Tag Archives: money

Three radical facts about sharing money

We had to start talking about money. We were not meeting the goal we set. Drat.

For a church, organizing people to give money to support their life together and mission can be painful these days. In general, the Church is so into the ways of capitalism (where EVERYTHING is “monetized”) that it is hard to tell a megachurch from a big box store, sometimes. Meanwhile, many people are totally turned off to any mention of money or financial obligations clogging up their personal space — if Jesus is saving them from anything, it MUST be the constant barrage of oppressive advertising that demands a purchase every five seconds. They are totally wrong about this, but if the church is asking for money, it looks suspiciously like everything else trying to rob them.

Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are reportedly worth $40 million and $25 million respectively. So I think people can be forgiven if they think Christians are in it for the money — there is a lot of evidence to support that. I don’t know about Joel and Rick, but that is a lot of wealth, guys!

So our pastors and other leaders are very tempted to just keep their mouths shut. If you just TALK about money, people can get nervous. Not everyone, of course, but certainly those who are not sharing are likely to get agitated. But here I am about to talk. I need to say SOMETHING, since I think people are not respecting themselves and others if they do not share what they have like Jesus shared the life of God with them.

So here are three facts about sharing money I think everyone, especially radicals, should consider.

Sharing centers the focus

Continue reading Three radical facts about sharing money

Four blue words about making the most of your money

The death of Antonin Scalia has people talking about his legacy. Most of the comments start with “love him of hate him, he made an impact.” An oAntonin Sclaiap-ed in the New York Times says: Justice Scalia’s most important legacy will be his “originalism” and “textualism” theory. But it also says his attitude of calling opponents “idiotic” or worse may also be as memorable. He often made a point that recycled a 19th century slogan about Native Americans:  “The only good Constitution is a dead Constitution” — that may also be the kind of thing history recalls.

Scalia and ReaganWhen Ronald Reagan nominated Scalia in 1986 I was not thinking too clearly about my legacy. I was creating one, but I was a bit in denial about being too responsible for it. I was the father of toddlers and in the throes of planting a church, so I had a lot to influence. But I consciously left the future in God’s hands and lived as radically as I could imagine. I am sure I also thought my opponents were idiotic at times. As a result, a lot of good happened and no small amount of bad. I think I could have used
some more consciousness about what I was trying to build that others might live in.

I always say things like “We’re not building the pyramids here,” meaning that we know we are being shaped by God all the time; what we do is temporal and subject to development, like we as people are subject. But that can be taken too far, since we are made to influence one another and what we do also has eternal value, or at least long-lasting ill-affect. So I am glad we have a seminar coming up this weekend that will teach us about considering our legacy a little bit. It is called The Color of Money: Blue. Blue is the color of water, the season of the Way of Jesus devoted to people who are exploring the depths of being a Jesus follower. What do mature Christians do with their money? What legacy will they leave?

Last year the Capacity Core Team did some good thinking about money. Some of it will be worked in to the upcoming seminar. They came up with four words that I think we all have to ponder when we are making decisions about what to do with our money and what our money might do for others.

Four words to ponder when making money decisions

Character. How we use our money is a sure indicator of whether we are acting out of our true self in Christ, or not. Our goal is to become a sharer, like God. Most of the time, if we have a twenty in our hand, a choice is being made. That might be why our creditors love paperless, automated systems, so we never see that money at all and can’t figure out what is going on! We like not knowing, too, since it is hard to be responsible and the machine makes us think everything is taken care of.

Community. Having a common fund with the other believers is such tangible faithing that it is irreplaceable. It might shape us more than anything else; sharing like that quickens latent discipleship. Not sharing like that is also shaping everyone staying on the outside, right now. Being a sharer implies that we have a personal connection with someone. Bill Gates is a sharer too, but mostly with spreadsheets, with masses. We are sharers with each other, first. Our common fund is the basic tool of our love since it is built with love. Building one makes us something even as we are making it.

Resistance. We learn a lot about money in our society that oppresses us. Basic money management rules never change: Spending less than you earn will always be beneficial. Investing your money will always be better than doing nothing with it. And planning for the future will always be better than blowing your paycheck as soon as you get it. But in the U.S. those management ideas are usually applied to becoming wealthy not pursuing God. Some of us resist the pursuit of wealth by refusing to seriously deal with finances. Some of us resist resisting and try to Christianize the pursuit of wealth, or at least avoid talking about our preoccupation with it. Alternatively, we want to have a godly resistance, not just resistance of some sort. We need to address the use of money (which is a subject often laden with taboo or fully enslaved to some godless philosophy) with love and in the presence of God.

Investment. This is a very “blue” word, since it implies that you have something to invest: a character that makes godly choices, a community that is worth your heart, a conviction that frees you from slavery to the world’s ways and an imagination about what might be growing. Investing money is about creating wealth for most people — that is the goal of capitalism, right? But investment should be about one’s spiritual legacy: What we are given to give to the world? What is our best shot at moving transformation along? Investment is about building something that is bigger than just our own wealth. Circle of Hope is our most immediate “something” that we build together. But that tool we have builds something bigger than itself, too. We can see what it builds when we explore what our investment in MCC does, or when we can dare to spend our savings to plant another congregation, or in how we invest in the lives of our leaders and staff and manage to maintain our properties.

Sharing money is where we answer two of the most important questions in life: “Where do I belong?” and “Am I important?” Sharing what we have expresses our unity within the body and in our common purpose. What we have matters because we each matter. We need each other. Without each other we wither.

Antonin Scalia spent his whole life trying to get the cap back on the societal bottle that blew its top in the 1970’s.  Most Christians have been doing the same thing, in vain, right alongside him — no doubt some with great motives. We, as Circle of Hope, have been trying to do something else. Like our song says, we like that “new wine.” It is not new like it is an innovation. It is new because the world is, like Scalia said, a bit “idiotic” and life with God seems new to us. Each generation needs its own taste of the new life Jesus is bringing to an ever-dying world. How we handle our money is a great test of the faith we bring to living in that world. How we share is one of the most tangible ways we get to demonstrate that something new in the world is not only possible, it is being built.

Do we need simplicity skills?

Jonny Rashid often calls me a monk, which is more than a little bit true. It is very true that I admire the Christian radicals who created intentional communities in reaction to fellow-believers getting swallowed by the empire, and I admire how they multiplied monasteries when the Roman Empire fell apart. Believers gathered around Jesus and formed an amazingly creative response to the utter chaos and violence around them. They responded to their challenges with radical simplicity. As a result, their network of intentional communities preserved the truth about Jesus, provided a social safety net, and formed centers of creativity and charity that were rare points of light in Europe for hundreds of years. I think they flowered with Francis of Assisi. All the values that held the communities together: poverty, chastity, and obedience are extremely unpopular today. So people often ask the question, “Do we need to think about simplicity?”

Yes.

You might like to start with my favorite movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. In this clip [link], Francis and his newly-minted band of monks are working in the fields outside Assisi and dealing with the new poverty they have chosen. I like the heart of what they are doing, especially the way Francis receives the bread he’s begged with radical gratitude. His single-minded focus turns the hot, impoverished day into worship.

I don’t know what you think of these monk people: scary maybe, from another planet, embarrassing, quaint. Regardless of how you feel about them, they are successfully working on being simple. God did not give it to me to be a monk, but it was given to me to be simple, same as the rest of us.

The heart of simplicity

To get started on disciplining ourselves for simplicity, we will one main thing. That is, we focus on Jesus and let everything else follow who we follow. Jesus said,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy (or single), your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (see Matthew 6:19-24).

That is probably the key teaching on simplicity. Simplicity is about being basic, unclouded, whole. Simplicity is about being radically centered, not just frugal or generous. Simplicity is not mainly an economic matter. The pure in heart, the simple, the single-minded, will what they do from one reality: faithfulness to Jesus, no matter what their circumstance. That willingness is the character trait upon which simplicity skills are founded. Eternity is centered in our hearts so that reality gives our hands their focus.

We usually think of simplicity in terms of money. We are living in the United States, after all — and those people care about money! Not that everyone in the world isn’t pretty much obsessed with it, too, but Americans are schooled to see themselves as part of an “economy” and to see their consumer choice as an expression of their “freedom.” No matter how many times we are instructed that the president can’t really do all that much about the economy, the presidential election is going to be about jobs, when it should probably be about drones.

We need simplicity skills because our relationship with money (and with most everything else about us) is not so simple. We are at the center of a schedule that cannot be juggled properly; we are at the center of a communication system that overwhelms us — we can’t even figure out how to use the machines we have to use to run it; we are expected to be the center of an enterprise that sells our time, our communications, and our future — in terms of debt. The decisions we have to make are weighty.

Here are two ideas that I find important as part of my own simplicity skills for dealing with money. I wouldn’t say they are easy, but they are basic skills for using the tool of money in a radical way.

Be frugal. Budget with a vision. James 4:13-17

We should not construct our budgets as if our lives came from ourselves and as if the future were in our hands. This is basic Christianity. We say things like: “If I live, I live to the Lord. Whatever is at the heart of God, that is what I want in my heart.” I don’t think anyone writing the New Testament is sitting around waiting to find the perfect choice to make so they don’t mess up eternity. God can be trusted for the future. They are moving with the Spirit and focused on that one thing.

I have had the distinct pleasure of walking with people who are getting married this year. Some of them have already talked a lot about their finances and others almost not at all. Some are easy-going about how to organize their budget and assets and naturally want to share. Others are quite nervous about how sharing is going to work out and are naturally protective. Maybe that reflects how they first attached to mom and felt she was generous or withholding. Who knows? But how we handle our money as partners and as a community is important.

A basic simplicity skill is budgeting our money. We should know what we have, what we usually spend, what our goals are. We should not have to go to the ATM to find out what we have before we buy a snorkel for our vacation. We should not put it on the credit card and fix things up later. We should have a radical strategy for how we spend so our money is used for eternal purposes.

Be focused. Know when to kill the fatted calf. Luke 15:29-30

Throwing a lot of cash at an over-generous party might seem like the opposite of having a disciplined budget and being aware of how one is spending down one’s assets. If we did not live in eternity, scarcity would, indeed, be a huge  problem. If you kill the fatted calf too often, there isn’t another calf to eat! You know about the calf, right? If you are a subsistence farmer/cow raiser, the succulent meat of the cow you fed a special diet to plump it into shape is a very rare treat. You don’t eat it until you are celebrating the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, or your sister finally gets her BA.

Simplicity is also about knowing when it is time to kill the calf and celebrate. Simplicity is not all sweating in the field being poor. It is sharing our bread and praising God. Of course, some of us kill calves we don’t even own yet, hoping we will get some joy out of it — that is a little backward. The skill is to have the joy of eternity in our hearts and to celebrate it, not to celebrate in order to get some joy. We might see some joy looking backwards, but we get it by living forwards.

Maybe we should all have a “fatted calf fund” as part of our budgets.  Some of us may be living under our means already, so we always have money with which to bless others. But some of us have not mastered money-making and spending yet, so we might need to deliberately put some money away for the time when we need to buy the piece of jewelry, or send someone on a trip, or take a friend to dinner, or buy a forty dollar piece of meat or  a wonderful carrot at Vedge. That’s radical budgeting, too.

I hope my two suggestions spur your imagination for how you can be simple in practical ways, in that you discipline your money, and other things, to move with Jesus in this wild world. One person told me, “Wow! Being simple is complex!” Well, I guess so. But the heart of all that disciplined living is simple. The main thing is being faithful to the Lord who is so single-mindedly devoted to us.