Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Follow the Money

Before writing this blog, I started writing a booklet entitled "Momisms." When my kids were growing up and we would witness or discuss a certain issue, I would quickly talk about it with them and try to sum it up with an easy to remember catch-phrase or 'proverb,' if you will.  Wow, what a great Mom....Well, apparently they can't remember much of them, only the gist, and only when prompted.  After saying, "What did I always tell you about _____?" And then receiving blank stares, I decided to write them down.

Today's "Follow the Money" was actually coined, I believe, by Rush Limbaugh. Most motivations and actions of Christian people can be traced back to money. Shocking, you say? We all know the verse from 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. But perhaps we need to dissect the "love" part of the verse, as I don't think most of us would believe we "love" money.

Before I point fingers, let me first confess my own sin. When I was wealthy, I donated large sums of money to worthy causes, the church, brethren in trouble, and hosted many fellowships so others wouldn't have the financial burden. That kind of giving is expected by God. I was giving out of the abundance that He gave me. God blesses certain people largely so that they will give, because the church's bills, ministries, and salaries need to be paid, and the poor just can't manage.  When Jesus saw the widow put her mites in the offering (Luke 21:3,4) he said, "Truly I tell you this poor widow has put in MORE than all the others. All these people gave gifts out of the wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." The widow was sacrificially giving - NOT out of her abundance.

Now that I'm poor, my behavior is different. Living a few dire years of not being able to run the heat in my house, buy fresh fruits and vegetables for my kids,  receive proper medical care, or afford car insurance has changed me. It was easy to be generous when I had extra, but now it's more difficult. That widow had no idea where her next meal was coming from but she donated her money anyway. DISCLAIMER: I'm not advocating foolishly giving away all that you have so your family suffers needlessly. God expects you to be wise with your money and to take care of your family.

I have discovered that I'm a little more stingy. Ouch. Stingy could be the first synonym of "love."  Remembering the stress (lack of faith and fear) of not being able to take sick kids to the doctor, or the stress of collection agencies calling, doesn't evaporate overnight.  That's a root of evil and it must go.

"I can't afford it." Christians use this phrase when they mean "That's something I don't want to spend my money on," and that is another synonym for "love of money." I have known millionaires who have said they couldn't afford something. One said they couldn't afford to get their oven fixed, and then took a six-family Alaskan cruise. Shortly after saying they couldn't afford something, another family purchased a $100 thousand RV. Another gal was on FaceBook complaining about the difficulties of obtaining government funded medical care (welfare), and in the picture she posted she had on designer eyeglasses and acrylic nails. My own friend confided that they couldn't afford to do anything for their anniversary because they were so strapped - four weeks later I saw pictures of them on a cruise! I could recite endless stories, but I think you get the point. We are tremendously blessed in America. Our "poor" suffer from obesity, not starvation. We do have some families and individuals in dire need, but we are also blessed to have many programs and aid to help them, including those struggling with drug and alcohol problems.

Each one of us believes that we are not "the rich," they are the people who have more than we have (and want). Spending $35 a week at Starbucks does not a poor person make. As Ecclesiastes 5:10 notes: Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.

Discontent could be another synonym for love.  Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." God determines who should be wealthy and who shouldn't. At this time in America, most all of us are "wealthy." Most of us had food for the day and a place to sleep. The food may range from good ole Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (which my kids can no longer look at), to steak. If you have a "beef" with God about it (pun intended), pray to Him. Giving is a ministry, and perhaps if God gave you large amounts of money, you wouldn't use it the way He intended: If it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously (Romans 12:8).

Our money is no one's but God's business. So why do we lie about it to others and ourselves? Why aren't we more generous when we have the ability? Why do we work both parents around the clock with no time left for God or family? Why does the second income earner in the family say, "I have to work," if they really don't? If we can't afford the extras, why do we charge them?  Why do we decide which luxuries are acceptable for us and then judge others for what we consider extravagances? A new Toyota Avalon is more "Christian" than a 3 Series BMW?

All of the above behaviors are indicative of the "love of money," in America 2011. Two things have helped me in my journey to overcome this - the death of my son, and of course, poverty. Losing your child puts everything into perspective and pulls your eyes toward heaven. "Things" and "Stuff" don't hold the same allure.  Becoming impoverished forces you to let go of all the things you "Needed" that really were "Wanted's." As mentioned above, I now struggle with the fear of not having enough for the basics, so my issue is now lack of faith in God that He will, "never leave me nor forsake me" (Hebrews 13:5).

If you are having your hair weaved in a salon, your car custom detailed, buying Starbucks, wearing acrylic nails, taking vacations, eating nutritious food, have gas and insurance for your car, a roof over your head, clean and hole-free clothes for the family, working one job, eating out at restaurants -even with a coupon, or carry a cel phone (especially one that does more than just dial), YOU ARE THE RICH! Ask God what you should be doing with all the extra money He's given you. Repent from the love of money by ceasing to say "I can't afford that" and instead saying, "I don't choose to spend my money on that," if you're going to make a comment at all.

Be content with the level of wealth that God has given you. I have applied to 100 different places, have a degree and extensive qualifications, and yet the doors stay firmly shut. I work at an almost minimum wage job but am qualified for much more. God has decided that this is where I should be, so I am learning to be content. I have had years of practice, so had I written this two years ago I would have been a lot more whiny (I want to encourage you that it doesn't happen overnight :). My used purse, given to me by a rich friend six years ago, has seen better days. The strap is broken, but something else always seems to come up. My Mom occasionally needs financial help, so there goes the gas money to drive up and see my girls up at college. My elbow needs work, but you know the size of those copays, so that has to wait. I have changed my 'wants' into 'needs.' I am blessed to have had yogurt and a banana for breakfast,  gas in the car to get to work, to even have a job in this economy, and a bed to sleep in at night.

The challenge to us as Christians is to determine how many of our sins, motivations, and actions are directed by our love of money. I knew a gal whose son was struggling terribly in public school, but she couldn't bear to lose that $400 a month extra spending cash by putting him in private school (This was a while ago, I realize that now some of the private schools are worse than the public ones, and often Charter schools are the better way to go). She put her love of money before her son.

Pray, and ask God what to do. Ask Him about the amount of hours you work which may not leave enough time to pray or go to church. Ask him about trips, handbags, new pools, new cars. Don't be afraid, He may say YES! Put your faith in God, not money. This blog is not intended for nominal Christians. This is an alert for seasoned Christians who have deceived themselves about their attitudes and motivations about money. Soon enough, when the economy completely bottoms out, these things won't even be an issue but we will have been strengthened by repenting of our love of money, to be able to rely on our increased faith in God for our needs, and not panic like the rest of the country will be doing.

It's not a sin to be rich, it's a gift from God. As mentioned above, our wealthier congregants help pay the bills and salaries. Jesus' friend Joseph bought his burial plot.  Our family was incredibly blessed by the generosity of our church - numerous times. My daughter's tooth was bad and had to be pulled and I was driving around without car insurance, just to name a few godsends (I was working seven days a week during this time, and going to night school, supporting two daughters - the third one was going through chemotherapy and trying to contribute as much as she could).

To sum up our 100-Fold attitude toward money, I'd like to quote my daughters' pastor from the college town church they attend, "It's not a sin to be rich, it's a sin to die rich."

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