1181) Too Much Stuff

“Why I Took My Kids Toys Away (and Why They Won’t Get Them Back)” by Ruth Soukup, September 14, 2012 blog at:

http://www.livingwellspendingless.com

—————————-

     I’ve been on a mission this year to simplify my family’s life and rid ourselves of excess.   Over the course of the past nine months I have probably given away about 75 percent of my girls’ toys, keeping only the items that I felt encouraged their imagination and that they actually played with.  I thought I was doing pretty good.

     Even so, there were warning signs that my kids still had too much stuff.  In June, we took a field trip to Reptile World in Orlando.  Afterwards we decided it would be fun to take the girls to dinner at a dinosaur-themed restaurant called T-Rex in Downtown Disney.  While we were waiting to be seated my oldest daughter Maggie spotted the Build-a-Dino Workshop in the gift shop.  Although we immediately said “no way,” from that moment on she could think of nothing else.

     All through our delicious dinner, surrounded by dramatic (fake) meteor showers and animatronic dinosaurs, she fixated on the one thing she couldn’t have rather than the cool sights we were actually experiencing.

     On the three hour drive home, Husband and I– seriously concerned by our daughter’s inability to enjoy the moment– made a point to talk about all the neat stuff we had seen and what our favorite reptiles were.  By the time we made it home the Build-a-Dino had been forgotten.  At least by her.  But we were worried.

     In the weeks that followed, Chuck and I talked a lot about how we were going to handle this lack of contentment we were noticing.  Then one morning near the end of July, after telling my kids to clean their room for the umpteenth time, I made the somewhat impulsive decision to take away ALL their stuff…

     I wasn’t asking them to clean some giant out-of-control mess, just to pick up a few items off the floor and put them away in the very clearly labeled baskets.  Every time I came back to check on them, they had not only NOT picked up, they had made an even bigger mess.

     I finally gave up and took it all away.  I wasn’t angry, just fed up.  I calmly began packing up not just a toy or two, but every single thing.  All their dress-up clothes, baby dolls, Polly Pockets, and stuffed animals, all their Barbies, building blocks, and toy trains, right down to the the furniture from their dollhouse and play food from their kitchen.  The girls watched me in stunned silence for a few minutes and then, when the shock wore off, they helped.  And just like that, their room was clear.

     I had no idea what a dramatic difference this one semi-impulsive decision would make in all our lives.  I first started noticing a real change about four weeks later when we took a family trip to Key West.

     In contrast to our last outing, and for the first time ever, neither girl asked us to buy a single thing the entire weekend.  Not a toy, not a cheesy souvenir, not a light-up necklace from a passing street vendor.  Nothing.  We passed hundreds of shops and they loved looking in the window, but they were content just to be.  What was most amazing to me was that we didn’t talk to them about it ahead of time.  Not once did we have to tell them not to ask, or explain that being together was what mattered.

     Had I not experienced it with my own eyes, I would’ve never believed that an addiction to stuff could be broken that quickly.  The truth is that when I took all their stuff away, I was terrified at what would happen.  I worried that I was scarring them for life, depriving them of some essential developmental need.

     In reality, the opposite has happened.  Instead of being bored, they seem to have no shortage of things to do.  Their attention span is much longer and they are able to mindfully focus on their task at hand.  They color or read for hours at a time and happily spend the entire afternoon playing hide and seek, or pretend.  They are far more content, able to appreciate the blessings that they do have, and able to truly enjoy the moment they are in without always having to move on to the next thing.  They are more creative and patient, more willing to share, far more empathetic towards the plight of others, and, with little to fight over, they hardly fight at all.

     When I do take down a toy for them to play with (no, I didn’t throw everything away), such as their Lego blocks or dress-up clothes, that one thing will entertain them for the entire day.  (The rest has more or less been forgotten and will soon make it’s way from the attic to the Goodwill pile.)

     What I love even more is that they are able to recognize excess on their own.  Aside from a favorite stuffed animal and the comforter on their bed, (which they both earned back), neither of them actually want their toys back on a permanent basis.  They like not being overwhelmed by stuff and not having to spend so much time cleaning their room.

     When I first became a mom I was so happy to have a chance to start over, to undo through my children all the wrong that was done to me, to give them everything I felt I had missed out on.  I wanted our lives to be perfect, and my vision of perfection included a perfectly decorated bedroom filled with beautiful things, a life where they would want for nothing.

     I equated giving them stuff with making them happy, a message that our consumer driven culture hammers into us from the time we are born.  Oh, what a lie!

     I am a shopaholic, and there are so many times that I buy things when I am bored or unhappy, just to fill the void.  My husband laughs at me (and sometimes throws up his hands in frustration) because although I talk a good game about wanting to downsize and get rid of stuff, in reality there are still many times where I just can’t help myself from buying more.

     I justify it, telling myself it was on sale or a really good deal, or something we really needed, or that I deserve it because I work so hard.   In reality, it is just another thing I am trying to buy to solve a problem that runs much deeper.

     Stuff isn’t evil in and of itself, but in a world where we are constantly told that what we have isn’t quite good enough, the love of things can so very easily consume us.  The pursuit of it all– more toys, cuter clothes, a prettier house, a nicer car, a bigger computer, a fancier phone– can make us forget all the things that actually matter.

     It wasn’t until after observing first hand the real and immediate changes in my children after taking their toys away that I truly began to understand.

     (Six months later):  After seeing the changes in our kids, my husband and I have been inspired to minimize our own excesses in stuff as well, and over the past six months we have continued to purge as much as we can.  Our goal is to live simply, to enjoy each other, and to be content with what we have.  We’re not there yet– a lifetime of always needing more is not an easy thing to break– but we’re getting there.

************************************************************

Luke 12:15  —  (Jesus said), “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

I Timothy 6:6  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Jude 1:2  —  Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

************************************************************

Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.    

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House

Advertisements

1127) Where’s Your Heart?

By Randy Alcorn, May 11, 2016 blog at: http://www.epm.org

     Christ’s words were direct and profound:  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  By telling us that our hearts follow our treasure, Jesus is saying, “Show me your checkbook, your VISA statement, and your receipts, and I’ll show you where your heart is.”

     Suppose you buy shares of General Motors.  What happens?  You suddenly develop interest in GM.  You check the financial pages.  You see a magazine article about GM and read every word, even though a month ago you would have passed right over it.

     Suppose you’re giving to help African children with AIDS.  When you see an article on the subject, you’re hooked.  If you’re sending money to plant churches in India and an earthquake hits India, you watch the news and fervently pray.

     I’ve heard people say, “I want more of a heart for missions.”  I always respond, “Jesus tells you exactly how to get it.  Put your money in missions— and in your church and the poor— and your heart will follow.”

     Do you wish you cared more about eternal things?  Then reallocate some of your money, maybe most of your money, from temporal things to eternal things.  Put your resources, your assets, your money and possessions, your time and talents and energies into the things of God.  Watch what happens.  As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure.  Money leads; hearts follow.

     God wants your heart.  He isn’t looking just for “donors” for His kingdom, those who stand outside the cause and dispassionately consider acts of philanthropy.  He’s looking for disciples immersed in the causes they give to.  He wants people so filled with a vision for eternity that they wouldn’t dream of not investing their money, time, and prayers where they will matter most.

     Of course, giving isn’t the only good thing we can do with money.  We need to feed, clothe, house, and transport our families.  But when the basics are taken care of, why shouldn’t the rest go toward treasures in heaven?

     Moses left Egypt’s treasures “because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

     He who lays up treasures on earth spends his life backing away from his treasures.  To him, death is loss.

     He who lays up treasures in heaven looks forward to eternity; he’s moving daily toward his treasures.  To him, death is gain.

    He who spends his life moving away from his treasures has reason to despair.  He who spends his life moving toward his treasures has reason to rejoice.

     Are you despairing or rejoicing?

———————————

Giving is true having.  

–Charles Spurgeon

———————————

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

–Jim Elliot

———————————-

Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.

–C. S. Lewis

———————————-

I would not give one moment of heaven for all the joy and riches of the world.

–Martin Luther

**************************************************

Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Hebrews 11:24-27  —  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

I Timothy 6:17-19  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Colossians 3:2  —  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

1 John 2:17  —   The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

**************************************************

 O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature.  All that we possess is from your hand.  Make us always thankful for your loving providence.  Give us grace that we may honor you with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (from prayers #157 and #183)

1087) Sheep, Goats, and Taxes

MATTHEW 25:31-46:

     (Jesus told them this parable):  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

     “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

     “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

     “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

     “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

     “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

     “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

     “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

**********************************************

    This parable of Jesus gives us two helpful perspectives.  The first perspective is the one discussed in the previous two meditations, as we learn that Jesus himself considers any help given to the poor and needy as help given to himself.  We may not feel like we owe the poor anything , but we know that we owe Jesus everything.  That is a crucial perspective to keep in mind.

     The parable also gives us a long term perspective on our generosity.  What help we give, or do not give, will be remembered for a very long time, says Jesus, and it will have eternal consequences.  That message in the parable cannot be missed.  

     Eternity might be difficult to imagine, but this future perspective can be illustrated in a way easily understood.

     The deadline for filing your income taxes is in two weeks.  When you prepare your taxes, you look for every possible deduction.  Charitable gifts are tax deductible, so when you go through your box of receipts you are thrilled every time you find a receipt for money donated.  However, you may not have been as thrilled when you made the donation.  Perhaps you resented feeling obligated, maybe you felt you couldn’t afford it at the time, maybe you and your spouse had a disagreement over how much to give and you lost and you gave more than you thought necessary, and maybe you just don’t like writing out a check and not getting anything back for it.  But even if you are the type of person who does not ever feel generous and never enjoys contributing to anything, you are, at tax time, very happy about each and every donation receipt you find.  Tax-time puts an entirely different perspective on your contributions.  What may have been an irritation a few months ago, is now eagerly sought out and great to find.

     That is how it will be on that last day when our Lord reviews with us the good that we did and the good that we failed to do– as he does in the parable.  Then, we will be happy about every bit of help given, and not just because it was tax deductible.  Then, as Luther said, “When we see God in all His goodness and glory, we will want to spit on ourselves for not doing more to serve him in this life when we had the chance.”

****************************************************

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits  (1491-1556)

1020) Be Generous; But Use Your Head

     One cannot say enough about the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian.  Prayer is commanded and described in the Bible.  There are, in the Bible, many examples of God’s people at prayer, and it was something Jesus himself did on a regular basis.  What can be more important for us than to be given the opportunity to talk to God himself?

     Yet, there is something Jesus talks about six times as much as prayer.  Certainly then, this other subject must also be very important to God.  What is this other subject? Money– your money and how you spend it.  There are many verses in the Bible about money.  We are warned that money can become more important to us than God, becoming that which we love and trust in above anything else.  We are told that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  We are told to be careful about being too greedy, and letting our greed lead to all sorts of other sins and wickedness.  We are told in one of the commandments not to steal money, or anything else, from anyone.  We are told to be content with what we have, and not be jealous and covet what God has given to another.  And we are told about how the wrong use of money and the wrong attitude towards money can lead to much grief and sadness.  The Bible says a great deal about money.

     There is one other important thing that God says in the Bible about money, and God says this more than anything else on the subject.  What God says most of all about our money is that we should share it.  First of all, the Bible reminds us in many ways and places that everything is from God and belongs to God.  “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” is the way that the Psalmist puts it.  The cattle on the hills, the trees on the hills, the hills themselves, along with the valleys and the fields and everything in the fields and all who work in the fields.  It all belongs to God, and we get to use what we have for a little while.  It is entrusted to us.  We are, says Jesus in the parables, stewards of what God has given us.  Stewards are managers of what belongs to another, to God.  God says we may use what we need, and then, ought to be willing to share the rest, giving freely to the Lord’s work and to those in need.

     It is often said, “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish.”  That’s true.  Long term relief work is much better than just handing out food all the time.  Simple as that.  But I have also seen that quote adjusted and lengthened in order to reflect the complexities of long term relief work.  For example: “If you want to feed someone for a day, give him a fish; but if you want to feed him for a lifetime, teach him how to fish, and help him get a rod and reel, and give him access to the pond, and teach him how (if he starts catching lots of fish) he can package and market those fish so that even more people can be fed and he can get on an even firmer financial footing, etc.”  You get the idea.  

     It doesn’t help to teach a person how to care for animals if he has no animals and no way to get even a single one to begin with.  It doesn’t help to teach someone how to run a business to support their family if they cannot even get the $50.00 start up funds that they need.  Borrowing money in many of these countries is an expensive, dangerous, and unreliable process.  Therefore, some charitable organizations provide ‘microloans.’  These loans, though small by our standards ($50-100), are enough to help hard working men and women get started and work their way into a business, and become able to feed their family.  This is one example of not only teaching someone to fish, but also giving them access to the stream of business and free enterprise.  There are many wrong ways to help the poor, but there are also many very good ways, ways very much in line with how the Bible says we should help.  We must not only be willing to be generous with what God has given us, but we also need to use our head.

Go to:  

http://www.worldvisionmicro.org/

    You see, the same Bible that talks a lot about helping the poor, also has much to say about working for your own food.  And just as the Bible warns against the dangers of greed, it also warns against the dangers of idleness.  And just as God in the Bible warns against too high a regard for money, God also warns against too high a regard for leisure.  And just as the Bible says it is foolish to think you can make yourself totally secure without God, it also warns against not planning for the future at all.  Therefore, as Christians help the poor, we must be careful that we do not help in such ways as to encourage dependence and idleness.  The best Christian aid work is that which works hard at giving people the opportunity to work hard to help themselves.

    We must not forget what a blessing it is to be born in this country, with such an abundance of opportunities placed before us.  It is certainly true that there are many who are poor by their own actions and choices, but we must not in our position of blessing and privilege forget the billions who are poor because they’ve never had the opportunities we take for granted.  We should be grateful if we are among those who are able to give, and not among those who need the help.  As Jesus said, we are stewards of what God has given us to use, managers of what still belongs to him.  And do remember that whatever it is that we have, one day we will have to let it all go.  It will all then be turned over to someone else to manage; again, only for a little while. It is for us to be faithful right now with what we have been given for the brief time that we are allowed to have it.

*******************************************

II Thessalonians 3:10-13  —  Even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.  And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13  —  If a man shuts his ears to the cries of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 28:19– He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

*********************************************

Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand.  Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

939) Jesus is Watching

Luke 21:1-4  —  As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

****************************************************

     Jesus was watching as the crowd put their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.”

     The story does raise a couple questions; such as, How can it be good to give away ‘everything you have to live on?’   What then?  Then, somebody has to give to you so that you can survive.  And also, two small copper coins aren’t going to pay the bills at the temple.  Why doesn’t Jesus give a little credit to those who are giving enough to keep the heat and lights on?

     First of all, we need to look at what Jesus doesn’t say.  For example, though Jesus does criticize some teachers of the Law (in previous verses), he does not speak ill of the wealthy members who are putting their larger gifts into the treasury.  Nor, does he say everyone should put everything in, nor does he even say that the widow should have put everything in.  Jesus did not say any of that.  Jesus just said the widow put in more.  More what?  Certainly not more money, so Jesus clearly meant more of a percentage.  This is the same message as in II Corinthians 8:12 where Paul said, “The gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”  It is just basic Christian stewardship to give as you have been given.

     The other important lesson is that Jesus is watching.  Verse one says, “As Jesus looked up, he saw” what people were putting into the treasury.  Jesus saw them, and, he sees you.  Jesus is watching when that offering plate goes around, and Jesus is watching you whenever and wherever else you have an opportunity to be generous.  Think about that.  This is not a threat.  It is just a fact.  Jesus knows all and sees all.  Another fact is that people act better when they know they are being watched.  This is certainly true of children, and it is also true of adults.  It is true of everyone.  We all behave much better, and are far more likely to do what is right, when we know we are being watched.

     Fifty years ago when I was a child, our church posted for all to see the total amount of money each person gave that year.  Therefore, everyone was watching and everybody knew what everyone else gave– and you can bet that served as a powerful incentive.  I don’t think that was a good idea, because it led to all kinds of pride and gossip and unholy thoughts and comparisons.  So it is a good thing churches don’t do that anymore.  But the most important One of all is still watching, still seeing.  “Jesus is always watching over you,” we like to say, and that is a wonderful promise.  It can also be a little unnerving.  Jesus is watching?  Yes.  Always?  Yes, always.  Jesus even sees how you spend all of your money.  Jesus sees how generous you are and he sees how selfish you are.  

     One more thing.  Giving to the Lord’s work need not be defined only by what one puts in the offering plate.  There are many opportunities to share what you have been given by contributing to international mission or disaster relief organizations, by responding to local needs, or even by giving help to friends or family members who are struggling.  The Good Samaritan was also serving God when he paid for the injured man’s room at the inn until he recovered.  And of course, wherever we put our money, we must do what we can to make sure that what we give is used wisely.  There are, of course, churches, organizations, and individuals are not very good stewards with what they have been given.  One cannot expect to agree with every line in the budget, but we do need to put some thought and prayer into our decisions about how much money to give and where.

     However you choose to give to God’s work in the world, the powerful lesson in this little story of the widow’s offering is that Jesus is watching what you do with what you have been given.

*******************************************

Luke 12:48b  —  (Jesus said), “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

*******************************************

O Lord, who hast warned us that thou wilt require much of those to whom much is given; and who in thy infinite love hast entrusted to us both the knowledge of thy truth and the gifts of thy bounty:  Help us to use them as good stewards, giving liberally and working diligently, that we may share in bringing all people to thy truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, #75, (adapted)

938) Advice from Aunt Agnes

This is the time of year for Stewardship sermons.  This is from one I gave a couple years ago.

     Whenever I have to give a Stewardship sermon I think about my grandmother’s oldest sister, Aunt Agnes.  She was a kind old lady, and I only once remember her having a stern word for anyone, and that was for me.  I was still in seminary, and she was proud that I was going to be a minister.  But she wanted to set me straight on one thing right from the start.  She one day said to me very firmly, “Now Leon, when you get out of school and into a church, don’t be one of those ministers that is always talking about money.  I just hate those money sermons.”

     Well, I thought that was cute and I liked Aunt Agnes, so I didn’t mind that she gave me a piece of her mind like that.  But I did remember it, and when I got a little older and Aunt Agnes was long gone, I wondered what might have been behind that comment.  Aunt Agnes was a good Christian lady, she loved Jesus, and she served the church in whatever ways she could.  But she was also really poor, and only much later did it occur to me how poor she was.  She never married and never had a job, but spent her life taking care of others.  First, she helped her parents with eight younger brothers and sisters.  Then, as her siblings got married, she would help with their families as needed.  For example, one of her sisters gave birth to premature triplets right at the start of the depression, and those three small, frail children took turns being sick most the time for the next ten years.  Agnes was always there to help, often staying for months at a time.  Then, for several years she cared for her elderly parents.  When they died, the farm went to the youngest brother and his new wife.  Agnes and a bachelor brother, who had a good job, moved to a little house in town.  And then her brother was killed in a car accident.  From then on, she had very little to live on.  She worked all her life, but never had a job for social security.  Any inheritance from the farm had to be split nine ways, and in those years, even that little bit became worthless in no time due to inflation.  I once asked my mother what Agnes lived on, and she didn’t know.  It had never even occurred to her to ask her mother, because Aunt Agnes never complained about anything.  She was just always there, ready to help as needed, and always pleasant.

     Therefore, being the committed Christian that she was, I would imagine that Stewardship sermons were hard on her.  It probably made her feel bad to hear the minister talk about giving more money, knowing that she could not do any more than the meager little amount she was already giving.  So I have always kept Aunt Agnes in mind when I speak about stewardship; and somewhere along the line I try to say that the admonishion to evaluate your financial stewardship and try to be more generous is not for everyone.  Some of you really are doing all you can, and I want to acknowledge that.  Sometimes in sermons, or in any kind of advice, those that need it the least take it the hardest, and those who need it the most let it go in one ear and out the other.  Aunt Agnes was a tender soul who wanted to do what was right.  She could not bring much money for the Sunday morning offering, but she did know all about being generous. She spent her life being generous with her time serving others.

     Most of us here this morning are not as poor as my old Aunt Agnes, and we all need the occasional reminder to be more generous; just like we need to be reminded again and again of all of God’s commands.  Some of you may not mind that too much, and some of you may not like it at all.  But when Jesus was on this earth he talked about money six times as much as he talked about prayer, so no one should get too upset if a preacher wants to mention it every once in a while.   And, if you ever served on the church council you know that there are bills each month that need to be paid, so I have found that council members usually don’t mind the usual word of encouragement.

     Paul wrote II Corinthians just 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, so the center of the early church was still in Jerusalem where those incredible events had occurred.  The Jerusalem church at the time was facing some tough times due to persecution and famine.  Along with that, there was the financial burden of being the center of the church, and having to support all sorts of teachers, students, missionaries, seekers, and other guests.  So in his travels Paul would ask for support on their behalf.  In this letter, he is making an appeal to the church in Corinth.  As he makes his request, he tells the Corinthians about the Macedonians, who even though they were facing their own financial difficulties, responded with rich generosity. Paul wrote (8:1-8):

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.  And they exceeded our expectations… (So) since you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you— see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

     A few verses later, Paul addressed the concern I have every time I preach on Stewardship and think about Aunt Agnes, and how some people are far more able to respond than others.  That has always been the case, in every time and place including ancient Corinth, so Paul added (vv. 12-14):

If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.  

     God did not bless Aunt Agnes with much money, but he did bless her with the gift of time.  And she used that abundance of time to help others who were in Paul’s words, “hard pressed” in that area.  To others, God gives an abundance of financial resources, so as Paul says, “each can give according to what they have.”  So as Paul puts it so well, “your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.”

***************************************************
STEWARDSHIP PRAYER (from the Archdiocese of Chicago website):

Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that yours is “the earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.”  We know that it is from your hand that we have received all we have and are and will be.  Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us.  Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously.  May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives.  We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

875) Why are Preachers Always Asking for Money?

     Phil Robertson is the bearded patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan.  He is a good Christian man and I once heard him say he even speaks in churches once in a while; but, he was quick to add, “I am not a preacher; preachers are those guys that are always asking for money, and that’s not what I do in church.”  

     I like Phil Robertson.  He is a funny guy and he is a good witness to his faith and maybe he doesn’t ask for money when he is speaking in churches.  But he is in the business of selling duck calls.  I have seen his displays at Fleet Farm stores, and guess what:  he is always asking for money for those duck calls.  Of course, he has to.  His company has people hired and bills to pay and materials to buy and a building to keep up.  And so does the church.  I am sure Robertson knows that too, and I suspect his comment was not made in all seriousness.  

       But that is a common objection to the church, made by many people who are serious when they say it.  But think about it.  First of all, the church isn’t always asking for money.  There is  an offering taken at almost every worship service in every church.  But in every church I have ever been in, you can let that offering basket go right on by without putting anything in it; and the ushers don’t say a word, and you are allowed to stay sitting right where you are, and nobody even gives you a dirty look.  Once in a while, the pastor or someone from the council has get up to remind church members of their responsibilities, or inform them of particular needs.  And granted, there are preachers that do talk too much about money.  But even those ministers aren’t always talking about money.

     What most churches are always doing is being very generous, because that is what Jesus wants us to do with our resources.  At my own church we host the local Food Shelf and four days a week we hand out food without ever asking anyone for money.  Once a week the fellowship hall full of donated clothing and people from the area can take whatever they want, and we don’t ask them for money either.  Once a month we make several hundred sandwiches for the homeless, which picked up that evening by a man who hands them out under bridges and on the streets of downtown Minneapolis for free.  And, we are the main source of support for an orphanage and school in Haiti.  In addition to all that we are very generous in allowing the use of our space for weddings and funerals—even for people who have never given us a dime.  Of course we have to have some guidelines and nominal fees for that, or we would be swamped and have no time to do anything else.  Most Christian congregations are very generous in many ways, sometimes asking for money, but always giving it away.  That’s what congregations do.  This doesn’t mean that every congregation make the best use of every dollar received.  No two people in any marriage are always in total agreement on budget issues, so I don’t expect that the 1200 members of a congregation will always have the same priorities and be on the same page when it comes to designating the offerings.  But most Christians are familiar with the call of Jesus to serve others, and do want their church budget to reflect that.  And sometimes the pastor has to provide some leadership and talk about money.

**************************************************

II Corinthians 8:1-3  —  And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

II Corinthians 9:6-8  –  Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

**************************************************

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature.  All that we possess is from your hand.  Make us always thankful for your loving providence.  Give us grace that we may honor you with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (from prayers #157 and #183)

776) Tithing?

     The 10% tithe for the Lord’s work is a Biblical concept that is worth emphasizing and striving toward.  It is also a word at which many folks quit paying attention.  I don’t want to lose you, but neither do I want to ignore this important Biblical guideline.  So I would like to encourage you to consider what is called growth giving.  It is a simple concept, and here’s how it works.  You begin by calculating the percentage of income that you are now giving to the Lord’s work.  The next question is always, ‘before or after taxes,’ and my response is always, ‘whatever you want– you decide.’   You then commit to increasing your giving next year by one percent of your income.  Take note, this is not one percent of your current giving, but one percent of your total income.  If this year you gave 3% of your income, then next year give 4% of your income for the year.  Most people are not giving so sacrificially as to make that a hardship.  The suggestion, therefore, is not for ten percent right now, but for one percent more.  The tithe is not forgotten, rather, it is something you grow toward.  Next year, the challenge will be to add another percent.  But don’t think about that now, just think about the one percent, and then see where you are at next year.  Granted, some folks may not be able to do even this.  But most will be able to, especially if you take an honest look at how you spend your money.

     When I am paying my bills, and the checkbook is running low, I look at each bill, even my church offering or my contributions to the charities I support, as an irritation; “Oh no, another check to write.”  Do you ever have that feeling?  However, a few months later when I am doing my income taxes, I have a much different perspective on those charitable contributions.  There I sit, still well fed and clothed, and still in my warm house.  My contributions have not yet left me destitute.  So then, when I am doing my taxes, those contributions are no longer an irritation, but they are a pleasant surprise.  “Oh good, another deduction; this will help!”  The distance of a few months changes my entire perspective.  I am then well pleased with myself about my previous generosity, even wishing I had written out a few more checks so I could have a few more deductions.  I am pleased about not only the deductions that I am now able to make, but also for the good feeling that is still there; that good feeling that comes with being a part of supporting a good and worthy cause.

     I’m not saying this so you can having more fun when you do your taxes next year; but I want to illustrate the importance of taking the long view of this.  Think now about the perspective that the end of your life will give you on your generosity, or lack of it.  Will you be more pleased then with a lifetime of generosity, supporting those things that you believed in, and helping some people who needed help; or, will you be more pleased about all that stuff cluttering up your garage, basement, and closets.

     What do you suppose God will be more pleased with?

***********************************************

Leviticus 27:32  —  Every tithe of the herd and flock— every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod— will be holy to the Lord.

II Corinthians 9:6-8  —  Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Matthew 25:21  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

***********************************************

Merciful Father, we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us– our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love.  Receive them for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Offering Prayer, Lutheran Book of Worship, (239)

661) Lottery Luck?

Blog by Randy Alcorn, January 30, 2015, at:  www.epm.org

     While many people may believe the statement “money can’t buy happiness,” nearly everyone would like to put that theory to test!  People will almost always believe wholeheartedly that they would become immensely happy if only they had more money.

     As I write this, 130,000 Powerball tickets are being sold each minute.  And though they know their chances of winning are remote, gamblers stake their hopes on them.  Yet the track record of happiness for lottery winners is shocking.

     After a group of co-workers won $450 million in 2013, Willie Seeley took the microphone at a press conference.  Beaming, he said, “We are very happy, happy, happy.”  He and his wife appeared on NBC’s TODAY show, where he said he was going to fish, hunt and do as he pleased.

     When I saw the video six months after it happened, I thought, “I wonder how long that lasted?”  I’d read too many stories to believe the happiness would hold.

     After only two months Willie and his wife were already full of regrets.  He said, “There are days I wish we were back to just getting paid every two weeks.  You have to change your whole way of life, but we didn’t want to change the way we lived.”

     His wife Donna called their winnings “the curse.”  Feeling sorry for the new winner of a $400 million lottery, Willie said, “He doesn’t understand.  The drama is nonstop.”

     I realize people’s experiences differ.  But it is fair to say that over the long-haul, people’s personal happiness is rarely raised by winning the lottery: 

Charles Riddle won a big early lottery in 1975.  After getting divorced quickly and facing several lawsuits, he was arrested for selling cocaine.

William “Bud” Post won $16.2 million in 1988.  He was sued by a former girlfriend who wanted the money, and his brother hired a hit man, hoping to murder him and inherit it.  He was $1 million in debt in a year and later went to jail for shooting a gun over a bill collector’s head.  Post called winning the money a “nightmare.”  He died in 2006 after declaring bankruptcy.

Jeffrey Dampier won $20 million in 1996. Dampier bought homes for relatives.  Several years later, a sister-in-law and her boyfriend kidnapped and murdered him for the money.

John McGuiness won £10 million in 1997.  (£/British pound = approx. $1.50)  He bought luxury cars and went on vacations, then lost all his money, went back to work and applied for subsidized housing.  McGuiness commented, “I just want my life to get back to the way it was before.”

Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. won $31 million in 1997.  Harrell used the money to purchase a ranch, homes and cars for himself and family members.  His spending and lending spiraled out of control.  Harrell divorced, and just 20 months after winning the money, he committed suicide using a shotgun.

Victoria Zell won $11 million in 2001.  Zell landed in prison after a drug and alcohol-induced collision that paralyzed one person and killed another.

Jack Whittaker won $315 million in 2002.  After winning, his life involved arrests, shattered relationships, lawsuits, and the death of loved ones.  Whittaker later said he wished he had “torn up the ticket.”

Callie Rogers won $3 million in 2003.  Sixteen-year-old Rogers spent the money on fancy cars, gifts, lavish vacations, and plastic surgery.  An ex-boyfriend got her hooked on cocaine, a habit she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on, and she attempted suicide twice.

Keith Gough won £9 million in 2005.  He bought racehorses, divorced his wife, was conned by a girlfriend, became an alcoholic, developed cirrhosis of the liver and died in 2010.  He told a newspaper before his death, “My life was brilliant but the Lottery ruined everything.  What’s the point of having money when it sends you to bed crying?”

Abraham Shakespeare won $31 million in 2006.  Shakespeare went missing in 2009 after spending most of the money.  A few months later, his body was found under a slab of concrete.

     To put perspective on these stories, we should realize that many people dream of winning the lottery because they feel certain it would bring them lasting happiness.  As long as they don’t win, hope remains.  But once they do win and still don’t find happiness, their hope is gone. 

     As a bumper sticker says, “The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.”  The chances are greater of being struck by lightning than of winning a multimillion-dollar lottery.  But even if someone ends up winning, the gambler has violated God’s means of provision.  It’s hard and wise labor that brings financial profit (Proverbs 14:23).  Even then, reality is that money and material possessions can never satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

     God is jealous of our affections, demanding that He alone be the focus of our worship (Exodus 20:3-5).  Scripture tells us to put our hope in God (Psalm 42:5, 11).  God tells us to work for a living, not play the odds and seek shortcuts to wealth (Proverbs 28:19-20).  God is sufficient to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).  Scripture warns us against covetousness (Deuteronomy 5:21) and calls us to contentment (Philippians 4:11-12).

     May we remember that ultimate satisfaction can only be found in God, the gracious giver of all good things.  We were made for Him and we will never be satisfied with less.

————————

The above blog tells the sad stories of only a few winners.  There have been thousands of big lottery winners, and, of course, many have not been ruined by it.  But several studies have shown that a surprisingly high percentage of lottery winners do “pierce themselves with many griefs,” as I Timothy 6 says of those too “eager for money;” and do end up worse off than before.

****************************************************

I Timothy 6:9  —  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

I Timothy 6:10  —  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

****************************************************

Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.    –Lutheran Book of Worship

————————–

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

–Proverbs 30:7-9

547) Blessed are the Broke

 

By Caryn Rivadeneira, in Christianity Today, October 2014, pages 56-58 (edited).  She is the author Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God’s Abundance (InterVarsity Press).  Visit her at:

  www.carynrivadeneira.com

See also:

http://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2014/05/05/what-i-learned-about-being-wealthy-by-going-broke/31953

————–

     It had been more than a year since I had seen her.  We’d had our share of good conversations when our kids had attended Christian school together, but her frown moving toward me through the crowd left me looking for escape routes.

     She arrived with hands held out to hold my shoulders as she looked me over, shaking that frown at me.

     “We’ve missed you,” she said. “How horrible that you had to leave.”

     I breathed.  “It’s not horrible.  Far from it.”

     She grabbed my hand.

     “No, really,” I said.  “Public school is where God wanted us.  It was hard to leave, but the school has been a blessing.”

     She winked.  “It’s good you can say that.”

     “I’m not just saying that.  I mean it.”

     “I’m sure you do.”

     And I did.  We had left the school because we couldn’t pay the tuition.  Years of facing under-employment, then unemployment, compounded by mounting medical debt, will do that.  But I had sensed God calling us to our local public school for a long time.

     Frowny Face obviously couldn’t believe that.  Neither did the people who pitied us during our “terrible” season of being broke.  Not with a quiet belief system that’s grown rather insidious among the faithful.

     It’s a belief system implied every time a Christian told me to have faith, to keep our kids enrolled in the Christian school because God will provide.  It’s a belief system that many Christians don’t name and claim outright but still subtly embrace.  It’s the belief that God confirms our faithfulness by adding zeroes to pay stubs, by keeping us healthy, by giving us spouses and babies.  That while God may allow the occasional step back or stumble, really he is all about upward and onward, bigger and better.

     It’s a belief system that won’t entertain a God who doesn’t consider our comfort, that can’t imagine a heavenly Father who gave Solomon wisdom and wealth, but gave us patience and a brush with poverty.  It’s a belief system that leaves little room for a God who might take away to enrich in ways that have nothing to do with health or wealth.

     Most of us would say we do not agree with the prosperity gospel.  Still, I believe it has wormed its way through time and place, from its Pentecostal roots to smiley megachurch preachers, even to the most conservative wings of evangelical faith.  It crosses racial and socioeconomic boundaries and wraps snug around our hearts, holding us in a grip we don’t even want to shake off.

     I certainly didn’t want to—not when Jehovah was providing gobs and gobs above our needs.  Or, back in the days when I believed the solid stream of income was God blessing us, rewarding us for our faith and our giving.  Certainly not the day my husband walked into our kitchen and put an envelope on the counter.

     “Open it,” he said.  Inside was a check from his business’s first quarter, for far more than we had made the entire year prior.  I hugged him, and I expected nothing less.  My husband is brilliant and hardworking, and we had dedicated the company to a God who blessed that kind of ingenuity.  And so he did.

     For a time.  But after surviving harrowing financial desperation—when a nasty economy beat down that once-thriving business, followed by uninsured births and other medical expenses—I’m having a hard time believing that our years of prosperity, of having more money than we knew what to do with, of lavish vacations, of never thinking about grocery or heating costs, of sending kids off to schools with hefty price tags, were really blessings at all.

     That is, if my new understanding of blessing is accurate.

      Looking back at those “feast” years, I have to squint to see God in my life.  He was there, of course, but I barely noticed him while dancing around the kitchen with the check in my hand.

     Contrast that to the “famine” years—the ones when we never knew how we’d meet expenses, when we worried we’d lose our house.  Or the most desperate day, when my husband told me we were done, broke, out of money, out of credit, the day I questioned the truth of Jesus’ words.  What daily bread?  What about asking and ye shall receive?…  When I think about that day—those days—when I’d landed hard at the rock bottom of faith, when I’d landed in that pit of despair, it’s there:  the memory of how those times glistened with God’s presence and goodness.

      Before those days, I didn’t understand how Jesus could say the poor—in spirit and otherwise—were blessed.  Or why it would be so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom.  Not when I grew up and lived in a leafy suburb and attended a church where the poor were pitied and the rich were God-fearing.  When I heard talk of being “blessed,” it was usually about good health or promotions.  Fair enough, I suppose.  It’s a very Old Testament understanding of a God who blessed people materially (see Abraham, Solomon, Job), as a friend reminded me.

     “We were blessed to get upgraded to first-class,” one might say in my circles without fear of reproach.  “Hawaii is such a long flight.”

      Though the unexpected or just-in-time financial boons can speak to God’s provision of daily bread, the uninterrupted prosperity of summer homes and promotions and perfect health, of never having to ask or rely on God for anything, doesn’t often lead us closer to him.  The easy and comfortable seasons don’t push us to our knees, seeking respite in his might and mercy.  They don’t lift our hands in praise of his provision and wonder.  Not like being in need, like being broke—in its various definitions—does or can.

     Despair tries to crush us.  But for those who follow Jesus, even the most spirit-draining moments can be blessed if we lean back into the hands of Hope.  This is the stuff of the Psalms (see 142 and 143 for starters) and the assurances of Paul.  After his time in prison, he wrote, “We despaired of life itself…  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:8–9)…

     Indeed.  Because despair done right (laid out, cried out, given over to God) ushers us into God’s presence like nothing else.  Having to depend on God, learning to keep our eyes peeled for him, and experiencing his presence, his sustenance—finding him good amid the bad—is a blessing.

     But to experience this, we need to confess the chokehold that the prosperity gospel has on us.  We need to replace it with a different gospel, a “despairity gospel, if you will.  It’s the same gospel David discovered in the miry pits, the one Paul unearthed in prison, the one I discovered those nights I thought I’d collapse from the weight of unpaid bills and creditors calling.  It’s the one others have found while burying loved ones too soon, mourning dreams or opportunities, suffering through any dark night of the soul—only to make it through one night and be met in the morning with fresh mercies and the mysterious presence and sustenance of a good God.

     While my family and I are not out of any financial woods, I’m grateful the worst seems to have passed, that we can now work to pay off debt and pay bills on time.  But as we step farther away from the deepest, darkest moments of our desperation, I’m afraid I’ll lose touch with God.

     So far, though, God has shown me I have nothing to fear.  Even as we’ve “prospered” a bit financially, God hasn’t removed this thorn of desperation or the need to cry out for rescue…  In the past few weeks alone, friends have prayed me through a financial freak-out when all I could do was shake a fist to the skies.  God didn’t put out the financial fires, but he walked with us through them…

     The blessing I have found is one that the gospel of upward and onward, carefree and comfortable, will never offer.  It is a peace that prosperity cannot proclaim.  And it is very good news for the desperate and broke.

*************************************************

Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 143:11  —  For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

Luke 6:20  —  Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

2 Corinthians 1:8-9a  —  We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God…

*************************************************

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or, I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

–Proverbs 30:8-9