Thursday, March 26, 2009

"Where is the church-led economic recovery?"

This article came up on CBC news the other day.

It's a hopeful sign to me in the wave of projects we've seen in recent years.... all that indicate that the church may once again be known primarily for their humanitarian work.

It's astounding to see how Christians went from being the dangerous, left-side liberals with revolutionary social policies to right-side conservatives concerned with big oil, big hair, and big houses, and I for one am glad we're starting to regain a more balanced identity.

Not that unpopular issues are pushed aside -- the "social justice begins in the womb" slogan Stand True just put up is one I resonate with profoundly -- but even that project talks about the injustice of child labor, human trafficking, AIDS, hunger and starvation, and self-harm as well as the 4,000 children who are aborted each day in America. (110,000 yearly is the current Canadian statistic)

If you're not familiar with how the church got from point A to point B politically, or thought the church was always at point B, there's many who can tell you that story besides myself.

Getting back to the topic though, finances matter. Not only because they affect where our heart is and accurately reflect what our priorities are, but how the ethics of Proverbs, the ethics of Jesus, the ethics of the Bible are relevant to the world today.

Of course, this starts for many of us by a personal turnaround.

I have been in the places where the million-dollar house and a new SUV were not cliches, they were choices Christians made without an ounce of guilt or forethought about the impact of their decisions.... but of course, the amount of money tithed to the church in a year reflected an abysmal percentage of their members bothering to give. A third car? Sure. Three vacations? Sure. But tithing? Not a chance.

Of course, for many of us, that's not how it is, right? We have normal incomes, we're not wealthy, we may be on a single income or students or even E.I.

I was absolutely flabbergasted to be told last year by a MacDiv student in one of our online class discussions that if he has to choose between eating deli chicken sandwiches, or eating peanut butter so he can tithe, he is always going to choose the deli chicken sandwich over principles he's convinced are Biblical, but he'll only follow if he can afford them.

Seriously... a sandwich? A sandwich?!?!? A SANDWICH is going to come between him and following God? And this guy is one of the future spiritual leaders we're cookin' up?

I spent a long time crafting and delivering a response to that... I came from the perspective that "Since this is something we don't typically talk about if we're not friends, let's assume we have a relationship in place. Let's assume I'm talking to you over coffee and this topic comes up. And because we're friends, I push my glass aside, I lean across the table, fix you with my gaze, and with a smile gently tell it to you straight, because I know you care about the truth...." (and then came the response)

The response was long and careful. But it doesn't take a degree to realize that if one isn't faithful in little, they won't be faithful in much, and if they can't afford to give now, they'll never afford to give later.

Not that I haven't seen waste and greed in my own life... every day I see the waste of my lifestyle, the useless things I consume that I don't need to.

But.. I have also been continually convinced that when we put our money in the right places - giving it first, saving and spending wisely, paying off debt, this stuff works, and God's not going to be inactive in your finances either... And that's been true when I got an allowance of $6 a week as a kid... when I've made a good salary in the past... and when I'm making $45/week like I am now.

But it's not just about following a rule or principles because I believe there's extra stuff comin'. Because even if you don't believe, following those principles works. Even for those who acknowledge no belief component whatsoever, following good principles works.

No, it's not rocket science... but we're in a world that's more or less completely unaware of those principles, and raising their children in environments with a large disposable income and no responsibilities, and bailing them out - even as adults! - when they make poor decisions: a recipe for future disaster in finances (and, um... life). (FailBlog even had a recent "Money Fail" competition... read a couple stories on there for fun.).

I meet people every day with the same story... no one taught them, never had to have responsibility, patterns modeled for them weren't good... or they were taught good things but had to have everything now and are feeling the consequences...

I don't typically watch TV in the afternoons. Nothing good on, I'm never home... what's the point? But I was home early one day last week and saw an episode of "Till Debt Do Us Part" filmed in our city. The subjects? A young Christian couple from Hamilton who were spouting off Christianese all over the place about how their marriage was based on God. She was an event planner making $35k a year, he was a a student making about 6k. And they spent thousands of dollars a month (over and above their expenses, and WAY over and above their income) on themselves, on clothing, on tanning, on restaurants, on appearing wealthy. In their own words, they "wanted it all" in life - a big house, fancy cars, expensive designer clothing. And they saw no discrepancy between their lives and their priorities... and their faith they claimed it was all based on.

I was flabbergasted again. It took a financial expert who brought no faith background into the show (it's TV, obviously) to show them these principles work. Was there no one in their community who could or would have done the same? (I guess God had some mercy on my poor brain, because poker came on TSN a few minutes later. Gah, I love poker. I got to play this Friday again. Not for money, obviously, since we're on the topic).

Back to the young couple on the show... even if you come from that - especially if you come from that! -- These principles work.

Paul puts together the Old and New Testaments beautifully when he tells the Ephesians to work hard, so that they may have something to give to those in need... that's fully OT and fully NT.

That's the summary. We rely on the hand of God, work hard, provide for the poor, and the ideal is to be the generous giver, no matter our income level: one who works hard, stores wisely, and gives generously. That's in Proverbs and the prophets and the Gospels and the epistles. That's from creation to Revelation. That's part of our identity as Christians. (And if your income is increased, and you've got this stuff down... that's when you can not worry about liking fancy clothing, or to put it Biblically, that the rich person is "dressed in purple" - purple being a very expensive dye at the time and very limited. )

Once I was looking at a picture of Bill Gates in National Geographic. He was sitting atop a pile of paper and holding a CD-Rom that could hold as much information as the stack of paper. Someone commented that his brand of shoes cost at least $300. I made a reply I've said over and over... I don't care how expensive Bill Gates' shoes are, because Bill Gates gives millions and millions more away than you or I ever will. When you give that much, you're free to enjoy what you've worked for as well... that's Biblical as well. Where your treasure is, there your heart is, and its the process of getting to where your treasure is in the right place... but if you don't make a start, you never get there.

It works. It'll work for those who are Christians and those who aren't. It'll work for those who know a lot about finances and those who don't. It works.

I see it in our own Finances Group at our church, teaching budgeting, tithing, giving, saving, debt repayment. I see it in the lives of men, women, old, young who are learning this for the first time.

I see it in the face of a friend from Bible College who started tithing in his twenties and things started making sense, even though he had previous family money and other resources.

I see it when times were brutally, brutally tough and we got through them with only minor injuries. (I still wonder somewhat why the minor injuries occurred... but I've seen at least a little good brought out of them). We've never been perfect in finances, but we've seen our track record pay off.

I see it in the spreadsheet I made the other day, before seeing that article.. that Jarod and I should be completely out of debt (and paid off a house) in less than ten years. And given that our student debt is the size of a house, and we're not yet done school (for the second time), that's no mean feat.And that's not for our own benefit only.... that's because then we can help others out faster, better, and more efficiently. I dream about buying up buildings, sponsoring people for school, digging wells, paying for trips, printing materials, really.. the things money can do if used well.

Back to the article... it's nice to see someone summarizing a bit of fairly-recent history on the topic and bringing it back to the forefront. In Canada, I'd think we'd be a step ahead of the States on this stuff also, but who knows....

I do know that I'm glad to be part of a church that uses their money well, and when I tithe I know it's going to help people, not pay for new carpet and shinier pews.

I'm glad to be part of a church that teaches this practically, and that is always looking for new ways to help people.

I'm glad to be in a country that recognizes and helps out its poorest: not that it's perfect, but it's better than the days when the only welfare around came from the church.

And I hope we can do more... and I hope that as I keep going, I'm able to do more.

No comments: