Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Vision #8

“How much wealth does a Christian Need? He needs as much as the work God has given him requires.”
St. Thomas Aquinas
I like to write about heroes. That’s why I talk about people like Pat Gruits. She built a hospital in Haiti that cares for sick children. Soon, she will have an AIDS clinic. That’s real powerful stuff. I have written about how all of that grew from one small word that God dropped into her heart. I have also written about her hard work and the many years it took for God to prepare a way for the word about the hospital to become a reality.
Oh, and did I mention money? Well, I should have. Because it takes a lot of money to build and run a hospital. I think Sister Pat is a saint but if so she is one that knows how to use money.

Some of us carry a vision of saintliness in our spirits that requires us to become poor. The vision gets constructed around a few key ideas such as these: St. Francis was a saint. He was poor. Therefore, if one becomes a saint, he is necessarily called to be poor. I want to be a saint. Therefore, I need to be poor.
But what if God wants me to develop a first class laboratory and find a cure for cancer? What if God wants me to build a great school to develop highly trained artists? What if I am called to publish and distribute Bible in Arabic? Projects like those require money. Therefore, if I am to do what God calls me to do in such cases, I need money and if I need money it follows that I must learn how to raise, manage and multiply money.
Most Christian leaders realize this of course. That’s why so many ministries ask us to give money; they need finances to keep things going. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except for this one little thing: the donor pool for Christian ministry is limited. That reality makes Christian ministries competitors for donor dollars. And that makes me wonder; do many of us keep asking for donations simply because we never learned how to provide a product or a service to the public that would earn or multiply capital?
We admire the Jews because so many of them seem to know how to create and manage money. Yet, they read and study the same Bible and pray to the same God as Christians. So why do so many Christians spend their lives wishing, hoping, praying and confessing that money will materialize magically? Could it be that Jewish people learned long ago how to cooperate with the way God actually created the world? Maybe they treat finances the way farmers treat agriculture. I mean, if a farmer fervently and sincerely prays and fasts but does not sow, water, weed and reap, someone is going to starve. That’s not doubting God; it is recognizing how God actually made the universe. So why do we think and act differently when it comes to finances? Maybe we need less faith seminars and more Bible studies on the book of Proverbs! Maybe we are material creatures after all, living in a material world and need to stop pretending otherwise. In fact, maybe Biblical spirituality is just that – delighting in the universe that God created and delighting in finding our place in that universe. May be the command to “dress, till, and cultivate the earth” is about more than wheat and corn.
Anyway, we are bringing Dave Ramsey to our church in the fall of ’06. We are asking him to teach us all how to get out of debt, live within our means and manage and grow our resources. The reason we are doing this is because dealing with money is a part of learning to be a disciple. If we get in so much debt that we cannot breathe, dreaming will only frustrate us. Even spiritual life often seems spooky and disconnected to reality when we can't manage our finances and provide for ourselves and our families. We know that many good, sincere Christians are in that dilemma.Their sincerity doesn't;t pay the bills and they get disillusioned. If a person doesn’t know how to farm, he can starve in the middle of a fertile field, even if he is praying fervently for food. But “he who goes forth weeping, bearing precious seed will doubtless come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Weeping alone doesn’t cut it. (I’ve tried that!)

We want everyone in our church to own their own house. We want all our staff people to have a good life for themselves and their families. We want to tell people in poverty that if they follow God, learn to tithe and learn to manage their finances that they can get out of debt, stay out of debt, learn to invest and accumulate enough money to do what God calls them to do. We want all of our people to become financially mature. We want released from the agenda that Hollywood, Wall Street and Madison Avenue have set for us.
admire St. Francis. I believe God called him to live an abundant, joyful life with very little of this world’s goods. He obeyed God admirably. I also believe that from time to time, God calls others to do the same thing Francis did. We all appreciate and admire such people. However, when God calls people to live in poverty for some reason, there is always a dependable sign of His calling on their lives – the people are happy! However, if God calls us to build a hospital and we never get enough funds to do it because we never learn how to manage money, then we will not be happy like St. Francis was. For most of us, doing God’s work involves dealing with money. In some cases, we will get the money by receiving donations. Most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. Most of the time, our vision requires that we learn how to attract, manage and multiply capital through giving some service or creating some product.
I don’t know if Dave is a saint yet. But by helping people grow up where finances are concerned, he, and other good Christian teachers available to the body of Christ, helps us do saintly things. Like build hospitals. And churches. And schools. And parks. And to care for old people. And create beautiful art. And study for the ministry. And, and, and …

The loss of scriptural teaching in our churches has concerned me for a long time. Growing in Christ and maintaining our biblical foundation require much more Bible emphasis than what most American Churches have been providing their people in the last few years. So our decision to focus on finances for a few weeks is not about raising money for the church. It is certainly not about turning the church toward a more secular and a less spiritual direction. We are doing all we can to build a strong Biblical teaching structure for our church. On the contrary, we are doing all we can to plan a biblical studies program that will allow us within a couple of years to offer a wide spectrum of Bible classes on Sunday, during the week, on campus and online. In the meantime, some of us need help to remind ourselves that Christ must be Lord of all of life, including how we view money.

No comments: