Archives For Money

Danger SignEverything comes with a warning these days. Open ditches might cause injuries and hot coffee is liable to burn you—good thing they’re warning us! Commercials for prescription drugs (which should make us wonder why these companies are advertising to us instead of our doctors) are almost comical in the warnings they’re required to give. Sure, this product will curb your sneezing fits, but it’s likely to make you drowsy, give you constant diarrhea, and it just might kill you.

But one of the most dangerous activities our modern world offers us—an activity that almost every single person is engaged in—comes with no warning whatsoever. Unless we read the Bible. What is this dangerous activity? Pursuing wealth.

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:6–9, emphasis added)

Paul is advocating contentment here. If you have food and clothes, you’re set. Jesus reminded us that he provides these things for the birds and flowers, so we shouldn’t be worried about going without.

But Paul gives a warning to those who lack contentment, “those who desire to be rich.” What happens to them? They fall into temptation, they get caught in a snare, and they get lured into “senseless and harmful desires.” The result? These people are plunged into ruin and destruction. Yikes.

What would you say the big ticket sins are? Lust? Unfaithfulness in a relationship? Lying? Stealing? Murder? Doctrinal Error?

All are bad. All will lead you into trouble. But according to this passage, the American Dream belongs on that list. For Paul, the American Dream is nothing but a big bear trap, ready to snap down on the legs of those blinded by dollar signs.

Let me be clear. There are many things that make America great. But if we asked what most Americans share in common, if we asked what makes up the heartbeat of the American Dream, the pursuit of riches is probably the common denominator. We’re not all greedy, but we do want a little bit more. Desiring God’s good gifts glorifies the Creator, but if you find yourself driven by that nagging urge to obtain just a little more, you’re in dangerous territory.

We tend to measure success in dollar signs and potential influence. Everything about God’s economy cuts in the opposite direction. We know this. As Christians, we’ve never truly believed that happiness comes through stuff. And yet the lie is all around us. Everyone believes it. The rich in this world appear so happy, so many of our problems could be at least alleviated with an increased cash flow, everyone around us is focused on the pursuit of wealth. Given enough time and enough subtle influence, we all find ourselves in the unrelenting pursuit of riches.

LadderSo be careful. If you’ve ever wondered where that ladder you’ve spent your career climbing ends, Paul can remove the mystery for you. It doesn’t end at happiness, as you’ve been promised since birth. The ladder ends with a sharp drop. Ruin. Destruction.

It’s better not to climb that ladder at all. Or to climb it with a sharp focus on the God who is the Giver of all good gifts and the Sustainer of all who find their satisfaction in him alone. If he leads you up the ladder, then he has a purpose in doing so. If he keeps you on the bottom rung, then he will keep you better fed than the ravens and more gloriously clothed than the lilies. After all, there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

 

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.

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