Posts Tagged ‘money’
If you have not heard it yet, you have probably not been online for a few weeks. If you have heard it once, you have probably heard it many times. For many organisations, institutions and associations, it is the time of year for the appeal. You know how it goes – something like this:
“The end of the year is fast approaching. The beginning of the next one is going to arrive a second later. For us, it is also the end of the financial year. And this is all the good we have done or tried to do, and this is all the good we plan or intend to accomplish. And yet … money is tight. With just a few pounds or dollars from many of you, or a good bundle of them from even a few of you, Ministry X can keep moving forward and can accomplish so much more in the coming months. Might I suggest a concrete sum or a specific goal to give you a sense of definition and accomplishment? Thank you! So, please, consider whether or not this is a cause to which you can donate. And, by the way, this is your last chance … for now!”
Before you respond to such appeals, I would also like to draw attention to an institution very much in need of your financial support. It is a longstanding institution in which you should have a personal investment on multiple levels, if you do not already do so. It generally stands in need of support, and does untold good, with the capacity for yet more good than can be imagined. It ought to have the first claim on your money.
I hope you know that I am speaking of the local church. This, my friends, is the one institution with direct divine sanction. It is the the one missionary organisation with a heavenly mandate. It is the one establishment with a celestial constitution. Its work is defined by divine fiat. It is the one body with a guarantee of perpetual existence and unending profitable service. And it is the one organisation which has the legitimate and primary claim on our financial contributions to the kingdom of God.
Please do not misunderstand me. There are many institutions and organisations which are doing fine work. Many of them are doing work that lies outside the remit of the church, and they deserve your time, attention and support. Some of them do not have the capacity or desire to clamour for your probably hard-earned cash. Some of them are known to thousands, some to few. Some of them are eminently worthy, others debatably so. You should consider supporting them financially, if you are able. I also understand that there are some avenues of service that are difficult to define in terms of the role of the church either as the direct instigator or overseer.
But that is not the point. The point is that the first call on your financial investment ought to be the church to which you belong for the work which the church is called to do. Beyond that, I would suggest that the second call ought to be the local church to which you belong for the work which that church is called to do. If you trust the elders and the deacons (one presumes that you do, if you belong to the church), and if they have a sincere and wise desire for kingdom investment (and I hope that they do), and if you have a little more that you wish to do (and most of us do), why not give a little more to that church of which you are a part? Most church officers and the congregations they serve already know where and how and why they might invest any further funds made available.
It is clear from the Scriptures that Christians should support the work of the Lord by systematic and proportionate giving made through the local church (Mal 3.8-10; 1Cor 16.1-2; 2Cor 8 and 9). Whether or not you take tithing as helpful principle, it is certainly indicative of the attitude of God’s people concerning giving to God’s kingdom. And what of gifts and offerings made according to one’s ability and willingness of heart (Gen 14.18-20; 2Cor 8.1-5; Ex 36.2-7)? Has there been no blessing from God, perhaps directly through the church and its ministry, for which a thank offering might not form part of an appropriate response?
And what of other churches? Do you know of congregations that are seeking to support missionaries or plant churches or erect or purchase buildings? Are there churches that struggle to support their pastors? If you have given all that you might and all that you could to your own congregation, might you suggest to the deacons that this could be a worthwhile investment? If your church is already involved in such support, and you have more in your pocket, why not pass it along independently and anonymously?
If, after that, you have discretionary funds or wish to make further sacrifices, then by all means go ahead. Might I suggest that you save those shekels for work that lies outside the remit of the church, rather than investing it in something that is replicating or replacing that work without a divine mandate? And, unless and until you find such a need, then look nearer at hand and, I hope, nearer at heart. Christ loves his church. It was to a church that Paul wrote concerning the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2Cor 8.9). It is in and through the local church that the first response to this example ought to be made.
Sex & Money: Pleasures That Leave You Empty and Grace That Satisfies
Paul David Tripp
Crossway, 2013, 224pp., cloth, $22.99
With its cover [I refer to the US edition, but the British one is equally garish] boasting a barcode adorned with the hot pink print of lips (the marketing guys were clearly given fairly free rein on its promotional video as well) and its opening salvo of gripping and occasionally graphic vignettes of obsessions with aspects of our sexuality and solvency, Tripp’s new book certainly sets out to grab the attention. Indeed, so vivid and suggestive is the cover design that – because I was reading it while travelling internationally – I felt constrained to provide my own blank cover. I was slightly concerned that introducing myself as a pastor and then pulling out the volume in question might have caused fellow-travellers to make snap judgements and cause my good (in attempting to review the book) be spoken of as evil (presumed indulgence in the vices condemned). Of course, that conundrum also demonstrates the perpetually pressing nature of these topics.
The core thesis of the book is that our hearts are prone to a moral insanity centred in sex and money – these are the heart-idols celebrated in our own culture (and others) and effectively entertained and even sometimes worshipped by too many Christians. Although this contention is rather assumed than proved, I cannot imagine that many believers would be inclined to argue against the circumstantial but overwhelming evidence. Concerned about insanity, addiction and glory, Tripp begins by describing what he calls “the dangerous dichotomy” – the tendency to separate the spiritual and the secular which needs to be countered by “an everything-is-spiritual-because-everything-is-worship view of life” (37). This ‘all-of-life-as-worship’ meme is not one I am comfortable with, not because I wish to restrict our relationship to God to particular hours or environments and then live as if the Lord did not exist at all other times and in all other places, but because I think it tends to devalue the church’s particular and specific acts of worship (after all, one could argue that if all of life is worship then nothing is really worship) and because it tends to collapse the proper and necessary distinction between the sacred and the secular and/or profane. That said, Tripp’s approach is far more nuanced and careful than some of the more crass and dismissive versions that bounce out of too many pulpits and off too many pages, and the point is well taken: all of life must be lived before the eye of God. That means that the heart is the first and vital battleground.
Our author then goes on to deal with sex and with money, in each case seeking to explore, demonstrate and remedy the moral madness that would elevate our physical pleasures and our material gains to the throne of the heart. Sex and money are not, in themselves, evils, but can be readily turned to evil ends. Our sexuality has to do with worship, relationship and obedience, and must not be sacrificed on the altar of lower pleasures. Our wallets and purses must be governed by God and not by our own appetites responding to ever-present enticements that too often dominate our planning and spending.
Toward the conclusion of the book, the two threads begin to twist more closely together once more, as Tripp focuses on the sense of immediacy so characteristic of this world, with its concomitant blindness to eternity. Developing what he catchily calls “practical me-istic presentism” – self-centred living without regard for eternity, my own personal God-complex – he seeks to re-orient the heart toward the King eternal, the immortal, invisible, only-wise God.
Overall, this volume drives effectively at the perennial problem of heart idolatry. The writing is pointed and pastoral, offering a humble transparency on the part of the author as he makes plain that he is with his readers in this fight. As a modern take on the issue, although I might have differed slightly in his analysis of the problem, I was in fundamental sympathy with his diagnosis and prescription. At the same time, I would have appreciated a little more depth and development in that prescription: Tripp shows us strategies for the heart-battle but could, perhaps, have offered more in the way of tactics. Some readers will not appreciate the starkness of some of his examples, though I hope that this would not be because they refuse to acknowledge that the problems are real. There are also some abrupt shifts of tone throughout the volume, as the author moves back and forth between the main flow of his material and the examples so much in vogue among authors who are counsellors; these shifts at one or two points are so violent as to make one wonder if there has been a printer’s error (of which, sadly, there are a good number, unusually for this publisher).
This, then, is a useful book, probably more helpful among those less likely to buck at some of its ripe straightforwardness, or wrestling with these sins in their more aggressive and open forms and so in need of a more definite alert. That said, it is sometimes the more subtle and less apparent forms of these idolatries that entwine about the heart and which need to be thoroughly rooted out, and in that respect the basic lessons of this work need to be well-heeded by all. Potential buyers might be well-served by flicking through it or reading an excerpt first to make sure that they are happy with its pitch and tone and understand its approach and purpose.
Nathan Bingham reminds us that the online world is not so far removed from the real one that it all happens without cost:
If we are all honest, we have all been enjoying “magic land” to some extent. Even if we’ve not been jeering from the audience our expectations have been high. We want immediate satisfaction and we want it for free.
Whether you’ve been in the audience or only sitting on the sidelines, at the very least my prayer is that this post will bring an issue to your attention. And then possibly, as you consider what a wonderful job many in the online Christian community do for the cause of Christ, you’ll change how you pray, use your finances, and use your words.
Ironically, as I type this my hosting service has gone offline. If only I was connected to the Internet at the moment I’m sure I’d get someone complaining. Why don’t I upgrade my hosting, you ask? After all, that’d be easy, inexpensive, and quick, right?
My son just fell downstairs. He was at the top with his hands full when he slipped and rolled to the bottom. I heard the heavy thuds as he dropped and made it to the bottom of the stairs pretty much as he did. He was, naturally, shocked and upset, but mercifully unhurt, as far as we can tell. A few cuddles and an eventual biscuit dried his tears, and he recovered his equanimity (and the cuddly toy that had made the descent with him). We checked Knuckles (the dog) for bumps, bruises and breaks, and fed him a little biscuit, and found that he was also OK.
It was at this point that I wondered why he was struggling to use his right hand. Had he, after all, injured himself? No, one of the reasons why he had fallen was because he was clutching a few copper coins: he could not grab the bar that he usually holds on to properly. But notice, he made it all the way to the bottom, and through the recovery, without once relinquishing his grip on that which, had he only held it more lightly, might have prevent him falling in the first place. He was holding it through his descent, and kept his grip upon it to the very end.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37).
Many men fall with their hands full, and suffer far worse than a few bruises and tears. There is a fall from which no man recovers, and many descend because they are grasping after the things of this life. When they reach the bottom, that which they held on to so fiercely is found to be worth nothing at all. In the final analysis, and counted in the light of eternity, untold millions would be no more than a few coppers if for the sake of holding them we fall, descend and eventually land in hell. There is a time to let go of the stuff of this life, and get hold of Jesus Christ.
For more counsel on the use of money, Gary Brady posts an excellent review of John Wesley’s attitude to and employment of his wealth.