Choosing family over stuff

Today is Family Day, a civic holiday allowing us to enjoy an extra day of family togetherness, in many parts of Canada. One of the ironies of Family Day, though, is how little “regular” time families actually get together, especially as increasingly the average family requires two (or more) incomes to survive.

I really feel for families in this situation. I know a lot of people for whom this is reality. They’ve got mortgages, car payments, student loans… Some of them are cool with it, others feel stuck.

When Emily and I got married, a big question we wrestled with was whether or not Emily would stay home with the kids or if she’d go back to work. We chose for her to stay home, knowing  there would be a cost. So we went from a fairly decent two incomes to… less. Like a lot less.

About five years ago, I had a meeting with the pastor of the church we formerly attended. We wound up discussing some of our adjustments to the single income lifestyle, and toward the end of our conversation, he said, with more than a hint of resignation, “The days of the single-income household are gone.”

Around the same time, we watched Maxed Out, a brilliant and troubling documentary chronicling the practices of the credit card industry in the United States, and the stories of many Americans whose lives have been crippled by debt. They can’t escape it, no matter how hard they try, it seems.

We’ve made tremendous mistakes financially over the years, and everything came to a head when we finally decided to sell our house. For us, it came down to a choice about our convictions. Which was more important—owning a home or having Emily stay at home? 

We chose Emily staying at home.

We chose to remain at one income, to sacrifice some of the things the world, our friends and even our parents kept telling us we “should” want. Why? Because we’d considered the cost, and found it worth the price we had to pay.

It was better for us to say goodbye to a lifestyle we should have wanted, in order to embrace the one we have. We have everything we need, if not always everything we want.

And that’s okay. This, again, is not to say our decision is the right one for everyone. Some of our friends have decided to go the same route as we have. Others have not.

But when we feel trapped by the expectations of the world, we need to remember: we can always choose to go another way. We don’t need the house. We don’t need the new car. But kids need their mom and dad. Husbands need their wives. Wives need their husbands.

Sometimes we can have it all, and that’s not bad. But sometimes we have to choose between the two. And when we do, it’s always better to choose family over stuff.

My Memory Moleskine: Panting and Provision

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Thursday night, Emily and I were talking about something she read in Jamie Munson’s book, Money – God or Gift. In it, Munson talks about how we treat money and that basically, the idea of divvying everything up into categories of “needs” and “wants” is an oversimplification. Why is that?

Well, the reality is that the wants vs needs dichotomy doesn’t take into account two things:

  1. That “wants” can be used for evangelistic goals.
  2. That sometimes God allows you to abound simply because He wants to bless you.

Christians in the west have got a weird relationship with wealth in that we tend to fall into one of two extremes, either prosperity theology or poverty theology. One treats wealth as something we’re entitled to, the other treats it as something utterly wicked. Neither is true.

Continuing to work through Philippians 4:10-13, I was reminded of how these arguments miss the point. Here, Paul reminds us that the point is not asceticism any more than it is affluence. God is no more honored by deprivation than He is by gluttonous over indulgence. Instead, whether we are rich or poor, whether we are panting for our basic needs or basking in an abundance of provision, we are to remember that it is God who strengthens us. Because God provides, and because God sustains and strengthens us, we can be content in any and every circumstance.

So what are we doing differently in the Armstrong house in light of this?

We’re continuing to look at how God might be calling us to be more generous and how we can wisely steward the finances He has entrusted to us. But, the thing I’ve been convicted of recently has been not enjoying what He has entrusted to us. Being a single income family, there’s not always a lot to around, so it gets tempting for me to get a bit freaked out about money. And in doing so, we fail to actually enjoy what we do have, focusing only on what we don’t.

Again, not appreciating and enjoying what God has provided with a spirit of thankfulness is no more honoring to Him than extravagant indulgence. Both show that our trust is in the gift, not the Giver. Neither leads to contentment.

So our first step in this course correction has been two adjustments to our budget:

  1. We’ve rejigged things so babysitting money exists
  2. We’ve created an “unexpected/in case/do something fun” line item

Even if we don’t use the money allocated to these immediately or in the budget cycle, it’s there to use. So we can save it up and do a big night out, or we can enjoy simple things like a couch date with a movie from Blockbuster and a couple of drinks from Starbucks.

Nothing too extravagant, but it’s been helpful in reminding us that He has blessed us with much (and really, He has), and it’s helping us to learn to be content as we thankfully appreciate all that He has provided.

Educated into Slavery

It’s been eight years since I graduated from college.

I went to community college paying my way nearly entirely by student loan. And when I graduated, I not only had a shiny diploma and no job, but a brand new friend:

About $15,000 in student debt.

I understand that for many, this is not a lot of money. But for a graphic design graduate—a field that in London pays slightly better than minimum wage—this was terrifying.

Paying the minimum payment every month, it would have taken ten years to clear out my loans (thankfully, we were able to get this taken care of a lot sooner). However, I know far too many men and women who are still paying off their education long after they’ve left the field.

Today, the average university undergrad degree costs between thirty and fifty thousand dollars in Canada (this includes housing and food).

That’s a crazy amount of money for a degree that may not ever get used.

While I’m grateful for the education I’ve received and for the skills that I picked up that led me to becoming a full-time writer (wait, what?), it seems to me that we’re at risk of educating ourselves into slavery. [Read more...]

Selling Ointments and Stealing from Moneybags

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there.

Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:1-8

This passage has been rattling around in my head since it was preached through this past Sunday at our church. I just can’t shake these words:

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.

John doesn’t mince words, does he?

Judas Iscariot puts on a holy front basically so that he can steal money.

He is a thief, using piety to support his own agenda.

I wonder if there isn’t something we should be paying closer attention to here?

Years ago, I heard a sermon by a certain pastor from Michigan. He spoke about poverty. How if resources were distributed equitably, there would be no more need in the world.

How if America spent a tiny percent of the money it was spending on the war in Iraq to alleviate suffering, extreme poverty could be completely eliminated.

$74 billion dollars is what it would take, according to some sources.

And this is true.

If the problem were simply a matter of resource distribution and money. If it were even a matter of changing our priorities.

Unfortunately, it’s not. [Read more...]

Don't Be Guilted into Giving

Last year, I was sitting in a reasonably packed conference watching the host on the screen as he made a request for an offering to let the content of the conference be sent out to nations that couldn’t afford it.

A noble effort, to be sure.

But just before the collection was taken, he looks to the audience, points a finger and declares, “If you aren’t giving your full ten percent to your local church, don’t give to this. You are in sin and you are robbing God. Get right with God and then give to this.”

I’ve heard a lot of similar type comments before. But hearing it this time… honestly, it just made me angry and I’ve never been fully able to articulate why until recently.

I wasn’t angry because I was being convicted of sin in this area. I was angry because this attitude turns financial giving—something that should be a wonderful, worshipful act—into something ugly.

Why do you give?

Do you give out of a sense of obligation?

Do you give out of a sense of guilt?

Or do you give out of a heart of gratitude for all that God given you—in response to His saving you through faith in Jesus Christ?

What was most helpful for me was recently discovering the place of the tithe in the New Covenant community.

Tithing & Taxes

My pastor recently spent the last two weeks teaching on this, so it’s all still pretty fresh and I freely admit that I’m stealing from him. But here’s the big idea:

The term “tithe” is a mathematical term, referring literally to a tenth. It’s also a term that refers to taxation. [Read more...]

The Danger of Abundance

I’ve been reading Hosea for the last couple of weeks and it’s been both extremely fascinating and extremely troubling. And it’s been both for the same reason:

It gives us a eery glimpse into the dangers of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable.

Complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3)

They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And God tore them down.

He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us.

That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

Wealth is good. Abundance is good.

But I can’t help wondering if having them shouldn’t make us a bit uncomfortable?

Everyday Theology: God wants your best life… now!

How often have you heard something like this:

“God wants your best life… now!”

Generally speaking, this idea means that God wants you to be materially wealthy, and if you are, it means you’ve found favor with Him. But if you haven’t… well, you might not be seeking Him enough, or you might have some sin in your life preventing you from attaining His favor. Perhaps God has yet to activate the “success gene” in your DNA, as one gentleman with a big smile in the great nation of Texas has said.

So, dear reader, is this true? Does living your best life mean you are “happy, healthy and wealthy,” and if you’re not then there’s something wrong with your relationship with God?

This idea that God wants all His people to be materially wealthy is pure nonsense. Worse, it’s one of the clearest examples of a damnable false gospel (cf Gal. 1:8) in that it is a blatant attempt to use Jesus as a means to getting an idol (in this case, money).

Now here’s the thing: God does want your best life… but that best life may seem awfully unpleasant at times. [Read more...]

Sunday Shorts (07/26)

Dug Down Deep: New book by Joshua Harris

3D.DugDownDeep%20copy.jpgThe other day, Joshua Harris (Pastor of Covenant Life Church and author of such books as I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Stop Dating the Church) has released some information on his latest book. From the back cover:

I know from experience that it’s possible to be a Christian but live life on the surface. The surface can be empty tradition. It can be emotionalism. It can be doctrine without application. I’ve done it all. I’ve spent my share of time on the sandy beaches of superficial Christianity.This book is the story of how I learned dig into truth and build my life on a real knowledge of God. How I first discovered that orthodoxy isn’t just for old men but for anyone who longs to know a God who is bigger and more real and more glorious than the human mind can imagine.
The irony of my story is that the very things I needed, even longed for in my relationship with God, were wrapped up in the very things I was so sure could do me no good. I didn’t understand that seemingly worn-out words like theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy were the pathway to the mysterious, awe-filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.

They told the story of the Person I longed to know.

You can read Harris’ comments on the origin of the title at his blog, and you can preorder a copy at Amazon.

Gnosticism and Fundraising

Jonathan Dodson offers some thoughts on the often dualistic approach to fundraising and the work of the ministry over at his blog:

Some of us need to repent of our dualism, of seeing God as sovereign and concerned only with our piety and not with our pocketbook. Some of us need to redeem our view of money with an understanding that the Gospel redeems consumers to spend, not just “spiritually” but practically. Our money should be governed by the gospel and move towards mission. But that is uncomfortable. We would rather live with the comforts of unspiritual spending, than invest our whole lives into the mission of God. Our idols of comfort, clothing, and standard of living hide beneath our functional gnosticism. God is calling us to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord over our entire lives, finances included, to bring us into a life of joyful giving and worship.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

John MacArthur on Spurgeon & Worldly Preaching

HT: Evangelical Village

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: “God won’t give you more than you can handle” Exploring the question: does God really only give us what we can handle?

A Holy Terror Embracing a holy fear of the Lord

Timeless Truth: Mere Christianity Looking at an example of true wisdom that has only become more powerful since it’s writing 60 years ago.

Sunday Shorts (07/19)

“He moved out, took all our money, and left me with two children”

A powerful testimony from the Mars Hill Church blog:

After giving my heart to Jesus, he radically changed my life. I stopped being sexually active, changed my circle of friends, started singing in a choir, changed the way I dressed, started treating the people better, and used my free time to get closer to Christ. After college, I met and married a man who was serving Jesus. We had two beautiful boys, we were a part of a church, we served in the music ministry, and things felt right. My life suddenly changed, however, when I caught my husband having an affair. He moved out the same day, took all our money, and left me with two children.

Read the rest at Blog.MarsHillChurch.org.

“Why Johnny Can’t Preach”

Ben Quinn at Baptist Twenty-One offers a concise recommendation for T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach:

If you’re looking for a good book on preaching, you definitely want to check out T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach.  I realize that most of you theology buffs are thinking, “The last thing I want to read is a preaching book,” but I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.  The literary quality alone is the worth the price of the book ($9.99 at Amazon), and you can read it in one sitting.

Playing off the titles of Why Johnny Can’t Read (Rudolf Flesch, 1966) and Why Johnny Can’t Write (Linden and Whimbey, 1990), T. David Gordon argues, “that societal changes that led to the concerns expressed in the 1960’s to 1980’s in educational circles…have led to the natural cultural consequence that people cannot preach expositorily” (15).

Read the rest at BaptistTwentyOne.org

Dan Kimball: “The Toughest Chapter to Write and Thank You NT Wright”

Dan Kimball shares his struggles writing about the issue of homosexuality:

The most difficult chapter in this book I am struggling with in the final writing and editing is the chapter on homosexuality. I did write about homosexuality before in the They Like Jesus But Not The Church book and my theological understanding of what Scriptures teach or don’t teach on it. I also addressed it in the DVD curriculum for that book, as I interviewed my gay friend Penny for that session in the DVD. The DVD was important as I wanted people to not just think about homosexuality or read about it, but to see the emotions, the eyes as one speaks, and hear the heart of my friend Penny – so that those that may not understand can hear her perspective and damage Christians and the church have done to her over the years.

But this book I am writing now is a trade book not written to only church leaders like my others. So I feel more weight  because the reading audience is much broader and probably more diverse. With this specific chapter, I am finding myself retyping sentences and thinking through how all different viewpoints will be reading what I am writing. So this one is taking several days wrapping it up.

Read the rest at Dan’s blog.

In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Everyday Theology: “Money is the Root of All Evil” Exploring the truth that money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is.

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit & John Bunyan What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and what we can learn from John Bunyan’s experience.

Everyday Theology: “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” Seeking to understand the purpose of godly discipline.

Book Review: Deep Economy Emily Armstrong offers her insights into Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy.

Everyday Theology: Money is the root of all evil

As we continue to look at some of the more common ideas we have about, or relating to in some way, God, I wanted to address the following:

“Money is the root of all evil.”

The origins of this one are fairly easy to trace, as it is a misquotation of 1 Timothy 6:10 (KJV), which says “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Four Missing Words

Some might wonder, what’s the big deal? Does a misquotation change the meaning in any significant way? In this case, yes. In the saying, “money is the root of all evil,” money itself is given moral value, and is determined to be all bad, all the time. This attitude, in many ways, is the heart of poverty theology — an overreaction to prosperity theology that essentially says, “if you’re financially poor, God loves you more than if you had money.” It is a demonizing of money.

Is money bad? Nope. We need money for groceries, for our mortgages or rent, for paying our church leaders, for helping the poor… None of these are bad things.

But the love of money is a very bad thing indeed.

1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV) says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” A love of money can cause people to wander away from the faith because the object of their affections is not Jesus, it’s cash.

It is idolatry. [Read more...]