Thursday, October 23, 2008

I Cannot Serve God and Money

A meditation on Matthew 6:24.

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (ESV)

It was about four-thirty in the morning, and the last five words of this verse came to my mind. I had been praying for God to speak into my life about my that was new but feeling overwhelming. These were the words the Spirit called to mind, and not only did I see my own sin...I found my relief. In seeing my sin of that moment, I was equipped to fight another day in another battle.

Ok...more is needed for you to feel the impact of that verse in that moment. My wife and I recently moved back to Indiana, where we lived for almost four years at an earlier time. I had served as youth pastor at a church that recently split, and we felt that the Lord wanted us to come and encourage reconciliation between those who had chosen to break relationships. (How that's going won't be talked about in this post...and probably not in this blog. It's enough that I would ask you to pray. As in any area of needed growth, there are obstacles that only the Spirit and the Word can break pray that will happen.)

The point of telling you this is that, as you can probably guess, there is no income associated with such a ministry, so God has chosen to provide for our work here through my work as a hospice chaplain and also as a Bible teacher at a local Christian school. Even with both of these incomes, our total household income dropped 20% in the move, which has created quite a strain. I am no hero, and I am no martyr. My point in telling you any of this is to glorify God and how He uses His Word and His ways to sanctify us.

The financial strain was beginning to affect me. I was giving in to the temptation to worry and be anxious, though the Scripture clearly commands that I not be anxious for anything (Phil. 4:6). I felt I had the right to be anxious because there were medical bills not getting paid because of this reduction in income. WARNING: This is a major way that the enemy tempts us...he uses "rights." I have the right to be anxious. I have the right to be bitter because of the great hurt/betrayal that person caused in my life. I have the right to commit adultery because my wife isn't providing the kind of love I need. I have the right lie to my boss (or cut corners at work) because I can't lose this family needs the money, and God doesn't want me to stop providing for my family. Beware of your "rights"...they will lead you into sin that you (and too many believers around you) will find to be "respectable," to use a word from Jerry Bridges.

At the same time, I have been enrolled in a biblical counseling class through Southern Seminary, and we have been assigned a sanctification project. It is a time of focused work on one area of our lives. This anxiety is what I've been working on, and Matthew 6 has been one of the passages I've chosen to use in that project. All of this combined has led me to an intense battle against anxiety.

In the midst of my battle, I thought, "What if I delivered papers and made some extra money?" I had done it before, and when I looked into it, I would make over $1000 a month doing it (the route I was looking at was especially large). Well, this seemed just about perfect. I would have to give up some sleep and the ability to alert all day, but it was worth it. The money was too good to pass up. After all, if I made all this money, my anxiety would be reduced. (Do you see where this is going already? You probably do, but I didn't.)

After about two days of delivering papers, I was physically and mentally exhausted. The hernia I had surgery for in May was being aggravated, and my schedule was as follows:
(1) Wake up at 12:40 am. (2) Deliver papers from 1-6 am. (3) Fall into bed for an hour. (4) Get up and go to work at the hospice from 8-5 (teaching the Bible class in there as well). (5) Get home and eat a zombie dinner with the family. (6) Take one of the boys to either Scouts or football practice. (7) Get home around 7 or 8. (8) Crawl into bed at 8:30 PM. (9) Do it all over again.

There was no time for the ministry I came time to encourage time or mental focus to pray as I should...none of that. All there was time for was food, work, and sleep. And, truth be known, I was eating and sleeping so I could keep working. It was on the 8th or 9th day of the newspaper that I was driving and wondering how I could keep up this pace for long. The original plan was 6 months, but 8 days had almost literally stopped me in my tracks.

I was driving, jumping in and out of the car and running from house to house in order to meet my deadline (as I did every day). At one point in the route (which always came at about 4:30), there was a long drive from houses to a nursing home where I delivered a stack of papers. As I was driving, I began to pray. 'God, is this what you want from me? I can keep pushing myself, but am I doing the right thing?' (I you don't have to say anything...a prayer I should have prayed before taking the route.) Tears came to my eyes as I cried out to God in what must have looked crazy, if anyone else had been on the road at that time.

Then, the only words that came to my heart were these: "You cannot serve God and money." I remembered hearing John Piper talk about what it meant to serve money. You don't do things in order to bless position your life in such a way to be blessed by money. It hit me, at that moment, that I may have not had the sin of anxiety ruling my heart that week, but in its place I had put the sin of serving money. I had positioned my life so that money would bless me. I became a slave to to work rather than working to live. I didn't want to become rich; I just wanted my bills to be paid. Good intentions...yes! But the end of paid off medical bills does not justify the means of slavery to making each week about money.

I don't know that this means I should never work overtime...or take opportunities to earn a little money here and there, as God may provide. However, exchanging one sin for another is not God's plan for me...for any of His people. I work hard every week. I work two jobs every week. God has sovereignly placed me where I am with the income I have for His purposes. In this case, he wants to drive the love of money out of my heart because it is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim. 6:10).

You see, it's not just the rich man who wants to get richer who struggles with the love of money. It's the middle class family that strives for more money in order to find security. It's the poor man who thinks that if he just had more money, everything would be better. You have to really examine attitudes like these. What is it that makes things better, more secure, in each of these situations? Money. And Jesus said, you cannot serve God and money...either you will love the one and hate the other...or devote yourself to one and despise the other.

This is no place for balance in life...this is a place to turn from our sinful desire to find security and hope and help and a better life in money...and trust in Christ as the treasure of our souls. If we had everything this world could offer us and did not have Christ, we would have nothing. If we were stripped of everything as Job was...and we have Christ...we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). This is an easy thing to "amen" when the preacher says it, but it is far harder to live your life as if you believe it. And, we must believe it.

Money is still exchanged for goods and services, but it is no longer seen as the source...the any situation. Instead, the kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field...a treasure that we would go and sell everything to buy the field so we could have the treasure.

Now, as I fight the good fight against anxiety, I remember that 4:30 appointment with God. When I am tempted to bang my head against the wall or pick a financial fight with my wife, I remember the appointment again. Because of that week of sinful pursuit of money, God has opened my eyes and my heart to trust him more as a man who can't seem to make ends meet right now. That's okay. If God chooses to increase my income, blessed be the name of the Lord. If God chooses to reduce my income, blessed be the name of the Lord. I am better equipped to fight now. I still struggle with it...but this memory keeps me standing against the enemy of my soul,

So, that's what hit me at 4:30 in the morning...that's what hit me again even as I typed it...and that's what I pray hits you before you click the "X" and close this window.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Assuming Motives Leads to War (Re-run)

(I's a little too early in my blogging life for a re-run, but it's been more than two years since I first posted this.)

Thoughts after reading 1 Chronicles 19.

Motives are difficult things to read...reading the question "What are you doing?" gives us no indication of motive. However, if you begin to emphasize different words, you can begin to feel different motives. "What are you doing?" is the question of a parent, whose motive is to find out why her three-year-old son is eating soap (true story). "What are you doing?" is the question of a person who has just been asked what they were doing in an accusing manner. After giving what they believed was a good answer, they throw the same question back in their accuser's face. "What are you doing?" is the question of an inquisitive boss, whose motive is to try to find some reason not to fire a seemingly lazy employee that he/she otherwise likes.

Motives are funny things, and when you begin to assume someone's motive, it can get dangerous. Have you ever assumed that someone was questioning your character when they just had a question? Have you ever assumed someone to be selfish or proud when reality proved otherwise...that they were simply acting in ignorance? My seventh grade band teacher told us all one day that assuming makes something of "u" and "me". (If you don't know, it's okay.)

King Hanun assumed something in 1 Chronicles 19. He assumed that David had sent a delegation to spy on him and find a way to overthrow his country, when David was actually sending a delegation to express sympathy over the loss of Hanun's father, Nahash. Hanun was paranoid and assumed David's motive was antagonistic toward him, so he had the delegation captured, shaved, and stripped. This was not good...the Ammonites became "a stench in David's nostrils" (verse 6). What happened next? You guessed it...battle lines were drawn, and eventually the Ammonites ran away from the fight. The integrity of the king had been questioned by Hanun...assumptions were wrongly made about his motive. Nobody would dishonor God's anointed king, and so war broke out.

Where did it all start? Hanun was so paranoid about being attacked that even an act of kindness by David seemed threatening to him. He didn't even give the delegation time to explain why they were coming; he simply assumed the worst and jumped on the defensive. Does that sound familiar at all? Don't we too often assume that people are out to get us? Someone that we have had conflict with in the past may genuinely try to encourage us...what goes through our minds? "I wonder what her angle is." "I wonder what he really meant by that." "Was that sarcastic?" What would happen if we didn't assume these kinds of things? What would it be like to actually give someone the benefit of the doubt?

This is not to dismiss the importance of defending integrity when it is attacked. However, I think we too often jump to the conclusion that everything is an attack on our integrity. Well, I know I jump to that conclusion too often. Let's listen carefully to Paul's words in Romans 12, with some parenthetical comments by me:

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody (even the ones you assume are against you). If it is possible (and it is more possible than we usually think it is), as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-19, 21)

Assuming wrong motives in those around you can lead to war. It did in the Old Testament, it can in your family and friends, and it can in the New Testament church.