Money and Me

July 12, 2017

Worried About Money

So I am enjoying a kind of preaching sabbatical due to different circumstances intersecting (regular Sunday off, preaching intern, mission trip), which provides me a rare opportunity to plan my next sermons over a longer period. All year my preaching focus has been themed around “seeking first the kingdom of God”–obviously from Christ’s incredible Sermon on the Mount. During the summer I have narrowed that focus to what I call “kingdom values.” Next up my plan leads me to address the use of and attitudes toward money in the kingdom (so Levy be warned!) It will not be a “sermon on giving” (or as the classic Marvin Phillip’s line goes–a “sermon on the amount”), but rather what Christ taught about money and possessions along with how they are best used in his kingdom.

As I have been reading and ruminating over this, it has caused within me a growing tension. It has resulted in me coming face-to-face with and acknowledging my own weaknesses and failings in this regard.

It can be rather convenient for preachers to pick out our texts, work our sermon plans, and have a go at the church without ever allowing the message to become deeply personal. After all, we have to move from one sermon to the next fairly quickly. Sermons are our products. We have to produce one weekly, which often does not allow time for self-reflection. Due to the accidental sabbatical I am enjoying self-reflection opportunities right now–and it is working me over.

I admit to always having a struggle with money. I grew up with very little of it and have never managed to accumulate a great deal of it. Overspending, though, has never been much of a problem. I hate debt even though I have never been totally free from it. I don’t sense within me the love of money that is rooted in all kinds of evil. I don’t have any great internal problems or hesitancy with contributing.

It is just this–I worry too much about it.

Interestingly enough this has only increased within me as I have gotten older. It has compounded due to having younger children. I now find myself on occasion being fearful about the future–will I have enough to help them through college? What will happen if I am not able to keep working? Are we sure we have enough money to cover all our responsibilities? Some of this may seem like typical concerns. Some of it quite honestly is just an irrational lack of faith. But it is the tune Satan keeps playing for me in the recesses of my mind.

Let me make this clear however–it does not come from a kingdom perspective at all.

In fact, Christ teaches exactly the opposite. Don’t worry. Seek first the kingdom and God will provide. Prioritize your money and resources from a kingdom perspective and be set free from our consumer driven social conditioning. I know this. My wife, Terri, reminds me of this quite frequently. God has always had our back, so why worry now? But I still do. Therefore the tension mounting within me.

I confess this here for a few reasons. First, confession really is a balm for the soul. It puts your struggle out there, forcing you to deal with it differently than if it is kept hidden. Second, preaching about money sometimes can be a tricky proposition. I want Levy to know that I am first preaching to myself. That my agenda is not just to challenge others to live out the kingdom values, but also to embrace them more fully myself. And third–to seek prayers from others on behalf of my struggle.

I must overcome Satan’s song with the beautiful words of Jesus:

So do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or”What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after 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. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. –Matthew 6:32-34

Money and me have always had a complicated relationship. More than anything I want that relationship to be better defined and prioritized God’s way. I want to be set free of the tyranny of worry and fear.

 

 


Anyone Tormented Lately?

August 28, 2013

But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment (1 Peter 2:7-8 MSG).

Move over Lot, you should be having company.

Contextually, Peter was referring to Lot being in those notoriously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How wicked were they– say compared to the present time? I cannot say. A conjectured comparison is not what this post is about.

Recently though, that statement by Peter crossed my mind and prompted me to consider if anyone is feeling today what Lot felt then?  Has there been any torment going on in our souls about the moral rot that surrounds us?  This is what this post is about- morality or lack of it.

I realize this is not a popular discussion. It is loaded with all kinds of loaded opinions and passionate presuppositions. Post-modernism does not easily lend itself to any kind of moral conversation. it seems to break down too quickly into divisive rhetoric which then becomes counterproductive to any constructive dialogue.

But even with the challenges– shouldn’t we be having this conversation?

Do we really want Miley Cyrus (who is just the latest performer to “shock” us) and the pervasive entertainment industry to define the moral standards for our culture? (To a large extent- they are, BTW) We cannot run or be afraid to address what is playing out before us. If indeed the moral rot embedded in our culture bothers us– then shouldn’t we feel compelled to speak out?

But not with signs, picketing, angry shouts, hate-fueled language and slander. Go back a couple of paragraphs to the counterproductive point. I don’t think that has really gotten us anywhere. So what to do? Here are my thoughts:

  • “Be shrewd as snakes”- This quotation is from Matthew 10:16. Jesus gave this advice to his disciples before he sent them out on a mission to “the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus not only gave this advice, he lived it (as well as the equally important second part). Christ engaged people where they were without creating unnecessary barriers. He did not use hate-language or angrily confront the lost sheep. He sought opportunities to dialogue and present kingdom alternatives to prevailing morality (see John 4:1-42). He told penetrating stories that made people think and reconsider choices they had made.  Make no mistake– he spoke truth, but in love. Also make no mistake- our moral failures tormented him. That is why he became flesh and why that flesh was bruised and pierced.  This is how he became personally engaged in our conversation. We can learn volumes from him on how to become personally engaged in our current cultural conversations.
  • “And innocent as doves”- Hypocrisy undermines any credibility Christians have in a discussion of morality. Moral rot my torment our soul, but if we participate in it– we simply have no place in the conversation. There was no guile in Jesus. He had no hidden agenda or secret sin. He did not posture or manipulate. He was authentic, compassionate, and innocent. So must we if we are to have any voice in the overall cultural discussion.

It also has to do with those kingdom alternatives. We simply cannot just rail against and not offer something healthier. Authentically and joyfully living out Jesus is that healthy alternative. The Sermon on the Mount; heaven’s values revealed in the parables; the heart of Christ embedded in his people; these will go a long way to counter moral rot.

I guess it could be worse, though. What if this moral rot is not tormenting our soul? What if it doesn’t bother us at all?

 

 

 

 

 

 


Honor the King?

February 15, 2012

Band of Brothers is a television series depicting the true-to-life WWII story of the Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army. This unit was one among many who parachuted into France before the historic D-Day landing on June 6, 1944.  In the series, we see Easy Company from their basic training days all the way to the war’s end.

The main character of the show is Dick Winters (real guy who lived what the show depicted).  His commanding officer in basic training is overbearing, incompetent, sycophantic, and universally disliked. Winters and the other men of Easy Company have to put up with him- he outranks them.

Later, after Winters has distinguished himself in combat and as a leader of men, he receives a series of promotions.  Eventually his rank rises above that of the basic training CO (who BTW lost his command to Winters, never went into combat,  and became a supply officer). At one point they encounter each other as Easy Company is in transit. The old CO– now outranked and bitter– fails to salute Winters. In a truly great scene, Winters stops the guy and says, “Captain Sobel… we do not salute the man, we salute the rank,” and makes him snap the salute.

I thought about this scene during a recent discussion about how Christians in America should view the presidency. (John Dobbs blogs about this here.) Take a few minutes to read 1 Peter 2:13-25 and Romans 13:1-7. Should we be engaged in publicly slamming and disrespecting our elected officials? (Not speaking about civil and constructive dialogue here- just the mean spiritedness that seems so prevalent in almost any discussion about politics and presidents.)

Can you imagine how the idea of “Honor the king” sounded to first century Christians? The Roman Emperor and the cult of Emperor worship sanctioned by the Roman state represented everything they opposed and at times severely oppressed them. Yet Peter says give him honor? Could it have been a salute the rank, not the man type thing?

In fact, honoring the king is a reflection of our submission to God. Our willingness to do this- even if it goes against our grain– is another way for God to be glorified to community in us. Why else would we do this except out of our relationship with God? Only in Christianity is this kind of ethic found. Many other religions would seek to rebel and overthrow (Jewish zealots in Palestine then- radical Muslims now) a government they dislike. This is not God’s call for us. Rather we challenge governments and culture through transformed lives- as peacemakers, through meekness, purity, and living out the values of the kingdom as Christ did. God will- through his justice  eventually make right all of the injustices that exist (where is the Roman empire now?). Like the Revelation martyrs- we may be asking, “how long” until this happens (Revelation 6:9-11). But until then God asks us to love our enemies, honor and pray for government officials and forms of governments (even those we do not like), turn the other cheek, think more highly of others than we do ourselves, take care of the most vulnerable among us, etc.

It is a difficult, humbling, totally against-our-human-nature call, but God is not asking us to do anything he has not already done himself.

I may disagree with and oppose the policies, politics, and even the lifestyle of a president. I certainly can engage in civil discussion about all of this and vote for or against him (something the first century Christians could not do, BTW). But while I may not necessarily salute the man, God has called me to honor the position. When I do I reflect that my true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.


Post-Christian

October 27, 2011

This is the label now used to describe our times. Where once our culture was framed by a general allegiance to Christian values and ethics-  it no longer is. This is probably not a shocker to most of us.  The evidence of this surrounds. Headlines blurt it out daily.

Now I could launch into a discussion explaining how this might not necessarily be as great a negative as it appears. I could explore the strong and growing similarities between our century and the first one and then point out how the church flourished in that pre-Christian era. That is indeed an interesting discussion.

But for now- here are some brief and general thoughts on how we got to be “post-Christian.”

  • We have surrendered our identities as Christians. No, we still wear the tag Christian, but in reality there is not much that separates us church-goers from those who don’t. Brad J. Waggoner in his book, The Shape of Faith to Come: Spiritual Formation and the Future of Discipleship speaks of “cultural seepage” within the church- basically dumbing down our  commitment to living and sharing kingdom principles. The lines have simply blurred. We look and act too much like surrounding culture to be taken seriously as a penetrating voice for Christ in the cultural dialogue.
  • Related to that is the moral ambiguity among us. We all know about scandals in high places among churches and church leaders. This has not helped, but what further hurts our attempts to share the joy of Christ is the failure of many Christians to faithfully live out godly virtues. We are simply failing to put these (see 2 Peter 1:5-9) on and wear them with any consistency. Instead (and again) we do not look much different than unbelievers. This actually disqualifies us from being a credible witness to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:27).  And then, when we do speak we open ourselves up to criticism of being judgmental and hypocritical.
  • Our message has become too politicized.  God’s kingdom transcends any nation or country. Our call regardless of our nationality is to be salt and light to that nation. God’s kingdom can transform an earthly one, but not by becoming equal partners with it (2 Corinthians 6:14). When “God issues” become pawns in political debate designed only to pander for votes- it then hinders our ability to make a difference in that culture by sharing the overall life-giving message of Christ.
  • There is simply too much general apathy in our churches. Where now is our passion for evangelism? Where is our zeal to truly live a life worthy of our calling? Where is our commitment to Bible study and worship?
I am speaking in generalities here. Praise God there are exceptions. There are also solutions. God provides them (start by reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This is indeed a heavenly resource for penetrating any culture with the message of Christ). Ultimately it comes back to me. Am I being salt and light? Does my life- while imperfect- genuinely reflect godly values in a consistent way? Am I fueling my soul through God’s Spirit and with the Word of God? Am I passionately in love with Christ? Do I verbally share the joys of my faith?

I am not afraid of living in a post-Christian culture. God still reigns. He just wants us to demonstrate that reign in our lives.

Feel free to agree or disagree and add your thoughts to the discussion.


“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

February 17, 2011

So says the Prince of Peace (See Matthew 5:9). He knows whereof he speaks- having himself brought peace and reconciliation to the Creator and the creation through his blood (Ephesians 2:14-18). Now he seeks a people of peace. Disciples who will share it, honor it and promote it. Who will let this “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) reign and overflow to others. Peacemakers are blessed. “They shall be called sons of God,” Jesus says.

This peace stems from the very person of God (1 Thessalonians 4:23). Strife, divisiveness, arguments, dissention, turmoil, factions, grudges, confusion, etc. have no place where he reigns. (God “hates” such- Proverbs 6:19). Nor should any of these define God’s people.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Romans 14:19

This is what peacemakers do and their ministry is just as urgently needed now- in and out of the church- as ever.

Peacemakers:

  • Seek Solutions.  Like spiritual ambassadors always seeking out a way to let peace rule. Problems always exist. Peacemakers seek to peacefully solve them.
  • Promote Harmony.  This is at the heart of peacemaking. Like Scripture teaches, “Finally all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
  • Generate Goodwill.  The atmosphere created and encouraged by peacemakers is a joy. That is why it is a “beatitude.” It is spiritually healthy and conducive for growth and goodwill.

God blesses all who seek and promote his peace. All who do are lights shining a dark world. All who do are invaluable to God’s kingdom. All who do are sons and daughters of the King!

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

With this blessed attitude we can’t go wrong.  Praise God for the peacemakers!


Religious Trends in America

May 14, 2010

Below is a paper I wrote for my Christian Communication class which I am taking this summer as a part of the M.Min. program at Harding University. Even though it is long for a blogpost, I thought I would share. It would be interesting to hear your feedback.- DD

The three articles I chose to examine for this paper are “The End of Christian America” by Jon Meacham in the April 4, 2009 edition of Time; a “God and Country” segment by Dan Gilgoff from the March 9, 2009 edition of U.S News & World Report; and a report entitled “Most Religious Groups in USA have Lost Ground, Survey Finds” by Cathy Lynn Grossman in the March 17, 2009 edition of the USA Today.

All three of these reports were triggered by the release of the 2009 summary of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). According to this survey Christianity is trending downward in America while those claiming no religious affiliation (“nones” as they are called- the highest percentage- 15%- ever recorded by this survey); the number of people identifying with new religious movements such as Wicca; and the number of agnostics/atheists are growing.  The survey discovered that no church in America reported any numerical growth in 2008 and only the Catholic Church (by virtue of immigration) was able to maintain similar numbers from the previous years. Baptists- the second largest Christian group in America- was down to 15.8% of those surveyed from 19.3% in 1990. The news is even worse for mainline Protestant churches. They (Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ) are shrinking faster than any other group. Since 1990 the only group that has shown any growth is the evangelicals. Overall though, America is moving away from the Christian brand. As Grossman stated, “When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers.”

Each article explored the reasons behind this downward trend which has seen those identifying themselves as Christians drop over 11% in just a generation. Reaction to what many perceive as entrenched and protectionist institutional attitudes and actions among the church is sited as one major reason. The Catholic Church failure to act upon sexual abuse among their clergy is one example of this. This abuse along with the highly publicized sexual and financial scandals of evangelical televangelist has also continued to contribute to America’s loss of faith in her churches. For many the stance of churches not supportive of gay rights and gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research and other highly politicized moral issues have left the impression that Christian churches are out-of-touch with current culture. Other factors such as mobility, the secularization of public education and anti-Christian media-bias are also thrown into the mix.

The term now being used to describe this kind of religious climate or lack thereof in America is “post-Christian.” Meacham in his article quotes R. Albert Mohler Jr who is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as saying, “A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”

I would say Mohler got it about right. Our culture indeed has shifted around us and left many church leaders baffled and often clueless on how to respond. One way that some have chosen to respond has not only seemed to fail, but in ways backfired to create even more negative impressions of the church. That is, the move of Christians into the political arena. Whatever Christians may seem to gain by engaging on this level we seem to lose in the court of public opinion. I agree with Meachum when he says, “Worldly success tends to mark the beginning of the end for the overtly religious in politics.” In the struggle to engage culture with the “grace and truth” of Jesus Christians simply should not depend upon politicians and the legislative process.

And it is a struggle! Just as these articles chronicle churches are experiencing declining numbers. From my own observation I know of few churches in my acquaintance that are larger now then they were even ten years ago. I engage in conversations with people- young and old- inside and outside of my church family who express postmodern values. I encounter people among the growing number who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” I minister to people who have been burned by churches and want nothing to do with organized institutional religion. I deal with my own frustrations as I witness church leadership fall back into patterns of fear-based institutional protectionism instead of embracing and modeling empowering faith and vision. I think I understand- at least partially- why Christianity in America is falling out of favor. We have failed to adequately model and communicate true discipleship.

Consider the two opposite ends of the Christian spectrum in America. On the progressive end numerous churches are accepting and celebrating non-Christian postmodern ideals and lifestyles and openly questioning the inerrancy of Scripture. On the conservative end numerous churches are becoming politically active and adopting methods unrelated to the kingdom to push their agendas.  Both are contributing in their own ways to the decline of Christianity in America. Neither is modeling true discipleship.

I go back to a sentence Meacham wrote, “There is much New Testament evidence to support a vision of faith and politics in which the church is truest to its core mission when it is the farthest from the entanglements of power.” If we are to ever be able to respond, engage and impact our postmodern, hostile culture then it will be only through transparently living the ethics taught and modeled by Christ (on the Sermon on the Mount for instance). It will not be through power politics or institutional maneuverings. When we can discover the value of “losing life” as Jesus put it- then we can begin to more effectively engage culture for Christ- not as a church member, but as his disciple. It is that “downward mobility” that Schultze mentioned (Quentin J. Schultze in his book, Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media).  It is truly subversive. Politically powerless outsider Christian disciples totally turned part of their world upside down once by simply sharing the “last will be first” message of Christ. Could it happen again?

This is where I find the good news in all the bad news data. Our postmodern, post-Christian culture is turning away from traditional Christian values and growing increasingly hostile and intolerant to those who hold them. Welcome back to the first century! If the gospel message could penetrate the harsh voices competing for the hearts and souls of people then- it can now. As culture grows darker, the light of Christ will have the opportunity to shine brighter. But it has to be his light we shine- not a dim reflection of it.

Anyone in church leadership positions should be paying close attention to the way America is trending concerning Christianity. We cannot bury our heads in the sand or we will just reinforce stereotypes. We should seize these challenging and changing times to present the solid ground of Christ’s truth and love as a refuge. But most of all we should expand our ability to trust in God. I agree with Tom Haynes. He was interviewed for Grossman’s article. He told her, “We just look to Jesus… Christianity is moving totally under the radar. It’s the work of God. It can’t be measured. It happens inside of people’s souls.” It could be while we are wringing hands over alarming trends, God is whispering to us that he has thousands- no even millions- who are not bowing their knees to the gods of postmodernism.


The Gospel in a Word is Love

May 5, 2010

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”- John 3:16

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”- John 13:34-35

“If I have faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.”- 1 Corinthians 13:2

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.”- 1 John 3:18

“Love must be sincere… Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”- Romans 12:9-10

“But I tell you: Love your enemies.”- Matthew 5:44

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”- Ephesians 4:2

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.”- 1 Peter 1:22

“Love never fails.”- 1 Corinthians 13:8

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”- Hebrews 10:24

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”- Galatians 5:15

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”- Galatians 5:6

“Keep on loving each other as brothers.”- Hebrews 13:1

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”- 1 Thessalonians 3:12

“Love the brotherhood of believers.”- 1 Peter 2:17

“If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself:’ you are doing right.”- James 1:8

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”- 1 Corinthians 8:1

“Let no debt remain outstanding except the debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law.”- Romans 13:8

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love.”- Galatians 5:22

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”- 1 John 4:11-12

“God is love.”- 1 John 4:8, 16

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”- 1 Peter 4:8

“And over all  these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”- Colossians 3:14

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”- 1 Corinthians 13:13