edifi tablet? I’m not sure how that logic works. I’m not sure why we need a Christian version of the iPad. What does it even mean for an electronic device to be Christian, anyway?

I have to be careful here. I am not anti-Christian-bookstores. They sometimes come in handy for me (though I increasingly find myself on Amazon instead), and they are frequently handy and encouraging for many of the people I love.

Here’s my point. We need to question the marketing strategy that says, “If Christian terminology will make it sell better, or if we can get a share of the secular market by creating a Christian equivalent, then let’s get in there and make some money!” Let’s put our energy towards creating and propagating things that are genuinely creative, useful, and that honor the biblical worldview from which we operate. If it looks Hallmarky, that’s fine. What I want to see is integrity, creativity, and biblical faithfulness. And by all means, let’s please stop waiting for the secular marketing world to come up with another semi-clever ad campaign so that we can turn it into a Christian t-shirt.

 

Most of us could think of a lot reasons for not becoming missionaries. Some of these reasons may be legitimate. Many will probably be excuses. Today I’m going to share the story of one of my co-workers. Kristen’s reason for staying off the mission field is mind-boggling.

Indian SlumsWhile serving on a short-term missions trip in India, Kristen saw Christians effectively ministering to people in the slums by teaching them English. She thought, “I can do that—maybe this is how you want to use me, Lord.”

Logically, her first step was to get trained to teach and to be a missionary. So she attended a well-known, prestigious Christian college. Kristen loved her college experience and felt genuinely prepared for years of ministry ahead. She saved a ton of money by completing two years of her education at a junior college, so she only had to foot the bill for two years of Christian higher education.

After finishing her degree in education, she moved back home to get to know the Bible a little better by studying at Eternity Bible College. She was following the responsible, textbook path to the mission field.

But then she looked at her financial situation. Her two years of Christian training left her in significant debt, and the time had come to pay up. God providentially opened up a position for Kristen at Eternity Bible College as the Assistant Registrar, and she has been a huge blessing to all of us. God has also opened up her heart to continuing her ministry with the college students here. So Kristen’s story has a happy “ending” (of course, the story continues), and God has faithfully led her every step of the way.

But the dark side of the story is the reality that if Kristen was still convinced that her calling was to the mission field, she would not be able to follow that calling. Why? Because she got trained for ministry.

Does that sound a bit off? Before a missionary leaves the country, he or she works hard to partner with churches and individuals who are willing to support the ministry overseas. But if that missionary was trained at a typical Christian college, he or she could not even begin the hard work of raising those funds until the nearly impossible task of paying off many tens of thousands of dollars in student debt had been settled.

Here’s where the shameless plug comes in. One of the reasons that Francis Chan and his team started Eternity Bible College was the problem of student debt. They saw potential missionaries being turned away by sending agencies because of outstanding student loans. The world needs schools that can train Christians for effective ministry without binding them hand and foot with financial fetters.

Let me insist that it is not easy to train students for $175 per unit. We all—board, staff, faculty, students, supporting churches and individuals—make big sacrifices to make it happen. But stories like Kristen’s assure us that what we are doing is essential.

Watch the video below to hear more about Kristen’s story, and visit our site to learn more about partnering with us or studying at Eternity.