Saturday, October 8, 2016

Living as The Fourth Soil

     "As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground — these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit." (Luke 8:14-15 HCSB)
     In my last post I promised to write more about believers and money, and that I will do, but not like I first thought because I found a very good book about the subject that is far superior to anything I could quickly throw together. That book is Randy Alcorn's Managing God's Money (under $5.00 on Amazon Kindle), and I highly recommend its careful and thorough exploration of this topic (while also disagreeing with its view of healing!).
     But I do want to write some about this and give my thoughts in a set of statements that may prove useful to you as you think about you and your money. So here goes. Living simply and generously is...
  • A matter of wisdom, not salvation. We are always and only saved by grace through faith (trust), so any discussion about believers and our money is not about our eternal destiny but about how much treasure is waiting for us in Heaven. Living generously is about living from an eternal perspective and storing up treasure in the right location. That's Jesus' point when He speaks of the wisdom of putting our treasure in Heaven (see, for example, Matthew 6:19-21).
  • A matter of maturity and fruit-bearing, not religious obligation. The words of Jesus quoted at the beginning of this article clearly warn us that riches and possessions can hinder the maturity and fruitfulness of His followers. To the extent that we invest our thoughts, time, energy and other resources in this present age, to that extent we remain stunted, immature and limited in Kingdom significance. Anyone who owns anything knows how hard it is to keep that thing from owning you! It is painfully easy to be distracted from Kingdom things by earthly things.
  • A matter of well-placed trust. After his strong warning not to make getting rich a life focus, Paul, in 1 Timothy 6, writes, "Instruct them (the wealthy) not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real." 1 Timothy 6:17-19 (HCSB) italics are mine--TW This passage, along with many others, reminds us that living generously is ultimately a matter of what and whom we trust. Those who deeply trust God and His love find it easy to live generously. 
  • A matter of joyful compassion and compassionate joy, not guilt-ridden obligation. Paul makes it clear in his instructions to the Corinthians about giving that giving is a matter of joyfully expressed love, not compulsion. "Each person should do as he has decided in his heart — not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver."  2 Corinthians 9:7 (HCSB) And elsewhere Paul states that even outrageously extravagant giving apart from love has no reward (1 Corinthians 13:3). Note well how this provides a huge clue as to how to learn to live generously: Getting to know God intimately as a loving Father, who freely gives us all things, will allow joy and compassion to lead us to live simply and give extravagantly. And our greatest joy will be to bring joy to our infinitely generous Father! The love that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13 is first of all God's love for us and then secondly our love for Him and others that flows from our being dearly loved. Living more and more aware of His love will inevitably lead us to joyful, compassionate generosity. On the other hand, even sacrificial giving apart from our experience of His love won't move us even one tiny little bit closer to His heart.
  • A matter of paradigm. Only our holding to an eternal paradigm will move us to relax our grip on this present age, dear ones. If we really believe what the Bible says about treasure in Heaven and the importance of living for eternity, we will find it increasingly easy to give freely and sacrificially with great joy and great peace! Randy Alcorn gives a very clear illustration of this paradigm that I dearly love: "Imagine you’re alive at the end of the Civil War. You’re living in the South, but you’re a Northerner. You plan to move home as soon as the war’s over. While in the South you’ve accumulated lots of Confederate currency. Now, suppose you know for a fact the North’s going to win the war, and the end is imminent. What will you do with your Confederate money?   If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You should immediately cash in your Confederate currency for U.S. currency—the only money that will have value once the war’s over. Keep only enough Confederate currency to meet your short-term needs. Managing God's Money: A Biblical Guide (pp. 86-87).  
  • A matter of perspective. What do I mean by perspective? First, as Americans we tend to view our world only on the basis of what's immediately around us. This tends to blind us to the fact that even lower middle class Americans are enormously wealthy compared to much of the rest of the world and most of the people who have ever lived on this planet. Does that mean we should feel guilty or deny ourselves to the point of lack? Of course not! That would violate the principles stated above as well as missing the heart of our Father. But what it does mean is that we can hear God's voice much more clearly if we remember how truly wealthy we are. Holding to that perspective will lead us to a change of actions. Maybe it would mean buying less than the top of the line so that I can give the difference to someone who can't even see the next day's provision, eh? That kind of generosity is something I am more likely to consider if I remember how the world really looks in terms of wealth. Second, even within the American church we need to shift our perspective so that we notice the single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and therefore choose to joyfully forego buying that new "whatever" in order to help her make it through a rough time. Note that these are just illustrations. All I am asking is that you "notice" and then listen to Papa God. The point is to allow Holy Spirit to shift your perspective to a larger and more accurate view of things regarding "things."
     I could go on, but this is enough for now, I think. See Randy Alcorn's book for more.

      And above all else, my friends, remember that change in our lives is something that God initiates, guides and empowers. When we live from the center of His loving embrace, it's quite easy to hear Him ask us where our trust really lies, hear Him when He highlights the struggling brother or sister here or overseas, hear His reminder to invest in eternity instead of this very temporary season. As one who is still very much learning to live generously and for eternity, I would be truly dismayed if my words led to sorrowful obligation rather than joyful liberation! Live joyfully in His love without fearing or shrinking back from His constant stretching and healing!

From His Embrace,

Tom

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